Tag Archives: Privatization

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-04-29 01 800

WichitaLiberty.TV: Government accounting, Government ownership of infrastructure, and Wichita commercial property taxes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Government leaders tell us they want to run government like a business. But does government actually do this, even when accounting for its money? Then, is it best for government to own all the infrastructure? Finally, taxes on Wichita commercial property are high, compared to the rest of the nation. Episode 46, broadcast June 8, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1975

To fund government, Wichitans prefer alternatives to raising taxes

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1975Wichita voters prefer adjusting spending, becoming more efficient, using public-private partnerships, and privatization to raising taxes.

In April Kansas Policy Institute commissioned SurveyUSA to conduct a scientific poll concerning current topics in Wichita. The press release from KPI, along with a link to the complete survey results, is available at Poll: Wichitans don’t want sales tax increase.

Question nine asked how Wichita voters preferred paying for new government spending: “To fund existing infrastructure, build new infrastructure, and secure a long-term water source should Wichita fund those items by adjusting spending and being more efficient rather than raising taxes?”

Overall, 78 percent of Wichita voters answered “Yes,” meaning they prefer that Wichita adjust spending and become more efficient. 12 percent answered “No,” meaning they were in favor of raising taxes instead.

A related question was “Should Wichita fund those items through public-private partnerships, or privatization, rather than raising taxes?”

Overall, 65 percent answered “Yes,” meaning they prefer public-private partnerships, or privatization. 25 percent answered “No,” indicating a preference for raising taxes.

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Wichita City Budget Cover, 1968

Poll: Wichitans don’t want sales tax increase

kansas-policy-institute-logoFollowing is a press release from Kansas Policy Institute.

Scientific Poll: Wichitans Don’t Want Sales Tax Increase

They’re opposed to business incentives, want to pursue privatization over tax increases, and have concerns about how city hall has recently spent money.

May 2, 2014 — Wichita — According to a newly released poll from Kansas Policy Institute, Wichitans may want more jobs and a secure water source but they certainly don’t support a sales tax increase as the means to get either. A scientific survey of 502 registered Wichita voters, conducted by SurveyUSA, shows strong opposition to a sales tax increase, as well as a possible explanation for their opposition. Full results, cross tabs, and methodology are available here.

  • 63 percent oppose a sales tax increase to provide incentives to businesses; only 28 percent support the idea
  • 64 percent oppose a sales tax increase to expand or renovate convention spaces such as the Hyatt Hotel and Century II; only 28 percent support the idea
  • 78 percent would be willing to pay a higher sales tax to secure a long-term water source and build new infrastructure but 65 percent believe the City should fund those projects through privatization rather than raise taxes.

“Government typically claims that citizen support for certain projects means they are also supportive of higher taxes, but that’s often because citizens are presented with false choices,” said Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute. “That’s exactly what the City of Wichita did with their ACT ICT community meetings. Wichita officials were simply looking for justification to do what they wanted to do — raise taxes.”

Trabert believes the survey provides insight on citizens’ opposition to tax increases. “Only 28 percent of Wichitans believe city officials have efficiently used taxpayer money. 78 percent believe the City should adjust spending and be more efficient to fund new infrastructure and secure a long-term water source. City officials would understand that if they had an honest dialogue with citizens about all of the options, instead of just pushing a tax increase.”

Kansas Policy Institute is planning a series of public forums over the coming months to examine multiple options for long-term water solutions, economic development and infrastructure. National experts on privatization and other options will be brought in, as well as government officials who have successfully used privatization to provide services. The effectiveness of taxpayer subsidies will also be explored. Local elected officials and other civic leaders will be invited to participate.

In Wichita, more tax for more transit?

Wichita City Hall

In 2014 it is likely that Wichitans will be asked to pay an increased sales tax, part of which would fund the existing bus transit service, as the system is not sustaining itself. Another part of the increased sales tax might expand the service. Wichitans ought to think twice before voting to spend additional taxpayer funds for either reason. In fact, Wichita ought to consider spending less on public transit, and look to the private sector to provide transit that people want to use, and which meets their real needs.

Transit is expensive. To be more precise, government-provided transit is expensive. I’ve gathered data from the National Transit Database and provided it in a more useful format that that provided by the government. You may click here to use this interactive visualization of operating costs. (This table provides the codes that are used.) As for Wichita, the nearby excerpt (click for a larger version) shows that for 2011, the cost per passenger mile for the “regular” bus service was $0.97. This is not the cost to move a bus one mile. It is the cost to move one passenger one mile. This value is not out of line compared to other cities.

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If Wichita were to expand its transit service to offer wider coverage and longer hours of service, the cost per passenger mile probably would not go down. We would still have a system that is very expensive, especially considering the level of service that would still be provided.

Can the private sector do better? One thing we could do is to outsource or privatize the transit system. Government would still pay for the system, but the private sector would operate the buses. This would likely be an improvement, as outsourcing almost always results in lower costs and improved service.

(By the way, many people would be surprised to learn of the fraction of expenses paid for through fares. Considering operating expenses only, the number is 13.5 percent. Considering operating and capital costs, just 12.1 percent comes from fare revenue. The remainder is provided by taxpayers. So when a bus rider puts a dollar in the farebox, taxpayers contribute an additional six dollars to fund the system.)

What Wichita could do to really improve service is to allow private competition to the existing transit system. Here’s an example of what could happen:

Brooklyn’s dollar van fleet is a tantalizing demonstration of how we might supplement mass transit with privately-owned mini-transit entrepreneurs.

America’s 20th largest bus service — hauling 120,000 riders a day — is profitable and also illegal. It’s not really a bus service at all, but a willy-nilly aggregation of 350 licensed and 500 unlicensed privately-owned “dollar vans” that roam the streets of Brooklyn and Queens, picking up passengers from street corners where city buses are either missing or inconvenient. The dollar van fleet is a tantalizing demonstration of how we might supplement mass transit to include privately-owned mini-transit entrepreneurs, giving people alternative ways to get around, and creating jobs. (The (Illegal) Private Bus System That Works, The Atlantic.)

This is not an example of government paying a private-sector company to do a job that government formerly did. Instead, this is allowing the private sector to operate on its own, free to succeed or fail based on how well it provides service. It’s allowing the private sector to be flexible and innovative in ways that government bureaucracy, like our transit system, is not able.

There are other things we could do to help improve transit service in Wichita. On his television show, John Stossel recently had a segment on a system called “Lyft.” This is a system available in about a dozen large cities in America, and there are other similar systems. You might sign up to be a driver. You go through a background check, and if you pass, you’re a driver for Lyft. Then people who need a ride use their smart phone to request a trip. You, as a Lyft driver, can decide if you’d like to provide the ride.

After the driver drops off the rider, the rider — that is the customer — decides how much to pay the driver for the ride. The system makes a suggestion, but other than that it’s up to the customer to decide how much to pay. As you might imagine, the system uses feedback to rate both drivers and customers. People in the Lyft system have an incentive to be good providers of service, and also good consumers of service.

Isn’t that a tremendous contrast to the way government works? Government works through force — through taxation — requiring all of us to pay to support a bus system that very few people use. And few people use the system because — like most government programs — the service is lousy. It’s a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Lousy government service leads to few people using the service, which leads to the need for more subsidy. But in the Lyft system people willingly cooperate, aided by technology.

Could Lyft work in Wichita? Not likely, because government stands in the way. I’m pretty sure Lyft would be illegal in Wichita. The city recently passed taxicab regulations that are quite strict: Taxi companies must have a central office, staffed at least 40 hours per week; a dispatch system operating 24 hours per day, seven days per week; enough cabs to operate city-wide service, which the city has determined is ten cabs; and a supervisor on duty at all times cabs are operating.

These regulations stifle innovation and entrepreneurship. Things like Lyft and the dollar vans aren’t compatible with these regulations. These regulations mean that our present transit and taxi service — which no one seems happy with — is all that we will ever have.

Here’s something else: In the Lyft system, passengers ride in the front seat of the car next to the driver. Total strangers do that! Can you imagine if you asked to sit in the front seat of a taxicab in Wichita? This is the private sector versus government-regulated monopolies.

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Recently the director of the Wichita transit system made a presentation to Wichita City Council members outlining various possibilities about what Wichita could do with bus service. Was allowing the private sector a role in providing transit a possibility? Not that I heard. It’s just not in the DNA of government bureaucrats and unfortunately, many elected officials, to consider letting the private sector do a job.

WichitaLiberty.TV December 8, 2013

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In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita city leaders are preparing to ask Wichita voters to approve a sales tax increase. What would this money be used for? Are there alternatives, such as private sector integration, that the city could consider? Then: What is the role of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce? Is it promoting capitalism, or something else? Finally, David Hart, who is Director of the Online Library of Liberty Project at the Liberty Fund, explains some of the lessons of Frederic Bastiat, including the broken window fallacy. Episode 23, broadcast December 8, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Wichita won’t consider this, I’m sure

City of Wichita logoAs Wichita considers continuing taxing everyone to pay for a transit system that few people use, and as Wichita considers taxing everyone even more to pay for a bigger transit system that only a few additional people will use, here’s an example of something that I’m sure is not under consideration: Privatization, entrepreneurship, and diversity.

What Kansas should do

As the Kansas Legislature struggles to end its 2013 session, budgetary and taxation issues remain to be resolved. It’s important that the legislature resolve these issues in a way that positions Kansas for economic growth, rather than retaining the policies that have led to stagnation compared to other states.

Personal income growth, Kansas and selected states, 2013

Here’s what the Kansas Legislature needs to do:

  • Keep the current sales tax rate.
  • Eliminate sales tax on food.
  • Reduce individual income and corporate income tax rates.
  • Get serious about reducing spending.

The legislature should reduce Kansas income tax rates by an amount that would be revenue-neutral, so that state spending does not grow. This moves Kansas towards more of a “Fair Tax” model, which many economists agree is better than taxing income. Elimination of the sales tax on food removes much of the regressive nature of the sales tax.

To the extent that the legislature believes it needs other funds, take it from transportation funding. We’ve spent a lot on roads and highways in recent years. It’s enough for now.

Another important thing the legislature needs to do is get serious about reducing government spending. Kansas lost an important chance to save money — although a relatively small amount — when school choice programs failed to pass. These programs, across the country, save state and local governments money. Unfortunately, Kansas legislative leaders did not use this argument.

Job growth, Kansas and selected states, 2013

How to save

In 2011 the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to save money and improve the operations of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to pass through the moderate-controlled Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represented a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed. These goals, while always important, are now essential for the success of Kansas government and the state’s economy.

One bill was called the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, another would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships, and another would have created performance measures for state agencies and report that information to the public. More information on these bills is at Kansas budget solution overlooked.

We have to wonder why these bills — or similar measures — were not introduced and advanced this year when the opposition in the Senate is weaker. These are the types of measures we need to take as a state.

Kansas needs to focus on growth when wrapping up session

Oil painting "Tragic Prelude" (1938-40) by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946)

As the Kansas Legislature prepares to end its 2013 session, budgetary and taxation issues remain to be resolved. It’s important that the legislature resolve these issues in a way that positions Kansas for economic growth, rather than retaining the policies that have led to stagnation compared to other states.

First, let’s stop talking about the need to “pay for tax cuts.” The only way in which tax cuts have a cost is if you believe that your income belongs first to government, and then to you. While that schema is preferred by Kansas Progressives, it’s contrary to freedom and destructive to jobs and prosperity. Kansas will be better off if Kansans are able to control more of their own spending, rather than having government spend it for them.

Second, we must remember that the projected “holes in the budget” or deficits have two moving parts: Income and spending. Any deficit or surplus is produced equally by both factors. A reduction in income to the government produces a deficit only if government chooses to keep spending.

Third, let’s stop talking about “irresponsible tax cuts” and how cutting taxes is an “experiment.” To proceed as Kansas has — that would be irresponsible, as we know that Kansas has been underperforming relative to other states. No experimentation is needed. We know that Kansas has not done well.

Fourth, we need to make sure that everyone is starting from the same set of facts. Here’s one example: While critics of the new Kansas tax policy focus on the elimination of state income taxes on certain forms of business organization, marginal tax rates were lowered for everyone. Additionally, the standard deduction was increased for everyone, meaning that zero tax is paid on a larger share of everyone’s income.

But one tax was raised. Kansas had a program that rebated sales tax paid on food. This was limited to those with modest incomes or over a certain age. It is generally recognized that the sales tax is a regressive tax, meaning that those with low incomes pay a larger share of their income in tax. Reducing this perceived inequity was the goal of the credit program.

In recognition of this, Kansas should eliminate the sales tax on food, especially if we keep the current high sales tax rate. This eliminates the clunky tax credit program and lets everyone save on food taxes every day, not just at tax filing time.

Critics also say that taxes were raised on some low income families. This argument is based on some tax credit programs that were eliminated, such as the tax credit for child and dependent care expenses, and another tax credit for child day care expenses. It’s important to remember that these programs were implemented as a tax credits, and they are properly categorized as welfare spending accomplished through the tax system. If we want to keep this welfare spending, let’s do it some other way. Spending through the tax system complicates the understanding of government finances.

What Kansas should do

Here’s what the Kansas Legislature needs to do: Keep the current sales tax rate, eliminate sales tax on food, and reduce individual income and corporate income tax rates. Reduce the income tax rates by an amount that would be revenue-neutral, so that state spending does not grow. This moves us towards more of a “Fair Tax” model, which many economists agree is better than taxing income. Elimination of the sales tax on food removes much of the regressivity of the sales tax.

To the extent that the legislature believes it needs other funds, take it from transportation funding. We’ve spent a lot on roads and highways in recent years. It’s enough for now.

Another important thing the legislature needs to do is get serious about reducing government spending. Kansas lost an important chance to save money — although a relatively small amount — when school choice programs failed to pass. These programs, across the country, save state and local governments money. Unfortunately, Kansas legislative leaders did not use this argument.

More ways to save: In 2011 the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to save money and improve the operations of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to pass through the moderate-controlled Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represented a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed. These goals, while always important, are now essential for the success of Kansas government and the state’s economy.

One bill was called the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, another would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships, and another would have created performance measures for state agencies and report that information to the public. More information on these bills is at Kansas budget solution overlooked.

We have to wonder why these bills — or similar measures — were not introduced and advanced this year when the opposition in the Senate is weaker. These are the types of measures we need to take as a state.

Legislator’s guide to delivering better service at a better price

Service bell

From Kansas Policy Institute:

How can Kansas get to the point of lowering spending, lowering taxes, and allowing for more job creation? It is not an easy process, but “A Legislator’s Guide to Delivering Better Service at a Better Price” offers an outline. This road map from KPI was recently released and will be updated as new analysis is added and ideas are refined.

A few of the ideas from the guide:

  • Use the $2.5 billion held in cash reserves by state agencies to manage the process of lowering spending (Page 3).
  • Review discretionary spending. For instance, State agencies spent $5.8 million on Advertising in 2012 (Page 6).
  • Set up a privatization panel to deliver higher quality service at lower prices (Page 7).
  • Utilize priority-based budgeting that requires each agency to prioritize every program or service from most to least effective. Those on the bottom of the list can be considered for possible elimination and/or being scaled back (Page 7).

The report is at A Legislator’s Guide to Delivering Better Service at a Better Price: How to reduce government spending and create a better taxpayer experience.

Privatization study released

Better Service, Better Price: How privatization can streamline government, improve services, and reduce costs for Kansas taxpayers

Kansas Policy Institute has released a study looking at privatization of government services. From KPI’s press release:

As the 2013 Legislature begins its work the discussion remains focused on implementing last year’s tax reform package. A new study from Kansas Policy Institute makes clear a good deal of the dollars necessary to implement reform without raising taxes, an 8.5 percent efficiency savings, can be achieved via a slate of reforms commonly referred to as privatization. “Better Service, Better Price,” goes through best practices and case studies to arrive at standard cost savings of between five and 20 percent — a good step toward realizing the benefits of HB 2117.

“Too often we’re faced with the false choice of either higher taxes or fewer government services,” said KPI president Dave Trabert. “This paper makes clear that governments at all levels and around the country are refusing that false choice and taking steps to deliver essential services at a better price with better outcomes.”

Privatization reforms include contracting, franchising, and outright divesture of government-owned assets or functions. Examples from around the country demonstrated 130 different outsourcing initiatives in Florida saving $500 million in cash-flow dollars and 345 opportunities for public-private partnerships in the City of Tulsa. The study also highlights existing efforts in Kansas such as the City of Wichita saving $1.3 million annually by outsourcing mowing operations, beginning in 2009, and Kansas State University allowing its on-campus bookstore to be operated by Varney’s, a private entity and previous competitor.

In addition to case studies and establishing the vocabulary of privatization, a good deal of discussion is provided to best practices. Transparency in contracting and purchasing, truly competitive and open bidding, and quality-driven outcomes help protect taxpayer interests when government dollars go to private entities.

“Privatization and public-private partnerships are proven policy tools used by policymakers of all political stripes to control spending and improve public services — something that is more critical than ever given the fiscal challenges that many states and local governments continue to face in the wake of the 2008 recession,” said the study’s lead author Leonard Gilroy, the director of government reform at the Reason Foundation. “It is our hope that this new report will help state and local officials in Kansas better understand the range of potential privatization opportunities at their disposal to help navigate the ‘new normal’ of budget constraints and lower the costs of government to taxpayers.”

Trabert concluded by saying, “With Kansas’ general fund spending having increased by 48 percent in the past decade there are absolutely opportunities for efficiency and savings. In many cases, this could certainly be accomplished by utilizing private sector expertise while at the same time delivering better service to Kansans.”

The document may be read at Better Service, Better Price: How privatization can streamline government, improve services, and reduce costs for Kansas taxpayers.

The Kansas Legislature has considered privatization in recent years. Two years ago a bill passed the House, but did not advance in the Senate. The bill was HB 2194, which in its original form would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships.

According to the supplemental note for the bill, “The purpose of the Council would be to ensure that certain state agencies, including the Board of Regents and postsecondary educational institutions, would: 1) focus on the core mission and provide goods and services efficiently and effectively; 2) develop a process to analyze opportunities to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and provide quality services, operations, functions, and activities; and 3) evaluate for feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency opportunities that could be outsourced. Excluded from the state agencies covered by the bill would be any entity not receiving State General Fund or federal funds appropriation.”

This bill passed by a vote of 68 to 51 in the House of Representatives. It did not advance in the Senate, falling victim to a “gut-and-go” maneuver where its contents were replaced with legislation on a different topic.

Opposing this bill was Kansas Organization of State Employees (KOSE), a union for executive branch state employees. It advised its “brothers and sisters” that the bill “… establishes a partisan commission of big-business interests to privatize state services putting a wolf in charge of the hen house. To be clear, this bill allows for future privatization of nearly all services provided by state workers. Make no mistake, this proposal is a privatization scheme that will begin the process of outsourcing our work to private contractors. Under a privatization scheme for any state agency or service, the employees involved will lose their rights under our MOA and will be forced to adhere to the whims of a private contractor who typically provides less pay and poor benefits. Most workers affected by privatization schemes are not guaranteed to keep their jobs once an agency or service is outsourced.”

Note the use of “outsourcing our work.” This underscores the sense of entitlement of many government workers: It is not work done for the benefit of Kansans, it is our work.

Then, there’s the warning that private industry pays less. Most of the time representatives of state workers like KOSE make the case that it is they who are underpaid, but here the argument is turned around when it supports the case they want to make. One thing is probably true: Benefits — at least pension plans — may be lower in the private sector. But we’re now painfully aware that state government has promised its workers more pension benefits than the state has been willing to pay for.

Kansas budget solution overlooked

As Kansas prepares for a legislative session that must find ways to balance a budget in the face of declining revenues, not all solutions are being considered.

Generally, the choices are presented as either raising revenues or cutting services. An example comes from H. Edward Flentje of Wichita State University. In a recent op-ed, he presents two solutions: (a) raising more revenue, by canceling the recently-passed tax cuts and retaining the current sales tax rate hike instead of letting it expire, or (b) cutting services. (H. Edward Flentje : State facing fiscal cliff, December 16, 2012 Wichita Eagle)

In the Kansas City Star, Steve Rose made a similar argument.

I hope that “cutting services” means cutting spending on services, not the actual level of services the state provides, although that could probably use some trimming, too.

How much spending does the state need to cut? Kansas Policy Institute has calculated that a one-time spending cut of 8.5 percent, followed by spending growth of four percent per year, would produce a balanced budget with ending balances.

Does anyone think this goal can’t be met? If not, then perhaps cutting four percent in each of the next two years could be a goal.

But either way, we can cut spending while maintaining services people have become accustomed to expect from government. Remaking government is a way to do this. We can make government more efficient, despite the claims that it is impossible to do so.

As an example, in 2010 the Wichita school district saved $2.5 million per year by adjusting school starting times, thereby saving on transportation costs. This was after district officials claimed — repeatedly — there was nothing they could cut. Spending had already been “cut to the bone,” officials said.

When we see incidents like this, the governing body trumpets the savings, and then, unfortunately, often stops looking for savings. But we need to keep looking. An example of a way to save money is school choice.

School choice saves states money

While proponents of public school spending argue that school choice programs drain away dollars from what they claim are underfunded public schools, this is not the case.

In 2007 The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the study School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006. According to the executive summary: “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.”

How can this be? The public school spending lobby, which in Kansas is primarily the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), would have us believe that educational freedom would kill public education. They say that school choice program drain scarce resources from the public school system.

But when researchers looked at the actual effects, they found this: “In nearly every school choice program, the dollar value of the voucher or scholarship is less than or equal to the state’s formula spending per student. This means states are spending the same amount or less on students in school choice programs than they would have spent on the same students if they had attended public schools, producing a fiscal savings.”

So at the state level, school choice programs save money. They don’t cost money to implement; they save money.

Further research on school choice programs funded through tax credits confirms this.

Other ways to save

In 2011 the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to save money and improve the operations of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to pass through the moderate-controlled Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represents a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed. These goals, while always important, are now essential for the success of Kansas government and the state’s economy.

Kansas Streamlining Government Act

HB 2120, according to its supplemental note, “would establish the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, which would have the purpose of improving the performance, efficiency, and operations of state government by reviewing certain state agencies, programs, boards, and commissions.” Fee-funded agencies — examples include Kansas dental board and Kansas real estate commission — would be exempt from this bill.

In more detail, the text of the bill explains: “The purposes of the Kansas streamlining government act are to improve the performance, streamline the operations, improve the effectiveness and efficiency, and reduce the operating costs of the executive branch of state government by reviewing state programs, policies, processes, original positions, staffing levels, agencies, boards and commissions, identifying those that should be eliminated, combined, reorganized, downsized or otherwise altered, and recommending proposed executive reorganization orders, executive orders, legislation, rules and regulations, or other actions to accomplish such changes and achieve such results.”

In testimony in support of this legislation, Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute offered testimony that echoed findings of the public choice school of economics and politics: “Some people may view a particular expenditure as unnecessary to the fulfillment of a program’s or an agency’s primary mission while others may see it as essential. Absent an independent review, we are expecting government employees to put their own self-interests aside and make completely unbiased decisions on how best to spend taxpayer funds. It’s not that government employees are intentionally wasteful; it’s that they are human beings and setting self-interests aside is challenge we all face.”

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 79 to 40. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs, where it did not advance. HB 2120 died in a senate committee chaired by Pete Brungardt, who was defeated in August.

Privatization and public-private partnerships

Another bill that did not advance was HB 2194, which in its original form would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships.

According to the supplemental note for the bill, “The purpose of the Council would be to ensure that certain state agencies, including the Board of Regents and postsecondary educational institutions, would: 1) focus on the core mission and provide goods and services efficiently and effectively; 2) develop a process to analyze opportunities to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and provide quality services, operations, functions, and activities; and 3) evaluate for feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency opportunities that could be outsourced. Excluded from the state agencies covered by the bill would be any entity not receiving State General Fund or federal funds appropriation.”

This bill passed by a vote of 68 to 51 in the House of Representatives. It did not advance in the Senate, falling victim to a “gut-and-go” maneuver where its contents were replaced with legislation on an entirely different topic. Steve Morris, president of the Kansas Senate and a member of the moderate coalition, chaired the committee that killed this legislation. He won’t be in the Senate next year.

Performance measures

Another bill that didn’t pass the entire legislature was HB 2158, which would have created performance measures for state agencies and reported that information to the public. The supplemental note says that the bill “as amended, would institute a new process for modifying current performance measures and establishing new standardized performance measures to be used by all state agencies in support of the annual budget requests. State agencies would be required to consult with representatives of the Director of the Budget and the Legislative Research Department to modify each agency’s current performance measures, to standardize such performance measures, and to utilize best practices in all state agencies.” Results of the performance measures would be posted on a public website.

This bill passed the House of Representatives by a nearly unanimous vote of 119 to 2, with Wichita’s Nile Dillmore and Geraldine Flaharty the two nay votes.

Opposition to these bills from Democrats often included remarks on the irony of those who were recently elected on the promise of shrinking government now proposing to enlarge government through the creation of these commissions and councils. These bills, however, proposed to spend modest amounts increasing the manageability of government, not the actual range and scope of government itself. As it turns out, many in the legislature — this includes Senate Republicans who initiated or went along with the legislative maneuvers that killed these bills — are happy with the operations of state government remaining in the shadows.

HB 2158 was victim of a “gut-and-go” maneuver in a committee chaired by Carolyn McGinn, another member of the moderate coalition. She will be returning to the senate next year, but probably won’t have the ability to stop legislation like this.

Kansas private sector jobs lag government jobs

Government jobs in Kansas have been growing at the expense of private sector jobs.

Some mistakenly say that government employees are good for the economy, because their paychecks pump up the economy. But this analysis ignores the source of government employees’ paychecks, which are taxes. (Or borrowing, which simply delays taxation to some future time, or inflation, which robs money of its value. Fortunately Kansas can’t engage in inflationary monetary policies, but it does borrow.)

If people are not taxed, they spend or invest their money in the way they feel best benefits them. Politicians spend taxpayers’ money for political reasons, say to reward campaign contributors with padded no-bid contracts.

In fact, for many politicians creating government jobs is a good thing. To them, it doesn’t matter whether the jobs are productive, or whether people really want or need what the government workers produce. In the private sector — where firms compete with others for scare resources and the value of activity is judged by profitability — efficiency is prized. Minimizing costs is the goal. Innovation abounds.

As the following chart illustrates, private sector employment growth has lagged behind the growth of government employment. This has happened during the decade that is now being described by some as a period of “reasonableness,” with Kansas taking a “balanced” and “responsible” approach to government. The numbers in the chart illustrate the results of these policies.

This trend has been known. In 2005 Alan Cobb, then State Director of Americans for Prosperity–Kansas, wrote “Unbelievably, this century Kansas has lost 16,700 private sector jobs while the government sector actually added 15,000 jobs.”

In 2011 there were efforts to reform Kansas government so that the cost of government is not so burdensome to the private sector. There was the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, an act to create the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships, and an act to implement performance measures similar to what many business firms use. These bills passed the House of Representatives but didn’t make it through the Senate. See In Kansas, there are ways to reduce the cost of government for details on these measures.

By the way, during this campaign season the Kansas Senate is being described as the last hope for the “reasonable” approach to Kansas government that has produced the results illustrated below.

Kansas private sector job growth compared to other statesKansas job growth. Data is indexed, with January 2001 equal to 1. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

In Kansas, there are ways to reduce the cost of government

Recently-passed tax reform in Kansas has lead to fear that the state will suffer large deficits in upcoming years and will have to cut services like education and social services. There are many ways, however, that Kansas government can save money and still provide the essential services that Kansans rely on. One way is to improve the budgeting process.

Something else Kansas needs to do is improve the operations and reduce the cost of state government. In 2011 the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to do just this. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to pass through the Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represents a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed. These goals, while always important, are now essential for the success of Kansas government and the state’s economy.

Kansas Streamlining Government Act

HB 2120, according to its supplemental note, “would establish the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, which would have the purpose of improving the performance, efficiency, and operations of state government by reviewing certain state agencies, programs, boards, and commissions.” Fee-funded agencies — examples include Kansas dental board and Kansas real estate commission — would be exempt from this bill.

In more detail, the text of the bill explains: “The purposes of the Kansas streamlining government act are to improve the performance, streamline the operations, improve the effectiveness and efficiency, and reduce the operating costs of the executive branch of state government by reviewing state programs, policies, processes, original positions, staffing levels, agencies, boards and commissions, identifying those that should be eliminated, combined, reorganized, downsized or otherwise altered, and recommending proposed executive reorganization orders, executive orders, legislation, rules and regulations, or other actions to accomplish such changes and achieve such results.”

In testimony in support of this legislation, Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute offered testimony that echoed findings of the public choice school of economics and politics: “Some people may view a particular expenditure as unnecessary to the fulfillment of a program’s or an agency’s primary mission while others may see it as essential. Absent an independent review, we are expecting government employees to put their own self-interests aside and make completely unbiased decisions on how best to spend taxpayer funds. It’s not that government employees are intentionally wasteful; it’s that they are human beings and setting self-interests aside is challenge we all face.”

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 79 to 40. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs, where it did not advance.

Privatization and public-private partnerships

Another bill that did not advance was HB 2194, which in its original form would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships.

According to the supplemental note for the bill, “The purpose of the Council would be to ensure that certain state agencies, including the Board of Regents and postsecondary educational institutions, would: 1) focus on the core mission and provide goods and services efficiently and effectively; 2) develop a process to analyze opportunities to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and provide quality services, operations, functions, and activities; and 3) evaluate for feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency opportunities that could be outsourced. Excluded from the state agencies covered by the bill would be any entity not receiving State General Fund or federal funds appropriation.”

This bill passed by a vote of 68 to 51 in the House of Representatives. It did not advance in the Senate, falling victim to a “gut-and-go” maneuver where its contents were replaced with legislation on an entirely different topic.

Opposing this bill was Kansas Organization of State Employees (KOSE), a union for executive branch state employees. It advised its “brothers and sisters” that the bill “… establishes a partisan commission of big-business interests to privatize state services putting a wolf in charge of the hen house. To be clear, this bill allows for future privatization of nearly all services provided by state workers. Make no mistake, this proposal is a privatization scheme that will begin the process of outsourcing our work to private contractors. Under a privatization scheme for any state agency or service, the employees involved will lose their rights under our MOA and will be forced to adhere to the whims of a private contractor who typically provides less pay and poor benefits. Most workers affected by privatization schemes are not guaranteed to keep their jobs once an agency or service is outsourced.”

Note the use of “outsourcing our work.” This underscores the sense of entitlement of many government workers: It is not work done for the benefit of Kansans; to them it is our work.

Then, there’s the warning that private industry pays less. Most of the time representatives of state workers like KOSE make the case that it is they who are underpaid, but here the argument is turned around when it supports the case they want to make. One thing is probably true: Benefits — at least pension plans — may be lower in the private sector. But we’re now painfully aware that state government has promised its workers more pension benefits than the state has been willing to fund.

Performance measures

Another bill that didn’t pass the entire legislature was HB 2158, which would have created performance measures for state agencies and reported that information to the public. The supplemental note says that the bill “as amended, would institute a new process for modifying current performance measures and establishing new standardized performance measures to be used by all state agencies in support of the annual budget requests. State agencies would be required to consult with representatives of the Director of the Budget and the Legislative Research Department to modify each agency’s current performance measures, to standardize such performance measures, and to utilize best practices in all state agencies.” Results of the performance measures would be posted on a public website.

This bill passed the House of Representatives by a nearly unanimous vote of 119 to 2, with Wichita’s Nile Dillmore and Geraldine Flaharty the two nay votes. In the Senate, this bill was stripped of its content using the “gut-and-go” procedure and did not proceed intact to a vote.

Opposition to these bills from Democrats often included remarks on the irony of those who were recently elected on the promise of shrinking government now proposing to enlarge government through the creation of these commissions and councils. These bills, however, proposed to spend modest amounts increasing the manageability of government, not the actual range and scope of government itself. As it turns out, many in the legislature — this includes Senate Republicans who initiated or went along with the legislative maneuvers that killed these bills — are happy with the operations of state government remaining in the shadows.

These proposals to scale back the services that government provides — or to have existing services be delivered by the private sector — mean that there will be fewer government employees, and fewer members of government worker unions. This is another fertile area of gathering support for killing these bills.

State workers and their supporters also argue that fewer state workers mean fewer people paying state and other taxes. Forgotten by them is the fact that the taxes taken to pay these workers means less economic activity and fewer jobs in the private sector. And, in fact, Kansas has seen the number of government workers — at all levels — rise.

As to not wanting performance measures: Supporters of the status quo say that people outside of government don’t understand how to make the decisions that government workers make. In one sense, this may be true. In the private sector, profitability is the benchmark of success. Government has no comparable measure when it decides to, say, spend some $300 million to renovate the Kansas Capitol. But once it decides to do so, the benchmark and measurement of profitability in executing the service can be utilized by private sector operators. Of course, private contractors will be subject to the discipline of the profit and loss system, something again missing from government.

In Kansas Legislature, opportunities for saving were lost

This year the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to improve the operations and reduce the cost of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to make through the Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represents a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed.

Kansas Streamlining Government Act

HB 2120, according to its supplemental note, “would establish the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, which would have the purpose of improving the performance, efficiency, and operations of state government by reviewing certain state agencies, programs, boards, and commissions.” Fee-funded agencies — examples include Kansas dental board and Kansas real estate commission — would be exempt from this bill.

In more detail, the text of the bill explains: “The purposes of the Kansas streamlining government act are to improve the performance, streamline the operations, improve the effectiveness and efficiency, and reduce the operating costs of the executive branch of state government by reviewing state programs, policies, processes, original positions, staffing levels, agencies, boards and commissions, identifying those that should be eliminated, combined, reorganized, downsized or otherwise altered, and recommending proposed executive reorganization orders, executive orders, legislation, rules and regulations, or other actions to accomplish such changes and achieve such results.”

In testimony in support of this legislation, Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute offered testimony that echoed findings of the public choice school of economics and politics: “Some people may view a particular expenditure as unnecessary to the fulfillment of a program’s or an agency’s primary mission while others may see it as essential. Absent an independent review, we are expecting government employees to put their own self-interests aside and make completely unbiased decisions on how best to spend taxpayer funds. It’s not that government employees are intentionally wasteful; it’s that they are human beings and setting self-interests aside is challenge we all face.”

On February 25 the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 79 to 40. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs, where it did not advance.

Privatization and public-private partnerships

Another bill that did not advance was HB 2194, which in its original form would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships.

According to the supplemental note for the bill, “The purpose of the Council would be to ensure that certain state agencies, including the Board of Regents and postsecondary educational institutions, would: 1) focus on the core mission and provide goods and services efficiently and effectively; 2) develop a process to analyze opportunities to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and provide quality services, operations, functions, and activities; and 3) evaluate for feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency opportunities that could be outsourced. Excluded from the state agencies covered by the bill would be any entity not receiving State General Fund or federal funds appropriation.”

This bill passed by a vote of 68 to 51 in the House of Representatives. It did not advance in the Senate, falling victim to a “gut-and-go” maneuver where its contents were replaced with legislation on an entirely different topic.

Opposing this bill was Kansas Organization of State Employees (KOSE), a union for executive branch state employees. It advised its “brothers and sisters” that the bill “… establishes a partisan commission of big-business interests to privatize state services putting a wolf in charge of the hen house. To be clear, this bill allows for future privatization of nearly all services provided by state workers. Make no mistake, this proposal is a privatization scheme that will begin the process of outsourcing our work to private contractors. Under a privatization scheme for any state agency or service, the employees involved will lose their rights under our MOA and will be forced to adhere to the whims of a private contractor who typically provides less pay and poor benefits. Most workers affected by privatization schemes are not guaranteed to keep their jobs once an agency or service is outsourced.”

Note the use of “outsourcing our work.” This underscores the sense of entitlement of many government workers: It is not work done for the benefit of Kansans, it is our work.

Then, there’s the warning that private industry pays less. Most of the time representatives of state workers like KOSE make the case that it is they who are underpaid, but here the argument is turned around when it supports the case they want to make. One thing is probably true: Benefits — at least pension plans — may be lower in the private sector. But we’re now painfully aware that state government has promised its workers more pension benefits than the state has been willing to pay for.

Performance measures

Another bill that didn’t pass the entire legislature was HB 2158, which would have created performance measures for state agencies and reported that information to the public. The supplemental note says that the bill “as amended, would institute a new process for modifying current performance measures and establishing new standardized performance measures to be used by all state agencies in support of the annual budget requests. State agencies would be required to consult with representatives of the Director of the Budget and the Legislative Research Department to modify each agency’s current performance measures, to standardize such performance measures, and to utilize best practices in all state agencies.” Results of the performance measures would be posted on a public website.

This bill passed the House of Representatives by a nearly unanimous vote of 119 to 2, with Wichita’s Nile Dillmore and Geraldine Flaharty the two nay votes. In the Senate, this bill was stripped of its content using the “gut-and-go” procedure and did not proceed intact to a vote.

Opposition to these bills from Democrats often included remarks on the irony of those who were recently elected on the promise of shrinking government now proposing to enlarge government through the creation of these commissions and councils. These bills, however, proposed to spend modest amounts increasing the manageability of government, not the actual range and scope of government itself. As it turns out, many in the legislature — this includes Senate Republicans who initiated or went along with the legislative maneuvers that killed these bills — are happy with the operations of state government remaining in the shadows.

These proposals to scale back the services that government provides — or to have existing services be delivered by the private sector — mean that there will be fewer government employees, and fewer members of government worker unions. This is another fertile area of gathering support for killing these bills.

State workers and their supporters also argue that fewer state workers mean fewer people paying state and other taxes. Forgotten by them is the fact that the taxes taken to pay these workers means less economic activity and fewer jobs in the private sector. And, in fact, Kansas has seen the number of government workers — at all levels — rise.

As to not wanting performance measures: Supporters of the status quo say that people outside of government don’t understand how to make the decisions that government workers make. In one sense, this may be true. In the private sector, profitability is the benchmark of success. Government has no comparable measure when it decides to, say, spend some $300 million to renovate the Kansas Capitol. But once it decides to do so, the benchmark and measurement of profitability in executing the service can be utilized by private sector operators. Of course, private contractors will be subject to the discipline of the profit and loss system, something again missing from government.

Curiously, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback didn’t use his prestige and influence to support these bills, at not publicly. Perhaps next year, an election year not only for the House but also for the entire membership of the Senate, will be different.

In Kansas Legislature this year, opportunities for saving were lost

This year the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to improve the operations and reduce the cost of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to make through the Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represents a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed.

Kansas Streamlining Government Act

HB 2120, according to its supplemental note, “would establish the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, which would have the purpose of improving the performance, efficiency, and operations of state government by reviewing certain state agencies, programs, boards, and commissions.” Fee-funded agencies — examples include Kansas dental board and Kansas real estate commission — would be exempt from this bill.

In more detail, the text of the bill explains: “The purposes of the Kansas streamlining government act are to improve the performance, streamline the operations, improve the effectiveness and efficiency, and reduce the operating costs of the executive branch of state government by reviewing state programs, policies, processes, original positions, staffing levels, agencies, boards and commissions, identifying those that should be eliminated, combined, reorganized, downsized or otherwise altered, and recommending proposed executive reorganization orders, executive orders, legislation, rules and regulations, or other actions to accomplish such changes and achieve such results.”

In testimony in support of this legislation, Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute offered testimony that echoed findings of the public choice school of economics and politics: “Some people may view a particular expenditure as unnecessary to the fulfillment of a program’s or an agency’s primary mission while others may see it as essential. Absent an independent review, we are expecting government employees to put their own self-interests aside and make completely unbiased decisions on how best to spend taxpayer funds. It’s not that government employees are intentionally wasteful; it’s that they are human beings and setting self-interests aside is challenge we all face.”

On February 25 the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 79 to 40. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs, where it did not advance.

Privatization and public-private partnerships

Another bill that did not advance was HB 2194, which in its original form would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships.

According to the supplemental note for the bill, “The purpose of the Council would be to ensure that certain state agencies, including the Board of Regents and postsecondary educational institutions, would: 1) focus on the core mission and provide goods and services efficiently and effectively; 2) develop a process to analyze opportunities to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and provide quality services, operations, functions, and activities; and 3) evaluate for feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency opportunities that could be outsourced. Excluded from the state agencies covered by the bill would be any entity not receiving State General Fund or federal funds appropriation.”

This bill passed by a vote of 68 to 51 in the House of Representatives. It did not advance in the Senate, falling victim to a “gut-and-go” maneuver where its contents were replaced with legislation on an entirely different topic.

Opposing this bill was Kansas Organization of State Employees (KOSE), a union for executive branch state employees. It advised its “brothers and sisters” that the bill “… establishes a partisan commission of big-business interests to privatize state services putting a wolf in charge of the hen house. To be clear, this bill allows for future privatization of nearly all services provided by state workers. Make no mistake, this proposal is a privatization scheme that will begin the process of outsourcing our work to private contractors. Under a privatization scheme for any state agency or service, the employees involved will lose their rights under our MOA and will be forced to adhere to the whims of a private contractor who typically provides less pay and poor benefits. Most workers affected by privatization schemes are not guaranteed to keep their jobs once an agency or service is outsourced.”

Note the use of “outsourcing our work.” This underscores the sense of entitlement of many government workers: It is not work done for the benefit of Kansans, it is our work.

Then, there’s the warning that private industry pays less. Most of the time representatives of state workers like KOSE make the case that it is they who are underpaid, but here the argument is turned around when it supports the case they want to make. One thing is probably true: Benefits — at least pension plans — may be lower in the private sector. But we’re now painfully aware that state government has promised its workers more pension benefits than the state has been willing to pay for.

Performance measures

Another bill that didn’t pass the entire legislature was HB 2158, which would have created performance measures for state agencies and reported that information to the public. The supplemental note says that the bill “as amended, would institute a new process for modifying current performance measures and establishing new standardized performance measures to be used by all state agencies in support of the annual budget requests. State agencies would be required to consult with representatives of the Director of the Budget and the Legislative Research Department to modify each agency’s current performance measures, to standardize such performance measures, and to utilize best practices in all state agencies.” Results of the performance measures would be posted on a public website.

This bill passed the House of Representatives by a nearly unanimous vote of 119 to 2, with Wichita’s Nile Dillmore and Geraldine Flaharty the two nay votes. In the Senate, this bill was stripped of its content using the “gut-and-go” procedure and did not proceed intact to a vote.

Opposition to these bills from Democrats often included remarks on the irony of those who were recently elected on the promise of shrinking government now proposing to enlarge government through the creation of these commissions and councils. These bills, however, proposed to spend modest amounts increasing the manageability of government, not the actual range and scope of government itself. As it turns out, many in the legislature — this includes Senate Republicans who initiated or went along with the legislative maneuvers that killed these bills — are happy with the operations of state government remaining in the shadows.

These proposals to scale back the services that government provides — or to have existing services be delivered by the private sector — mean that there will be fewer government employees, and fewer members of government worker unions. This is another fertile area of gathering support for killing these bills.

State workers and their supporters also argue that fewer state workers mean fewer people paying state and other taxes. Forgotten by them is the fact that the taxes taken to pay these workers means less economic activity and fewer jobs in the private sector. And, in fact, Kansas has seen the number of government workers — at all levels — rise.

As to not wanting performance measures: Supporters of the status quo say that people outside of government don’t understand how to make the decisions that government workers make. In one sense, this may be true. In the private sector, profitability is the benchmark of success. Government has no comparable measure when it decides to, say, spend some $300 million to renovate the Kansas Capitol. But once it decides to do so, the benchmark and measurement of profitability in executing the service can be utilized by private sector operators. Of course, private contractors will be subject to the discipline of the profit and loss system, something again missing from government.

Curiously, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback didn’t use his prestige and influence to support these bills, at not publicly. Perhaps next year, an election year not only for the House but also for the entire membership of the Senate, will be different.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday May 6, 2011

Wichita downtown sites draw little interest. Wichita Business Journal: “Interest from developers in eight city-owned “catalyst” sites in downtown Wichita was minimal — unexpectedly so. ‘I was a little bit surprised how light the response was,’ says Scott Knebel, downtown revitalization manager for the city of Wichita.” With the city soliciting informal proposals for eight sites, only two proposals were received.

KPERS. It appears that the Kansas Legislature will pass a pension “reform” bill that does not include a shift to a defined-contribution plan for new employees. Instead, the tough decisions that need to be made about the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System have been placed in the hands of a study committee. More information about the seriousness of the KPERS problem is at Economist: KPERS must undergo serious reform and KPERS problems must be confronted. Video is here, with two parts following.

More flexibility for school funds. Kansas Watchdog reports that Kansas schools will now have more flexibility to spend funds that are presently stashed away in various funds. Of interest in the article is a chart showing the growth in these fund balances. School spending advocates protest that these funds are needed to because revenue doesn’t arrvie at the same time bills do, which is true. But these fund balances have been growing, because schools have not been spending all the money they’ve been given. While this bill is a good idea, schools have always been able to tap into these funds by simply contributing less to them, thereby spending down the balances. But schools have not wanted to to do this.

Growth in Kansas spendingGrowth in Kansas spending. Click for a larger view.

Despite “cuts,” spending grows. For all the talk in Kansas of budget cuts, state spending still manages to grow year after year. Kansas Watchdog is again on top of this topic, noting “Each year various adjustments push state spending above the approved budget, but in 2010 that extra spending took a big jump that will require even more spending in the future.” Of particular interest is the chart showing spending rising every year.

Sandy Springs a model. Common Sense with Paul Jacob: “Local governments suffer from a big problem: bigness. Too often they expand their scope of services, and, in so doing, progressively fail to cover even the old, core set of services. You know, like fire and police and roads and such. The solution is obvious. Mimic Sandy Springs. This suburban community north of Atlanta, Georgia, had been ill-served by Fulton County. So a few years ago the area incorporated. And, to fend off all the problems associated with the ‘do-it-all-ourselves’ mentality, the city didn’t hire on a huge staff of civil servants. Instead, it contracted out the bulk of those services in chunks. Now, the roads get paved and the streets are cleaned and the waste is removed better as well as cheaper than ever. Reason Foundation, a think tank known for its privatization emphasis, has been on the story from the beginning. A 2005 appraisal predicted that the town would become a ‘model city.’ That prophecy seems to have been on the money, and a Reason TV video emphasizes this with the shocking fact that the town ‘has no long-term liabilities.’ As the rest of the nation’s cities, counties and states lurch into insolvency, Sandy Springs shows a way out.” … The City of Wichita has had success in outsourcing the mowing of parks. Currently, the city has several dozen pieces of commercial mowing equipment at auction.

States’ war for jobs. Bloomberg Businesweek: “State and local governments eager to recover some of the more than 8 million jobs lost during the recession are giving away $70 billion in annual subsidies to companies, according to calculations by Kenneth Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. States have long relied on fiscal incentives to lure businesses, or keep existing employers from decamping to other locales. Such largesse is coming under renewed scrutiny during this time of strapped budgets. State deficits could reach a combined $112 billion in the fiscal year starting July 1. ‘The tragic irony of it is that in order to pay for these things, they’re cutting other areas that really are the building blocks of jobs and economic growth,’ says Jon Shure, director of state fiscal strategies for the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. … With the national unemployment rate at 8.8 percent, the threat of a company pulling up stakes is enough to open states’ wallets. ‘States and communities are afraid to play chicken,’ says Jeff Finkle, who heads the International Economic Development Council. … Kansas has offered movie theater chain AMC Entertainment a generous incentives package to move away from Kansas City, Mo., The New York Times reported in April. Officials in Missouri are considering making a counteroffer. Neither the company nor state officials would comment. The bidding war helped prompt an Apr. 5 letter signed by 17 corporate executives asking the governors of the two states to quit offering inducements to lure businesses across state lines. ‘At a time of severe fiscal constraint the effect to the states is that one state loses tax revenue, while the other forgives it,’ the letter said. ‘The only real winner is the business who is ‘incentive shopping’ to reduce costs.’” … Governor Brownback’s economic development plan speaks of “A more uniform business tax policy that treats all businesses equally rather than the current set of rules and laws that give great benefit to a few (through heavily bureaucratic programs) and zero benefit to many.” It will be a while before we know if the state is able to stick to this plan.

Shale gas to be topic in Wichita. This Friday (may 6) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Malcolm C. Harris, Sr., Ph.D., Professor of Finance, Division of Business and Information Technology, Friends University, speaking on the topic: “Shale gas: Our energy future?” Harris also blogs at Mammon Among Friends. … “Shale gas” refers to a relatively new method of extracting natural gas, as reported in the Wall Street Journal: “We’ve always known the potential of shale; we just didn’t have the technology to get to it at a low enough cost. Now new techniques have driven down the price tag — and set the stage for shale gas to become what will be the game-changing resource of the decade. I have been studying the energy markets for 30 years, and I am convinced that shale gas will revolutionize the industry — and change the world — in the coming decades. It will prevent the rise of any new cartels. It will alter geopolitics. And it will slow the transition to renewable energy.” … Critics like the Center for American Progress warn of the dangers: “The process, which involves injecting huge volumes of water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground to fracture rock formations and release trapped gas, is becoming increasingly controversial, with concerns about possible contamination of underground drinking water supplies alongside revelations of surface water contamination by the wastewater that is a byproduct of drilling.”

Economics in one lesson this Monday. On Monday (May 9), four videos based on Henry Hazlitt’s classic work Economics in One Lesson will be shown in Wichita. The four topics included in Monday’s presentation will be The Curse of Machinery, Disbanding Troops & Bureaucrats, Who’s “Protected” by Tariffs?, and “Parity” Prices. The event is Monday (May 9) at 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. The event’s sponsor is Americans for Prosperity, Kansas. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Voters favor cuts, not tax increases to balance budget. “A survey of Kansas voters conducted on behalf of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce found widespread support for cutting spending rather than raising taxes as the way to balance the Kansas budget. Support was also found for cutting state worker salaries, or reducing the number of state employees.” More at Kansas Chamber finds voters favor cuts, not tax increases to balance budget.

Here’s the Kansas data. “KansasOpenGov.org provides a repository of data about Kansas state and local governments, giving citizens the data they need to hold officials accountable.” More at Kansas OpenGov: Here’s the Kansas data.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday March 11, 2011

Owens said to be blocking judicial selection reform. From National Review Online All Eyes on Kansas: “Unfortunately, I am reliably informed that the liberal Republican chair of the state senate Judiciary Committee, Tim Owens, is obstructing the reform legislation, refusing to even hold a hearing. I hadn’t heard of Owens until now, and I doubt very many people have, but apparently this is not the first time he has used his power to thwart the goals of his colleagues. … If Owens wants to make policy for the entire state of Kansas, he should run for statewide office. Until then, he should at least hold a hearing and allow a vote on this judicial-selection-reform bill that has the support of the state’s governor and house of representatives.” … It’s not surprising that Tim Owens, an attorney and Republican from Overland Park, would be obstructing reform measures that would take power away from the state’s bar in place it in the hands of the people. The characterization by NRO of Owens as liberal is accurate, as on last year’s Kansas Economic Freedom Index, Owens scored just 20 percent.

Cabela’s bank. Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star: “World’s Foremost Bank, the Lincoln-based credit card operation run by outdoors retailer Cabela’s, has settled allegations of unfair and deceptive practices for more than $10 million, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. announced Tuesday.” Cabela’s was recently awarded a large and generous hunk of corporate welfare from the City of Wichita, on the threat that the merchant would not open a store in Wichita unless such welfare was forthcoming. Cabela’s: an honorable company? You decide. Also you decide whether Wichita’s “due diligence” investigation of the backgrounds of its partners should have been aware of this.

Scott Walker. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker writing in the Wall Street Journal: “In 2010, Megan Sampson was named an Outstanding First Year Teacher in Wisconsin. A week later, she got a layoff notice from the Milwaukee Public Schools. Why would one of the best new teachers in the state be one of the first let go? Because her collective-bargaining contract requires staffing decisions to be made based on seniority.” Walker goes on to explain some of the fiscal aspects of his efforts, but there are other very important goals to achieve, he writes: “Beyond balancing budgets, our reforms give schools — as well as state and local governments — the tools to reward productive workers and improve their operations. Most crucially, our reforms confront the barriers of collective bargaining that currently block innovation and reform.” The situation where an outstanding teacher would be laid off instead of a less-effective teacher would happen in Wichita, too, as the Wichita teachers union contract requires the same policy as does Wisconsin’s. Situations like this, not to mention the financial factors, as why public worker unions are harming America.

Outsourcing opposed by Kansas state workers. Kansas Organization of State Workers opposes a bill creating the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private
Partnerships Act. The purpose of the bill (HB 2194) is to seek ways to improve the operations of state agencies, as described in the supplemental note of the bill: “1) focus on the core mission and provide goods and services efficiently and effectively; 2) develop a process to analyze opportunities to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and provide quality services, operations, functions, and activities; and 3) evaluate for feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency opportunities that could be outsourced.” … This is the type of efficiency-seeking efforts that many private-sector firms undergo regularly. But not so much for government. In fact, state employees are actively opposing this bill. Here’s what the state worker advocacy group KOSE says: “Our services are under threat from a privatization proposal and it’s up to us to stop this devastating bill in Senate Committee. HB 2194, misleadingly called the council on efficient government act, establishes a partisan commission of big-business interests to privatize state services putting a wolf in charge of the hen house. To be clear, this bill allows for future privatization of nearly all services provided by state workers.” It’s not clear who KOSE means when writing “our services.” Not to mention the fact that right now the wolf (government worker unions) are in charge of the hen house (the politicians whose support they buy with union dues). … When the City of Wichita outsourced some maintenance of parks, they estimated it would save a certain amount. After starting the project, the city saved even more than first thought. … The state has a responsibility to its citizens to operate as efficiently as possible. If it is possible to have work done less expensively through outsourcing, the state should do so. The state’s first responsibility is to the taxpayers, not a state worker jobs program.

Tilting at wind turbines. “Switching from conventional sources of electricity like coal and natural gas to renewables like wind and solar, our elected leaders tell us, will reduce pollution, advance renewable technology and spark a green jobs revolution. Is renewable energy really a green pathway to a brighter economic future? Or is it nothing more than a heavily subsidized impossible dream?” Reason TV takes a look at wind energy in the video Tilting at Wind Turbines: Should the Government Subsidize Renewable Energy? Locally, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer promotes manufacturing of wind power machinery as good for Wichita’s economic development, and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback supports renewable energy standards for Kansas.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday November 26, 2010

Bill Gates on school reform. Microsoft Chairman and founder Bill Gates, in an effort to help the states save money on schools, recently gave a speech, as reported by the New York Times: “He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.” This is a refreshing take on the issue of class size. For more background on these issues from Voice for Liberty, click on Focus on class size in Wichita leads to misspent resources, Wichita public school district’s path: not fruitful, In public schools, incentives matter, and Wichita school district policy is misguided. For what it’s worth, incoming Kansas governor Sam Brownback doesn’t seem to have these issues on his agenda for education reform.

Now the schools look for savings. The Lawrence Journal-World reports on an initiative to save on utility costs in the Lawrence public school system. “Teachers are unloading their refrigerators, flipping off computer monitors and unplugging their coffee pots — all to help the Lawrence school district save a few bucks over the Thanksgiving break. It’s all part of an ongoing program to trim utility costs, thus far saving the district at least $3.6 million.” I wonder: why hasn’t the school district been doing this already? This is more evidence that spending can be cut in ways that won’t harm children, despite the shrill claims of school spending advocates when they, like Wichita Representative Jim Ward or outgoing governor Mark Parkinson, claim that spending has already been “cut to the bone.” Lawrence, USD 497, contributed to the 2005 Kansas schools lawsuit, but is not a member of this year’s group suing taxpayers for more money. Give a small measure of credit to this district, that they’re trying to cut costs first instead of suing taxpayers.

Business climate under Brownback. A poll by the Wichita Business Journal indicates that Kansans think the state’s business climate will improve under incoming governor Sam Brownback — barely. 53 percent of respondents clicked on “Yes, it will get better.” The rest thought the business climate will remain the same or get worse. This is not a scientific poll, but represents the sentiment of those readers who chose to participate.

The parent trigger. A law in California allows parents whose children are in failing public schools to petition the school to become a charter school, close down, other undergo other reform. Called the “parent trigger,” the law was promoted from the political left, unlike most reform proposals which come from the political right. The Center for School Reform at the Heartland Institute explains in the policy brief The Parent Trigger: A Model for Transforming Education. As the full report states: “America’s $400 billion public education system exists primarily to serve grown-ups — bureaucrats, unions, and other special interests — not kids.” The primary opposition to this measure comes from — naturally — the teachers union: “Because many parents will likely choose to have their schools convert to charters and most charter schools are not unionized, powerful unions like the California Teachers Association view parental empowerment as a threat.” Anyone who has read much about school reform knows that the teachers unions and schools spending advocacy groups are the greatest threat to any meaningful reform. In Kansas, the two groups that consistently oppose meaningful reform are Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).

Public or private parks? John Stossel asks whether parks should be public or privately owned. A video clip shows several interviewees insisting that parks must be public. Unknowing to these people, they were all interviewed in a privately-owned park. In this video clip, Stossel explains the tragedy of the commons and the benefits of private property. His written article concludes: “What private property does — as the Pilgrims discovered — is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there’s a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.”

Kansas Rep. Jim Morrison. Kansas Representative Jim Morrison of Colby has died. Services are pending.

Kansas City Mayor not happy with job poaching. The flow of jobs from Kansas City Missouri across the border to Kansas needs to stop, says Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser. The Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program is to blame, he says. This program allows companies to use nearly all the payroll withholding taxes its employees pay for its own benefit instead of supporting the Kansas budget. In urging Missouri to step up its ability to offer incentives, Funhouser used the term “nuclear deterrence.” He seems to indicate that the ability of one state to counter another state’s incentives might stop companies from moving just to get incentives. See Kansas City Star article Loss of jobs to Kansas irks Kansas City’s mayor. It’s a little ironic to hear Missouri complain about generous Kansas incentives, as Kansas politicians like Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer often complain about the incentives other states offer that Kansas can’t match, and how they wish they had other “tools in the toolbox.” Also, Star columnist Mary Sanchez is wrong when she writes “Present-day market realities call for upfront capital incentives for companies to relocate.”

The problem with public-private partnerships

As the City of Wichita gets ready to undertake the revitalization of downtown Wichita, we need to make sure we understand the many problems inherent in the “public-private partnership.” The following commentary by Fred L. Smith, Jr. President of the Competitive Enterprise Institute originally appeared on OpenMarket.org, and it does an excellent job explaining these problems. Some of these I and others have brought to the attention of the Wichita City Council.

The Problem With Public-Private Partnerships

by Fred Smith

In our half-political, half-private world, there are a growing number of public-private partnerships. Almost nothing in the current world can be done without implicit or explicit permission by local, state, federal or (increasingly) global regulators. But the term, public-private is normally used to denote the joint funding and, sometimes, joint management of some “public” facility — streets, water systems, and so forth.

The rationale for “public” investments is that they are “public” goods, whose benefits are not adequately captured by the provider. There are many problems with this concept — in practice, it means that someone wants something and nobody seems to be providing it. Note, from a Coasian/Schumpeterian free market perspective, these are exactly the “lures” that lead mankind to pursue the unexplored entrepreneurial paths to the future. Rushing in with government assistance distorts and preempts those creative forces.

Sometimes, public-private partnerships can be a transitional step toward privatization. The concept of “corporatization” that is, reorganizing an activity now performed by some political agency so that its inherent economic realities become more understandable and transparent, may be a useful step in privatizing the activity.

In most cases, however, public-private partnerships are simply a means of using tax breaks, regulatory easing, taxpayer support and so forth to subsidize some private activity: stadia, light and heavy rail — mass transit generally, sometimes (for God’s sake) hotels and malls, downtown development districts. Where I live in Washington, D.C., businesses are allowed to add a “special tax” to pay for services the city supposedly pays for with normal tax revenues. Such public-private partnerships suffer from the full array of government failures:

  • Log-rolling and pork-barrel politics: I’ll vote for your PPP if you vote for my PPP.

  • Weakened market tests: resources are devoted to a project not because it benefits the citizenry but rather because it benefits a powerful interest group and/or because a creative referendum entices a majority of voters to support their special interests.
  • Weaker Management: Absent market tests, managers are less motivated to find that mix of services and creative array of financing tools to ensure that it proves “profitable” (that is, a rational allocation of capital). Roads, even charter schools, etc all have suffered here immensely.
  • Lack of innovation: No institution in the private world can allow itself to stagnate – the creative forces of destruction will soon make it obsolete. PPP managers face much weaker innovative forces — if things go wrong, they can always appeal to their “public” nature for taxpayer bailouts.
  • Corruption: Crony capitalism abounds in the PPP world.
  • Faddism: Markets sometimes go on kicks — the tech boom, for example — but these soon collapse. Governments go on kicks for many decades — “renewable energy” and “mass transit” being perhaps the best examples but “magnet” investments in downtown malls, stadia and convention centers are perhaps even more persistent ones. Before Walmart became a PPP, it did more for consumers than all the PPP malls in the world.
  • Crowding Out: Capitalism plays a critical role in allocating capital — planting the seeds for our future. That is a very difficult task, one made much more difficult by the existence of PPPs. Government already seizes a disproportionate amount of our wealth and the PPP concept allows it to further distort the allocation by market forces. I’ve argued that the genius of the Progressives in the late 19th century was to preempt or push large sectors of the emerging future (the environment, schools, electromagnetic spectrum, infrastructure, welfare, the medical world) into the political world. The PPP concept simply exacerbates this tendency.

Our challenge is to find ways to expand the private sector and only very rarely does the PPP concept do that. It allows people to be sloppy — “That would never pay for itself but it obviously has value, thus, we need some government help. Let’s not make it an honest government function, let’s make it a Public-Private partnership and get the best of all possible outcomes!!”

This Mixed Economy model is less honest than true socialism (government acting directly) for many reasons. If as is often the case, things go wrong, it will be capitalism — not government — that will be blamed. PPP activities are less subject to consumer sovereignty (look at airports or schools). The true costs of the activity don’t appear on government budgets — making it appear that PPP arrangements are “bargains.”

Prices mean something, even life and death

In the five years since Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, some $15 billion has been spent rebuilding and strengthening that city’s flood defenses. The goal is to protect against the loss of life and property that happened in 2005 when the levies failed.

Is this wise? Will it work? Mark Thornton wrote “The sad truth is that the government is only making things worse over time. Higher levies only increase the destructive force of future levy breaks.”

But engineers say that if Katrina arrived today, the city would experience only light flooding. But what will happen in the future? The network of flood protection structures and machinery needs constant maintenance. Reporting in the Wall Street Journal cautions that “Another big question is who will pay the tens of millions of dollars in annual maintenance costs for the new structures once they are complete. Typically, the Corps hands the responsibility of upkeep to state and local authorities after completing a flood-control project. But city officials say the infrastructure is so large and complex that they don’t have the technical expertise to go it alone — or pay for it alone.”

So there is a definite risk that the strengthening of the city’s flood defenses may make future failures even more disastrous. There’s also the risk that these structures will not be maintained as required. In the latter case, how will we know if the protections are being maintained adequately?

The answer is we probably won’t know. That’s because the property in New Orleans is insured by the federal government’s flood insurance program. That program, unlike private insurance, doesn’t have to earn a profit, and therefore doesn’t have to price its insurance according to the risks it is covering.

That’s different from the way fire insurance, for example, is priced. In this case, fire insurance companies have to price their product to cover their expected loses, their other costs, and return some profit. The expected loses are based on a variety of factors, such as characteristics of the home, distance from a fire hydrant, and the qualities of a city’s fire department.

Many cities have their fire departments rated by a company called Insurance Services Office (ISO). This rating is a major factor in the insurance rates that companies will offer to customers in a city. If a city’s ISO rating declines, meaning that its fire defenses are not as good as before, insurance rates will rise. People will notice. They’ll wonder why and seek answers.

But government does not face the discipline of profit as do private insurers. As has been noted, government will insure insane risks for very low premiums. And if it pays a loss, it will insure the same property again. Since it isn’t in the insurance business to make money, it doesn’t really have much motive to rate the risk of the property it is insuring.

That’s the source of the problem. The New Orleans flood protection systems lacked the oversight and inquiring eyes of profit-minded companies. The result was death and destruction on a massive scale.

So prices and their importance are not of interest only to economists and academics. They contain, as Hayek has taught us, a tremendous amount of information gathered from many sources. Prices can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Some may object that insurance in some locations, like New Orleans, would be expensive if it was priced to reflect the actual risk faced. That’s probably true, and that’s good. When that extra cost is spread across the entire country through government insurance programs, residents of New Orleans can get cheap insurance. But as we’ve seen, the cost of the missing information that accurate prices provide is very high.