Tag Archives: Rhonda Holman

Intrust Bank Arena commemorative monument

Intrust Bank Arena: Not accounted for like a business

Proper attention given to the depreciation expense of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita recognizes and accounts for the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to pay for the arena. It’s a business-like way of accounting, but a well-hidden secret.

Sedgwick County Working for YouThe true state of the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita are not often a subject of public discussion. Arena boosters promote a revenue-sharing arrangement between the county and the arena operator, referring to this as profit or loss. But this arrangement is not an accurate and complete accounting, and hides the true economics of the arena. What’s missing is depreciation expense.

An example of the incomplete editorializing comes from Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle, who opined “Though great news for taxpayers, that oversize check for $255,678 presented to Sedgwick County last week reflected Intrust Bank Arena’s past, specifically the county’s share of 2013 profits.”

Earlier reporting on this topic in the Eagle did not mention depreciation expense, either.

There are at least two ways of looking at the finance of the arena. Most attention is given to the “profit” (or loss) earned by the arena for the county according to an operating and management agreement between the county and SMG, a company that operates the arena.

This agreement specifies a revenue sharing mechanism between the county and SMG. For 2103, the accounting method used in this agreement produced a profit of $705,678, to be split (not equally) between SMG and the county. The county’s share, as Holman touted, was $255,678. Presumably that’s after deducting the cost of producing an oversize check for the television cameras.

The Operations of Intrust Bank ArenaWhile described as “profit” by many, this payment does not represent any sort of “profit” or “earnings” in the usual sense. In fact, the introductory letter that accompanies these calculations warns readers that these are “not intended to be a complete presentation of INTRUST Bank Arena’s financial position and results of operations and are not intended to be a presentation in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.”

That bears repeating: This is not a reckoning of profit and loss in any recognized sense. It is simply an agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG as to how SMG is to be paid, and how the county participates.

A much better reckoning of the economics of the Intrust Bank Arena can be found in the 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Sedgwick County. This document holds additional information about the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena. The CAFR, as described by the county, “… is a review of what occurred financially at Sedgwick County in 2013. In that respect, it is a report card of our ability to manage our financial resources.”

Regarding the arena, the CAFR states:

The Arena Fund represents the activity of the INTRUST Bank Arena that opened on January 9, 2010. The facility is operated by a private company; the county incurs expenses only for certain capital improvements or major repairs and depreciation, and receives as revenue only a share of profits earned by the operator, if any. The Arena had an operating loss of $4.7 million. The loss can be attributed to $5.3 million in depreciation expense.

Financial statements in the same document show that $5,295,414 was charged for depreciation in 2013, bringing accumulated depreciation to a total of $21,190,280.

Depreciation expense is not something that is paid out in cash. Sedgwick County didn’t write a check for $5,295,414 in depreciation expense. Instead, depreciation accountingit provides a way to recognize and account for the cost of long-lived assets over their lifespan. It provides a way to recognize opportunity costs, that is, what could be done with our resources if not spent on the arena.

But some don’t recognize this. In years past, Commissioner Dave Unruh made remarks that show the severe misunderstanding that he and almost everyone labor under regarding the nature of the spending on the arena: “I want to underscore the fact that the citizens of Sedgwick County voted to pay for this facility in advance. And so not having debt service on it is just a huge benefit to our government and to the citizens, so we can go forward without having to having to worry about making those payments and still show positive cash flow. So it’s still a great benefit to our community and I’m still pleased with this report.”

Intrust Bank Arena commemorative monument
Intrust Bank Arena commemorative monument
The contention of Unruh and other arena boosters such as the Wichita Eagle editorial board is that the capital investment of $183,625,241 (not including an operating and maintenance reserve) on the arena is merely a historical artifact, something that happened in the past, something that has no bearing today. There is no opportunity cost, according to his view. This attitude, however, disrespects the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to raise those funds.

Any honest accounting or reckoning of the performance of Intrust Bank Arena must take depreciation into account. While Unruh is correct in that depreciation expense is not a cash expense that affects cash flow, it is an economic fact that can’t be ignored — except by politicians, apparently.

We see our governmental and civic leaders telling us that we must “run government like a business.” Without frank and realistic discussion of numbers like these and the economic facts they represent, we make decisions based on incomplete and false information.

Kansas school finance reporting and opinion

school-crayons-colored-pencils-168392There’s a range of opinion, that’s for sure.

Republicans concede bill would let teachers be fired without cause (Wichita Eagle)
“Statehouse Republicans are having to abandon a key talking point in their effort to defuse teacher anger over an anti-tenure bill the Legislature passed a week ago, conceding the bill would allow school districts to fire veteran teachers without having to give a reason why. If Gov. Sam Brownback signs the bill into law, teachers would essentially be at-will employees of their school districts and able to challenge termination only if they allege the firing violates their constitutional rights.” Click here to read.

Kansas bill renews debate about how easy it should be to fire teachers (Kansas City Star)
There is a diversity of opinion, much conflicting, it seems: “It’s not too damn hard to fire a teacher,” said Marcus Baltzell, the director of communications for the Kansas National Education Association. “It’s just that the teacher has a redress of due process, a hearing officer, (a chance to say) ‘Here’s my take. Here’s what we’ve done to address the area of concern, and I believe this is unfair.’” … “Lawmakers who backed the change — it becomes law if Gov. Sam Brownback signs it — argued that dumping dead weight from the faculty has become harder than it ought to be.” … “I don’t like tenure. I never have,” said Rep. Ward Cassidy, a Republican from northwest Kansas who worked as a high school principal for 20 years. “Good principals have a whole lot of other things to do besides going through all you need to fire a teacher.” Click here to read.

In Wichita, Brownback neither praises nor criticizes measure stripping K-12 teacher tenure rights (Wichita Eagle)
“… most questions he was asked after his short talk concerned a provision to strip veteran K-12 teachers of tenure rights in the recently passed public school financing bill, which he said he has not decided whether to sign. And while he didn’t criticize that provision, he didn’t endorse it either.” Click here to read.

In Kansas, education is all about money and politics for UMEEA (Kansas Policy Institute)
“Media reaction to the school finance legislation has been pretty predictable. It focuses almost exclusively on institutions and ignores the impact on students. As usual, it’s all about money and politics. Unions, media and their allies in the education establishment (UMEEA) oppose tax credit scholarships for low income students. They rail against taxpayer money going to private schools and how that might mean a little less money for public institutions but ignore the very real purpose and need for the program. (FYI, the scholarship program is capped at $10 million; schools are expected to spend almost $6 billion this year.) Achievement gaps for low income students are large and getting worse, despite the fact that At Risk funding intended to improve outcomes increased seven-fold over the last eight years. So predictably, a program to give an alternative to low income students in the 99 lowest-performing schools is attacked by UMEEA as being unfair to institutions. Media and their establishment friends don’t even make a token mention of the serious achievement problem. It’s all about money and politics.” Click here to read.

Far-Right Kansas Legislature Sells Out Kansas Schools (Kansas Democratic Party)
“But none of these stories could compete with what the Kansas Legislature did to Kansas public schools. Under the cover of night and with virtually no debate or hearings, the Kansas Legislature forced through an education “reform” bill that stripped teachers of due process rights, passed out even more tax breaks to corporations, and potentially widened the disparity between rich schools and poor schools. School districts say new school finance bill will widen disparities.” Click here to read.

Opinion: Public education under attack (Lawrence Journal-World)
“The inclusion of these so-called “policy” provisions in the school finance bill passed by the Legislature are a mistake and will actually harm the very schools that the Kansas Supreme Court sought to assist. This is just one more step in the Legislature’s assault on public K-12 education in Kansas.” Click here to read.

Teachers are sacrificial lambs in school finance (Iola Register via High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times)
A confused editorial. The writer says that teachers are held accountable to, among others, school administrators, but usually it is claimed that teachers need defense from this accountability. “The defense of tenure is at its best when you consider a teacher is accountable to hundreds of ‘bosses’ — parents and school boards as well as administrators.” Click here to read.

Selling education (Hutchinson News)
“Two elements of the bill are particularly troubling. One creates a $10 million-a-year corporate welfare program in support of private education. It allows large companies to enjoy a 70-percent credit against their state tax liability if they offer scholarships to at-risk students who move to private schools. This has nothing at all to do with public education equity; rather it creates a mechanism to damage the finance structure for public schools. The second concerning component redefines “teacher” as a way to eliminate due process protections. And the concept of teacher tenure is a myth. The current due process for teachers simply ensures a written termination notice and the right to challenge the decision through review by a hearing officer. In fact the Kansas Association of School Boards reported that the state sees about 10 due process claims each year – hardly a number that indicates a systemic problem that requires legislative action. The measure is little more than a way to break the teachers’ union and silence those teachers who honestly educate and advocate for their students.” Click here to read.

Richard Crowson: We Need Some Education (KMUW)
“And that guy who was smiling and joking with me in the checkout line at the grocery last Saturday? He lit a firebomb, taped a tax credit for private school supporters on it, and flung it through the window of a first grade classroom in the wee hours of Sunday morning.” Click here to read.

Rep. Rooker ‘heartsick’ over results of education finance bill (Prairie Village Post)
Small steps towards Kansas education reform are “immoral” and make this representative “heartsick.” Click here to read.

Shame, says Wichita Eagle editorial board (Voice for Liberty)
The Wichita Eagle editorial board, under the byline of Rhonda Holman, issued a stern rebuke to the Kansas Legislature for its passage of HB 2506 over the weekend. Click here to read.

Shame on Legislature - Rhonda Holman

Shame, says Wichita Eagle editorial board

Shame on Legislature - Rhonda HolmanThe Wichita Eagle editorial board, under the byline of Rhonda Holman, issued a stern rebuke to the Kansas Legislature for its passage of HB 2506 over the weekend. (Eagle editorial: Shame on Legislature, April 8, 2014)

Here are some notes on a few of Holman’s points.

She wrote that the legislature should not “undermine teachers’ rights and meddle in education policymaking.” First: There’s controversy over what the bill actually means to the relationship between teachers and their employers. Courts will probably have to intervene. Second: Should the Legislature have a say in policy, or just pay?

Then, she criticized the bill as “passed with only Republican votes” on a “Sunday night.” This reminded me of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in the United States Senate. At the time, The Hill reported: “The Senate approved sweeping healthcare reform legislation by the narrowest of partisan margins early Christmas Eve morning” (Senate passes historic healthcare reform legislation in 60-39 vote) That’s right: Votes from only one party, and on Christmas Eve.

Later in her op-ed Holman complained: “With such handling of the various bills, GOP legislative leaders also failed to reflect Brownback’s State of the State assertion that the ‘wonderfully untidy’ business of appropriations is ‘open for all to see.’ They held a conference committee meeting at 3 a.m. Sunday — after media, most legislators and the teachers had left the Statehouse for the night, and with insufficient public notice.” Reading this, I was again reminded of the passage of Obamacare, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi made her famous explanation as reported by Politico:

“You’ve heard about the controversies, the process about the bill .. but I don’t know if you’ve heard that it is legislation for the future — not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America,” she told the National Association of Counties annual legislative conference, which has drawn about 2,000 local officials to Washington. “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it — away from the fog of the controversy.”

On the expansion of innovative districts, Holman wrote: “Nobody even knows whether the new ‘innovative districts’ program will work or is constitutional,” calling it an “accountability-free concept.” Well, we know that an important provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was ruled unconstitutional (the expansion of Medicaid), and Chief Justice John Roberts had to torture logic and the plain meaning of words in order to shoehorn the individual mandate into the Constitution.

I’m not saying that I approve of the way the Kansas Legislature approved this bill. But if it worked for Obamacare, and if Rhonda Holman and the Wichita Eagle editorial board like Obamacare (they do), well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Also, Holman complained of “unproven ideological reforms” contained in the Kansas school legislation. Two things: First, we know that the present system of public education in Kansas is not working for many children. For example, if we critically examine the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores that Kansans are so proud of, we find that for some groups of students, the national public school average beats or ties Kansas.

Or, if we read the National Center for Education Statistics report Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales, we can learn that Kansas has relatively low standards for its schools, and when Kansas was spending more on schools due to the Montoy decision from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered the standards.

ideology-definitionI’m of the opinion that whenever someone criticizes their opponents as ideological — as the Wichita Eagle editorial board has — they don’t have a very good argument. They’re likely confusing ideology with partisanship. The Wikipedia entry for ideology says: “An ideology is a set of conscious and unconscious ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology is a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things. … Ideologies are systems of abstract thought applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics. Implicitly every political or economic tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought.”

I wish the Eagle editorial board was more ideological. If it firmly believed in economic freedom, free markets, limited government, and individual liberty — that’s an ideology we could live with, and Kansas schoolchildren could thrive under.

Instead, we’re left with the Wichita Eagle editorial board’s ideology of less educational freedom and less accountability to those who pay the bills and parent the students.

apple-chalkboard-books-2

In Kansas, the Blob is worked up

apple-chalkboard-books“Education reformers have a name for the resistance: the education ‘Blob.’ The Blob includes the teachers unions, but also janitors and principals unions, school boards, PTA bureaucrats, local politicians and so on.” (John Stossel, The Blob That Ate Children.)

In Kansas, we’re seeing the Blob at full activation, vigorously protecting its interests. The source of the Blob’s consternation is a bill in the Kansas Legislature that would add charter schools and tax credit scholarships to the educational landscape in Kansas. (Kansas does have charter schools at present, but the law is so stacked in favor of the Blob’s interests that there are very few charter schools.)

An example of a prominent spokesperson for the Blob is the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman. She recently wrote regarding Kansas school funding: “In the Kansas Speaks survey released last fall by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, two-thirds said they wanted to see more K-12 state funding.”

I don’t doubt that these results are accurate. The desire for good schools is nearly universal. But when we look at the beliefs of people, we find that they are, largely, uninformed and misinformed about the level of school spending. Kansas Policy Institute commissioned a survey that asked the public a series of questions on schools and spending. (See Citizens generally misinformed on Kansas school spending.) A key finding is that most people think that schools spend much less than actual spending, and by a large margin. Further, most people think spending has declined, when in fact it has risen. These finding are similar to other research commissioned by KPI, and additional surveys by other organizations at the national level.

Not surprisingly, when citizens and taxpayers learn the true level of school spending, their attitude towards school spending changes. That’s dangerous to school spending advocates — the Blob. It diminishes their most compelling arguments for more school spending — “it’s for the kids.”

The Eagle editorial board, along with the Kansas City Star, has been instrumental in misinforming Kansans about school spending. These newspapers continually use base state aid per pupil as the measure of schools spending, when in fact this is just a fraction of total spending on schools. (See Here’s why Kansans are misinformed about schools.)

The survey that Holman relies upon as evidence of the desire for more school spending didn’t ask — as far as I know — questions to see if respondents were informed on the issue. Even worse: Instead of seeking to educate readers on the facts, Holman resorts to demagoguery and demonizing, referring to “education reforms coveted by some conservatives and the American Legislative Exchange Council.” There, the two evils: Conservatives and ALEC, the substance of her argument.

Reform in Kansas

There are two reforms being talked about in Kansas that are popular in other states. Popular except with the Blob, that is.

One is a tax credit scholarship program. This lets corporations make contributions to organizations that would provide scholarships for students to attend private schools. The corporations would then receive credits against their income tax. The Blob opposes programs like this. The Blob says that these programs simply let students that are already in private or church schools have the state pay their tuition.

But the proposed law in Kansas this year, as in years past, contains these provision: For the scholarship program, students must qualify as “at-risk” students and be attending a school that qualifies as “title I,” a program that applies to schools with many students from low-income families.

Further, the student must have been enrolled in a public school before seeking a scholarship, unless the student is less than six years old.

Together these requirements rebut the argument of the Blob: That the scholarships are just a way for children already in private or church schools to get tax funds to pay for their schools. Instead, the law targets these scholarships at students from low-income households.

Another possible reform is charter schools. These are schools that are public schools and receive public funding, but operate outside the present education establishment and local school boards. The Blob objects to this because they say that without government oversight, charter schools aren’t held accountable. The Blob must forget that charter schools are accountable to parents of children, which is a higher standard than the accountability of government bureaucrats. Also, unlike the regular public schools, the government can’t force children to attend a charter school.

The Blob criticizes charter schools because they say they “cherry-pick” the best students, leaving public schools with the worst. Here’s what the proposed Kansas law says: “A public charter school shall enroll all students who wish to attend the school.” If more students apply than the school has space, students will be selected via lottery. In most areas that have charter schools, there are many more aspirants than available spaces, and students are chosen by lottery. That would undoubtedly be the case in Kansas.

The Blob says that charter schools pick only the students they want, and therefore lead to segregation. Here’s the proposed law: “A public charter school shall be subject to all federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, gender, national origin, religion, ancestry or need for special education services.”

Here’s what the Blob really hates: “A public charter school shall be exempt from all laws and rules and regulations that are otherwise applicable to public schools in this state.” And also this: “Teachers in public charter schools shall be exempt from the teacher certification requirements established by the state board.”

The Blob values its rules and regulations that make work for its fleets of bureaucrats. Never mind that these regulations probably don’t increase student learning. That’s not the point.

And the political muscle of the Blob, the teachers unions? Well, charter school teachers usually aren’t unionized. The union is in favor of public schools only if the the teachers are in unions.

What the Blob won’t tell you

The Kansas Blob is proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here.

Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
Data for the 2013 administration of the test was just released. I’ve gathered scores and made them available in a visualization that you can use at wichitaliberty.org. The most widely available NAEP data is for two subjects: reading and math, and for two grades, fourth and eighth. The video presents data for Kansas, Texas, and the average for national public schools. I choose to compare Kansas with Texas because for several reasons, Kansas has been comparing itself with Texas. So let’s look at these test scores and see if the reality matches what Kansas school leaders have said.

Looking at the data for all students, you can see why Kansas school leaders are proud: The line representing Kansas is almost always the highest.

NAEP makes data available by ethnic subtypes. If we present a chart showing black students only, something different appears. Now Texas is higher than Kansas in all cases in one, where there is a tie.

If we consider Hispanic students only: Texas is higher in some cases, and Kansas and Texas are virtually tied in two others. National public schools is higher than Kansas in some cases.

Considering white students only, Texas is higher than Kansas in three of four cases. In some cases the National public school average beats or ties Kansas.

So we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

When you hear the Blob trumpet high Kansas test scores, does it also explain the nuances? No, of course not, But you can examine these test scores in an interactive visualization.

Kansas school standards

Another problem you won’t hear about from the Blob: Kansas has low standards for its schools. Even worse, at a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.
Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.
This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

What is the import of the farm bill to Kansas?

Wheat combine on farm

Correcting the Wichita Eagle’s facts will place the importance of the farm bill to Kansas in proper perspective.

In criticizing five of the six members of the Kansas congressional delegation for voting against the farm bill, Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle editorialized this: “Five of the six members of the Kansas delegation just voted against a farm bill — a stunning abdication of leadership in a state in which agriculture is 25 percent of the economy.” (Eagle editorial: AWOL on farm bill, Wednesday, February 5, 2014)

The Eagle editorialist didn’t specify what she meant by “percent of the economy” or where she got these figures. But the most common measure of the size of an economy is gross domestic product (GDP), and it’s easy to find.

Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) for 2012 tells us that the category “Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting” contributed $5,428 million towards the total Kansas GDP of $138,953 million. That means agriculture contributed 3.9 percent to Kansas GDP. The Eagle based its argument on a value of 25 percent, a value that’s 6.4 times the actual value.

If you included the category “Food and beverage and tobacco product manufacturing” you’d add a few additional percentage points. But you’d still have a number that is just a fraction of what the Eagle editorial board believes to be the contribution of agriculture to the Kansas economy.

Now that you have the facts that the Wichita Eagle doesn’t have, how important do you think is the farm bill to Kansas?

Besides this, the Eagle praised former U.S. Senator Bob Dole for his “effort to bind rural and urban interests in agricultural policy by including food stamps in the nation’s safety net for farmers.” In political science this is called logrolling. It’s one of the reasons why government continues to grow faster than our willingness to pay for it. I think the Wichita Eagle likes that.

It’s for things like this that Dan Mitchell created the “Bob Dole Award” for Misguided Conservatives. It’s for those who fit this description:

“If you say something about fiscal policy and a statist can respond by saying “I agree, so let’s raise taxes,” then you’ve made the mistake of focusing on red ink rather than the real problem of too much government spending.”

Mitchell explains the naming of the award:

Naming the award after Bob Dole also is appropriate since he was never a sincere advocate of limited government. The Kansas lawmaker was a career politician who said in his farewell speech that his three greatest achievements were a) creating the food stamp program, b) increasing payroll taxes, and c) imposing the Americans with Disabilities Act (no wonder I wanted Clinton to win in 1996).

For all of these reasons, and more, no real conservative should want to win an award linked to Bob Dole.

Wichita Eagle editorial board on the truth

Wichita Eagle Opinion: Brownback Numbers are Suspect

A recent Wichita Eagle editorial penned by Rhonda Holman took Governor Sam Brownback to task for a mistake made in reporting Kansas spending numbers. (Eagle editorial: Brownback ’s numbers are suspect.)

Specifically, Holman wrote:

What’s going on here is clear: Brownback is embracing and repeating numbers that help promote his agenda, including what he sees as the need to push back against a court order for more state funding of public schools.

But Kansans need to trust that what they hear from their governor, especially again and again, is rooted in truth, not cherry-picked, spun or flat wrong.

So let’s look at the use of numbers by the Wichita Eagle editorial board. When discussing school spending, the editorialists refer to base state aid per pupil and treat that as though it was the totality of school spending.

Base state aid per pupil is just part of school spending, and most schools spend much more than that. Specifically, base state aid per pupil for the last school year was $3,780. But the state spent an average of $6,983 per pupil that year, which is an additional $3,203 or 84.7 percent more than base state aid. Overall spending from all sources was $12,656 per pupil. Both of the latter numbers are higher than the previous year.

Also, base state aid per pupil has declined in recent years. That’s a convenient fact for school spending boosters. They can use a statistic that contains a grain of truth in order to whip up concern among the uninformed over inadequate school spending. They can cite this as an argument for increasing spending, even though spending has been rising.

(By the way, when citizens in Kansas and across the nation are asked questions about school spending, we learn they are totally uninformed. Even worse, several candidates for the Wichita school board are similarly uninformed. See Wichita school board candidates on spending.)

Further, citing only base state aid reduces “sticker shock.” Most people are surprised to learn that our schools spend $12,656 per student. It’s much easier to tell taxpayers that only $3,780 was spent. But that’s not a complete picture. In fact, using base state aid as a measure of school spending defines “cherry-picked,” a practice of which Holman accuses the governor.

Informed readers are left wondering whether the Eagle editorial board is ignorant of these facts, or does it have an agenda to push — just like they accuse Brownback.

Here’s something else from Holman in the editorial:

Plus, Brownback has said that “29 percent of Kansas fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level.” That’s a misuse of the results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress survey, in which Kansas actually ranked 10th best in the nation. The better measure is the state assessment, which found 10.1 percent of fourth-graders failed to meet the state standard in reading that year.

The high ranking of Kansas on the NAEP can be explained by the demographic composition of Kansas students compared to other states. As I show in Kansas school test scores, in perspective, Kansas students score better than Texas students on the NAEP. This is a fact congruent with Holman’s citing of Kansas’ high ranking among the states.

But it is also true that Texas white students score better than Kansas white students, Texas black students score better than Kansas black students, and Texas Hispanic students score better than or tie Kansas Hispanic students. The same pattern holds true for other ethnic subgroups. If we examine figures for low-income students, we see a similar pattern.

How can this be? You have to look more closely at the figures than the Wichita Eagle editorial board is willing or able. But if you do this, you will understand more about Kansas schools.

As far as relying on Kansas state assessments to gauge our schools’ performance, we need to be careful. When compared to other states, Kansas has low standards, and these standards have declined.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has analyzed state standards, and we can see that Kansas has standards that are below most states. The table of figures is available at Estimated NAEP scale equivalent scores for state proficiency standards, for reading and mathematics in 2009, by grade and state. An analysis of these tables by the Kansas Policy Institute shows that few states have standards below the Kansas standards.

The editorial board might also wonder why scores on the Kansas assessments — the ones under control of Kansas education officials — are rising, while NAEP scores are not.

A reader sent in this comment, which I believe is apt:

To paraphrase a trusted source:

“[The Eagle's] numbers matter because they’re being used by [Democrats] and [government employees' unions] to guide and justify state spending policy decisions, especially in education. The [Eagle] has used [misleading statistics] to drum up public support for plans to [raise] income taxes and to [support] a recent court decision that found the state isn’t meeting its constitutional mandate to provide adequate funding for schools.”

I don’t expect a correction anytime soon.

Wichita Eagle editorial board: When writing that “Kansans need to trust that what they hear from their governor, especially again and again, is rooted in truth, not cherry-picked, spun or flat wrong” please apply this standard to yourself.

As lawmakers, Kansas judges should be selected democratically

Kansas Judicial Center in snowWhile many believe that judges should not “legislate from the bench,” that is, make law themselves, the reality is that lawmaking is a judicial function. In a democracy, lawmakers should be elected under the principle of “one person, one vote.” But Kansas, which uses the Missouri Plan for judicial selection to its two highest courts, violates this principle.

A recent paper by Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware explains the problem with the process used in Kansas. The paper is titled Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study and may be downloaded at no charge. The Kansas courts that use the judicial selection described in the paper are the Kansas Court of Appeals and the Kansas Supreme Court.

At issue is whether judges are simply arbitrators of the law, or do they actually participate in the lawmaking process. Ware explains: “This realist view that statutory interpretation often involves ‘substantial judicial discretion’ and therefore constitutes ‘judicial lawmaking, not lawfinding,’ had by the 1950s, ‘become deeply rooted.’”

A “‘balanced realism,’ to use Brian Tamanaha’s appealing label, recognizes both that judges’ policy preferences have little or no influence on many judicial decisions and that judges’ policy preferences have a significant influence on other judicial decisions. Empirical studies tend to support this balanced view.” In other words, there is some role for ideology in making judicial decisions. Politics, therefore, is involved. Ware quotes Charles Gardner Geyh: “In a post-realist age, the ideological orientation of judicial aspirants matters.” And the higher the court, the more this matters.

Since judges function as lawmakers, they ought to be selected by a democratic process. In the Kansas version of the Missouri Plan, a nominating commission dominated by lawyers selects three candidates to fill an opening on the Kansas Court of Appeals or Kansas Supreme Court. The governor then selects one of the three, and the process is over. A new judge is selected. This process gives members of the state’s bar tremendous power in selecting judges.

Ware presents eleven examples of judges on the two highest Kansas courts engaging in lawmaking. In one, a workers’ compensation case, the employee would lose his appeal if the “clear” precedent was followed. Justice Carol A. Beier wrote the opinion. Ware explains:

But this is not, in fact, what Justice Beier and her colleagues on the Kansas Supreme Court did. Rather they did what Kansas Judges Greene and Russell say never happens. Justice Beier and her colleagues engaged in lawmaking. They changed the legal rule from one contrary to their ideologies to one consistent with their ideologies.

Justice Beier’s opinion doing this started by criticizing the old rule, while acknowledging that it was, in fact, the rule prior to her opinion by which the Supreme Court made new law. Here again is the above quote from Coleman, but now with the formerly omitted words restored and italicized: “The rule is clear, if a bit decrepit and unpopular: An injury from horseplay does not arise out of employment and is not compensable unless the employer was aware of the activity or it had become a habit at the workplace.”

Who decided that this rule is “decrepit and unpopular” and so should be changed? Was it the Kansas Legislature? No, it was the Kansas Supreme Court. It was judges, not legislators, who decided that this legal rule was bad policy. It was judges, not legislators, who changed the law to bring it in line with what the lawmaking judges thought was good policy.

Beier wrote in her opinion: “We are clearly convinced here that our old rule should be abandoned. Although appropriate for the time in which it arose, we are persuaded by the overwhelming weight of contrary authority in our sister states and current legal commentary.”

The result: New Kansas law, made by people selected through an undemocratic process.

In conclusion, Ware writes:

Non-lawyers who believe in the principle that lawmakers should be selected democratically need to know that judicial selection is lawmaker selection to be troubled by the Missouri Plan’s violation of this principle. Non-lawyers who do not know that judges inevitably make law may believe that the role of a judge consists only of its professional/technical side and, therefore, believe that judges should be selected entirely on their professional competence and ethics and that assessments of these factors are best left to lawyers. In short, a lawyer who omits lawmaking from a published statement about the judicial role is furthering a misimpression that helps empower lawyers at the expense of non-lawyers, in violation of basic democratic equality, the principle of one-person, one-vote.

Prospects for Kansas

In Kansas, the process for selecting judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals is governed by statute, and can be changed by the legislature and governor. Last year the House of Representatives passed a bill to reform the process, but it was blocked by Senate Judiciary Chair Tim Owens. He said “I think this is the first time I did not hear a bill because I thought it was so bad. This is a terrible, terrible bill that’s hated by the courts; it’s an attempt to take over control of the courts.”

Owens, who ranked as the least friendly senator to economic freedom in the 2012 edition of the Kansas Economic Freedom Index, lost his bid for re-election in the August primary election. Many of the other moderate Republicans who voted against reform also lost their primary election contest.

Owens, it should be noted, is an attorney, and is therefore a member of the privileged class that has outsize power in selecting judges.

Sometimes legislators are simply uninformed or misinformed on judicial selection. An example is Jean Schodorf, who lost a re-election bid in August. In an interview, she was quoted as saying “We thwarted changes to judicial selection that would have allowed the governor to have the final say in all judicial selections.”

The bill that the senate voted on, and the one that Owens killed the year before, called for Court of Appeals judges to be appointed by the governor, with the consent of the senate. It’s actually the senate that has the final say.

Newspaper editorial writers across Kansas are mostly opposed to judicial selection reform. An example is Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle, who in 2010 wrote: “Some critics may have a beef with past court decisions, perhaps even a legitimate one — which is no surprise, given that judicial decisions pick winners and losers. But they also may be motivated by politics — which is a problem, given that the judiciary is supposed to be fair, impartial and independent. In the absence of a strong case for change, Kansas should stick with what works.”

With the change in composition of the Kansas Senate, the climate is more favorable for reform for the way judges are selected for the Kansas Court of Appeals. The law governing how judges for the Kansas Supreme Court are selected is in the Kansas Constitution, and would require an amendment to alter the process. Such an amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature, and then a simple majority vote of the people.

By the way: For those who criticize the support for judicial selection reform as pure power politics, since Kansas has a conservative governor, remember this: When Professor Ware sounded the need for reform and convinced me of the need, our governor was the liberal Kathleen Sebelius. There was also a liberal senate at that time, one which would undoubtedly have rubberstamped any nominee Sebelius might have sent for confirmation.

Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study
By Stephen J. Ware

Abstract: The “balanced realist” view that judging inevitably involves lawmaking is widely accepted, even among originalists, such as Justice Scalia, Randy Barnett and Steven Calabresi. Yet many lawyers are still reluctant to acknowledge publicly the inevitability of judicial lawmaking. This reluctance is especially common in debates over the Missouri Plan, a method of judicial selection that divides the power to appoint judges between the governor and the bar.

The Missouri Plan is one of three widely-used methods of selecting state court judges. The other two are: (1) direct election of judges by the citizenry, and (2) appointment of judges by democratically elected officials, typically the governor and legislature, with little or no role for the bar. Each of these two methods of judicial selection respects a democratic society’s basic equality among citizens — the principle of one-person, one-vote. In contrast, the Missouri Plan violates this principle by making a lawyer’s vote worth more than another citizen’s vote.

This Article provides a case study of the clash between the inevitability of judicial lawmaking and the reluctance of lawyers to acknowledge this inevitability while defending their disproportionate power under the Missouri Plan. The Article documents efforts by lawyers in one state, Kansas, to defend their version of the Missouri Plan by attempting to conceal from the public the fact that Kansas judges, like judges in the other 49 states, inevitably make law. The case study then shows examples of Kansas judges making law. The Article concludes that honesty requires lawyers participating in the debate over judicial selection in the United States to forthrightly acknowledge that judges make law. Lawyers who seek to defend the power advantage the Missouri Plan gives them over other citizens can honestly acknowledge that this is a power advantage in the selection of lawmakers and then explain why they believe a departure from the principle of one-person, one-vote is justified in the selection of these particular lawmakers.

The complete paper may be downloaded at no charge here.

Downtown Wichita issues not appreciated

Once again, the Wichita Eagle editorial board misses the point regarding downtown Wichita development.

There may be some that are opposed to downtown simply because it’s downtown, or for other silly reasons. That seems to be the focus of Rhonda Holman’s editorial today.

But speaking from a perspective of economic freedom and individual liberty, it’s government interventionism in downtown that I object to. This is what harms Wichita, not the fact that people are living and working downtown or anywhere else, for that matter.

The political cronyism involved in many projects in downtown Wichita is what harms our city. When government takes from one and gives to another, everyone is worse off — other than the recipients. I understand that it’s easy to look at a subsidized project — be it downtown or elsewhere — and see people working at jobs. It’s much more difficult, however, to see the harm that the government intervention causes: Prosperity and jobs are lost due to inefficient government allocation of capital through political, not market, mechanisms. In the whole, we are worse off, not better.

If you don’t believe this — if you insist that the city government can create jobs and prosperity through its interventions, and that these have no net cost — then you have to ask why the city is not involved in more development.

It is the principled objection to government involvement that many do not understand, including, I think, the Wichita Eagle editorial board. An example: In September 2011, after I and others started a campaign to overturn a city council decision to award a tax subsidy to the Ambassador Hotel, the hotel’s lead developer asked to meet with me. In the meeting I explained that I would oppose the city’s action if applied to any hotel, located anywhere in Wichita, owned by anyone. He said that he sensed my opposition was based on principle, and I agreed.

The curious thing is that this seemed to puzzle him — that people would actually apply principles to politics.

The political allocation of investment capital in Wichita leads to problems of the appearance of impropriety, if not actual impropriety. There is a small group of people that repeatedly receive large amounts of taxpayer subsidy. These people and others associated with their companies regularly contribute to the campaign funds of city council members and candidates. These council members then vote to grant these people taxpayer-funded subsidy, year after year.

City council members also vote to award them with no-bid contracts. That’s terrible government policy. Especially when one recent contract was later put to competitive bid, and turned out to cost much less than the no-bid price. City council members, all except one, were willing to award their significant campaign contributors with an overpriced no-bid contract at taxpayer expense.

The company that won the no-bid contract was Key Construction. Its owners and executives were the sole contributors to the campaign fund of Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) in 2012 as she prepared to run for reelection this spring.

James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita), also running for reelection this spring, and also having voted for the no-bid contract for Key, also received many contributions from Key and its executives in 2012. That company, along with person associated with one other company, were the sole source of Clendenin’s campaign funding that year.

Doesn’t the Wichita Eagle editorial board see a problem here? Doesn’t the newsroom?

There was a time when newspaper opinion editors crusaded against this type of behavior.

Newspaper editorial writers ought also to be concerned about how taxpayer funds are spent. The City of Wichita, however, has established non-profit organizations to spend taxpayer funds. The Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, for example, is funded almost exclusively through taxes. Yet, it claims that it is not a public agency as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act, and therefore need not fulfill records requests seeking to bring transparency as to how the agency spends its taxpayer funds. The city, inexplicably, backs WDDC in this interpretation of law that is contrary to the interests of citizens.

Secrecy of this type regarding taxpayer funds is not good public policy. There was a time when newspaper editors railed against government secrecy like this.

We need a newspaper editorial board that understands principle vs. political expediency. As a first step, let’s ask for an editorial board that recognizes these abuses of citizens and is willing to talk about them.

Dangers of texting while driving: Are laws the solution?

There’s no doubt that texting while driving is dangerous, as illustrated in this KAKE Television news story. But the government solution — passing laws against texting while driving — haven’t worked, and some states have experienced an increase in crashes after implementing texting bans.

A news release from the Highway Loss Data Institute summarizes the finding of a study: “It’s illegal to text while driving in most US states. Yet a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in 4 states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.”

The study does not claim that texting while driving is not dangerous. Rather, the realization by drivers that texting is illegal may be altering their behavior in a way that becomes even more dangerous than legal texting. Explains Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: “If drivers were disregarding the bans, then the crash patterns should have remained steady. So clearly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”

When Kansas passed its texting ban in 2010, newspapers editors praised the legislature and Governor Mark Parkinson for passing the law. In an editorial, the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman wrote “But it’s nice to know the state finally has a law against this brainless and dangerous practice.” In his written statement, Parkinson said “I am pleased to sign this legislation that will encourage more aware drivers and save Kansas lives.”

While Kansas was not included in the HLDI study, there’s no reason to think that Kansas will experience anything different from the states that were studied: Kansas drivers may be under greater risk of being in a crash after the passage of this law.

Paradoxically, higher fines and stricter enforcement of this law will encourage the dangerous law-evading texting behavior.

Texting while driving will be a subject on the KAKE Television public affairs program This Week in Kansas to be aired Sunday at 9:00 am. Dr. Alex Chaparro of Wichita State University will appear to present his findings on the dangers of texting while driving and what can be done to improve safety.

Kansas lawmakers, including judges, should be selected democratically

While many believe that judges should not “legislate from the bench,” that is, make law themselves, the reality is that lawmaking is a judicial function. In a democracy, lawmakers should be elected under the principle of “one person, one vote.” But Kansas, which uses the Missouri Plan for judicial selection to its two highest courts, violates this principle.

A recent paper by Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware explains the problem with the process used in Kansas. The paper is titled Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study and may be downloaded at no charge. The Kansas courts that use the judicial selection described in the paper are the Kansas Court of Appeals and the Kansas Supreme Court.

At issue is whether judges are simply arbitrators of the law, or do they actually participate in the lawmaking process. Ware explains: “This realist view that statutory interpretation often involves ‘substantial judicial discretion’ and therefore constitutes ‘judicial lawmaking, not lawfinding,’ had by the 1950s, ‘become deeply rooted.’”

A “‘balanced realism,’ to use Brian Tamanaha’s appealing label, recognizes both that judges’ policy preferences have little or no influence on many judicial decisions and that judges’ policy preferences have a significant influence on other judicial decisions. Empirical studies tend to support this balanced view.” In other words, there is some role for ideology in making judicial decisions. Politics, therefore, is involved. Ware quotes Charles Gardner Geyh: “In a post-realist age, the ideological orientation of judicial aspirants matters.” And the higher the court, the more this matters.

Since judges function as lawmakers, they ought to be selected by a democratic process. In the Kansas version of the Missouri Plan, a nominating commission dominated by lawyers selects three candidates to fill an opening on the Kansas Court of Appeals or Kansas Supreme Court. The governor then selects one of the three, and the process is over. A new judge is selected. This process gives members of the state’s bar tremendous power in selecting judges.

Ware presents eleven examples of judges on the two highest Kansas courts engaging in lawmaking. In one, a workers’ compensation case, the employee would lose his appeal if the “clear” precedent was followed. Justice Carol A. Beier wrote the opinion. Ware explains:

But this is not, in fact, what Justice Beier and her colleagues on the Kansas Supreme Court did. Rather they did what Kansas Judges Greene and Russell say never happens. Justice Beier and her colleagues engaged in lawmaking. They changed the legal rule from one contrary to their ideologies to one consistent with their ideologies.

Justice Beier’s opinion doing this started by criticizing the old rule, while acknowledging that it was, in fact, the rule prior to her opinion by which the Supreme Court made new law. Here again is the above quote from Coleman, but now with the formerly omitted words restored and italicized: “The rule is clear, if a bit decrepit and unpopular: An injury from horseplay does not arise out of employment and is not compensable unless the employer was aware of the activity or it had become a habit at the workplace.”

Who decided that this rule is “decrepit and unpopular” and so should be changed? Was it the Kansas Legislature? No, it was the Kansas Supreme Court. It was judges, not legislators, who decided that this legal rule was bad policy. It was judges, not legislators, who changed the law to bring it in line with what the lawmaking judges thought was good policy.

Beier wrote in her opinion: “We are clearly convinced here that our old rule should be abandoned. Although appropriate for the time in which it arose, we are persuaded by the overwhelming weight of contrary authority in our sister states and current legal commentary.”

The result: New Kansas law, made by people selected through an undemocratic process.

In conclusion, Ware writes:

Non-lawyers who believe in the principle that lawmakers should be selected democratically need to know that judicial selection is lawmaker selection to be troubled by the Missouri Plan’s violation of this principle. Non-lawyers who do not know that judges inevitably make law may believe that the role of a judge consists only of its professional/technical side and, therefore, believe that judges should be selected entirely on their professional competence and ethics and that assessments of these factors are best left to lawyers. In short, a lawyer who omits lawmaking from a published statement about the judicial role is furthering a misimpression that helps empower lawyers at the expense of non-lawyers, in violation of basic democratic equality, the principle of one-person, one-vote.

Prospects for Kansas

In Kansas, the process for selecting judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals is governed by statute, and can be changed by the legislature and governor. The House of Representatives has passed a bill to reform the process, but it was blocked by Senate Judiciary Chair Tim Owens. He said “I think this is the first time I did not hear a bill because I thought it was so bad. This is a terrible, terrible bill that’s hated by the courts; it’s an attempt to take over control of the courts.”

One of the dividing lines between “conservative” and “moderate” Kansas Senate Republicans is their attitude towards judicial selection, as revealed in a vote taken earlier this year. Owens, who ranked as the least friendly senator to economic freedom in the 2012 edition of the Kansas Economic Freedom Index, lost his bid for re-election in the August primary election. Many of the other moderate Republicans who voted against reform also lost their primary election contest.

Owens, it should be noted, is an attorney, and is therefore a member of the privileged class that has outsize power in selecting judges.

Sometimes legislators are simply uninformed or misinformed on judicial selection. An example is Jean Schodorf, who lost a re-election bid in August. In an interview, she was quoted as saying “We thwarted changes to judicial selection that would have allowed the governor to have the final say in all judicial selections.”

The bill that the senate voted on, and the one that Owens killed the year before, called for Court of Appeals judges to be appointed by the governor, with the consent of the senate. It’s actually the senate that has the final say.

Newspaper editorial writers across Kansas are mostly opposed to judicial selection reform. An example is Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle, who in 2010 wrote: “Some critics may have a beef with past court decisions, perhaps even a legitimate one — which is no surprise, given that judicial decisions pick winners and losers. But they also may be motivated by politics — which is a problem, given that the judiciary is supposed to be fair, impartial and independent. In the absence of a strong case for change, Kansas should stick with what works.”

With the change in composition of the Kansas Senate next year, the climate is more favorable for reform for the way judges are selected for the Kansas Court of Appeals. The law governing how judges for the Kansas Supreme Court are selected is in the Kansas Constitution, and would require an amendment to alter the process. Such an amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature, and then a simple majority vote of the people.

Just last week a federal appeals court ruled that the method Kansas uses to select justices to the Kansas Supreme Court is constitutional.

The Court’s discussion starts on a promising note: “That citizens have a fundamental right to vote for public officials on equal terms with one another is uncontroversial.”

But in the end, the Court sided with the present undemocratic Kansas system: “Kansas designed the Commission to favor lawyers in order to limit the influence of politics on the nomination process and ensure the quality of its judicial nominees. Preserving the quality and independence of the judiciary is a legitimate government interest, and having attorneys elect a majority of the Commission’s members is a rational way to accomplish that goal. Attorneys are better equipped than non-attorneys to evaluate the temperament and legal acumen of judicial candidates and more likely to base their votes on factors other than party affiliation. This is owing in part to their training which enables informed judgments about a candidate’s experience — his credentials, his area of expertise, his body of work — and the extent to which it strengthens or weakens his candidacy. ”

Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study
By Stephen J. Ware

Abstract: The “balanced realist” view that judging inevitably involves lawmaking is widely accepted, even among originalists, such as Justice Scalia, Randy Barnett and Steven Calabresi. Yet many lawyers are still reluctant to acknowledge publicly the inevitability of judicial lawmaking. This reluctance is especially common in debates over the Missouri Plan, a method of judicial selection that divides the power to appoint judges between the governor and the bar.

The Missouri Plan is one of three widely-used methods of selecting state court judges. The other two are: (1) direct election of judges by the citizenry, and (2) appointment of judges by democratically elected officials, typically the governor and legislature, with little or no role for the bar. Each of these two methods of judicial selection respects a democratic society’s basic equality among citizens — the principle of one-person, one-vote. In contrast, the Missouri Plan violates this principle by making a lawyer’s vote worth more than another citizen’s vote.

This Article provides a case study of the clash between the inevitability of judicial lawmaking and the reluctance of lawyers to acknowledge this inevitability while defending their disproportionate power under the Missouri Plan. The Article documents efforts by lawyers in one state, Kansas, to defend their version of the Missouri Plan by attempting to conceal from the public the fact that Kansas judges, like judges in the other 49 states, inevitably make law. The case study then shows examples of Kansas judges making law. The Article concludes that honesty requires lawyers participating in the debate over judicial selection in the United States to forthrightly acknowledge that judges make law. Lawyers who seek to defend the power advantage the Missouri Plan gives them over other citizens can honestly acknowledge that this is a power advantage in the selection of lawmakers and then explain why they believe a departure from the principle of one-person, one-vote is justified in the selection of these particular lawmakers.

The complete paper may be downloaded at no charge here.

Wichita school spending: The grain of truth

Reporting on USD 259, the Wichita public school district teacher contract negotiations provides another example of how schools are not being truthful regarding school spending.

According to Wichita Eagle reporting, the district’s attorney used “repeated cuts in state funding” as a reason why the district can’t raise teacher salaries. He also referred to “the state and the cuts that have been made to school finance” and also said “I think it’s the state legislature and all the cuts that have occurred that have put us in this position.”

These statements contain a grain of truth, but in a wider context, they are not truthful. It’s not just the Wichita school district attorney that makes these claims of large cuts to school funding. So do the Kansas school spending establishment and their allies such as the editorial boards of most Kansas newspapers.

The grain of truth is base state aid per pupil, which is the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. It has been cut, as shown in this chart that the school spending establishment uses.

Kansas school spending, as presented by the Wichita public school district.

Focusing on base state aid misses the larger picture. As an example, for the 2010-2011 school year, base state aid was $3,937. Yet the Wichita school district received $7,092 per pupil from the state, 80 percent more than base aid. Focusing only on base state aid per pupil also misses the federal and local sources of revenue to schools. For this year the Wichita district received $2,132 per pupil from the federal government, and $3,855 per pupil from local taxpayers, for a total of $13,069 per pupil. The same figure for the previous year was $12,526.

As it turns out, when you consider all sources of funding, the Wichita school district has been able to spend more money each year for many years, despite the claims of cuts. What cuts have been made to base state aid per pupil have been more than compensated for by weighted state spending, federal aid, and local aid, as shown in the following chart.

Wichita school spending, as reported by Kansas State Department of Education.

Why do school spending supporters focus only on base state aid? Its decline provides the grain of truth for their larger and false argument about school spending. As explained in Kansas school spending: the deception this grain of truth enables school spending advocates like Mark Desetti (Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union) to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.

We expect this behavior from union officials. Their job — as advocates for a special interest group — is to direct more spending to schools, without regard to need or cost to taxpayers.

Newspaper editorial writers, however, ought to be held to a higher standard. But: A recent Lawrence Journal-World editorial contained “In the last four years, per-pupil state funding for public schools has declined by about 14 percent, from $4,400 per student to $3,780.” And writing in the Wichita Eagle, Rhonda Holman complained of “several years of cuts totaling $653 per pupil.” (Reason to be wary, December 16 Wichita Eagle) Actual facts do not support these claims.

Similarly, we ought to expect more truth from school districts and school officials regarding school finance. Then, we can ask for truth on Kansas school test scores.

Kansans uninformed on school spending

As the Kansas Legislature debates spending on schools, we have to hope that legislators are more knowledgeable about school spending than the average Kansan. Surveys have found that few Kansans have accurate information regarding school spending. Surprisingly, those with children in the public school system are even more likely to be uninformed regarding accurate figures. But when presented with accurate information about changes in school spending, few Kansans are willing to pay increased taxes to support more school spending.

These are some of the findings of a 2010 survey commissioned by Kansas Policy Institute.

Not only did Kansans underestimate school spending levels, they did so for the state portion of school funding, and again for the total of all funding sources — state, federal, and local.

Many people greatly underestimated school funding. For all sources of funding on a per-student basis, 43% of poll respondents chose a number that is less than half the actual number.

On a question asking about the change in Kansas school funding over the past five years, 64% thought that funding had declined. Only 6% knew that funding had increased by over 15% during that period. The five year time period is significant, as it was in 2005 that the Kansas Supreme Court ordered additional school spending as a result of the Montoy case.

When asked about their willingness to pay higher taxes to support mores school funding, 51% said they would, if per-pupil funding was down from five years ago. But when asked whether they would pay more taxes in per-pupil funding had gone up by over 20%, only 11% said yes. According to the Kansas State Department of Education, total funding per pupil increased by 26% over this period.

The survey was conducted by The Research Partnership, Inc., a Wichita-based market research firm. The complete results may be viewed at the Kansas Reporter website at K-12 Public Opinion Survey, or here.

Survey participants were asked if they would like to make comments regarding funding of Kansas public schools. There are 17 pages of these comments.

Analysis

The results of this Kansas poll are similar to recent nationwide results discovered by EducationNext, a project of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. That study is summarized at Americans uninformed about school spending, study finds. Another study with similar findings is at Kansas school spending: citizens again are uninformed.

It’s not surprising that Kansans are misinformed about the level of school spending and its changes. Even members of the Kansas House of Representatives and the Wichita School Board are sometimes uninformed, misinformed. It’s either that or we have to conclude they are lying to us.

The school spending lobby in Kansas focuses on only one measure of school spending, base state aid per pupil. That number is approximately one-third of total school spending, and it has declined. As this study shows, it is in the best interests of the Kansas school establishment for average Kansans to be uninformed about the true levels of school spending. When presented with accurate information about school spending, Kansans are not willing to pay higher taxes.

We can understand the motivation of schools to lobby for increased spending. But they should be truthful. It’s even worse when newspaper editorial writers don’t recognize the truth. An example is a recent Wichita Eagle editorial written by Rhonda Holman. She repeated the meme of the school spending lobby, writing: “… despite state per-pupil base aid having been slashed to 1999 levels.” Most people don’t know that “base aid” is only one component of Kansas school spending. It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. After weightings are applied, most school districts receive much more funding than the base aid figure. The Wichita school district, for example, received $6,511 per pupil from the state at a time when base state aid was $4,012. Also, look at the total spending picture: From 1999 to last year, Wichita school spending jumped from $336 million to over $604 million. State aid to this district increased from $200 million to $328 million over the same time.

It’s also likely that the current school year will see record spending on schools in Kansas.

So why don’t Holman and the Wichita Eagle use the total spending figures, or even the total state aid numbers? Focusing on one component of Kansas school finance that is not representative of the entire picture is a disservice to Wichita Eagle readers.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday May 2, 2012

When government pays, government controls. Although most liberals would not admit this, it sometimes slips through: When government is paying for our health care, government then feels it must control our behavior. The Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman provides an example of this, when she wrote in a blog post about Kansas relaxing its smoking ban: “Especially with Medicaid costs swallowing up the state budget, lawmakers should be discouraging smoking, not accommodating more of it.”

The moral case for capitalism. “Two main charges are typically marshaled against capitalism: it generates inequality by allowing some to become wealthier than others; and it threatens social solidarity by allowing individuals some priority over their communities. … Capitalism does allow — and perhaps even requires — inequality. Because people’s talents, skills, values, desires, and preferences vary and because of sheer luck, some people will be able to generate more wealth in a free-enterprise system than others will; inequality will result. But it is not clear that we should worry about that. … If you could solve only one social ill — either inequality or poverty — which would it be? Or suppose that the only way to address poverty would be to allow inequality: Would you allow it? … More by James R. Otteson in An Audacious Promise: The Moral Case for Capitalism at the Manhattan Institute.

Moran to address Pachyderms. This Friday (May 4th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features United States Senator Jerry Moran speaking on “A legislative update.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … The club has an exceptional lineup of future speakers as follows: On May 11th: Gary Oborny, Chairman/CEO Occidental Management and Real Estate Development, CCIM Designated member of the Storm Water Advisory Board to the City of Wichita, speaking on “What is the economic impact of EPA mandates on storm water quality in Wichita?” … On May 18th: Paul Soutar, Reporter for Kansas Watchdog, speaking on “The evolution of journalism and how the new media empowers citizens.” … On May 25th: Ron Estes, State Treasurer of Kansas, speaking on “A report from the Kansas Treasurer.”

Funding pet projects without earmarks. Wonderful! While this plan still relies on government to some degree, it is largely voluntary, which is the direction we need to steer things. “There is a creative workaround that allows funds to flow to those prized pet projects: a commemorative coin bill.” Read more at Heritage Action for America.

Harm of taxes. In introducing the new edition of Rich States, Poor States, authors Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore explain the importance of low taxes. “Barack Obama is asking Americans to gamble that the U.S. economy can be taxed into prosperity. That’s the message of his campaign for the Buffett Rule, which raises income-tax rates on millionaires to a minimum of 30%, and for the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. He wants to raise the highest income tax rate by 20%, double the rate on capital gains, add a new 3.8% tax on all capital earnings, and nearly triple the dividend tax rate. All this will enhance “economic efficiency,” insists a White House economic report. As for those who disagree, says President Obama, they’re just pushing “the same version of trickle-down economics tried for much of the last century. … But prosperity sure didn’t trickle down.” Mr. Obama needs a refresher course on the 1920s, 1960s, 1980s and even the 1990s, when government spending and taxes fell and employment and incomes grew rapidly.” More in the Wall Street Journal at Laffer and Moore: A 50-State Tax Lesson for the President: Over the past decade, states without an income levy have seen much higher growth than the national average. Which state will be next to abolish theirs?

Role of prices. Prices convey information more accurately and efficiently than any centralized organization — such a government. It provides a, well, automatic mechanism for adjusting to the changes in the world, changes which happen every day, and even every minute. Sometimes we may not like the information that price signals are sending, but they represent the truth. Daniel J. Smith of Troy University explains in this video from LearnLiberty.org, a project of the Institute for Humane Studies: “Why are prices important? Prof. Daniel J. Smith of Troy University describes the role that prices play in generating, gathering, and transmitting information throughout the economy. Information about the supply and demand of different goods are dispersed among different buyers and sellers in an economy. Nobody has to know all this dispersed information; individuals only need to know the relative prices. Based on the simple information contained in a price, people adjust their behavior to account for conditions in supply and demand, even if they are unaware of that information.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday April 23, 2012

This week is … Administrative Professionals week in Kansas. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued this proclamation, so evidently time spent on things like this is a proper and valid function of government. We ought to end these proclamations by government at all levels. … At Wichita City Council meetings there have been cases where the meaningful business of the council has not started until nearly one hour after the start of the meeting. The hour has been consumed by proclamations, awards, remarks by council members, etc. While this happens, citizens with business before the council wait. And wait. They’re wasting their time and money. Their attorneys, representatives, or employees may be there with them, racking up legal bills and wasting time and money while listening to the mayor or other official read proclamations. … These proclamations are also more about promoting the wholesomeness and goodness of government than anything else.

Taxpayer-funded lobbying. It’s one thing when private citizens or groups ask for more government spending. But when Kansans’ tax dollars are being spent to ask for more spending — that’s another thing, and a practice that should end. Here’s an example from the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). According to IRS Form 990 filings, KASB receives over $2 million in membership dues from school boards each year, money raised through taxation. Astonishingly, those same filings indicate that KASB spends no money on political lobbying. Astonishing because Mark Tallman, officially described on the KASB website as “associate executive director/advocacy,” is always described as “lobbyist” everywhere else.

American Exceptionalism to be topic. This Friday (April 27th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Dr. Malcolm C. Harris, Sr., Professor of Finance, Friends University, speaking on “The Open Minded Roots of American Exceptionalism, and the Decline of America’s Greatness.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … The club has an exceptional lineup of future speakers as follows: On May 4th: United States Senator Jerry Moran speaking on “A legislative update.” … On May 11th: Gary Oborny, Chairman/CEO Occidental Management and Real Estate Development, CCIM Designated member of the Storm Water Advisory Board to the City of Wichita, speaking on “What is the economic impact of EPA mandates on storm water quality in Wichita?” … On May 18th: Paul Soutar, Reporter for Kansas Watchdog, speaking on “The evolution of journalism and how the new media empowers citizens.” … On May 25th: Ron Estes, State Treasurer of Kansas, speaking on “A report from the Kansas Treasurer.”

Kill the messenger. The Kansas government school establishment rallies: “Last Wednesday, April 18, the Wichita Eagle editorial page made an outrageously false claim about Kansas Policy Institute, saying we were ‘playing fast and loose’ with the truth. Our crime? We have a fact-based opinion with which they disagree! We asked for an immediate meeting to make our case and request a retraction, but the Opinion Page Editor, Phillip Brownlee, said he wasn’t available until next week but didn’t a meeting was really necessary, saying ‘It’s just that The Eagle editorial board (and the Kansas Dept. of Ed., school districts, and many other observers) thinks the ads are misleading.’… The Eagle editorial board, KSDE, local districts and others don’t like the ads because they disclosed that proficiency does not require full comprehension of grade-appropriate material.” More from Kansas Policy Institute at Attempting to Kill the Messenger .

The Kansas Policy Institute advertisement. Since the Wichita Eagle editorial board did not think it necessary to meet with its representatives, on Sunday the Kansas Policy Institute placed an advertisement in response to a Rhonda Holman editorial. An important fact that Kansans need to understand is that school spending is increasing, despite the claims of the Kansas public school establishment: “And while you may have been told that total funding for schools was reduced this year, the truth is that KSDE estimates that 2012 spending will reach a record $5.7 billion. Some people would have you believe that the growth in total spending is deceptive because not all spending goes into the classroom, but the truth is that Instructional spending has increased at an even faster rate than total spending! Instructional spending increased 87% between 1999 and 2011; that is more than double the combined rates of increase in inflation and enrollment.” The advertisement may be viewed here: One Goal — Different Views.

Holman on Kansas school spending. Here’s a sample as to just how bad the Rhonda Holman editorial is on the facts. She writes: “… despite state per-pupil base aid having been slashed to 1999 levels.” Most people don’t know that “base aid” is only one component of Kansas school spending. It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. After weightings are applied, most school districts receive much more funding than the base aid figure. The Wichita school district, for example, received $6,511 per pupil from the state at a time when base state aid was $4,012. Also, look at the total spending picture: From 1999 to last year, Wichita school spending jumped from $336 million to over $604 million. State aid to this district increased from $200 million to $328 million over the same time. Why doesn’t Holman uses the total spending figures, or even the total state aid numbers? Answer: These facts are inconvenient for her.

Kansas may again resort to government art

Kansas may be ready to restore some state funding for the arts. But for reasons economic, human, and artistic, we ought to keep Kansas government out of art. Kansas should allow people themselves to decide how to spend their own money on what they think is important to them. To implement government funding of art is to override the freedom of individual choice with political and bureaucratic decisions.

It’s puzzling as to why artists — generally a group of independent minds and free spirits — would want to reintroduce government control over the funding of their craft. Perhaps it springs from the prevailing attitude taught in our (government controlled and funded) schools and universities that government is a force for accomplishing good. While government does some good things for us, when government expands too much — like deciding which artists to spend someone else’s money on — it overreaches and tamps down individual freedom and liberty.

The economic case for government art funding

Supporters of government art funding make the case that government-funded art is good for business and the economy. They have an impressive-looking study titled Arts & Economic Prosperity III: The Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Arts and Culture Industry in the State of Kansas, which makes the case that “communities that invest in the arts reap the additional benefit of jobs, economic growth, and a quality of life that positions those communities to compete in our 21st century creative economy.”

This report, however, is full of the same problems that fill most other reports of similar type. As an example, the report concludes that the return on dollars spent on the arts is “a spectacular 7-to-1 return on investment that would even thrill Wall Street veterans.” It hardly merits mention that there aren’t legitimate investments that generate this type of return in any short time frame. If these returns were in fact true and valid, we should invest more — not less — in the arts. But as we shall see, these returns are not valid in any meaningful economic sense.

Where do these fabulous returns come from? Here’s a passage from the report that government art spending promoters rely on:

A theater company purchases a gallon of paint from the local hardware store for $20, generating the direct economic impact of the expenditure. The hardware store then uses a portion of the aforementioned $20 to pay the sales clerk’s salary; the sales clerk respends some of the money for groceries; the grocery store uses some of the money to pay its cashier; the cashier then spends some for the utility bill; and so on. The subsequent rounds of spending are the indirect economic impacts.

Thus, the initial expenditure by the theater company was followed by four additional rounds of spending (by the hardware store, sales clerk, grocery store, and the cashier). The effect of the theater company’s initial expenditure is the direct economic impact. The subsequent rounds of spending are all of the indirect impacts. The total impact is the sum of the direct and indirect impacts.

The fabulous returns erroneously attributed to spending on the arts derive from this chain of spending starting at the hardware store. But there’s a problem with this reasoning: Most spending induces the same rush of economic activity. What the authors of this study fail to disclose — and what government art supporters fail to see — is that anyone who buys a gallon of paint for any reason sets off the same chain of spending. There is no difference — except that a homeowner buying paint is doing so voluntarily, while an arts organization using taxpayer-supplied money to buy the paint is using someone else’s money. Money, we might add, that is taken through the government’s power to tax.

The study also pumps up the return on government spending on arts by noting all the other spending that arts patrons do on things like dinner before and desert after arts events. But if people kept their own money instead of being taxed to support the arts, they would spend this money, perhaps on restaurant meals, too. Most importantly, people would spend their own money on the things they value — not on what someone else values.

This report — like most of its type that attempt to justify and promote government “investment” — focuses only on the benefits without considering secondary consequences, how these benefits are paid for, and what people would do if left to their own devices. The report, however, seems to make sense in promoting taxation and government spending on arts. This is characteristic of many arguments for government spending, as explained by Henry Hazlitt, in his masterful book Economics in One Lesson:

While every group has certain economic interests identical with those of all groups, every group has also, as we shall see, interests antagonistic to those of all other groups. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible.

It is, as Hazlitt terms it, “the special pleading of selfish interests” that drives much of the desire for government spending on the arts. Government-funded arts advocates promote their case with these economic fallacies.

The human and artistic case

Besides the economic aspect of government funding of arts, there’s the artistic issue. There are very important reasons to keep government away from art. Lawrence W. Reed wrote in What’s Wrong with Government Funding of the Arts? of the harm of turning over responsibility to the government for things we value and find worthwhile:

I can think of an endless list of desirable, enriching things in life, of which very few carry an automatic tag that says, “Must be provided by taxes and politicians.” Such things include good books, nice lawns, nutritious food, and smiling faces. A rich culture consists, as you know, of so many good things that have nothing to do with government, and thank God they don’t. We should seek to nurture those things privately and voluntarily because “private” and “voluntary” are key indicators that people are awake to them and believe in them. The surest way I know to sap the vitality of almost any worthwhile endeavor is to send a message that says, “You can slack off of that; the government will now do it.” That sort of “flight from responsibility,” frankly, is at the source of many societal ills today: many people don’t take care of their parents in their old age because a federal program will do it; others have abandoned their children because until recent welfare reforms, they’d get a bigger check if they did.

The boosters of government arts funding in Kansas make the case that arts are important. Therefore, they say, government must be involved.

But actually, the opposite is true. The more important to our culture we believe the arts to be, the stronger the case for getting government out of its funding. Here’s why. In a statement opposing the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission, former executive director Llewellyn Crain explained that “The Kansas Arts Commission provides valuable seed money that leverages private funds …”

This “seed money” effect is precisely why government should not be funding arts. David Boaz explains:

Defenders of arts funding seem blithely unaware of this danger when they praise the role of the national endowments as an imprimatur or seal of approval on artists and arts groups. Jane Alexander says, “The Federal role is small but very vital. We are a stimulus for leveraging state, local and private money. We are a linchpin for the puzzle of arts funding, a remarkably efficient way of stimulating private money.” Drama critic Robert Brustein asks, “How could the [National Endowment for the Arts] be ‘privatized’ and still retain its purpose as a funding agency functioning as a stamp of approval for deserving art?” … I suggest that that is just the kind of power no government in a free society should have.

We give up a lot when we turn over this power to government bureaucrats and arts commission cronies. Again I turn to David Boaz, who in his book The Politics of Freedom: Taking on The Left, The Right and Threats to Our Liberties wrote this in a chapter titled “The Separation of Art and State”:

It is precisely because art has power, because it deals with basic human truths, that it must be kept separate from government. Government, as I noted earlier, involves the organization of coercion. In a free society coercion should be reserved only for such essential functions of government as protecting rights and punishing criminals. People should not be forced to contribute money to artistic endeavors that they may not approve, nor should artists be forced to trim their sails to meet government standards.

Government funding of anything involves government control. That insight, of course, is part of our folk wisdom: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” “Who takes the king’s shilling sings the king’s song.”

A few years ago Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle wrote an editorial (City can be proud of its arts work, July 15, 2008 Wichita Eagle) which started with the stirring invocation “The arts fire the mind and feed the heart.” I hoped that she was going to call for less government involvement in the arts, thinking that she would argue that anything so important to man’s nature should not be placed in the hands of government.

But she described the City of Wichita’s commitment to permanent spending on arts as “a bold and even brave investment in quality of life.” It appears that even the yearnings of our hearts and minds are subject to government bureaucratic management.

“Government art.” Is this not a sterling example of an oxymoron? Must government weasel its way into every aspect of our lives? Governor Brownback and the Kansas legislature can do the human spirit and the people of Kansas a favor by opposing government funding of the arts.

Kansas school establishment defenders: the video

A video criticizing the Kansas Policy Institute for placing a series of ads in Kansas newspapers claims KPI “conceals” and “ignores” facts and statistics. But I didn’t have to work very hard to find many gross and blatant mistakes, distortions, and coverups in the video — the same problems found in much of the communications of the Kansas public school spending bureaucracy and establishment.

One slide in the video says this: “The numbers in those expensive, state-wide ads from the KPI only count ‘A’ or ‘B’ levels of performance as passing. KPI’s numbers conceal the wide range of students who score ‘proficient.’ By KPI’s logic, ‘C’ = FAILURE.”

First, the KPI ads don’t claim that Kansas schools are failing. KPI called attention to the actual level of achievement in Kansas schools, and chose to use a different measure of what is acceptable than does the Kansas public school education establishment. But instead of defending their low standards, public school defenders attack KPI.

But the real problem with the claim made in this portion of the video is a blatant misuse of the KSDE data: The performance levels KSDE uses do not correspond to letter grades. A document on the KSDE website says this: “When assigning performance levels for the State assessment, please consider the following suggestions … The performance levels do not correspond to grades (i.e. A, B, C, D, F).”

Despite this warning, the video mischaracterizes KSDE data.

Another claim made in the video mistakenly applies Kansas state assessment data. Here’s what the video says: “Actual achievement data from the KSDE shows that since 2003, 27% more students in Kansas have become proficient or better in reading; 36% more students have become proficient or better in math.”

The problem is that in 2006 Kansas implemented new tests, and the state specifically warns that comparisons with previous years — like 2003 — are not valid. A KSDE document titled Kansas Assessments in Reading and Mathematics 2006 Technical Manual states so explicitly: “As the baseline year of the new round of assessments, the Spring 2006 administration incorporated important changes from prior KAMM assessments administered in the 2000 — 2005 testing cycle. Curriculum standards and targets for the assessments were changed, test specifications revised, and assessed grade levels expanded to include students in grades 3-8 and one grade level in high school. In effect, no comparison to past student, building, district, or state performance should be made.” (emphasis added.)

Despite this KSDE warning, the video makes the invalid statistical comparison. By the way, so does Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker, when she recently wrote this on the editorial page of the Wichita Eagle: “Since 2001, the percentage of students statewide who perform in the top three levels on state reading assessments has jumped from about 60 percent to more than 87 percent. In math, the jump has been from just more than 54 percent to nearly 85 percent.”

A criticism the video makes several times is that KPI statistics do not present the entire story. For example, several times the video points with great pride to the performance on Kansas students on the ACT test, proclaiming “Kansas’ teachers consistently prepare their students for college, more so than most states in the US.” The video then presents several slides of statistics.

Missing, however, is this sobering statistic: Only 28 percent of Kansas students who take the ACT are ready for college-level work in all four subjects the ACT test covers. While this result is slightly better than the national average, it means that nearly three-fourths of Kansas high school graduates need to take one or more remedial college courses. This statistic was not reported in the video, and we can easily see why the Kansas public school establishment doesn’t want you to know this. See Kansas students, while improving, are mostly not ready for college.

As another example, the video reports on the scores of Kansas students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Looking at the gross scores, Kansas does well, compared to other states. But you don’t have to look very hard to realize that these scores are a statistical accident. It’s an unfortunate fact that minority students do not perform as well on these tests as white students. When you combine this with the fact that Kansas has a relatively small minority population, we can see an explanation as to why Kansas ranks well.

But compare Kansas with Texas, a state that Kansas school spending boosters like to deride as a state with low-performing schools (the video does not make this claim). In Kansas 69 percent of students are white, while in Texas that number is 33 percent. So it’s not surprising that overall, Kansas outperforms Texas (with one tie) when considering all students in four important areas: fourth and eighth grade reading, and fourth and eighth grade math.

But looking at Hispanic students only, Texas beats or ties Kansas in these four areas. For black students, Texas bests Kansas in all four.

By the way, the video relies on NAEP data to compare the achievement of Kansas students with those in other states. But the video doesn’t address this very important issue: Kansas NAEP scores are largely unchanged at the same time scores on Kansas tests are rising — “jumping,” in the words of the Kansas Commissioner of Education.

Another problem: “Kansas teachers will continue to help their students succeed. … Even though Base State Aid Per Pupil hasn’t kept up with cost increases.” The implication is that Kansas schools are not funded adequately.

The problem here, again, is failing to look at the total picture. It’s true that base state aid per pupil has declined. Looking at total spending, however, the same trend does not apply. Total spending by schools in Kansas has risen rapidly for many years, but has fallen flat and declined slightly the past two years. In 2001 spending was $3.7 billion, while in 2010 it was $5.6 billion.

Considering state spending only: $2.2 billion in 2001, increasing to $3.0 billion in 2010. State aid had reached a high of $3.3 billion in 2008. See Kansas school spending facts ignored by many for charts.

This deception when discussing school spending is widespread, so it’s not surprising to see it repeated in this video. See Kansas school spending: the deception for a discussion of how Mark Desetti, who is Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, uses these numbers to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.

We expect this deceptive behavior from union officials. Newspaper editorial writers, however, ought to be held to a higher standard. But: A recent Lawrence Journal-World editorial contained “In the last four years, per-pupil state funding for public schools has declined by about 14 percent, from $4,400 per student to $3,780.” And writing in the Wichita Eagle, Rhonda Holman complained of “several years of cuts totaling $653 per pupil.” (Reason to be wary, December 16 Wichita Eagle) Actual facts do not support these claims.

And teachers? They ought to held to an even higher standard. So Kansans might be surprised to learn that this video — replete of the same problems it purports to expose — was created by a Kansas schoolteacher: Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, a teacher in the Hays public schools.

Kansas school spending: the complete picture

In an effort to drum up support for school spending in Kansas, advocates seize on a partial picture of school spending to make their case.

An example: A recent Lawrence Journal-World editorial contained “In the last four years, per-pupil state funding for public schools has declined by about 14 percent, from $4,400 per student to $3,780.”

Writing in the Wichita Eagle, Rhonda Holman complained of “several years of cuts totaling $653 per pupil.” (Reason to be wary, December 16 Wichita Eagle)

Kansas school spending, as presented by the Wichita public school district.

In a bond issue update video presentation for USD 259, the Wichita public school district, spokesperson Susan Arensman spoke of “severe loss of funding from the state.” Displayed on the screen at this time was a chart titled “State per-pupil funding.”

These presentations of data are designed to convince Kansans that school funding has been cut, and cut severely. The actual facts, however, are quite different.

For example, following is a chart showing spending by USD 259, the Wichita school district. Can you spot cuts or declines in spending? There is one instance on this chart where spending, on a per-pupil basis, was less than the year before. That’s an example of a cut — and the only one, considering the last ten years illustrated in this chart.

Wichita school spending. Total spending, in red, is measured on the left axis. Per-pupil spending is in blue and measured on the right axis.

So how do newspapers and school districts make a claim of cuts?

They do so by looking at only one part of spending on schools by the State of Kansas: base state aid per pupil. That number has fallen, as shown in the chart in the video.

But base state aid per pupil is only part of the spending story. It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. After weightings are applied, most school districts receive much more funding than the base figure. The Wichita school district, for example, received $6,511 per pupil from the state at a time when base state aid was $4,012.

While Kansas school spending has declined, it has not declined as much as has base state aid. At the same time, federal funding for schools increased to make up almost all the difference. As the following chart illustrates, total spending on Kansas schools has declined slightly for the past two years. For the school year starting in 2009, total spending was down 2.61 percent. For the year starting in 2010, spending declined 0.38 percent.

These declines are much less pronounced than the drop in base state aid.

Which figures should we use to represent the history of spending in Kansas schools: (a) Total spending, or (b) a small slice of spending that happens to support the case of those who believe that it is impossible to spend too much on schools?

The answer, if we are to be honest, is (a) total spending. Those who use base state aid as the only measure of spending on public schools in Kansas need to be held accountable for their misrepresentation.

TIF and other subsidies harm Wichita

Everyone who cares about Wichita — the entire city, not just special interests — ought to be opposed to the continued use of tax increment financing (TIF) districts and other forms of subsidy that direct benefits to a small group at the expense of everyone else.

Proponents of these programs such as Wichita Eagle editorial writer Rhonda Holman, most elected officials, and nearly all bureaucrats, need to justify these incentives. They make their case, of course, but the case is shallow. We need to look at research that studies these programs. We need to consider the effect of these programs on the city as a whole, and on the civic attitudes of Wichitans. When we do, we find that these programs just don’t deliver what they promise, unless you focus only on the special interest groups that feed off these programs. We also see that these programs contribute to the cynicism that is destructive to a civil society where people exist and trade harmoniously.

What is the purpose? Development? Jobs?

Some people want TIF because it promises development that otherwise would not happen. Others want the jobs that they see TIF create.

The problem is that both promises are false — if you are able to look beyond stage one. There’s no doubt that things happen in TIF districts, usually. Buildings are built or renovated. Businesses open. People go to work.

This simple analysis appeals to elected officials and newspaper editorial writers. But if we are concerned about the overall prosperity of our city, we need to look beyond the borders of the TIF district. When we do that, we come to a different assessment.

Regarding the effect of TIF on overall development, economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman have studied tax increment financing extensively. Their article Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development states in its conclusion:

TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.

So TIFs are good for the favored development that receives the subsidy — not a surprising finding. It’s what self-serving elected officials, bureaucrats, and newspaper editorial writers can see and focus on. But what about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:

If the use of tax increment financing stimulates economic development, there should be a positive relationship between TIF adoption and overall growth in municipalities. This did not occur. If, on the other hand, TIF merely moves capital around within a municipality, there should be no relationship between TIF adoption and growth. What we find, however, is a negative relationship. Municipalities that use TIF do worse.

We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF. (emphasis added)

So if we are concerned about overall growth in Wichita, we need to realize that TIF simply shifts development from one place to another. The overall impact, according to uncontroverted research, is negative: less growth, not more.

What about jobs? Paul F. Byrne of Washburn University authored a recent report titled Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on Its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth. In its abstract we find this conclusion regarding the impact of TIF on jobs:

Increasingly, municipal leaders justify their use of tax increment financing (TIF) by touting its role in improving municipal employment. However, empirical studies on TIF have primarily examined TIF’s impact on property values, ignoring the claim that serves as the primary justification for its use. This article addresses the claim by examining the impact of TIF adoption on municipal employment growth in Illinois, looking for both general impact and impact specific to the type of development supported. Results find no general impact of TIF use on employment. However, findings suggest that TIF districts supporting industrial development may have a positive effect on municipal employment, whereas TIF districts supporting retail development have a negative effect on municipal employment. These results are consistent with industrial TIF districts capturing employment that would have otherwise occurred outside of the adopting municipality and retail TIF districts shifting employment within the municipality to more labor-efficient retailers within the TIF district. (emphasis added)

While this research might be used to support a TIF district for industrial development, TIF in Wichita is primarily used for retail development. And, when looking at the entire picture, the effect on employment is negative.

Verge of corruption

The ability and willingness of local elected officials to dish out TIF and other forms of subsidy places them, as Randal O’Toole has written, “on the verge of corruption.” In Wichita, David Burk and the principals of Key Construction make extensive use of political campaign contributions, and have benefited handsomely from TIF and other forms of subsidy. A recent analysis of campaign contributions by these parties to Wichita City Council members showed just how prevalent are these contributions.

In Wichita city elections, individuals may contribute up to $500 to candidates, once during the primary election and again during the general election. As you can see in this table complied from Wichita City Council campaign finance reports, spouses often contribute as well. So it’s not uncommon to see the David and DJ Burk family contribute $2,000 to a candidate for their primary and general election campaigns. That’s a significant sum for a city council district election campaign cycle. Click here for a compilation of campaign contributions made by those associated with the Douglas Place project, a recent collaboration between Burk, Key Construction, and others.

Council Member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita), in his second term as council member and with his heart set on becoming the next mayor, leads the pack in accepting campaign contributions from parties associated with the Douglas Place project. For his most recent election, he received $4,000 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $2,000 from David Burk and his wife. Total from parties associated with the Douglas Place project: $6,000.

Lavonta Williams, (district 1, northeast Wichita), who is also vice mayor, received $5,000 from parties associated with Douglas Place: $4,000 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $2,000 from David Burk and his wife.

Mayor Carl Brewer received $4,000 from parties associated with Douglas Place: $3,500 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $500 DJ Burk, David Burk’s wife.

Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita) received $3,500 during her 2009 election campaign from parties associated with Douglas Place: $1,500 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $2,000 from David Burk and his wife.

For his 2011 election campaign, newly-elected Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) received $2,500 from parties associated with Douglas Place: $1,500 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $1,000 from David Burk and his wife.

The people who make these contributions and the officeholders who receive them deny that they make any difference. That’s hard to believe. These donors don’t often contribute to candidates for the Kansas Legislature or U.S. Congress. That’s because these bodies don’t have the power to dish out the subsidies that the Wichita City Council does. I’d say these donors are acting rationally, in their self-interest.

If you’re still not convinced, consider the case of Reverend Kevass Harding, who wanted to redevelop the Ken-Mar shopping center, and Wichita City Council member Lavonta Williams, (district 1, northeast Wichita), who is presently serving as vice mayor.

As reported in 2009, Harding and his wife made campaign contributions to Williams. These campaign contributions, made in the maximum amount allowable, were out of character for the Hardings. They had made very few contributions to political candidates, and they appear not to have made many since then.

But in June 2008, just before the Ken-Mar TIF district was to be considered for approval, the Hardings made contributions in the maximum allowable amount to Williams, who represents Ken-Mar’s district. Harding would not explain why he made the contributions. Williams offered a vague and general explanation that had no substantive meaning.

The close linkage between these political contributions the awarding of money illustrates the need for pay-to-play laws in Wichita and Kansas. These laws impose various restrictions on the activities of elected officials and the awarding of contracts or other largesse to those who have made political contributions.

Citizens become cynical when they feel there is a group of insiders — commonly called the “good ol’ boy network” — who get whatever they want from city hall at the expense of taxpayers. It’s surprising that the Wichita Eagle editorial board is either not aware of this, or doesn’t see it as a problem. In the meantime, our newspaper, along with those in the network of city hall insiders, continue to contribute to the destruction of civil society in Wichita.

Additional Reading:

  • Wichita property taxes are high, leading to other problems: “An ongoing study by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association tells us that Wichita has high business property taxes. This may be a reason why the Wichita City Council feels it is necessary to offer relief from these taxes, but it is not an effective economic development strategy.”
  • Tax increment financing: The right tool for Wichita jobs?: “Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is an economic development tool that uses the expected growth (or increment) in property tax revenues from a designated geographic area of a municipality to finance bonds used to pay for goods and services calculated to spur growth in the TIF district. The analysis performed for this study found TIF does not tend to produce a net increase in economic activity; favors large businesses over small businesses; often excludes local businesses and residents from the planning process; and operates in a manner that contradicts conventional notions of justice and fairness. We recommend seeking alternatives to TIF and reforms to TIF that make the process more democratic and the distribution of benefits more fair to residents of TIF districts.”

  • Giving away the store to get a store: “Largely because it promises something for nothing — an economic stimulus in exchange for tax revenue that otherwise would not materialize — this tool is becoming increasingly popular across the country. Originally used to help revive blighted or depressed areas, TIFs now appear in affluent neighborhoods, subsidizing high-end housing developments, big-box retailers, and shopping malls. And since most cities are using TIFs, businesses such as Cabela’s can play them off against each other to boost the handouts they receive simply to operate profit-making enterprises.”
  • Wichita’s economic development strategy: rent seeking: “It is wealth, after all, that defines prosperity. Our goal ought to be to create an environment where everyone lives in an environment conducive to creating prosperity and wealth. But in a misguided effort, our city leaders, week after week, take actions that produce just the opposite.”
  • Wichita economic development: And then what will happen?: “Critics of the economic development policies in use by the City of Wichita are often portrayed as not being able to see and appreciate the good things these policies are producing, even though they are unfolding right before our very eyes. The difference is that some look beyond the immediate — what is seen — and ask “And then what will happen?” — looking for the unseen.
  • Wichita and its political class: “Discussion at a Wichita City Council meeting provided an opportunity for citizens to discover the difference in the thinking of the political class and those who value limited government and capitalism.”
  • Wichita on corporate welfare, again: “An award of $2.5 million by the City of Wichita to aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft to ward off a threatened move to Louisiana stands out as an example of corporate welfare given for its own sake, and not in response to any real threat.”
  • Wichitans mislead on Warren IMAX incentives: “With the possibility of another IMAX theater being built not too far from Wichita, we now know that Wichitans were mislead in awarding economic development incentives.”
  • Wichita again to bet on corporate welfare as economic development: “The Wichita City Council may take action that promotes corporate welfare and the city’s economic development policy.”
  • In Wichita and Kansas, economic development is not working: “The effort of Wichita and Kansas to retain Hawker Beechcraft, one of our leading employers and a Wichita institution, provides a lesson in the futility of corporate welfare as an economic development policy: Someone is usually willing to pay more. We would be much better off if we start transforming Kansas to a state where all companies are nurtured, not by bureaucratic and political oversight and handouts, but by a low taxing and spending environment, and a reasonable regulatory regime.”
  • Tax increment financing is not free money: “Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole has written extensively on the subject of urban planning, development, and tax increment financing (TIF) districts. The following article contains many points that the Wichita City Council may wish to consider as it considers expansion of a downtown Wichita TIF district at tomorrow’s council meeting.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday November 10, 2011

Occupy Wall Street. One of the most troubling things about OWS is the anti-semitism. FreedomWorks has a video which explains. Also from FreedomWorks, president Matt Kibbe contributes a piece for the Wall Street Journal (Occupying vs. Tea Partying: Freedom and the foundations of moral behavior.). In it, he concludes: “Progressives’ burning desire to create a tea party of the left may be clouding their judgment. Even Mr. Jones has grudgingly conceded that tea partiers have out-crowd-sourced, out-organized, and out-performed the most sophisticated community organizers on the left. ‘Here’s the irony,’ he said back in July. ‘They talk rugged individualist, but they act collectively.’ He and his colleagues don’t seem to understand that communities can’t exist without respect for individual freedom. They can’t imagine how it is that millions of people located in disparate places with unique knowledge of their communities and circumstances can voluntarily cooperate and coordinate, creating something far greater and more valuable than any one individual could have done alone. In the world of the contemporary Western left, someone needs to be in charge — a benevolent bureaucrat who knows better than you do. They can’t help but build hierarchical structures — a General Assembly perhaps — because they don’t understand how freedom works.”

Johnson Controls. Rhonda Holman’s recent Wichita Eagle editorial criticized those who spoke against the award of a forgivable loan to Johnson Controls, specifically mentioning the claim by Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau that Johnson was going to move these jobs to Wichita “no matter what.” No one has disputed Ranzau. I specifically asked at the commission meeting that someone from Johnson address this assessment. The Johnson people in the audience chose not to answer. It would be helpful if someone at the newspaper or county at least pretended as through they cared about the truth of these matters. … At one time newspapers might have objected to Commission member Jim Skelton voting on this matter due to a family member working at Johnson. True, Kansas law says he was eligible to vote on the matter. Sedgwick County has no code of ethics that prohibited it, either. But Skelton could have acted as though the county had a code of ethics, and a model code of ethics says Skelton should not have voted on this matter.

Save-A-Lot store opens. Yesterday a Save-A-Lot grocery store opened in Wichita’s Planeview neighborhood. This is a store that was said to be impossible to build without subsidy in the form of tax increment financing (TIF) and an extra community improvement district (CID) sales tax of two cents per dollar. The Sedgwick County Commission exercised its veto power over the TIF district, and developer developer Rob Snyder canceled his plans for the store. But someone else found a way. Said Snyder at the time to the Wichita City Council: “We have researched every possible way, how do we make this project work with the existing funding that’s available to us. … We might as well say if for some reason we can’t figure out how to get this funding to go through, there won’t be a shopping center over there.” As part of his presentation to the council Allen Bell, Wichita’s Director of Urban Development explained that to be eligible for TIF, developers must demonstrate a “gap,” that is, an analytical finding that conventional financing is not sufficient for the project, and public assistance is required: “We’ve done that. We know, for example, from the developer’s perspective in terms of how much they will make in lease payments from the Save-A-Lot operator, how much that is, and how much debt that will support, and how much funds the developer can raise personally for this project. That has, in fact, left a gap, and these numbers that you’ve seen today reflect what that gap is.” … This episode has severely harmed the credibility of those who plead for incentives and subsidies, and also of the city hall bureaucrats who plead their cases for them. For more see For Wichita, Save-A-Lot teaches a lesson.

Teacher pay. A look at public school teacher pay by American Enterprise Institute finds that — opposite of the myth spread by school spending advocates — teachers are paid much more than they could earn in the private sector. While teachers are paid less than private sector workers with similar college degree attainment, the course of study for teachers is less demanding than most other fields. Fringe benefits for teachers are much higher than for private sector workers. Job security, even in the face of recent layoffs, is much greater for teachers and has a value: “Consider that one-fifth of the highest-performing public school teachers in Washington, D.C., recently declined to give up even part of their job security in exchange for base salary increases of up to $20,000.” … The authors note the study is based on averages: “Our research is in terms of averages. The best public school teachers — especially those teaching difficult subjects such as math and science — may well be underpaid compared to counterparts in the private sector.” But teachers have formed unions that ensure that all teachers are paid the same without regard to ability. See Public School Teachers Aren’t Underpaid: Our research suggests that on average — counting salaries, benefits and job security — teachers receive about 52% more than they could in private business. … Naturally, the best way to set teacher salaries is through voluntary exchange in markets. That doesn’t happen with public school teachers.

Ranzau, Skelton to speak. This week’s meeting (November 11th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and Jim Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … Upcoming speakers: On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?” … On November 25th there will be no meeting.

Making economics come alive. On Monday November 14th Americans for Prosperity Foundation will show the video “Making Economics Come Alive” with John Stossel. Topics included in this presentation are Economics of Property Rights, Private Ownership and Conservation, Property Rights and the Status of Native Americans, Atlas Shrugged: Selfishness and the Economics of Exchange, Economics and the Military Draft, Regulation and Unintended Consequences, Regulation: Louisiana Florist, The Unintended Consequences of the Ethanol Subsidies, The Unintended Consequences of Minimum Wage Laws, Public Choice Economics and Crony Capitalism, Trade Restrictions and Crony Capitalism, Stimulus Spending and Crony Capitalism, and Political Versus Market Choices. This free event is from 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. 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.

Economics in two minutes. In two minutes, Art Carden explains the important ideas of economics in Economics on One Foot: “Individuals strive to achieve their goals in the best ways possible, every action has a cost, incentives matter, value is determined on the margin, profits and losses help gauge value creation and destruction, and government interventions often have unintended and undesirable consequences.” … This video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, and many other informative videos are available.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday October 13, 2011

Wichita city leaders too cozy with developers? Yesterday I participated in a KAKE Television news story where I explained the need for pay-to-play laws in Wichita and Kansas. These laws generally restrict officeholders from participating in votes or activities that would enrich their campaign contributors. In the story I said “What I, and some of my political allies object to, is what is happening in plain sight: In that there is a relatively small group of people — and their spouses and people who work at their companies — who regularly contribute to a wide variety of city council members, both political liberals and political conservatives, because they know that they are going to be coming to the city council and asking for taxpayer money.” Officeholders and the developers who contribute deny there is a connection between contributions and votes. Curiously, these developers generally don’t make contributions to school board members, county commissioners, state legislators, or federal representatives. Actually, it’s not so curious: It’s primarily the Wichita City Council that is able to vote to give them money. I would say the contributors are acting rationally. … If there is no connection between contributions and votes or consideration, there should be no problem in getting the council to agree to some form of pay-to-pay law for Wichita. An example is a charter provision of the city of Santa Ana, in Orange County, California, which states: “A councilmember shall not participate in, nor use his or her official position to influence, a decision of the City Council if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, apart from its effect on the public generally or a significant portion thereof, on a recent major campaign contributor.” … KAKE correspondent Deb Farris reported that Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer doesn’t look at the list of campaign contributors. I wonder: does he send thank you letters to his contributors? … Video and story at Wichita City Leaders Too Cozy With Developers?

Obama economic strategy questioned. This year’s Nobel prize in economics went to Thomas J. Sargent of New York University and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and Christopher A. Sims of Princeton University. In its reporting, the Wall Street Journal explained (A Nobel for Non-Keynesians: People’s expectations about government policy make it difficult for officials to affect the economy in the ways they intend to): “The Swedish economists announcing the award emphasized, correctly, the importance of Messrs. Sargent’s and Sims’s thinking about the role people’s expectations play in economic decision making and the larger economy. But what they failed to mention is that their work has also offered empirical evidence that the school of thought known as Keynesian economics — which believes that government can turn a flagging economy around with the right combination of fiscal ‘stimulus’ (generally government spending) and monetary policy — is fallible.” In further explanation, the Journal writes: “One of Mr. Sargent’s key early contributions, along with University of Minnesota economist Neil Wallace, was the idea that people’s expectations about government fiscal and monetary policy make it difficult for government officials to affect the economy in the ways they intend to. If, for example, people get used to the Federal Reserve increasing the money supply when unemployment rises, they will expect higher inflation and will adjust their wage demands higher also. The result: The lower unemployment rate that the Fed was trying to achieve with looser monetary policy won’t happen. This conclusion was at odds with the Keynesian model, which dominated economic thinking from the late 1930s to the early 1970s. The Keynesian model posited a stable trade-off between inflation and unemployment.” The 1970s however, saw stagflation — both high unemployment and high inflation at the same time, a danger that some feel will grip us in the near future. Keynesianism, of course, is the basis of the economic policy of President Barack Obama and the reason why the economy has not recovered. … While these economists worked on national economies, does the theory of rational expectations apply to state and local governments, meaning that it is very difficult for local government officials to micro-manage their economies through intervention? I think so.

Public vs. private. One of the curious statements in Rhonda Holman’s Sunday Wichita Eagle editorial (Say ‘no’ to naysayers, October 9, 2011) was where she wrote of the “crowds increasingly assembling downtown for concerts and events.” Curious because not long ago she begrudgingly realized the cool down at the Intrust Bank Arena, writing: “Intrust Bank Arena’s strong performance during its inaugural year of 2010 couldn’t last. And it didn’t.” (Make case for arena, August 19, 2100 Wichita Eagle) I don’t know if these two editorials are at odds with each other. … I have noticed one downtown Wichita venue that seems to have a lot of concerts, that being the Orpheum Theater. That venue doesn’t suffer from government genesis and ownership as does the arena, although the arena’s management is in the hands of the private sector. As part of its restoration the Orpheum may qualify for historic preservation tax credits, a government spending program that I oppose. That subsidy, if obtained, is quite small compared to the total taxpayer funding of the arena.

Kansas tax policy. Several news outlets have reported on how hard Kansas state officials are working on crafting a new state tax policy. That worries me. The best tax policy is one that is simple and fair to all. The more tax policy is worked on, the more likely it is to contain measures designed to manage the behavior of people and business firms. This would be a continuation of the conceit that the state can manage economic growth, and contrary to the concepts of economic dynamism for Kansas, where fertile ground is created for all companies.

Petition drive is on. Last Friday citizen activists started the petition drive to give the people of Wichita a chance to vote on crony capitalism or free markets. See Our Downtown Wichita (motto: “Limited government and free markets in Downtown Wichita benefit everyone. Centralized planning and crony capitalism benefit only a few.”) for more information.

Kansas education scores mixed. From Kansas Reporter: “Kansas students’ performance on reading and math proficiency improved for the 11th consecutive year, according to Kansas State Department of Education’s latest State Report Card for schools released Tuesday. Some 87.6 percent of the students tested turned in scores in the top three of five performance levels for reading and 84.7 percent achieved similar scores in math. But two other performance yardsticks show different results. Statewide Kansas test scores on ACT college entrance exams, which are averaging 22 points out of a perfect 36, have been flat for the past five years. … Most Kansas statewide reading, writing and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, tests have changed little since 2000, according to the U.S. Education Department, which counts the test results as the broadest national measure of how school systems compare state by state. ‘Fourth-grade math tests have improved significantly, but that’s about it,; said Arnold Goldstein, program director for the federal Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.” Complete story on Kansas Reporter at Kansas education scores proved mixed picture of schools’ success.

‘Federalists’ author to appear in Wichita. On October 25th Kansas Family Policy Council is hosting an event in Wichita featuring Joshua Charles, a recent KU graduate who has teamed up with Glenn Beck to write the book The Original Argument: The Federalists Case for the Constitution Adapted for the 21st Century. The book debuted at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List in July. … KFPC says “The event will be at Central Christian Church (2900 North Rock Road in Wichita) on Tuesday October 25th at 7:00 pm. Doors will open at 6:30 pm. This is a free event and dessert will be provided for attendees.” RSVP is requested to 316-993-3900 or contact@kansasfpc.com.

Kansas gas wells appraisals. Some Kansas counties use different methods of gas well valuation for tax purposes, writes Paul Soutar in Kansas Watchdog: “The method used to appraise the tax value of gas wells in Stevens County is ‘not correct or appropriate’ according to a report commissioned for Stevens County and released at their latest meeting. The method is or has been used for at least nine years, possibly since the early 1990s, in nine Southwest Kansas counties covering much of the Hugoton gas field, the ninth highest producing field in the U.S. in 2010.” … The complete investigate report is at Report Says Gas Well Appraisal Method ‘Not Correct or Appropriate’.

Lieutenant Governor in Wichita. This week’s meeting (October 14th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, M.D. speaking on “An update on the Brownback Administration’s ‘Roadmap for Kansas’ — Medicaid Reform” … Upcoming speakers: On October 21st: N. Trip Shawver, Attorney/Mediator, on “The magic of mediation, its uses and benefits.” … On October 28th: U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, speaking on “Spending battles in Washington, D.C.” … On November 4th: Chris Spencer, Vice President, Regional Sales Manager Oppenheimer Funds, speaking on “Goliath vs Goliath — The global battle of economic superpowers.” … On November 11th: Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and James Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” … On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?”

Urban renewal. “The goal was to replace chaotic old neighborhoods with planned communities.” Planned by government, that is, with all the negatives that accompany. The fascinating video from Reason.tv is titled The Tragedy of Urban Renewal: The destruction and survival of a New York City neighborhood. Its introduction reads: “In 1949, President Harry Truman signed the Housing Act, which gave federal, state, and local governments unprecedented power to shape residential life. One of the Housing Act’s main initiatives — “urban renewal” — destroyed about 2,000 communities in the 1950s and ’60s and forced more than 300,000 families from their homes. Overall, about half of urban renewal’s victims were black, a reality that led to James Baldwin’s famous quip that “urban renewal means Negro removal. … The city sold the land for a token sum to a group of well-connected Democratic pols to build a middle-class housing development. Then came the often repeated bulldoze-and-abandon phenomenon: With little financial skin in the game, the developers let the demolished land sit vacant for years.”

The Wichita Eagle on naysayers: a disservice to Wichita

Yesterday’s op-ed by Rhonda Holman in The Wichita Eagle reveals a crucial need for a newspaper with at least one conservative voice on its editorial board (Say ‘no’ to naysayers, October 9, 2011). Here are a few ways in which Holman and her newspaper’s editorial section are wrong about downtown Wichita development and a few other issues, and how the op-ed is a disservice to the people of Wichita:

The real world, according to Holman

While Holman cites the “real world” as the need to pour massive subsidy into downtown Wichita, I might ask this question: Why is downtown Wichita such an unattractive investment that lavish subsidy must be heaped upon those who invest there?

Actually, the broader question needs to be asked, as the city often subsidizes development all over town. An example is the new Cabela’s store, an example of “greenfield” development that supposedly sucks away all the money from downtown, and which the elitists despise. In that case the city lent its taxing authority to Cabela’s to be used for its own purposes. A more direct example was when the city granted, through a forgivable loan, $48,000 to The Golf Warehouse, located in a suburban office park.

So what is it about Wichita? Won’t anyone invest in Wichita without subsidy?

It turns out, fortunately, that many do.

In the “real world,” there’s a lot of development going on. It just isn’t always taking place where Holman and other elites think it should be taking place.

Interestingly, when the elites advocate for public funding of their goals, their own actions often belie their true preferences. For example, a lot of development in Wichita is taking place near Holman’s suburban home. Many other supporters of subsidized downtown development don’t live anywhere near downtown — or even in Wichita, in at least two examples.

Why this building?

There’s much more in Holman’s article that deserves discussion. For example, Holman writes: “The Union National Bank building is a prime example: If it could be developed without the use of public tools, it wouldn’t still be empty after 12 years.” Underlying this statement is the assumption that this property should be developed. I don’t know where she and the supporters of subsidized downtown development get these ideas. What is it about this property that gives it priority over other properties in the city or downtown?

If Holman makes the case that this small piece of land deserves massive public spending to support its development, can’t the same argument be made for every other vacant building or empty plot of land in downtown Wichita? We can anticipate that it will be.

Scrutiny, by cheerleaders only

Holman praises the scrutiny that the project has undergone, writing that the project has been “vetted by a public-private evaluation team.” By my reckoning, the committee that performs this function doesn’t have a single member who is skeptical of subsidies for downtown development. Can’t these people tolerate even one person who might voice dissent?

Further, that committee decided to approve the project despite the involvement of David Burk of Marketplace Properties. Holman’s own newspaper reported this last year: “Downtown Wichita’s leading developer, David Burk, represented himself as an agent of the city — without the city’s knowledge or consent — to cut his taxes on publicly owned property he leases in the Old Town Cinema Plaza, according to court records and the city attorney. … Officials in the city legal department said that while Burk was within his rights to appeal taxes on another city-supported building in the Cinema Plaza, he did not have authorization to file an appeal on the city-owned parking/retail space he leases. … As for Burk signing documents as the city’s representative, ‘I do have a problem with it,’ said City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf, adding that he intends to investigate further.”

The development agreement for the current project contains restrictions on the type of behavior that Burk has exhibited in the past. Call it the “Burk clause.”

Election as referendum?

Holman claims that the recent spring city elections were a referendum on downtown, and that subsidized downtown development won. (Here again Holman doesn’t make a distinction between “development” and “subsidized development.”)

But elections are a decidedly poor way to make these decisions. For one thing, policy regarding subsidized downtown development is just one issue that candidates ran on. Voters have to vote for the entire package. They can’t pick and choose among issues, and it’s a reason why we need to leave more economic activity in the realm of markets — where people can pick and choose what they want — rather than turning it over to politics.

Then, there’s the low turnout for these elections. In the past, Holman described the turnout for the spring primary as “depressingly low.” But now — since the results largely fit her ideology — she describes the election is a “referendum.”

Then, there’s this: A recent Rasmussen poll carried the headline: “Just 6% Think Most Politicians Keep Their Campaign Promises.” Elaborating, the pollster explained: “Voters remain overwhelmingly convinced that most politicians won’t keep their campaign promises, but they’re a little less convinced that their elected officials deliberately lie.”

As shown in my reporting of one of the first times two new city council members faced a test, they didn’t fare well at all (Wichita forgivable loan action raises and illustrates issues):

Politically, Wichitans learned today the value of promises or statements made by most candidates while campaigning. Most candidates’ promises along with $3.75 will get you a small cappuccino at Starbucks — if you don’t ask for whipped cream.

Particularly interesting is the inability of politicians to admit they were wrong, or that they made a mistake, or that they were simply uninformed or misinformed when they made a campaign promise or statement. … City council members Clendenin and Meitzner could not bring themselves to admit that their votes today were at odds with their statements made while campaigning. This lack of honesty is one of the reasons that citizens tune out politics, why they have such a cynical attitude towards politicians, and perhaps why voter turnout in city elections is so low.

As one young Wichitan said on her Facebook page after sharing video of the three new council members today, obviously referring to city council district 2′s Pete Meitzner: “How to use your mouth: 1. Campaign under the guise that you are a fiscal conservative. 2. Insert foot.

Finally, there are the out-sized campaign contributions made by those who ask the city council for money. See Wichita City Council campaign contributions and Douglas Place for details on the campaign contributions made by these developers.

One more thing: If Holman is advocating using the results of elections as a measure of city sentiment, why oppose this election, where the ballot question addresses one issue, and there can be no confusion as to what the voters mean?

The naysayers

Holman, as do many downtown supporters, falsely frames the issue. She writes: “To oppose the Ambassador project is, in effect, to oppose downtown redevelopment.” She uses, as does Mayor Carl Brewer, the term “naysayer.” They don’t mean it as a compliment.

What I — and the people I ally myself with — oppose is subsidized development. We oppose this whether it is downtown, suburban, or elsewhere. As it turns out, we can’t even have an honest assessment of the level of public involvement in the current project under consideration. While the City of Wichita employs a very narrow definition of public involvement, a more realistic look shows that the hotel benefits from $15,470,000 in public money to get started, and then $321,499 per year for the first five years, with smaller amounts for 22 years.

Saying no to government intervention doesn’t mean saying no to progress. It does mean saying “no” to the self-serving plans of politicians and bureaucrats and the crony capitalists who seek to profit from political entrepreneurship.

It means saying “no” to Wichita’s political entrepreneurs, who seek to earn profits through government coercion rather than meeting the needs of customers in the marketplace. It means saying “no” to the public-private partnership, where all too often it is the risk that is public and the profit that is private.

So yes, I guess I and Wichita’s other naysayers are saying “no” to a lot of things.

But what we’re saying “yes” to is liberty and freedom. We’re saying “yes” to a civil society that respects the rich diversity of human individuality instead of government planning and bureaucracy. We’re saying “yes” to free people cooperating voluntarily through free markets rather than forced government transfers from taxpayers to politically-favored individuals and programs.

We’re saying “yes” to consumers choosing which businesses in Wichita thrive, rather than politicians on the city council — and their elitist sycophants — choosing. We’re saying “yes” to people making their own choices, rather than government “incentivizing” the behavior it desires through TIF districts and tax abatements, those incentives being paid for by taxpayers.

Kansas tax overhaul skeptics

In yesterday’s Wichita Eagle, editorial writer Rhonda Holman expresses her skepticism that income tax cuts in Kansas will do much good for the state.

First, of all, there’s one very good reason to reduce taxes in Kansas — and everywhere: doing that lets people keep more of their own money, and keeps it in the productive private sector. This is good.

There’s also a dangerous misconception contained in this editorial. Holman mentions the $4.2 billion in sales tax exemptions, referring to the amount of additional sales tax revenue that the state would purportedly collect if the exemptions were eliminated. First, eliminating most of these exemptions is a great idea. But some are not really exemptions at all, at least if we’re talking about a retail sales tax.

Last year the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit looked at these exemptions. Its report is Kansas Tax Revenues, Part II: Reviewing Sales Tax Exemptions.

The audit described one exemption labeled 79-3606 (m), described as “Ingredient/Component parts: Of items manufactured or produced for sale at retail.” The audit report estimates that for 2009, this exemption cost the state $2,248.1 million in lost sales tax revenue. This is over half the $4.2 billion Holman cited as available to the state by eliminating exemptions.

But this exemption isn’t really an “exemption,” at least if the sales tax is a retail sales tax designed to be levied as the final tax on consumption. That’s because these goods aren’t being sold at retail. They’re sold to manufacturers who use them as inputs to products that, when finished, will be sold at retail. Most states don’t tax this type of sales. If Kansas decided to tax these transactions, it would place our state’s manufacturers at a severe disadvantage compared to almost all other states.

There are two other exemptions that fall in this category of inputs to to production processes, totaling an estimated $461 million in lost revenue.

Another big-dollar exemption is “items already taxed” such as motor fuel. This is an estimated $232.5 loss in revenue. Two other categories of exemptions are purchases made by government, or purchase made by contractors on behalf of government. Together these account for an estimated $449.9 million in lost revenue. If these two exemptions were eliminated, the government would be taxing itself.

All told, these six exemptions account for $3,391.5 million of the total $4,234.2 million in exemptions for 2009. That’s about 80%.

So $4.2 billion has shrunk to $842.7 million. That’s still a lot of money, but not near as much as spending advocates would like to have Kansans believe is lying in wait just for the taking.

By the way, the $4.2 billion figure doesn’t include all the sales tax exemptions given, as the audit looked at only those exemptions placed into statute. Many sales tax exemptions are one-time deals, such as the over $500,000 exemption the Wichita City Council awarded to the developers of a hotel in downtown Wichita.

In her editorial, Holman wrote that “Brownback likened eliminating the exemptions to raising taxes,” the implication being that the governor would not support eliminating these exemptions. But these exemptions should not have been granted in the first place.

Holman contends that businesses make location decisions based on “availability of labor and land and the regulatory climate.” Given this, we’re told that Kansas has a skilled work force, we’ve got plenty of inexpensive land, and in many rankings, our regulatory climate is not too bad. That leaves taxes as an additional field on which to compete, and we’re moving in the wrong direction regarding taxes.

Holman also writes that K-12 education is underfunded. This argument is difficult to sustain in light of the facts, which are that until very recently, Kansas school spending soared.

Kansas school spending, per studentKansas school spending, per student.

Instead of spending more on a state school system, we could spend less and give parents more choice by implementing various forms of school choice. Despite the claims of school spending advocates, school choice saves money for the state. Additionally, local districts are actually better off under school choice, as explained in The arithmetic of school choice in Wichita.

There’s much more Kansas could do to reduce spending, which in turn would let us reduce tax rates without cutting services. First, Kansas makes little use of outsourcing. In Wichita, our one major experiment in outsourcing produced savings greater than anticipated. Yet, we don’t have plans to expand this practice.

Another thing Kansas must do is to use zero-based budgeting, at least periodically. The current practice is to form new budgets based on last year’s spending. While he was a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, Jason Watkins explained the need, as I reported: “Watkins said that the present system, where each year’s budget is based on the past year’s plus an increase, produces anomalies. He illustrated a case where an agency might be able to get some federal money if the state spends some if its own. It might be, say, a three-year program. So the legislature authorizes and appropriates the funds. Then three years later the federal money is gone, so the program ends because the state funding alone is not sufficient for continuation. But the money the state allocated is still in the agency’s base budget — even through the program no longer exists.”

The resolve of the Wichita City Council

The Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman concedes that opponents of subsidy for Wichita hotel developers may prevail in a petition drive and possible special election, and remarks: “If so, they will have made an ideological point most people already agree with — that it would be best if developers paid for downtown development.” (Press ahead downtown, September 18, 2011 Wichita Eagle)

Holman is referring to a refund of 75 percent of the transient guest tax that the hotel is seeking. This subsidy is estimated to be worth $134,000 per year for 15 years, or $2,010,000 in total.

Despite her recognition of the will of the people, editorialist Holman encourages the Wichita City Council to proceed in a direction opposite. Settling for something other than the best, by her own admission.

It’s the “reality,” Holman says. She trusts the arguments of developers who have a $15 million motive to gain various forms of taxpayer subsidy. She says there is presently “tight financing,” her contention being that developers can’t get loans for their projects.

She may not be reading the reporting in her own newspaper. Recently the Eagle reported on the local lending situation: “Bankers said they want to make loans and would gladly do so, if companies wanted them. … Borrowers still have to have a business plan and creditworthiness. Demand has been way down.”

Bankers will loan to creditworthy borrowers, says the Eagle. The reasonable conclusion is that the Douglas Place developers are not creditworthy. So, Holman wants the Wichita taxpayer to provide financing, and most of the city council is willing to buy these flimsy arguments.

On Sunday evening, Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) called into the Gene Countryman radio program. He said: “With the editorial that was in the paper today from Rhonda Holman, I was just shocked that she thinks that it would prevail, that Americans for Prosperity — their argument would prevail on the ballot. To me, that seems counter-intuitive, that means that the elected officials aren’t following what the will of the people is. And that’s why we’re sent to city council.”

O’Donnell said that the Eagle “should be picking up on that part of this equation: that we are electing people that aren’t going with the mood of the voters.”

He further explained that the Douglas Place developers now have a problem. If they proceed with the hotel project without receiving one of the subsidies they insisted they need — what does that say about their honesty and integrity? Were they asking for the subsidy simply because they thought the city would grant it?

And if they can proceed without this subsidy, what about the other subsides? Are they truly necessary?

If the city grants subsidies that turn out not to be necessary — as if any subsidy is really ever necessary — what does that say about our city bureaucratic staff, our mayor, and our city council?

I think we know what it says. The campaign contributions given by these developers are a stain upon the reputation of Wichita.

By the way, when someone says their opponents are “ideological,” immediately you know their arguments are weak. Merriam-Webster defines “ideology” as “1: visionary theorizing; 2a : a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture b: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture c: the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program.”

The use of the term “ideological” is almost always used in a negative way, as Holman has done when referring to Americans for Prosperity. None of these things, however, are negative — unless they describe your political opponents. When Holman and most city council members believe that downtown development can happen only when propped up by taxpayer spending and subsidy, and believe that this is a good thing and a proper use of government: isn’t that an ideology?

Wichita City Council bows to special interests

Yesterday’s meeting of the Wichita City Council revealed a council — except for one member — totally captured by special interests, to the point where the council, aided by city staff, used a narrow legal interpretation in order to circumvent a statutorily required public hearing process.

The issue was a downtown hotel to be developed by a team lead by David Burk of Marketplace Properties. The subsidies Burk wants, specifically tax increment financing (TIF), require a public hearing to be held. The city scheduled the hearing for September 13th.

That schedule, however, didn’t suit Burk. In order to provide him a certain comfort level, the council agreed to issue a letter of intent stating that the council intends to do the things that the public hearing is supposed to provide an opportunity for deliberation.

I, along with others, contend that this action reduces the September 13th public hearing to a meaningless exercise. This action is not good government, and it’s not open and transparent government, despite the claims of Mayor Carl Brewer. It goes against our country’s principle of the rule of law, part of which holds that our laws are more important than any single person.

Several times council members — and once city attorney Gary Rebenstorf — explained that the letter of intent is non-binding on either party. But: No matter what information is presented at the September public hearing, no matter how strong public opinion might be against the incentives involved, is there any real likelihood that the council would not proceed with this plan and its incentives, having already passed a letter of intent to do so? I think there is very little possibility of that.

Persuasive arguments will be made that since the city issued a letter of intent, and since the developers may have already taken action based on that letter, it follows that the city is obligated to pass the plan. Otherwise, who would ever vest any meaning in a future letter of intent from this city?

During the discussion, no one was able to explain adequately why a letter of intent — if it is non-binding and therefore does not commit the city — was asked for by the developers. Despite the lawyerly explanation of Rebenstorf and council members — including the mayor — the letter does have meaning. Practically, it has such a powerful meaning that it makes the holding of the public hearing on September 13th a mere charade, a meaningless exercise in futility.

It’s not just me and a handful of others who contend this. The Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman, who is usually in favor of all forms of public spending on downtown, wrote: “Even though the letter of intent will be nonbinding, it risks making the Sept. 13 public hearing on tax-increment financing seem like a pointless afterthought.”

In his remarks, City Manager Bob Layton explained that the meeting was the first time for council members to “formally vet this project and all of the incentives.”

He added: “If the council were to say, for instance, there were two or three pieces of that that you had discomfort with, that would then put everyone on notice that the deal may not go forward.” He said this is the purpose of today’s action, and he added that the action is non-binding.

I would suggest that since the council, with the exception of Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita), found no problems with issuing the letter of intent, it has no problems with the deal, and this is what makes the September public hearing, as Holman said, a “pointless afterthought.”

Astonishingly, the manger said while this is “not intended to be the normal process,” he said that he “kind of like it” as it gave an initial opportunity to gauge the sentiment of council members.

I’m glad the manager didn’t mention the sentiment of the public, as with little notice as to the content of the deal and its incentives, citizens had no meaningful opportunity to prepare.

An example of the contorted logic council members use to justify their action: Council Member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) explained that issuing letters of intent is a common practice in real estate deals. He confused, however, agreements made between private parties and those where government is a party. Private parties can voluntarily enter into whatever agreements they want. But agreements with government are governed by laws. Yesterday, the city council announced its intent to do something for which it is required to hold a public hearing. That didn’t violate the letter of the law, but it certainly goes against its spirit and meaning. Longwell said he has no problem with that.

Their bureaucratic enablers helped out, too. Wichita Downtown Development Corporation President Jeff Fluhr, in his testimony, said we are working towards becoming a “city of distinction.” That we are, indeed — a city distinguished by lack of respect for the rule of law and its disregard for citizens in favor of special interests.

A few observations from the meeting follow.

Public investment

In response to a question from the mayor, Allen Bell, Wichita’s Director of Urban Development, said that the ratio of private dollars to public dollars for this project is about 2.2 to 1. Whether these numbers are correct is doubtful. It will take an analysis of the deal to determine the true numbers, and the details have been available for only a short time. But if correct, this ratio falls well short of the stated goals. Two years ago, when agitation for a new round of downtown planing started, boosters spoke of a ratio of 15 to 1. Eventually planners promised a ratio of 5 to 1 private to public investment for downtown. This project, while of course is just a single project and not the entirety of downtown development, doesn’t reach half that goal.

Order of events and media coverage

During the meeting, Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) conceded that “the order of events is confusing.”

Before that, Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita) claimed that there had been much media coverage of the proposed hotel, and that the public was actually getting two opportunities to talk about this project. She said that the media had published information about today’s meeting and the public hearing on September 13th.

Miller is gravely mistaken. Until a Wichita Eagle article on Saturday, I saw no mention of the letter of intent, and no detail of the form of subsidies to be considered for this project. The city’s list of legal notices contains no mention of the action that was taken at this meeting.

Questions not answered

During my remarks to the council, I related how last year the Wichita Eagle alleged that David Burk, the managing member of this project — and I quote here: “Downtown Wichita’s leading developer, David Burk, represented himself as an agent of the city — without the city’s knowledge or consent — to cut his taxes on publicly owned property he leases in the Old Town Cinema Plaza, according to court records and the city attorney.”

This Eagle article and a companion article went on to quote these people as having trouble with and being concerned, to varying degrees, with Burk’s acts: City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf; City Council member Jeff Longwell; City Council Member Lavonta Williams, now serving as vice mayor; then-Vice Mayor Jim Skelton, now on the Sedgwick County Commission; and City Manager Robert Layton.

In particular, the manager said, according to the Eagle, that anyone has the right to appeal their taxes, but he added that ‘no doubt that defeats the purpose of the TIF.’”

The manager’s quote is most directly damaging. Despite the fact that nearly all the property taxes Burk pays directly enriches himself and only him, he still doesn’t want to pay them. And according to the Wichita Eagle — not me — he engaged in deception in order to reduce them.

None of the four people in the council chambers — Rebenstorf, Longwell, Williams, and Layton — explained their apparent change of mind with regard to Burk’s acts.

Burk, who addressed the council immediately after I asked if he cared to explain his actions, decided to avoid the issue. In his shoes, I probably would have done the same, as there is no justification for the acts the Eagle accused him of doing. He, and his political and bureaucratic enablers in Wichita city hall, have to hope this issue fades.

Campaign contributions

Council member O’Donnell asked about a parking garage to be built at a cost of $6 million to the city: Will the city be putting this project out to competitive bid? Bell replied no, that is the developer’s request. City attorney Rebenstorf added that there is a charter ordinance that exempts these types of projects from bidding requirements.

O’Donnell said that awarding the construction contract to a company that has made campaign contributions to all council members (except him) “seems a little questionable.”

The company in question is Key Construction. Its principals regularly appear on campaign finance reports, making the maximum allowed contribution to a wide variety of candidates. Similarly, Burke and his wife also frequently make the maximum contribution to city hall candidates.

O’Donnell is correct to publicize these contributions. They emit a foul odor. In our political system, many people make contributions to candidates whose ideology they agree with, be it conservative, liberal, or something else.

But Burk and others routinely make the maximum contribution to all — or nearly all — candidates, even those with widely varying political stances. How can someone explain Burk’s (and his wife’s) contributions to liberals like Miller and Williams, and also to conservatives like Longwell, Meitzner, and former council member Sue Schlapp?

The answer is that Schlapp and Longwell, despite their proclamations of fiscal conservatism, have shown themselves to be willing to vote for any form of developer welfare Burk and others have asked for. They create tangled webs of tortured logic to explain their votes. Meitzner, along with his fellow new council member James Clendenin (district 3, south and southeast Wichita), seems to be following the same path.

Several council members and the mayor took exception to O’Donnell’s raising of this matter. Clendenin, for his part, objected and said that the public has had over 30 days to consider and take exception with this project. This contention, like Miller’s, isn’t supported by any facts that I am aware of. It appears that the first mention of any of the details of the plan and the subsidies is contained in a MAPC agenda that appears to have been created on July 29. Besides not being 30 days in advance, the MAPC agenda is an obscure place to release what Clendenin believes is adequate public notice.

Regarding the issue of campaign contributions, the mayor — without mentioning his name — strongly criticized O’Donnell for bringing up this matter. Many people watching this meeting felt that the extreme reaction of Brewer and others to O’Donnell’s observation reveals a certain uneasiness regarding these contributions. I don’t believe the mayor and council members are taking illegal bribes, although when any city is enriching people with millions of dollars of developer welfare there is always that threat, and in some cities and states such practices are commonplace.

The fact remains, however, that there is a small group of campaign contributors who — over and over — ask for and receive largess from city hall.

The mayor’s criticisms

In his comments, Mayor Brewer accused opponents of providing only partial facts about matters, because the full facts did not support their case. He was referring to my remarks that a lawsuit brought against the city by a party who felt the city had reneged on a letter of intent was litigated all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court. In my remarks I didn’t mention who won that case — the city did — and the mayor believes this is an example of slanting the facts.

The mayor went on to make accusations of “grandstanding” from some of the public and “some council members” because there are cameras in the council chambers. He mentioned that news media are present at every meeting and that council meetings are broadcast on television.

The mayor should take notice, however, that most people who care about public affairs and policy are severely disappointed with news media coverage of city hall events. The resources of news gathering agencies, especially newspapers, are severely depleted as compared to the past. In my coverage of a talk given by former Wichita Eagle editor Davis Merritt, I wrote this: “A question that I asked is whether the declining resources of the Wichita Eagle might create the danger that local government officials feel they can act under less scrutiny, or is this already happening? Merritt replied that this has been going on for some time. ‘The watchdog job of journalism is incredibly important and is terribly threatened.’ When all resources go to cover what must be covered — police, accidents, etc. — there isn’t anything left over to cover what should be covered. There are many important stories that aren’t being covered because the ‘boots aren’t on the street anymore,’ he said.” See Former Wichita Eagle editor addresses journalism, democracy, May 11, 2009.

In addition, Bill Wilson, the reporter the Wichita Eagle sent to cover the meeting, has a documented bias against the concept of free markets, and against those who believe in them.

The mayor, when delivering his criticism, does not use the names of those he criticizes. It would be useful if he did, but it would mean he has to take greater accountability for his remarks.

Following are links to excerpts of testimony from the meeting — perhaps examples of the “grandstanding” the mayor complained about: John Todd, Shirley Koehn, and Bob Weeks.

Despite subsidy program, Wichita flights are declining

Supporters of the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program are proud of the program’s success. But looking at the statistics uncovers a troubling trend that is obscured by the facts used to promote the program.

The program provides taxpayer-funded grants to airlines so that they will provide low-cost service to cities in Kansas. The thought is that by propping up a discount carrier, other airlines will be forced to reduce their fares. By far the largest consumer of these subsidies is Airtran Airways in Wichita. For this goal, the program has worked, probably. We have to say “probably” because we can never know what would have happened in the absence of this program. But it is quite likely that fares are at least somewhat lower than would they would be otherwise.

But lower fares is not the only measure of success. The number of available flights is a measure, too, and a very important one for many people.

The problem is that subsidy boosters state that the number of flights has increased. For example, on a page that is part of the Sedgwick County official website, the claim is made that the affordable airfares program “offers more flights to both east and west coasts.”

In the agenda packet for the July meeting of the Regional Economic Area Partnership of South Central Kansas — that’s the body that administers the affordable airfares program — board members were presented this information: “In presenting its proposal Sedgwick County provided evidence documenting that low-fare air service to eastern and western U.S. destinations through Wichita Mid-Continent Airport had been successful in providing more air flight options, more competition for air travel, and affordable air fares for Kansas.”

Later that document describes selection criteria for deciding which airlines will receive grants. The first goal listed is “more air flight options,” which is further described as the number of scheduled, daily nonstop and one-stop flights.

Certainly enticing a new airline carrier to town by paying them a subsidy increases the number of flights that carrier will offer, as before the subsidy, they offered none. But the experience of Wichita shows that the affordable airfares program is causing an overall loss of flight options in Wichita.

It’s true that when the airline subsidy started, funded at first only by the City of Wichita, the number of flights departing from Wichita increased. That’s not remarkable. That was the stated goal of the program, and if we paid AirTran a subsidy and they didn’t provide flights, that would have been a problem.

But the history of flights before the subsidy program is not the only important measure, although supporters of the program like the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman make use of it when she recently wrote this about the program and an audit of it conducted by Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit: “Even so, the audit put the return on the state’s investment at $2.32-to-$1, cited 38 percent growth in passenger counts between 2000 and 2009, and said ‘fares have decreased, while the number of passengers and the number of available flights have increased.’”

Yes, the number of available flights increased upon the arrival of AirTran and the start of the subsidy payments. But the trend since 2005 — about the time the state got involved in the funding and the program matured — is not encouraging. As shown in the accompanying charts, that trend is continually on a downward trajectory. (The charts show two different sets of data for the number of departures from Wichita.)

The decline in the number of available flights is important, because for some travelers, particularly business travelers, the availability of a seat on an airplane at any price is more important than being able to book a cheap flight a month in advance.

People may disagree about the wisdom of the airline subsidy program. But we need to recognize that the availability of flights to and from Wichita is declining, and has been declining for a number of years.

We often hear of the unintended consequences of government intervention. This is such an example. Compounding the problem is the refusal of the program’s supporters — both within and outside of government — to recognize it, at least publicly.

Monthly departures from WichitaMonthly departures from the Wichita airport
Number of daily departures from the Wichita airport by air carriers (excluding weekends)Number of daily departures from the Wichita airport by air carriers (excluding weekends)

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday June 13, 2011

Wichita City Council. This week the Wichita City Council considers these items: The council will deliberate a contract in the amount of $50,000 with the Kansas World Trade Center for economic development services. KWTC’s mission is to “promote and facilitate international trade through education, communication and research.” … The council will be asked to approve cultural funding allocations approved by the Cultural Funding Committee. The source of these funds is the city’s dedicated property tax for the arts, which is estimated to bring in $3,165,897 next year. The best thing the council could do for citizens is to forgo this funding, reduce taxes, and let citizens choose how to allocate their funds based on their own preferences. Instead, we have a committee deciding which arts Wichitans should be taxed to pay for. … The council will be asked to approve spending $194,849 on a contract with a firm to produce the Wichita bicycle master plan. … Another contract to be considered spends $87,253 to produce a transit community outreach and input study. … As always, the agenda packet is available at Wichita city council agendas.

Arts jobs lost already? The Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman is already bemoaning the lost arts jobs, writing this about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback: “He alone bears the responsibility for five lost jobs today as the Kansas Arts Commission’s funding runs out.” A few of the comments left to the article got the economics right, reminding Holman that these jobs at the Kansas Arts Commission are government jobs, not arts jobs. This is a distinction that is often overlooked by our state’s largest newspaper.

American politics, viewed from down under. James Paterson, an Australian, writes about the inability of left-wing media to understand a conservative grassroots political movement: “Ever since the rise of the Tea Party in the United States and the community revolt against the Gillard Government’s carbon tax, progressive journalists and commentators have struggled to grapple with the idea of a grassroots political movement that isn’t left wing. More used to anti-war moratoriums and union-led protests for equal pay or refugee rights, many left-leaning journalists appear to be on a mission to uncover the ‘real’ cause of public dissent from their favoured big-government agenda, particularly regarding climate change.” Paterson notes how the media has latched on to Charles and David Koch as the driving force behind this political movement. But, he writes: “But political movements can’t just be conjured up at the behest of billionaire businessmen, media moguls or talk-show hosts. And they certainly can’t be directed exclusively by them to serve their commercial interests. If that were the case, what took them so long? Why did the Koch brothers — who were involved in libertarian activism as early as the 1970s — not ‘create’ the Tea Party to tackle US President Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton, decades ago?” A good question, I might add. Concluding: “As much as it might disappoint some commentators, most conservative philanthropists are simply passionate about the philosophy of individual liberty and personal freedom, just as others are committed to human rights or finding a cure for cancer. Surprisingly, even ordinary people can subscribe to these beliefs, and they don’t need to be told by a reclusive billionaire or wacky media personality how to think.”

California parent trigger attacked. California has a new and innovative school reform law called the “parent trigger.” If a majority of the parents for a school sign a petition calling for the trigger to be invoked, the school must undergo one of several reform measures, such as, as described in Locking the Parent Trigger: “close the school and let the students enroll in a higher-performing campus nearby; convert the school to an independent charter; fire half the teaching staff and replace the administration; extend school hours and revise the curriculum under a federally recommended turnaround plan; or adopt an ‘alternative governance’ model, which could include anything from establishing a school-site council to handing over the school to the local district superintendent.” The City Journal article tells of an effort by the state’s anti-choice education establishment to interfere with and overturn the law.

Medical board’s powers. Many are not aware of the role of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB, which was established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This board is charged with holding down the costs of medical care under ObamaCare. In his column Government by the ‘experts’ George Will describes some of this board’s extreme powers, such as the board’s proposals becoming law unless Congress takes action to oppose, and that action requires three-fifths majority vote. He quotes U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “I anticipate that Congress will find delegation of its lawmaking powers much more attractive in the future. … I foresee all manner of ‘expert’ bodies, insulated from the political process, to which Congress will delegate various portions of its lawmaking responsibility. How tempting to create an expert Medical Commission … to dispose of such thorny, ‘no-win’ political issues as the withholding of life-support systems in federally funded hospitals.” … This topic of Congress brushing aside its responsibility to make tough decisions came up in my recent interview with U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita, in which I reported: “Pompeo said that over the last 25 or 30 years Congress has been unwilling to create ‘substantive markers’ in legislation. Instead, it creates vague laws and funds administrative agencies to implement them. These agencies are less accountable than elected officials, and Congress has handed over much authority to them.”

Chief Justice to speak in Wichita. This Friday (June 17th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Honorable Lawton R. Nuss, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice, speaking on the topic “The State of the Kansas Courts.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … Upcoming speakers: On June 24, Jim Mason, Naturalist at the Great Plains Nature Center will have a presentation and book signing. Mason is author of Wichita’s Riverside Parks, published in April 2011. On July 1 there will be no meeting due to the Independence Day holiday. On July 8, Dave Trabert, President, Kansas Policy Institute, on “Stabilizing the Kansas Budget.”

More ‘Economics in One Lesson.’ Tonight (June 13) Americans For Prosperity Foundation is sponsoring a continuation of the DVD presentation of videos based on Henry Hazlitt’s classic work Economics in One Lesson. The event is Monday (June 13) 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.

Climate change resource launched. The Heartland Institute has launched an online resource dedicated to providing information about climate change and related topics. Titled ClimateWiki, Heartland writes that the website “covers an immensely complicated subject with hard scientific facts, not the scare-mongering and politicization found at Wikipedia, other ‘alarmist’ climate research sites and the mainstream media.” … Heartland will host the International Conference on Climate Change later this month.

Arts won’t go away in Kansas

Supporters of government-funded art in Kansas are lashing out at Kansas Governor Sam Brownback for his decision to cancel funding for the Kansas Arts Commission. An example is the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman in her editorial A state for the arts?

In her editorial Holman makes the claim that eliminating the Kansas Arts Commission exposes Kansas to the risk of losing federal and other funds. Many government art supporters state that the loss of funds in a certainty. But as I wrote earlier this year when I covered a hearing before a Kansas Senate committee, Kansas Legislative Research Department made inquiries to the Arts Alliance and the NEA. The answers from both agencies indicate that it is unclear as to whether the new Kansas Arts Foundation would be eligible to receive grants. In particular, the NEA answered, according to Legislative Research, “the potential exists for Kansas to forfeit its ability to receive National Endowment for the Arts funding depending on how the new entity in structured …”

A related — and more important to public policy — question is why do we send tax money to Washington, only to have to jump through federally-designed hoops to get it back? We shouldn’t argue for the perpetuation of such a system just so we can receive matching grants.

Holman and others make the case that the arts funding that Brownback canceled is small — “minuscule in the context of the state’s $13.8 billion budget,” she wrote. It’s not only a financial matter, although this factor alone is reason enough to cancel this funding. The arguments of supporters of this funding, small amount that it is, illustrate some of the worse aspects of government and public policy.

Government funded arts supporters promote the government funding as an investment that pays off for Kansas taxpayers. They have studies that say it does. But these studies have little credibility, as shown in Arts funding in Kansas. These studies purportedly show that spending on the arts has a magic power that is not present when people spend their own money on the things they value most highly. But these studies, like most, rely on several economic fallacies. Henry Hazlitt, writing in Economics in One Lesson, explains.

Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man. This is no accident. The inherent difficulties of the subject would be great enough in any case, but they are multiplied a thousandfold by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics or medicine — the special pleading of selfish interests. While every group has certain economic interests identical with those of all groups, every group has also, as we shall see, interests antagonistic to those of all other groups. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for then plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible.

The proposed funding for the arts commission is a clear illustration of the problem with many pleas for public funding. A small group of people will benefit powerfully from this spending. What about the rest of us? Government-funded arts supporters make the case that the cost of the funding is just 29 cents per person in Kansas. Who of us will get worked up over such a small cost?

The Public Choice school of economics calls this the problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. It’s a huge problem.

Besides the financial aspects of government funding of arts, there’s the artistic issue itself. There are very important reasons to keep government away from art. Lawrence W. Reed wrote in What’s Wrong with Government Funding of the Arts? of the harm of turning over responsibility to the government for things we value and find worthwhile:

I can think of an endless list of desirable, enriching things in life, of which very few carry an automatic tag that says, “Must be provided by taxes and politicians.” Such things include good books, nice lawns, nutritious food, and smiling faces. A rich culture consists, as you know, of so many good things that have nothing to do with government, and thank God they don’t. We should seek to nurture those things privately and voluntarily because “private” and “voluntary” are key indicators that people are awake to them and believe in them. The surest way I know to sap the vitality of almost any worthwhile endeavor is to send a message that says, “You can slack off of that; the government will now do it.” That sort of “flight from responsibility,” frankly, is at the source of many societal ills today: many people don’t take care of their parents in their old age because a federal program will do it; others have abandoned their children because until recent welfare reforms, they’d get a bigger check if they did.

The boosters of government arts funding in Kansas make the case that arts are important. Therefore, they say, government must be involved.

But actually, the opposite is true. The more important to our culture we believe the arts to be, the stronger the case for getting government out of its funding. Here’s why. In a statement opposing the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission, former executive director Llewellyn Crain explained that “The Kansas Arts Commission provides valuable seed money that leverages private funds …”

This “seed money” effect is precisely why government should not be funding arts. David Boaz explains:

Defenders of arts funding seem blithely unaware of this danger when they praise the role of the national endowments as an imprimatur or seal of approval on artists and arts groups. Jane Alexander says, “The Federal role is small but very vital. We are a stimulus for leveraging state, local and private money. We are a linchpin for the puzzle of arts funding, a remarkably efficient way of stimulating private money.” Drama critic Robert Brustein asks, “How could the [National Endowment for the Arts] be ‘privatized’ and still retain its purpose as a funding agency functioning as a stamp of approval for deserving art?” … I suggest that that is just the kind of power no government in a free society should have.

We give up a lot when we turn over this power to government bureaucrats and arts commission cronies. Again I turn to David Boaz, who in his book The Politics of Freedom: Taking on The Left, The Right and Threats to Our Liberties wrote this in a chapter titled “The Separation of Art and State”:

It is precisely because art has power, because it deals with basic human truths, that it must be kept separate from government. Government, as I noted earlier, involves the organization of coercion. In a free society coercion should be reserved only for such essential functions of government as protecting rights and punishing criminals. People should not be forced to contribute money to artistic endeavors that they may not approve, nor should artists be forced to trim their sails to meet government standards.

Government funding of anything involves government control. That insight, of course, is part of our folk wisdom: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” “Who takes the king’s shilling sings the king’s song.”

Around the country Kansas is being portrayed by government arts supporters as having taken a giant step backwards. For those who value the tenets of classical liberalism — liberty, individualism, skepticism about power, spontaneous order, free markets, limited government, and peace, to name a few — Kansas has moved forward, although I don’t imagine for a moment that all these attributes were motivators for Brownback’s decision. It’s sad and telling that arts supporters, who often claim to express the human soul and condition through their art — a viewpoint that ought to be sympathetic to classical liberalism — are not able to grasp the importance of this decision.

Kansas arts funding supporters are misinformed, or worse

Supporters of Kansas government arts funding are either misinformed or lying about the facts they use to make their case for continuation of taxpayer support of the arts.

Advocates of Kansas state government funding for arts make the case that if Governor Brownback succeeds in his plan to turn the Kansas Arts Commission into a non-profit organization, Kansas will be the only state without a government arts commission.

A Wichita Eagle editorial referred to Kansas becoming the “only state in the country without at least a quasigovernmental arts agency,” although writer Rhonda Holman qualified her remarks with “according to arts advocates.”

In another Wichita Eagle article, Joan Cole repeated this assertion when she wrote “I believe that it is crucial that the Kansas Arts Commission remain a state agency, as exists in every other state.” Cole is vice-chair of the Kansas arts commissioners.

But Cole and government arts funding advocates are wrong. She and they are either misinformed, or they are lying to advance their cause.

There is one state with a private arts commission or council, not a state agency. It’s listed on the Kansas Arts Commission page, if Commissioner Cole would care to read it: The Vermont Arts Council. On its website, we learn that “The Vermont Arts Council is the only designated state agency for the arts in the United States that is also a private, not-for-profit, 501(c)3, membership organization.”

National Endowment for the Arts funding

While I appreciate the KAC acknowledging what Cole and the Wichita Eagle will not, the KAC is still misinformed. In bold type, it states that if KAC becomes a nonprofit organization, “This entity will not be eligible for funds from The National Endowment of the Arts.”

Bu the Vermont Arts council — not a state agency, but a nonprofit organization — states: “Our funding comes from the State of Vermont, the National Endowment for the Arts, memberships, and private contributions.”

There’s another discrepancy.

Suppose the State of Kansas provides no state funds to an arts agency, which is Brownback’s proposal. Will that rule out receiving NEA funding? Indications are that Kansas officials have asked NEA this question, and NEA hasn’t provided a reason as to why Kansas couldn’t continue to receive funding. Amanda Grosserode, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, wrote in her newsletter that “enabling legislation for the NEA has also been thoroughly reviewed and no requirement for state funding to match federal funding has been found.”

In the end, the issue of NEA funding may soon become moot. The National Endowment for the Arts is an example of a federal agency that may be eliminated, or very likely have its budget cut. So there may not be much federal arts funding to worry about.

In the meantime, Kansans need to ask why government arts supporters are misinformed about simple facts, or they should ask why they are lying to Kansans. Government funding of the arts is bad for two reasons: economic and artistic. Misinformed or lying supporters aren’t helping their cause.

In Kansas, prosperity is achievable — if we’re willing to change

The health of the Kansas economy — past and future — is the subject of some debate, with supporters of big government like the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman thanking outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson for his promotion of the increase in the statewide sales tax and other forms of economic interventionism. These policies, with the exception of the approval of the expansion of a coal-fired electrical plant, largely carried forward the programs of his predecessor Kathleen Sebelius. As a result, Kansas is in the situation that Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute describes below.

Prosperity Is Achievable — If We’re Willing To Change

By Dave Trabert, President, Kansas Policy Institute

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” — Thomas Sowell, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Sowell’s point about the scarcity of resources is essential to understanding economics, which may be as much about human behavior as supply, demand and other commonly-associated factors. Taxpayers have finite resources, so the more they must pay in taxes, the less they have to spend on goods and services. Accordingly, raising taxes always has a negative impact and especially so when taxes rise faster than the ability to pay.

Unfortunately, the last ten years were defined by Sowell’s first law of politics. State and local governments in Kansas ignored the implications of finite resources and significantly increased the tax burden. From 2000 to 2009, state and local taxes increased 59 percent but personal income available to pay taxes only rose 44 percent. (The 2010 figures aren’t yet published but last year’s increase in sales, unemployment and property taxes certainly didn’t ease the burden.)

Predictably, we suffered the consequences.

Kansas had 18,800 fewer private sector jobs in 2009 than in 2000, a reduction of 1.7 percent. There was job growth prior to the recession but it was well below the national average. From 1998 to 2008 (Kansas employment peaked in April, 2008) private sector jobs increased 7.9 percent nationwide but only 5.2 percent in Kansas. And comparing the performance of low-burden and high-burden states (as ranked by the non-partisan Tax Foundation) makes the implications of defying Sowell’s first law of economics even more clear. The ten states with the highest combined state and local tax burden averaged 6.1 percent private sector job growth, whereas the ten states with the lowest burdens averaged a remarkable 16.5 percent gain.

Domestic migration (U.S. residents moving in and out of states) is another good measure. Between 2000 and 2009, the ten states with the lowest tax burdens averaged a 3.8 percent population increase from domestic migration; the ten states with the highest burdens lost an average of 3.3 percent. Kansas lost 2.5 percent population from domestic migration.

Jobs and people naturally gravitate toward low-burden states where they get to keep more of their hard-earned, finite resources. The next ten years must therefore be defined by Sowell’s first law of economics or Kansas will continue to suffer the consequences. In order to compete for jobs and attract new residents, the state and local tax burden must be reduced — and that means government must spend less.

Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce spending and still provide essential services. Ineffective and unnecessary programs have to go and government must operate much more efficiently.

Change won’t be easy but the choice is simple — reduce the tax burden and create an environment that attracts jobs and new taxpayers or preserve big government and continue to suffer the consequences.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday December 12, 2010

This week at Wichita City Council. This Tuesday, six speakers have signed up to appear on the public agenda. This is a portion of the meeting where citizens may speak on nearly any topic. Five are speaking on the city’s proposed trash plan, while one is speaking on a city-wide recycling project. … Approval of the city’s legislative agenda will be considered. Probably the greatest threat to economic freedom is this plank: “City of Wichita supports continued use of effective private-public partnerships and the appropriate intervention of state and local governments to spur economic development.” Also the city expresses support for highly subsidized, expensive, and little-used passenger rail service. … Also the council will consider amending the Wichita-Sedgwick County Comprehensive Plan to include Project Downtown: The Master Plan for Wichita. This is the plan that consulting firm Goody Clancy developed for the revitalization of downtown Wichita. The complete agenda report is at Wichita City Council, December 14, 2010.

Sedgwick County Commission this week. On Wednesday the Sedgwick County Commission will vote on its legislative agenda. The agenda, or platform, is not law, but expresses the sentiment or desire of the commission. Last year Commissioner Karl Peterjohn shepherded through the requirement that voters approve all tax rate increases. This year the same language is proposed, but it may not pass. (The proposed language is this: “All local sales tax increases must be approved by voters under Kansas law. All property tax increases that raise the mill levy should also be required to receive voter approval.”) Some commissioners believe that voters elect them to use their judgment to make decisions on taxes, while other commissioners believe voters should have the final say on something as important as this. The agenda and backup material for Wednesday’s meeting is at Sedgwick County Commission, December 15, 2010.

Wichita Eagle: Adopt downtown plan. Today’s Wichita Eagle editorial calls for passage of the downtown master plan recently developed by planning firm Goody Clancy. Rhonda Holman argues that a “busier, richer core” will benefit the town economically, adding that “downtown matters too much to be left to chance.” The idea that the core is essential to progress is taken as a given, but when downtown supporters are questioned, no evidence to support this nostrum is given. Also, this concept of “chance” that Holman doesn’t trust could also be described as a dynamic marketplace of ideas and capital, with many diverse players with dispersed knowledge acting to advance their own self-interest by creating things people will freely buy, all coordinated through the magic of the price system. What Wichita — with Holman’s support — plans to do is to replace this with the bureaucratic and political system.

City planning by “Those Who Know Best.” “While the fixations of trendy planners might not register on the list of things that average Americans think about, these new utopian land-use ideals are filtering down into government agencies and city councils, and might eventually impact the way we all live.” Writing in the Orange County Register, Steven Greenhut quotes the definition of New Urbanism: “New Urbanism is the most important planning movement this century, and is about creating a better future for us all. It is an international movement to reform the design of the built environment, and is about raising our quality of life and standard of living by creating better places to live. New Urbanism is the revival of our lost art of place-making, and is essentially a reordering of the built environment into the form of complete cities, towns, villages and neighborhoods …” He warns: “Whenever some ideologue claims to offer the most important thing since sliced bread and then promises to reorder my life around it, we should all get nervous.” (The downtown Wichita planners do not use the term “New Urbanism,” but they share the same characteristics and goals.) And even more strongly: “The New Urbanists claim to want to give our lives meaning by creating superior urban forms of living, yet they miss the most meaningful things in life because they emphasize architecture over people. Like all totalitarians, they assume that what they prefer is so good and noble that they have the moral right to impose it on everybody else. The rest of us need to take notice now, so there is still time to oppose it.”

Anderson appointment criticized. KU political science professor Burdett Loomis criticizes the appointment of Steven J. Anderson to be the new Kansas budget director, branding him an “ideologue” that has made “broadside attacks on public education.” Anderson believes in limited government, and his “attacks” on public — let’s be clear here — government schools are advocating school choice through vouchers. In states where vouchers are used, evidence is that public schools improve in response to the competition from private schools that parents can now actually afford. Plus, the state saves money, too. Loomis also criticizes Anderson for uncovering the large unspent fund balances in many Kansas agencies, balances that Loomis seems to doubt exist. Overall, Loomis presents an argument for the status quo in Kansas government, and the potential for change in the direction of restraining its growth has Loomis — in his own words — “concerned — worried, even.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday December 10, 2010

This Week in Kansas. On This Week in Kansas guests Rebecca Zepick of State of the State KS, Joe Aistrup of Kansas State University, and myself discuss Kansas House of Representatives leadership, Governor-elect Brownback’s appointments, and voter ID. Tim Brown is the host. This Week in Kansas airs on KAKE TV channel 10, Sunday morning at 9:00 am.

Cato scholar to speak on economic freedom. Today’s meeting (December 10) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features noted Cato Institute scholar, Principal Attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, and author Timothy Sandefur. He will discuss his recent book The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law. A description of the book at Amazon.com reads: “America’s founders thought the right to earn a living was so basic and obvious that it didn’t need to be mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Yet today that right is burdened by a wide array of government rules and regulations that play favorites, rewrite contracts, encourage frivolous lawsuits, seize private property, and manipulate economic choices to achieve outcomes that bureaucrats favor. The Right to Earn a Living charts the history of this fundamental human right, from the constitutional system that was designed to protect it by limiting government’s powers, to the Civil War Amendments that expanded protection to all Americans, regardless of race. It then focuses on the Progressive-era judges who began to erode those protections, and concludes with today’s controversies over abusive occupational licensing laws, freedom of speech in advertising, regulatory takings, and much more.” … Of the book, Dick Armey said: “Government today puts so many burdens and restrictions on entrepreneurs and business owners that we’re squandering our most precious resource: the entrepreneurial spirit and drive of our people. Sandefur’s book explains how this problem began, and what steps we can take to ensure that we all enjoy the freedom to pursue the American Dream.” … The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Tea party regional blogs compiled. Phillip Donovan has compiled a list of top tea party-related blogs by region, and Voice for Liberty in Wichita is on the list. Of my blog, Donovan wrote “Bob Weeks has been blogging the perspective of free markets, personal liberty, and limited government since 2004, long before the ‘tea party movement’ was born.”

Tax rates still a secret. Rhonda Holman’s Wichita Eagle editorial asks the central question about signage requirements warning customers of Community Improvement Districts that they will be paying higher sales tax: “But if transparency about CIDs is bad for business, how can CIDs be good for citizens and the community?”

Federal spending oversight. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the actual spending of money happens in the Appropriations Committee, and this committee is a large source of the problems we have with federal spending. The Wall Street Journal column Oversight for the Spenders explains why: “The Members who join the Appropriations subcommittee on, say, agriculture do so precisely because they are advocates of farm spending. They have no interest in subjecting their own programs to greater public scrutiny.” What is the outlook going forward for this committee? Incoming Speaker John Boehner appointed Kentucky’s Hal Rogers as chair. The Journal column says his “spending record rivals that of any free-wheeling Democrat.” A bright spot: reformer Jeff Flake of Arizona is appointed to the committee, but his request to run an investigations subcommittee was not granted. The Journal is not impressed, concluding “Mr. Boehner’s selection of Mr. Rogers is a major disappointment and makes his promises to control spending suspect. If he really wants to change the spending culture, he should unleash Mr. Flake.”

Slow death for high-speed rail. From Randal O’Toole: “New transportation technologies are successful when they are faster, more convenient, and less expensive than the technologies they replace. High-speed rail is slower than flying, less convenient than driving, and at least five times more expensive than either one. It is only feasible with heavy taxpayer subsidies and even then it will only serve a tiny portion of the nation’s population.”

Does the New York Times have a double standard? John LaPlante in LaPlante: NY Times leaky double-standard: “Many newspapers in America reprint articles from the New York Times on a regular basis. So their editorial slant is of importance beyond the (direct) readership of the Gray Lady. Compare and contrast how the Times treated two recent leaks: ‘The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here. — New York Times, on the Climategate emails, Nov. 20, 2009. … ‘The articles published today and in coming days are based on thousands of United States embassy cables, the daily reports from the field intended for the eyes of senior policy makers in Washington. … The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.. — New York Times, on the WikiLeaks documents, Nov. 29, 2010.” I’ll let you make the call.

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line. “The party of the wealthy triumphs again. Congratulations, Republican voters. By extending the handout to the wealthy, you just increased the national debt.” I would say to this writer that action to prevent an increase in income tax from occurring is not a handout. The only way that extending the present tax rates qualifies as a handout is if you believe that the income people earn belongs first to government. This is entirely backwards and violates self-ownership. Further, the national debt — actually the deficit — has two moving parts: the government’s income, and its spending. We choose as a nation to spend more than the government takes in. That is the cause of the deficit.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday November 3, 2010

Republican Party on probation. Noted conservative figure Richard A. Viguerie of ConservativeHQ.com expressed a common idea: “Voters have given Republicans one more chance to get it right. They are on probation, and if they mess up again, they won’t get another chance. The last time the Republicans were in charge, they became the party of big spending, Big Government, and Big Business. They abandoned the philosophy of Ronald Reagan and cozied up to lobbyists and special interests. And they paid a price at the polls.”

Limited government and economic freedom not desired. In today’s Wichita Eagle editorial assessing the election results, Rhonda Holman just can’t grasp the importance of limited government and economic freedom to prosperity. Instead, she prefers what some call “nuanced” politicians, who can be pressured by newspapers to vote for big-government boondoggles: “Incumbent Commissioner Dave Unruh and Wichita City Council member Jim Skelton already have proved to be thoughtful leaders; the same cannot be said of Richard Ranzau, whose tea party tendencies could put important county priorities at risk.” The victories of Ranzau — there were two, one in the primary over an Establishment Republican and again in the general election over a Democrat in a Democratic district — were gained the old-fashioned way: by meeting voters and letting them know what he stands for. And he was not bashful in his message of limited government. Both times, voters responded. The Wichita Eagle ought to take notice.

Future of Sedgwick County Commission. Yesterday’s defeat of incumbent Gwen Welshimer by Jim Skelton replaces a commissioner committed to low taxes and spending with someone with a less convincing record. While Skelton has sometimes voted against TIF districts — he and Paul Gray voted against the $10.3 million Exchange Place TIF district, although they were okay with it at $9.3 million — he firmly believes it is his duty — as city council member and as future county commissioner — to direct the economic development of the region.

Future of Wichita City Council. Skelton’s move to the county commission means there will be another new face on the council be fore long. Already the spring elections will bring two new faces, as members Sue Schlapp and Paul Gray will be leaving the council due to term limits. Now Skelton will be replaced, either by city council appointment or election next spring, depending on the timing of Skelton’s resignation. That’s a total of three new members. Mayor Carl Brewer and Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell must run for relection in the spring if they want to stay on the council. Brewer has already announced his intent to run.

Commission criticized as “gutless.” Because Wichita real estate developer Rob Snyder wasn’t granted some $400,000 in taxpayer subsidy because of the action of the Sedgwick County Commission, he criticized the commission as “gutless,” according to Wichita Eagle reporting. When testifying before the Wichita City Council as to the need for his developer welfare, Snyder whined about how that earmarks are now unpopular with the American public and not available to finance his proposed Save-A-Lot grocery store. An earmark — that is to say, a grant of money paid for by U.S. taxpayers — was used as a large part of the financing for the other Save-A-Lot in Wichita at 13th and Grove.

Kahn to substitute at Pachyderm. A scheduling change means Wichita State University political science professor Mel Kahn will be the presenter at this Friday’s (November 4) meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. The always-interesting and entertaining Kahn will speak on the topic “Do Political Attacks Help or Harm our Republic?” This seems like a timely topic given the recent general and primary elections. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday October 28, 2010

Final fourth district forum. Last night’s debate or forum between all four candidates running for the Kansas fourth Congressional district was the last such event before Election Day. Hosted by KSN Television and moderated by John Snyder, all four candidates appeared: Reform Party candidate Susan Ducey, Democrat Raj Goyle, Republican Mike Pompeo, and Libertarian Shawn Smith. Goyle used almost every question as an opportunity to launch an attack on Pompeo, particularly on the issue of outsourcing of jobs. No dummy — he did go to Harvard law school, after all (so did Pompeo) — Goyle used some clever and creative license to morph nearly every question into these attacks. Pompeo largely ignored Goyle’s attacks but still got in a few digs at him. … Ducey and Smith kept to their principled arguments of limited government and free markets and avoided attacks on each other and the two major party candidates. Ducey, particularly, referred to the constitutionality of programs several times and her belief in states’ rights. Smith’s belief in the superiority of free markets was crystal clear. In his final statement, he referred to the “road to serfdom.” … For those who have been following the campaigns of the two major party candidates, not a lot of new information was presented in the forum. The real news, I think, is the competent and credible performances of the two minor party candidates, Ducey and Smith. They did well in terms of their presentation. Most importantly, if you believe in individual liberty, limited government, and free markets, these two candidates deserve your serious consideration.

Kansas Republicans in control. KWCH Television and SurveyUSA released new polling showing Republicans firmly in the lead for Governor, Secretary of State, and Treasurer. The only race that is close is for Attorney General, where challenger Derek Schmidt leads incumbent Stephen Six 50 percent to 42 percent. Of this race, the pollster commented: “Incumbent Attorney General Steve Six remains the Kansas Democrat with the best chance of keeping his job, but even he trails his rival Republican Derek Schmidt by 8 points, unchanged from the previous poll. Schmidt led by 20 points when polling began in August, but has led in single-digits since. 20% of Republicans cross-over to vote for Six. Independents in this contest break for the Democrat. There continues to be volatility in this race; among seniors, typically the most stable and reliable voters, the lead has changed 4 times in 4 polls.” Interestingly, all three Democratic incumbents — Six, McKinney, and Biggs — have large advantages in fundraising over their Republican challengers.

Tweet of the day. @bob_weeks: Government cake was pretty good at Wichita’s National Center for Aviation Training ribbon cutting ceremony.

Smoking ban now fiscal issue. Today’s Wichita Eagle editorial by Rhonda Holman laments the fact that there’s a possibility the Kansas statewide smoking ban might be overturned. Holman has never respected the property rights-based argument against smoking bans, nor the individual responsibility argument. Now she raises the financial argument for the ban: “Yet in Kansas, the momentum among leaders risks going the wrong way — against public health and the recognition that government has a fiscal responsibility to ban public smoking.” The fiscal responsibility Holman cites comes from the fact that the state pays a lot of the costs of health care, and if fewer people smoke, the state could save money. Perhaps. Next year, I expect Holman to use the same arguments in favor of a ban on alcoholic beverages, salty foods, sugary soda pop, cheeseburgers, and anything else that will increase health care costs. Seriously. By the way, this government regulation of behavior often does not work and produces unintended consequences, as in the recent findings that bans on texting while driving have increased accident rates in some states. Holman supported the Kansas texting ban for safety reasons.

Many more have voted. As of yesterday in Sedgwick County, 39,000 mail ballots have been returned, and 6,300 people had voted in person. Since there are about 260,000 registered voters in the county, 18 percent of all possible voters have already voted. But looking at likely voters — in the 2006 midterm election 118,258 ballots were cast — perhaps 40 percent of likely voters have already voted. In the 2008 general election — a presidential election year — 194,688 ballots were cast, so using that denominator, 24 percent of likely voters have voted.

A reason to vote early. Yesterday this column discussed reasons why voters may want to wait until close to Election Day to vote. But there is one reason for voting as early as possible. If you don’t want voter contact — telephone calls, mailings, people knocking on your door — voting early might reduce the number of contact attempts. This is because campaigns, if they want, can receive a list of voters who have returned their ballots each day. Savvy campaigns will then cross these voters off their lists so they don’t waste effort contacting those who have already voted. To make this work well, you’d want to get everyone in your household to vote early.

Vote machine “malfunctions” reported. There have been several reports that at advance voting locations in Wichita, when the machine flipped to display the page for U.S. Congress, one candidate’s name was already checked, just as if the voter had touched it already. The voters were able to un-check that vote and vote for their intended candidate. I suggested to the tipster that she have people take still photographs, perhaps using a smartphone, of each screen as the voting machine presented it. But an even better solution that would eliminate all source of doubt is this: As you vote, use your smartphone to take video of the entire process. This, I believe, would produce strong evidence of voting machine irregularities, if it is happening.

Wichita Eagle voter guide. Click here. You can get a list of the candidates, along with their responses to questions, customized for your address.

Outside spending cuts both ways. Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle: “White House adviser David Axelrod went after the Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, calling its $75 million campaign ‘a threat to our democracy.’ But as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the public employees union AFSCME is spending $87.5 million on 2010 campaigns.”

Kansas House could shift. It’s often mentioned that Republicans have large margins in both the Kansas House of Representatives and Senate. In the House, however, there’s a working body of about 55 reliably conservative members. The other Republicans — moderates, they’re called — will vote with Democrats for things like sales tax increases. This could change, however. It’s thought by some that conservatives picked up four seats in the August primary election, getting the House up to 59 reliable conservative votes. 63 votes are needed to have a majority and pass a bill. Can conservatives pick up more seats next Tuesday? Might the prospect of a conservative majority and a conservative governor flip a few moderate Republicans? We may know on Wednesday — or maybe not.

Ballotpedia to have election night coverage. The website Ballotpedia will have election night coverage focusing on ballot issues, state legislative contests, and state attorney general races. Did you know that voters will be electing 6,125 state legislators next week? See What to expect from Ballotpedia election coverage on November 2 for details on the coverage.

Report voter fraud, by phone. American Majority Action has developed and released a voter fraud app for smartphones. Describing it, AMA says “This free, cutting edge system will enable voters to take action to help defend their right to vote. Whether you’re a campaign junkie, or just want a better America, Voter Fraud will help you report violations at the election booth and serve to uphold the democratic process.” I downloaded it for my iPhone.

Waiting for Superman. The Kansas Policy Institute will host a free screening of Waiting for Superman on Thursday November 4th. Of the film, the Wall Street Journal wrote: “The new film ‘Waiting for ‘Superman’” is getting good reviews for its portrayal of children seeking alternatives to dreadful public schools, and to judge by the film’s opponents it is having an impact. Witness the scene on a recent Friday night in front of a Loews multiplex in New York City, where some 50 protestors blasted the film as propaganda for charter schools.” In Kansas, the Wichita Eagle printed an op-ed penned by the education bureaucracy status quoSharon Hartin Iorio, dean of the Wichita State University College of Education in this case — to inoculate Wichitans against the effects of what I am told is a powerful film. Let’s hope this film gets Kansans to thinking about public schools in our state, as Kansas is way behind the curve on innovation, compared to other states. The film will be shown at 7:00pm at the Warren Theatre East (11611 E. 13th St.). KPI asks that you RSVP by Tuesday, November 2 to James Franko at james.franko@kansaspolicy.org. Space is limited.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday October 11, 2010

Moran at Wichita Pachyderm: This Friday’s speaker at the Wichita Pachyderm Club is current United States Representative and Republican Party Senate nominee Jerry Moran. As a large audience is expected, please arrive by 11:45 to get your buffet lunch in time for the noon start (the larger meeting room will be used). Cost is $10, which includes lunch.

Wichita, get control of incentives: Rhonda Holman’s lead editorial in yesterday’s Wichita Eagle urged caution and restraint in Wichita’s use of tax incentives — a welcome message not expected from the Eagle. One conservative wrote to me: “I am stunned to find myself to be largely in agreement with today’s editorial by Rhonda Holman. Wow.” The editorial was critical of past city policy and practice, with Holman referring to special taxing districts as “tax tricks.” On the need for public investment in downtown, she wrote “the city must ensure its use of special taxing districts is strategic, fair, farsighted and defensible.” Whether our present political and bureaucratic leadership can accomplish this is, in my opinion, unlikely.

Rasmussen key polls from last week: California Senate moves from “leans Democrat” to “toss-up” … Most Americans feel Nobel prizes are politicalHarry Reid’s son trails in race for Nevada governor … Cyber bullying seen equally dangerous as physical bullying.

Kansas initiative and referendum: The Wichita Eagle takes a look at initiative and referendum. A focus of the article is Secretary of State candidates Chris Biggs and Kris Kobach, which is a little misplaced, as they don’t have a say in whether Kansas has I&R, although they would administer the process and Kobach has made it a campaign issue. Key takeaways: “States with initiatives spend and tax less than states without them.” Politicians of both stripes hate I&R, with Kansas Senate President Steve Morris — a big-spending, big-taxing, liberal Republican — hating the idea, according to the article. Same for Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neil, a conservative. Not reported in the article is one of the first things the people may do in states that have I&R: impose term limits on their elected officials, an idea most of the political class hates.

China Emerges as a Scapegoat in Campaign Ads: The New York Times reports: “With many Americans seized by anxiety about the country’s economic decline, candidates from both political parties have suddenly found a new villain to run against: China. … Democrats and Republicans are blaming one another for allowing the export of jobs to its economic rival.” Kansas fourth district Congressional hopeful Democrat Raj Goyle is mentioned as one of 29 candidates using China as a foil in campaign ads, just in case you thought Goyle’s attacks were novel. But the issue is murky, as the Times notes: “Never mind that there is hardly any consensus as to what exactly constitutes outsourcing and how many of the new overseas jobs would have stayed in American hands.”

Regulation — Baptists and Bootleggers: “Here is the essence of the theory: durable social regulation evolves when it is demanded by both of two distinctly different groups. ‘Baptists’ point to the moral high ground and give vital and vocal endorsement of laudable public benefits promised by a desired regulation. Baptists flourish when their moral message forms a visible foundation for political action. ‘Bootleggers’ are much less visible but no less vital. Bootleggers, who expect to profit from the very regulatory restrictions desired by Baptists, grease the political machinery with some of their expected proceeds. They are simply in it for the money. The theory’s name draws on colorful tales of states’ efforts to regulate alcoholic beverages by banning Sunday sales at legal outlets. Baptists fervently endorsed such actions on moral grounds. Bootleggers tolerated the actions gleefully because their effect was to limit competition.” From Bruce Yandle, Bootleggers and Baptists in Retrospect. A podcast on the topic is Bruce Yandle on Bootleggers and Baptists.

Obama fails education: From Three Reasons Obama’s Education Vision Fails at Reason: “While he brags constantly about his Race to the Top initiative, in which states competed for $4 billion to fund innovative programs, he’s spent more than $80 billion in no-strings-attached stimulus funds to maintain the educational status quo.” Obama also killed a school choice program in Washington, and has snuggled up to the teachers unions with a stimulus bill to preserve and add union teacher jobs “despite the fact that there are already more teachers per student than ever.” The status quo describes outgoing Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson and his education “vision.” Not that presumptive incoming governor Sam Brownback is a radical on school reform, however. His education plans are quite tepid and not likely to produce the results Kansas schoolchildren need.

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line: “If Kansans want lower taxes and less government, why are there so many homeowners’ associations here?” I guess the distinction between government and voluntary action escapes this person.

Texting bans haven’t worked

In an attempt to increase highway safety, many states have passed bans on texting while driving. But the bans haven’t worked, and some states have experienced an increase in crashes.

A news release from the Highway Loss Data Institute summarizes the finding of a new study: “It’s illegal to text while driving in most US states. Yet a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in 4 states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.”

The study does not claim that texting while driving is not dangerous. Rather, the realization by drivers that texting is illegal may be altering their behavior in a way that becomes even more dangerous than legal texting. Explains Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: “If drivers were disregarding the bans, then the crash patterns should have remained steady. So clearly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”

When Kansas passed its texting ban this year, newspapers editors praised the legislature and Governor Mark Parkinson for passing the law. In an editorial, the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman wrote “But it’s nice to know the state finally has a law against this brainless and dangerous practice.” In his written statement, Parkinson said “I am pleased to sign this legislation that will encourage more aware drivers and save Kansas lives.”

While Kansas was not included in the HLDI study, there’s no reason to think that Kansas will experience anything different from the states that were studied: Kansas drivers may be under greater risk of being in a crash after the passage of this law. Stricter enforcement of this law and higher fines will simply encourage the dangerous law-evading texting behavior.

The texting ban was included in my Kansas Economic Freedom Index for 2010 for the Kansas Senate. Senators who voted against the ban increased their scores in favor of freedom.

While I did not know the results of this study at that time, this is another example where instinctive distrust of government regulation was the correct diagnosis.

Wichita Eagle editorial endorsements: helpful, or not?

Yesterday’s primary election in Kansas provided a measure of the influence of the Wichita Eagle editorial board. Voters ignored many of its endorsements, indicating that the newspaper — its editorial side, at least — is increasingly out of touch with its readers.

Starting from the top, here’s how the Eagle endorsed and what the voters did. An endorsement is a recommendation to voters, and not intended to be a prediction of the outcome.

For the Republican Party nomination for United States Senate, the Eagle endorsed Jerry Moran. He won. For the Democratic Party side of this race, the Eagle picked Kansas Senator David Haley. He finished in third place.

For the Republican party nomination for United States Congress from the Kansas first district, the Eagle picked Kansas Senator Jim Barnett, noting his “balanced legislative record.” The Eagle dismissed challenger Kansas Senator Tim Huelskamp, calling him a “hard-right conservative with a hard edge.” This race was in a three-way tie in the last poll, but voters chose Huelskamp with 35 percent of the vote to Barnett’s 25 percent and Tracey Mann’s 21 percent.

(There is a pattern here. According to the Eagle editorial board, conservatives are “hard,” while liberals are portrayed as soft and cuddly — or “balanced” and “nuanced,” at least.)

For the Republican party nomination for United States Congress from the fourth district, the Eagle chose Kansas Senator Jean Schodorf. This had the potential to be a close race, with some polls — her own, mostly — showing Schodorf in the lead. But the race turned out to be not close, with Wichita businessman Mike Pompeo gathering 39 percent of the vote to Schodorf’s 24 percent and Wichita businessman Wink Hartman‘s 23 percent.

On the Democratic side, the Eagle endorsed Kansas Representative Raj Goyle, and he won handily over a little-known and inexperienced challenger with no experience in elective office.

For the Republican party nomination for Kansas Governor, the Eagle endorsed Sam Brownback, whose only competition was from a candidate with some very peculiar beliefs. Brownback won handily.

For Kansas Secretary of State Democratic Party nomination, the Eagle backed appointed incumbent Chris Biggs over opponent Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, who the Eagle faintly praised for his “out-of-the-box thinking and independence.” Biggs won.

On the Republican side, the Eagle endorsed career bureaucrat Elizabeth Ensley over Kris Kobach. The Eagle — Rhonda Holman, mostly — has criticized Kobach steadily on the editorial page for his contention that voter fraud is a problem in Kansas. Voters overwhelmingly chose Kobach. He got 51 percent of the vote to Ensley’s 27 percent.

For Republican Party nomination for Attorney General, the Eagle chose Kansas Senator Derek Schmidt, and he won handily over the capable but little-known Ralph De Zago.

For Republican Party nomination for insurance commissioner, the Eagle chose incumbent Sandy Praeger, and she easily won.

Sedgwick County Commission voters ignored Eagle recommendations

In primary contests for Sedgwick County Commission, voters didn’t give much weight to Wichita Eagle endorsements.

In the contest for the Democratic Party nomination for District 1, Eagle-endorsed Betty Arnold won. She’ll face unopposed incumbent Dave Unruh in the general election in this heavily Republican district.

In District 4, two Republicans ran to replace Kelly Parks, who chose not to seek re-election. The Eagle endorsed Lucy Burtnett, who served two years in this position when she was appointed by the precinct committee system to replace Carolyn McGinn, who won election to the Kansas Senate. When Burtnett ran for election to that position in 2006, she did not win. Instead of backing the Republican primary winner, she ran a write-in campaign that had the potential to contribute to a possible Republican loss.

Despite her loss in 2006, the Eagle endorsed her over Richard Ranzau, praising her “thoughtful” voting record, which I — after looking at her past votes — characterized as thoughtless. Ranzau won with 55 percent of the vote to Burtnett’s 44 percent. She told the Wichita Eagle that she will not support Ranzau in the general election, which naturally leads to speculation as to whether she’ll run another write-in campaign.

For the Democratic party nomination for the position, the Eagle endorsed former Wichita city council member Sharon Fearey. From the council bench, Fearey had blasted the Eagle for uncovering problems with a real estate developer’s past dealings, blocking passage of a project she supported. Besides the editorial board endorsement, the Eagle also ran a last-minute news story embarrassing to her opponent, Kansas Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau. As of now, Faust-Goudeau has won by a margin of 60 votes out of 3,450 cast.

In District 5, the Eagle endorsed Chuck Warren in a three-way race for the Republican Party nomination. Wichita city council member Jim Skelton won with 42 percent of the vote to Warren’s 36 percent.

Kansas House of Representatives endorsements

In an open seat in the Kansas House of Representatives, the Eagle endorsed Jim Howell for the 82nd district, which is primarily the city of Derby. He won.

In the Republican party primary for Kansas House of Representatives district 83, parts of east Wichita, veteran legislator Jo Ann Pottorff faced a challenge from the right in recent college graduate Kyle Amos. Pottorff had to run a last-minute ad in the Eagle attempting to burnish her conservative credentials. She won with 53 percent of the vote. This qualifies as a squeaker.

In Kansas House of Representatives district 94, parts of west Wichita, the Eagle chose to endorse a challenger to incumbent Joe McLeland in the Republican primary. The Eagle criticized him as a “yes-man for GOP leadership and anti-tax think tanks” and said he “parroted misleading information about school budgets during the past session.” McLeland won with 63 percent of the vote. His two challengers received 22 percent and 16 percent.

In the Republican Party primary for Kansas House of Representatives district 96, parts of south Wichita, the Eagle endorsed first-term incumbent Phil Hermanson, and he won.

The Eagle recommended that voters chose incumbent Gail Finney in the Democratic Party primary for the 84th district, and she won by a large margin.

For election results from races in Sedgwick County, click on August 3rd, 2010 Primary Election Unofficial Results — Sedgwick County. For statewide races and other races, click on 2010 unofficial primary election results at Kansas Secretary of State.

Kansas sales tax increase starts today

Today Kansans will face an added tax burden on retail purchases, as the statewide sales tax rate goes up by one cent per dollar. Touted by its backers like Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson as a “one percent” increase in the tax, it is actually an increase of (6.3 – 5.3) / 5.3 = 18.9 percent.

In some parts of the state, the combined rate will soar to over ten percent. The City of Lawrence is considering whether to require businesses to post signs advising — or warning– shoppers of the sales tax they’ll pay in stores.

The debate over the sales tax and the harm it causes was fueled by two studies that were often viewed as competing with each other, but really didn’t. One looked at the harmful effects of the tax for just one year and concluded that while the sales tax would destroy private sector jobs, a reduction in state spending would cause even more harm. Naturally, tax and spending advocates latched on to this study.

The other looked at a longer period of time and considered actual consumer response to increased taxes. It, not surprisingly, found that the sales tax would be very harmful.

The first study, besides looking at just one year, also shows evidence of faulty thinking. This study, produced by Wichita State University professor John D. Wong, contains this paragraph in its conclusion:

Second, the revenue enhancement scenario spreads the negative effects throughout the state, both geographically and across all 2.8 million residents. The effect on any individual and on any business is minor. In contrast, the spending reduction scenario severely affects a small number of state residents and businesses — state employees and those private-sector businesses that serve state employees and state government directly. The likelihood of a business failing under this scenario is much greater than in the tax increase scenario. A business failure will have a ripple effect across the economy.

In this paragraph we can find several examples of faulty economic thinking.

For example, as Kansas consumers will now have less discretionary income and may dine at restaurants less often, it’s possible that restaurants might close. More likely, however, the restaurant manager will find he doesn’t need as many employees to serve the diminished customer base, so a waiter loses his job.

These job losses, affecting just one or two people at a time and spread across the state, won’t create a business failure, as Wong mentions. There won’t be newspaper or television stories. But for the people directly harmed, I’m sure they won’t view the effect as “minor,” as Wong writes.

And Wong may have forgotten that each lost job produces a little ripple of its own.

Furthermore, when these job losses are aggregated over the state, there will be an impact. How much? Well, the sales tax is estimated by Wong to bring in $350 million, so we can use that as an estimate of the amount of money Kansans don’t have to spend at their own direction and discretion anymore.

(Wong notes that some of the sales tax will be paid by visitors to our state. Welcome to Kansas!)

We also see in the paragraph one of the primary problems with government taxation and spending. John Stossel explains:

The Public Choice school of economics calls this the problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Individual members of relatively small interest groups stand to gain huge rewards when they lobby for government favors, but each taxpayer will pay only a tiny portion of the cost of any particular program, making opposition pointless.

In this case the special interest groups include school spending advocates and state government employees. They believed they were fighting for their jobs. School spending advocates believed they were fighting for the children, too. But we ought to step back and consider the value of some of these jobs, and whether the services provided — education, for example — couldn’t be better provided in the marketplace rather than by government.

Also, we should note that school teachers and state government employees are represented by unions that spend millions advocating for their members each year. Waiters and others who will lose their jobs one at a time don’t have such representation.

So we had the powerfully-motivated special interests on one side. Then we had Governor Parkinson telling us not to worry, that in Wichita people didn’t even notice the one cent per dollar sales tax used to pay for the Intrust Bank Arena.

When you add in newspaper editorial writers like the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman, who today wrote that “No one relished raising sales taxes right now” and praised the arena sales tax, there you have the entire argument made.

Despite Holman’s claim, many people salivated at the idea of an increased sales tax, or any other tax. The governor viewed the tax increase as his legacy.

We also need to dismiss the claims of massive cuts to the Kansas budget. Recently Kansas Senate President Stephen Morris mentioned these, writing “… very difficult decisions were made to cut or reduce the $6 billion state budget by roughly $1.5 billion …”

For most people, a cut of $1.5 billion from a $6 billion budget means the state will spend $4.5 billion. But the spending bill passed by the legislature calls for spending $5.6 billion in fiscal year 2011, which starts on July 1, 2010.

Today the Eagle’s Holman makes a similar claim, mentioning “$1 billion in recent cuts to state services.”

These “budget cut” numbers make sense only when you look at planned spending, not actual spending. Even then you have to add up these phantom cuts over a period of years to get to the claims of Parkinson, Morris, Holman and other big-government spending advocates.

As the chart shows, actual spending has declined slightly, but is projected to rise during the fiscal year that starts today.

Kansas general fund spending

Over the years, we see that state spending in Kansas has risen rapidly, while at the same time our population in Kansas grows very slowly.

For the sales tax and spending increases to make economic sense, you have to believe that state government can spend money more wisely than its people can. Given the special interest group fingerprints all over this budget, that’s not going to happen.

What is the future of this sales tax? It’s scheduled to decline by 0.6 cents per dollar in three years, the remaining 0.4 cents per dollar to be used for transportation. But these taxes have a habit of failing to disappear on schedule. The supplemental note for the bill that last increased Kansas sales tax contains this: “The state sales and compensating (use) tax rate would be increased from 4.9 to 5.3 percent, effective June 1, 2002. The rates would then be reduced to 5.2 percent on June 1, 2004; and to 5.0 percent on June 1, 2005.”

As of yesterday the sales tax was was still 5.3 percent. The two scheduled reductions never took place. Sometimes promises from the Legislature don’t mean very much.

Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena shrouded in mystery

Okay, maybe that’s a little over-hyped, but when arena cheerleader Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle starts to question the operations of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita, there must be something going on.

Holman’s column of yesterday complained of lack of transparency in the arena’s operations: “But with hindsight, and with the Intrust Bank Arena open three months and generating revenue, it’s more clear all the time that county leaders gave away too much oversight authority to SMG, leaving citizens in the strange and frustrating position of having too little hard information about how their $206 million investment is doing.”

The sudden departure of arena manager Chris Presson under circumstances that can only be described as alarming will add to the concern of citizens. Well, not all citizens. Some arena boosters simply don’t care how much of a burden the arena may become to county taxpayers, as long as they have their arena.

The lack of transparency at the arena and some county commissioner’s lack of concern about this important issue has been the subject of articles on this site. See Wichita downtown arena open records failure, Wichita downtown arena contract seems to require Sedgwick County approval, and Sedgwick County keeps lease agreement secret.

Wichita downtown arena parking problem

This week the Wichita Eagle printed a letter submitted by Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn. The printed letter is quite a bit shorter than what Peterjohn submitted. The unabridged letter follows.

The Wichita Eagle editorial written by Rhonda Holman on June 29, 2009 now claims that the new Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita lacks adequate parking. This is a major change by the Eagle editorial board’s position. I have repeatedly asked county staff about the available parking in and around this soon-to-open facility since I became a commissioner in January. I have been repeatedly told by county staff that adequate parking will be available when the Intrust Arena opens next year. The most recent public assurance I have received was only a few days ago.

In 2004, while I led the opposition to the proposed downtown arena in my role as the executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, I repeatedly raised the parking availability issue. In 2004 the arena advocates claimed that arena parking would not become a problem and that the critics were wrong.

Voters were repeatedly assured that there was plenty of parking that would be available downtown for the arena. The Wichita Eagle editorial page was among the leading advocates for this project and ignored opponents arguments concerning this $206 million (back then it was described as a $185 million) project. At that time there was only a general area for this new facility’s location so this argument lacked specificity. The exact location was unknown when voters cast their ballots.

The Friday before the 2004 election I held a news conference pointing out the dimensions of the parking problem downtown in particular and the related location and capacity issues in great detail. At this news conference I provided a map of the Kansas Coliseum’s Britt Brown Arena and adjacent parking area available for comparison purposes with the existing 3,500 parking spaces for this 12,000 seat facility along I-135. I still have a few extra copies of this Britt Brown Arena aerial view. Arena proponents attended this 2004 news conference and claimed that the arena opponents concerns were invalid because of existing downtown parking. The Eagle editorial page repeatedly backed these arena proponents’ claims.

The 2004 election is now political history. I want the Intrust Arena to be a success because this project has now become very important to the entire community. The reservations I expressed in 2004 have not disappeared just because of time. The decision to eliminate some of the one-way streets with two-way streets will not be an improvement in traffic flow in my opinion. There will be challenges for people to become comfortable with access into and out of this new facility while participating in high attendance events when the arena opens in a few months. To get beyond this challenge for any new facility, the county staff and parking consultant need to be correct about the adequacy of parking for the Intrust Arena and I believe are working to accomplish this objective.

Wichita Eagle’s school cheerleading isn’t helpful

Now that Mark McCormick is no longer with the Wichita Eagle, I think we can say that Rhonda Holman has taken over the role of chief cheerleader for USD 259, the Wichita public school district.

Not that she needed much of a push in that direction. But claims made in a recent opinion piece of hers (Hard times forcing hard choices) deserve some examination.

After praising President Obama’s stimulus spending — claiming that it will keep things from becoming worse — she writes this: “And thank goodness that school district voters had the foresight in November to approve a well-timed local economic stimulus plan — the $370 million bond issue for athletics and fine arts facilities, technical education and new schools.”

There’s so many untruths in this statement that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s try.

First, did the school district know that we’d be in a recession this year? If so, they foresaw something that no one else did.

Second, does government spending stimulate anything except the school system? It’s true that there will be spending going on that probably wouldn’t have happened had the bond issue not passed. But right now Wichitans pay millions of dollars each year to retire the bonds from a past school bond, and soon we’ll have to start paying for this bond. These payments are a drag on the local economy. See Wichita school bond issue economic fallacy and Wichita school district economic impact for more.

The future tax burden is worse than the Wichita school district would admit to, and Holman doesn’t either. That’s because besides the capital expense of building new schools and more classrooms, there’s the ongoing cost of running the new classrooms. The bond issue doesn’t pay those expenses. Wichitans can expect the school district to propose tax increases as these new classrooms and schools come online.

Third, if we were getting something truly worthwhile from this extra spending, that might be one thing. But the Wichita school district’s goal — smaller class sizes — is not a goal worth pursuing. Well, it is if you’re part of the public school bureaucracy or the teachers union. But the narrow self-interest of these groups shouldn’t count in this debate.

If you’re interested in improving the prospects of Wichita’s schoolchildren, this extra spending is a distraction.

I wonder if Holman has read research like this: “Surprisingly, the data show that academic achievement cannot be accounted for by any of the measures of public investment used in this study (pupil-teacher ratio, per pupil expenditures, teacher salaries, and funds received from the federal government), either singly or as a blend.” It’s in the post Wichita-area school superintendents make flawed case.

Here’s some reporting by Malcolm Gladwell on what education researches are starting to realize about the effectiveness of class size, one of the goals of the bond issue:

What’s more — and this is the finding that has galvanized the educational world — the difference between good teachers and poor teachers turns out to be vast. … Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.

That’s reported in my post Wichita public school district’s path: not fruitful. In that post, you can also read that the current ways that teachers can advance their careers and salaries (longevity and obtaining extra education) aren’t relevant to their teaching effectiveness:

The problem is that the current standards for teachers don’t “track what we care about.” The path to increased pay as a teacher — longevity and more education credentials — doesn’t produce better teachers. But because of union contracts that govern pay, that’s the only way to earn more as a teacher. This is one of the reasons why teachers unions are harmful to schools.

Yet according to the contract with the teachers union in Wichita, longevity and more education credentials are the ways to earn a higher salary.

Innovations such as differential teacher pay and charter schools are being promoted by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan as a way to improve our nation’s schools. But in Wichita, the existing public education bureaucracy and teachers unions are firmly opposed to these reforms. It’s too bad we don’t have opinion writers at the Wichita Eagle who are willing to look past these entrenched interests and consider what’s best for Wichita schoolchildren.

Sedgwick County solid waste fee criticized

Today’s Wichita Eagle column by Rhonda Holman is a two-fer. Two issues for the price of one column, and two issues she’s wrong on. The first issue is explained in Wichita water economics.

She criticizes Commissioner Karl Peterjohn and Board Chairman Kelly Parks for the opposition of a solid waste management fee that would add a relatively small amount to property tax bills.

(When writing about Peterjohn, do I need to disclose that he and I are friends, and that I helped manage his campaign last year? I’d feel more compelled to do so if Holman would start writing editorials using her entire name.)

Holman pokes fun at Peterjohn and Parks for “operating on anti-tax autopilot” and at Peterjohn specifically for fulfilling a campaign pledge.

Anti-tax ought to be the first instinct of politicians. To me, that’s axiomatic and not a basis for criticism. There are always plenty of people in government like Commissioner Dave Unruh who are nuanced enough to recognize — as Holman reports — “with an admirable lack of exasperation: ‘It’s 69 cents.’”

The problem is that little amounts here and there add up to real money. I think that’s something like the argument Wichita City Council members used in rejecting a $2.00 per month increase in water and sewer bills. Holman supported that action.

Then, keeping a campaign pledge — what a novel concept! How refreshing!

We should also look at the public policy aspects of this waste management fee. One of the things it was used for is to fund a Christmas tree recycling program. Here’s a few questions: Is it wise economics to fund recycling projects? Specifically, if natural Christmas trees as such an environmental nuisance that they must be recycled, shouldn’t people who buy them pay for their recycling? Perhaps through a tax — wait, let’s call it a “surcharge” or a “pre-paid environmental mitigation fee” — levied at the corner tree lot?

Here are comments left to this post that were lost and then reconstructed:

Wichitatator: What is Rhonda Holman’s legal name? Why doesn’t she use it when she signs her editorials? The Eagle should not have mystery editorial writers without fully disclosing this salient fact.

Ms. “Holman” could be married to an attorney who is suing the state over school finance or some other public issue. Ms. “Holman” is a public person who wants to enjoy the perks of her editorial position in influencing public policy in this community without assuming the responsibility of publicly disclosing her name.

For an editorial board that regularly fulminates about “full disclosure” this is an odd position to take. The Eagle regularly criticizes folks who do not fully disclose a lot more than their names in their paper.

LonnythePlumber: What is her entire name? You imply mystery and wrong motivation if revealed.