Tag Archives: Sedgwick county government

In Wichita, citizens want more transparency in city government

Wichita city hall

In a videographed meeting that is part of a comprehensive planning process, Wichitans openly question the process, repeatedly asking for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.

As part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Comprehensive Plan, the City of Wichita held a number of focus groups meetings. Their purpose, according to city documents, was to provide “information on the components of the Plan and provide input on a draft survey.”

(Some indication of the reverence given to the plan to city planners may be inferred by the city’s use of capitalization when referring to it.)

The community meetings were structured in a way reminiscent of the Delphi method, described in Wikipedia as “a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts.” Others have a more skeptical view, believing that the Delphi technique leads citizens to believe they have participated in community democratic decision-making when in reality, that is not the goal of the process.

In October Americans for Prosperity-Kansas invited the city to hold a focus group meeting. Video from the meeting is below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Dave Barber, who is Advanced Plans Manager at Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, facilitated the meeting. Susan Estes of AFP was the meeting organizer and host. Mike Shatz is the videographer. His description of the meeting is “The City of Wichita is holding a series of meetings to gain input from the public on future spending plans. The meetings are based off a survey the city conducted, which, by all accounts, was full of loaded questions geared towards promoting the programs that city officials want to see. In this meeting, one of the first in the series, citizens openly question the process and repeatedly ask for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.”

Sedgwick County illustrates inefficiency of tax credit mechanism

Sedgwick County Kansas seal

Tax credits can be an inefficient way for government to distribute benefits, as illustrated by action the Sedgwick County Commission will consider today.

A tax credit is, conceptually, a certificate with a dollar amount written on it. That certificate can be used instead of cash for payment of taxes. So when the State of Kansas issues a tax credit for $100, the state gives up that same amount in tax revenue, as someone will submit that certificate instead of a hundred dollar bill in payment of taxes. The certificate, of course, has no value to the state.

Sedgwick County received Kansas income tax credits under the state’s historic preservation program. Since the county doesn’t pay income tax, it can’t use them as payment for taxes. But since the credits are transferable, the county can sell them to someone who does need to pay taxes. And if that person can buy the tax credits for less than face value, such as paying $90 for a tax credit that’s worth $100, there’s motivation for buyers and sellers to make a deal.

This is what the county is doing. In an auction it sold three tax credits for a total of $507,066.74. This is described by county documents as representing $0.9025 per dollar of value. Working backwards, this means that the tax credits have a face value of $507,066.74/.9025 = $561,847 in face value. Someone will submit these credits to the state instead of a check for that amount when they pay their taxes.

This means that the State of Kansas gives up $561,847 in order to grant a benefit worth $507,067 to Sedgwick County. This is the inefficiency of using tax credits as a mechanism for distributing benefits.

You may be wondering: Why does this state use this inefficient method? One reason is that tax credits operate more or less on autopilot. Once the program is authorized and put in place, people or organizations that qualify for the credits receive them without action by the legislature. This has happened in downtown Wichita on a number of projects such as the renovation of the Broadview and Ambassador Hotels. Both received millions under historic preservation tax credit programs. (See In Wichita, historic preservation tax credits an inefficient form of developer welfare.)

Can you imagine the legislature having to vote to give millions of dollars to specific hotel developers? That probably wouldn’t be popular. But the tax credit program accomplishes the same result, and mostly under the radar without scrutiny.

Tax credits are a direct transfer of money from taxpayers to private parties. But being accomplished through the tax system shrouds the process in mystery. And, no direct action is required by any legislative body. The legislature creates the tax credit program. The developer applies, and if accepted, the credits are granted. No one — at least no one elected by and accountable to voters — votes to grant the specific credits.

The Kansas historic preservation tax credit program, in a short time, has grown from a program designed to help spruce up a few old buildings here and there to a developer welfare program on steroids.

Commissioner’s questions halt county’s plan to remove trees on private land

Sedgwick County Kansas seal

Good job, Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau. It’s always good to put the kibosh on unneeded government spending.

At stake was about $47,000, just less than the annual median household income in Sedgwick County.

County Manager William Buchanan had signed off on spending $46,685 to clear out trees on private property along Central Avenue from the entrance of housing development St. Andrew’s Place east to 143rd Street. Work was to start next week.

But questioning by County Commissioner Richard Ranzau put the kibosh on the project, and the Minneha Township now will have to pay the tab if it wants the trees gone.

“We got out in front of ourselves without doing much critical thinking, and I take full responsibility for that,” Buchanan said.

Continue reading at the Wichita Eagle.

Readers may remember my op-ed in that same newspaper from 2009:

Last year a political science professor who is a keen observer of Kansas politics told me that city or county managers shouldn’t be in their jobs more than four or five years. After that, he said, they gain too much power.

If managers are to serve their councils or commissions — instead of the other way around — sometimes a change needs to be made, just for the sake of change.

This alone is enough reason for change in the Sedgwick County manager’s office after 18 years of County Manager William Buchanan.

Continue reading this at Commission has cause to want a new manager.

WichitaLiberty.TV September 15, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV logo

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV, host Bob Weeks reviews chapter 4 of “Economics in One Lesson,” about how public works mean taxes, and efforts to create jobs through spending on public works do more ham than good, if the public asset is not truly needed. The tax used to build the Instrust Bank Arena in Wichita is analyzed in this light. Then on to chapter 5, “Taxes Discourage Production.” Amanda BillyRock illustrates, and Bob explains that notwithstanding inventions like the powdered orange drink Tang, innovation and progress comes primarily from the private sector, not from government programs. Episode 13, broadcast September 15, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

WichitaLiberty.TV September 1, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV logo

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV, host Bob Weeks presents an analysis of the delinquent real estate tax list and wonders why our institutions don’t provide this simple enhancement. Then, a review of the first two chapters of “Economics in One Lesson” with application to situations in Wichita. Finally, Amanda BillyRock illustrates Chapter 3: Blessings Of Destruction, and examples in Wichita are noted. Episode 11, broadcast September 1, 2013. View below, or click here to view on YouTube.

Sedgwick County delinquent taxes, the useful version

The Wichita Eagle has devoted newsprint to deliver the data, and you can obtain it as pdf on your computer, too. Neither of these options for delivering the Sedgwick County delinquent tax list for 2012 is very useful.

I’ve created a Google Docs sheet that holds this data. You can access it below, but it’s probably best to open it in a new window by clicking here. There are three tabs: an introduction, the data, and a pivot table that summarizes the data. Have fun.

Do economic development incentives work?

Government takes and gives

Judging the effectiveness of economic development incentives requires looking for the unseen effects as well as what is easily seen. It’s easy to see the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies that commemorate government intervention — politicians and bureaucrats are drawn to them, and will spend taxpayer funds to make sure you’re aware. It’s more difficult to see that the harm that government intervention causes.

That’s assuming that the incentives even work as advertised in the first place. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, in their paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives published in Journal of the American Planning Association, wrote on the effects of incentives. A few quotes from the study, with emphasis added:

Given the weak effects of incentives on the location choices of businesses at the interstate level, state governments and their local governments in the aggregate probably lose far more revenue, by cutting taxes to firms that would have located in that state anyway than they gain from the few firms induced to change location.

On the three major questions — Do economic development incentives create new jobs? Are those jobs taken by targeted populations in targeted places? Are incentives, at worst, only moderately revenue negative? — traditional economic development incentives do not fare well. It is possible that incentives do induce significant new growth, that the beneficiaries of that growth are mainly those who have greatest difficulty in the labor market, and that both states and local governments benefit fiscally from that growth. But after decades of policy experimentation and literally hundreds of scholarly studies, none of these claims is clearly substantiated. Indeed, as we have argued in this article, there is a good chance that all of these claims are false.

The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state or local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering their expectations about their ability to micromanage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing the foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.

Following is the full paper, or click here.

Change in needed in Wichita

A version of this op-ed by John Todd appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

John Todd, American PatriotChange is desperately needed in Wichita — change to allow exceptionalism and end failed economic subsidies.

Once again, several of the favored downtown development group partners have lined up outside City Hall with outstretched palms to receive prime city owned Arkansas River corridor land for bargain basement prices layered with generous incentives.

I heartily support private real estate development downtown and across Wichita. It creates jobs, enhances quality of life, expands the tax base and provides economic uplift. However, projects involving generous taxpayer funded “economic development” incentive handouts transfer the risk and tax burden from developers back to taxpayers who rarely realize any direct benefits from the projects.

The downtown WaterWalk project essentially gave away 20 acres of prime city owned land with a reported $41 million incentive package that included diverting tax revenue to the developer with unknown benefits to taxpayers. Compare this with the Waterfront development at 13th and Webb Road that received no subsidy and generates an estimated $2.5 million in annual tax revenues for the public treasury.

To paraphrase a thought attributed to several authors: “A Democracy cannot survive as a permanent form of government, because, when people discover they can vote money for themselves out of the public treasury, they will bankrupt it.”

I believe it is time for the citizens of Wichita to move forward by putting a new marketing program in place titled, “Capitalizing on Exceptionalism: A New Chapter in Wichita.”

To make it work, we must enlist the support of key, wealth producing, connected people of influence in our community as well as the everyday hard working citizen entrepreneurs and craftsmen, and provide the marketing forum for them to recognize and realize that Wichita can be exceptional, and that we don’t have to embrace a “follow the herd” mentality that will lead us to economic destruction and mediocrity.

We must change the “entitlement” mentality that permeates the social and the business segments of our whole country, starting in particular with our own community. Wichita can become the exceptional example of economic prosperity others will strive to emulate.

If we can move away from the entitlement attitude and get government out of the way, our private sector entrepreneurs and craftsmen can match anyone in the country; and all of this can be achieved by rejecting the corporate welfare trap we have fallen into.

John Todd
Wichita

More illumination of Wichita City Council ethics

Today on the Joseph Ashby Show, the host shines additional light on problems with the Wichita City Council.

Joseph Ashby Show, August 8, 2013 (excerpt).

Some background material:

Joseph Ashby on Wichita City Council

Kansas Affordable Airfares program: Benefits and consequences

Wichita airport statistics: The visualization

Wichita Airport statistics: The video

Wichita Eagle: Wichita City Council rejects conservative blogger for airport advisory board

WE Blog: Peterjohn’s comment was inappropriate

Joseph Ashby Show: Upcoming Wichita City Council meeting

It will be a busy Tuesday in Wichita

Fish, sauce, and the law: You make the call

The harm of business welfare

What is the effect of the issuance of business welfare in Wichita, of the intervention in the economy by politicians? Based on an article by Bob Weeks, Amanda BillyRock illustrates — literally — the harm caused when government intervenes in the economy. Thanks also to Henry Hazlitt for the insights in his simple but imposing book Economics in One Lesson.

Wichita airfares, on the rise

Airplane

A survey by travel website CheapFlights.com shows that airfares in Wichita have both fallen and risen in recent years, even though the City of Wichita, Sedgwick County, and the State of Kansas collectively spend millions each year to keep airfares low.

The survey, according to a news release, ranks airports by “averaging the prices our users found during the month of June when searching for flights to popular domestic and international destinations like Miami, Honolulu, London and Cancun.”

The news release warns that “These rankings can shift dramatically from year to year and prices fluctuate frequently on specific routes.”

Since this is the fourth year for this survey, I thought it would be interesting to see how airfares in Wichita have fared over the timeframe of this survey. An interactive visualization is presented below.

wichita-airfares-compared-2013-07

Here is an illustration of Wichita airfares compared to the other airports included in the survey, which for 2013 included the 101 most popular airports. You can see that based on the data gathered for this study, the average airfare declined, but then rose. Wichita’s rank among airports rose, accordingly. (In the airfare rankings in this survey, a higher rank means higher airfares, relative to other airports.)

This data should inspire us to re-examine whether the taxpayer-funded effort to reduce airfares in Wichita has produced the desired result.

There have been other audits or studies which have questioned the efficacy of Wichita’s airport subsidy program. See Affordable Airfares audit embarrassing to Wichita for an example.

I’ve created an interactive visualization from this data. Use the visualization below, or click here to open the visualization in a new window, which may work better for some users. Click on an airport name to highlight its fares against other airports. Use Ctrl+click to add other airports.

Data is from CheapClights.com. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Local economic development incentives: The economic perspective

Recently Russell S. Sobel, Ph.D., who is Visiting Scholar in Entrepreneurship in the School of Business Administration at The Citadel spoke in Wichita on the topic “Economic Development Incentives: A Necessary Evil?” A video presentation of his talk follows.

Sobel is the author of many books and publications, including Unleashing Capitalism and the popular university textbook Economics: Private and Public Choice, 14th edition. Video production is by Paul Soutar.

Sedgwick is a red county in a pink state

Translation: Sedgwick County is bleeding income.

This is according to IRS and U.S. Census Bureau data examined by Travis Brown and presented online at HowMoneyWalks.com. This is a website that is companion to the book How Money Walks — How $2 Trillion Moved Between the States, and Why It Matters.

According to the publisher:

Between 1995 and 2010, millions of Americans moved between the states, taking with them over $2 trillion in adjusted gross incomes. Two trillion dollars is equivalent to the GDP of California, the ninth largest in the world. It’s a lot of money. Some states, like Florida, saw tremendous gains ($86.4 billion), while others, like New York, experienced massive losses ($58.6 billion). People moved, and they took their working wealth with them. The question is, why? Why did Americans move so much of their income from state to state? Which states benefited and which states suffered? And why does it matter? Using official statistics from the IRS, How Money Walks explores the hows, whys, and impact of this massive movement of American working wealth.

sedgwick-county-money walks-2013-07

Kansas, as a state, lost $3.15 billion in income during the period covered by the book. That colors Kansas a moderate shade of pink on a map of all states. Pink, or red, in this case, means like it does in accounting: A loss of money.

Looking at a map of Kansas counties, we see that Sedgwick County is a bright shade of red. From 1992 to 2010, Sedgwick County lost $1.12 billion in annual AGI (adjusted gross income).

To put these numbers in perspective, in 2009 AGI in Kansas was $61.7 billion, and in Sedgwick County, $10.6 billion. So Sedgwick County has lost some ten percent of its income. And that’s on an annual basis.

Wichita needs more, and willing, taxpayers

What is the goal of Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan?

And what of its companion websites for the South Central Kansas Prosperity Plan: Think Tomorrow Today and Let’s Talk Prosperity?

Here’s an excerpt from “Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities,” which appeared in Government Finance Review. Authors are Mark A. Glaser, Misty R. Bruckner, and Corinne Bannon, all associated with the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University. HWS is facilitating the planning process for the city and county.

citizen-attachment-cover

(Nearby is the illustration used for the cover of this paper (click on it for a larger version). Does anyone else think this looks like citizens rallying to send money to the shining government headquarters high on the hill?)

Increasingly, citizens are retreating from their responsibilities to community and demanding more from government than they are willing to pay for. But changes in local government behavior can be instrumental in reversing this trend, by strengthening citizens’ commitment to the well-being of their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are more willing to accept responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens and are also more likely to join with government and other parties to improve their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are also more willing taxpayers — that is, when government demonstrates that it can be trusted to invest public resources in ways that strengthen the community. The central thrust of this model is getting citizens and governments to work together, but realistically, many communities will require new revenue — including additional tax dollars — if they are to assemble the critical mass of resources necessary for meaningful change. Accordingly, citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes are an important component of building sustainable communities.

More willing taxpayers.

Citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes.

I recommend you read this paper. Click on Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities.

Visioneering asks for money. Let’s ask these questions.

Sedgwick County Kansas seal

When Visioneering Wichita asks the Sedgwick County Commission for funds this week, commissioners may want to ask a few questions about how well the Wichita-area economy has performed, compared to the peers that Visioneering has selected.

Here’s some data that merits consideration and begs a few questions: Compensation paid. In the nearby chart (click on it for a larger version) I present this data divided into four data series: Wichita vs. its peers as selected by Visioneering, and private sector vs. government. (Data is from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.)

Compensation, Wichita and Visioneering Peers

What conclusions should we draw from this data? First, compensation paid to government employees (left chart) has risen faster than that paid to private sector employees. Much faster.

Second, when looking at government employment compensation, Wichita tracks almost exactly the same path as the average of our Visioneering peers.

Third, and this is what is most important: Wichita lags far behind our Visioneering peers in private sector compensation.

There’s other data that tells a similar story. In the article Wichita job growth and Visioneering peers, we can see that Wichita has set ambitious goals in job growth, but it doesn’t seem that the Visioneering program has produced results. But apparently Wichita government officials are satisfied. (For coverage of council members’ reactions, see Wichita city council reacts to Visioneering presentation.)

In Wichita and peer GDP growth: we find that compared to its peers, the government sector in Wichita is growing fairly quickly, but the private sector is growing slowly.

In Wichita personal income growth benchmark we see more of the same. Private sector growth in Wichita is slow, compared to our peers.

When Visioneering asks the Sedgwick County Commission for funds, commissioners might want to take a moment and inquire about these issues:

Is Visioneering satisfied with the performance of Wichita, as measured by these benchmarks?

Is Wichita’s trend in these benchmarks moving in the right direction, or is Wichita falling farther behind?

Are these the correct benchmarks we should be using?

Is it possible that Visioneering is making the Wichita economy better than it would be without Visioneering? Or is it making it worse, or is there no difference?

Does Visioneering need additional resources to fulfill its mission?

Visioneering News, captured June 5, 2013

On the Visioneering website, why are no future events listed? Are none planned?

On the Visioneering website, under the “News” section, is it true that there has been no news to post since August 2011 or September 2012 (there are two streams of news)?

REAP: We’ll plan for you, like it or not

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
– H.L. Mencken

We’ve learned that the government planners will plan for you, whether or not you want it. Despite having voted against participation, two Kansas counties are still included in a regional planning consortium.

South Central Kansas Prosperity

The new website thinktomorrowtoday.org promotes and supports the sustainable communities government planning process in South-Central Kansas. The planning effort has been rebranded as “South Central Kansas Prosperity.”

In the logo, on a map, and in narrative, Butler and Sumner counties are listed as participants. But these newspaper headlines say something else about what the elected officials in these counties thought about joining the plan:

Sumner County isn’t on board with fed’s sustainable communities planning grant

Sumner County isn’t on board with fed’s sustainable communities planning grant (Wichita Eagle, July 30, 2012): “One of the counties served by a sustainable communities planning grant recently declined to be a partner in the effort, expressing concerns about federal intrusion in local government.”

Butler County decides not to support REAP planning grant

Butler County decides not to support REAP planning grant (El Dorado Times, August 23, 2012): “The issue at the center of the Butler County Commission’s discussion about a sustainable communities planning grant was local control.”

I can understand why these counties decided to opt out of the planning process and why two Sedgwick County Commissioners voted against participation.

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole, in his book The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future, explains the danger and harm of government plans. I remember two passages in particular:

Somewhere in the United States today, government officials are writing a plan that will profoundly affect other people’s lives, incomes, and property. Though it may be written with the best intentions, the plan will go horribly wrong. The costs will be far higher than anticipated, the benefits will prove far smaller, and various unintended consequences will turn out to be worse than even the plan’s critics predicted.

And this:

The worst thing about having a vision is that it confers upon the visionary a moral absolutism: only highly prescriptive regulation can ensure that the vision overcomes an uncaring populace responding to a free market that planners do not really trust. But the more prescriptive the plan, the more likely it is that the plan will be wrong, and such errors will prove extremely costly for the city or region that tries to implement the plan.

We see the vision of moral absolutism on display: Despite two counties voting against participation, their overseers will, nonetheless, create a plan for them.

It’s for their own good, after all.

Wichita personal income growth benchmark

When Visioneering Wichita recently presented its annual report to the Wichita City Council, Wichita City Council members received benchmark documents. Whether the mayor and council members actually looked at and considered these measurements is unknown.

We do know that Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, as memorialized in the official meeting minutes, praised Visioneering: “Mayor Brewer stated this is one of the smartest moves that the City of Wichita has done because it was the primary catalyst that pulled the public and the private together and laid out a vision for our City.”

Other council members also expressed enthusiastic approval for Visioneering.

As shown in Wichita job growth and Visioneering peers, the benchmark data for Wichita as compared to its peer cities shows poor relative performance of the Wichita economy. That article looked at job growth, which is one of the areas Visioneering is benchmarking.

Another area Visioneering benchmarks is per capita income. The chart provided by Visioneering is difficult to read and recognize emerging trends. I’ve prepared an interactive visualization of Wichita and the peer areas that Visioneering uses.

Wichita and peer per capita income, 1969 to 1989

To the left is a chart of Wichita and peer personal income per capita, from 1969 to 1989. (Click for a larger version.) During this time period, Wichita compares well to the peer metropolitan areas that Visioneering uses.

Wichita and peer per capita income, 1990 to 2011

To the left is a chart of of the same data, but from 1990 to 2011. (Click for a larger version.) It’s during this stretch that Wichita starts to fall behind its peers in per capita income, until finally Wichita ranks last in this measure, as it also does in job growth.

Soon Visioneering will make a presentation to members of the Sedgwick County Commission. Perhaps commissioners will ask a few questions about these benchmarks. If I were a commissioner, I might ask these questions:

Is Visioneering satisfied with the performance of Wichita, as measured by these benchmarks?

Is Wichita’s trend in these benchmarks moving in the right direction, or is Wichita falling farther behind?

Are these the correct benchmarks we should be using?

Is it possible that Visioneering is in fact making the Wichita economy better than it would be without Visioneering?

Does Visioneering need additional resources to fulfill its mission?

Visioneering News, captured June 5, 2013

On the Visioneering website, why are no future events listed? Are none planned?

On the Visioneering website, under the “News” section, is it true that there has been no news to post since August 2011 or September 2012 (there are two streams of news)?

Citizens might also wonder why no members of the Wichita City Council asked any questions like these.

Explore the data yourself by using the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work better for some people. Use Ctrl+Click to highlight metropolitan areas for comparison. Data is from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Do economic development incentives work?

Economic development

Judging the effectiveness of economic development incentives requires looking for the unseen effects as well as what is easily seen. It’s easy to see the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies that commemorate government intervention — politicians and bureaucrats are drawn to them, and will spend taxpayer funds to make sure you’re aware. It’s more difficult to see that the harm that government intervention causes.

That’s assuming that the incentives even work as advertised in the first place. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, in their paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives published in Journal of the American Planning Association, wrote on the effects of incentives. A few quotes from the study, with emphasis added:

Given the weak effects of incentives on the location choices of businesses at the interstate level, state governments and their local governments in the aggregate probably lose far more revenue, by cutting taxes to firms that would have located in that state anyway than they gain from the few firms induced to change location.

On the three major questions — Do economic development incentives create new jobs? Are those jobs taken by targeted populations in targeted places? Are incentives, at worst, only moderately revenue negative? — traditional economic development incentives do not fare well. It is possible that incentives do induce significant new growth, that the beneficiaries of that growth are mainly those who have greatest difficulty in the labor market, and that both states and local governments benefit fiscally from that growth. But after decades of policy experimentation and literally hundreds of scholarly studies, none of these claims is clearly substantiated. Indeed, as we have argued in this article, there is a good chance that all of these claims are false.

The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state or local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering their expectations about their ability to micromanage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing the foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.

Following is the full paper, or click here.

Language makes a difference

No longer is it “Sustainable Communities.” Now it’s “South Central Kansas Prosperity Plan.” Either way, the program is still centralized government planning, with great potential to harm our economy and liberties.

South Central Kansas Prosperity Plan

The newly-renamed planning initiative has a new website set to launch in a few days — Let’s Talk Prosperity.

But no matter how politicians and bureaucrats dress it up, we need to remember the roots of this program. It took from 1987 to 2012, but Sedgwick County actually adopted the language of the United Nations regarding sustainability.

Those critical of sustainability planning are concerned that engaging in the practice has the potential to import harmful policies and practices originating from the United Nations. Critics of these critics say this is nonsense and overreacting. Tin-foil hat stuff, they say. Examples as reported in the Wichita Eagle come from Commissioner Dave Unruh and Commission Chair Tim Norton:

Unruh said he sees the grant simply as an “effort to make decisions about our future for us and our future generations that will save money, conserve resources and be the best solutions for all the folks in our region.” …

Norton said he sees the grant as a way to “look to the future, try to figure out best possible outcomes and make decisions today that will be good for tomorrow.”

“We’re all in this together. You may not like the federal government. You may not like the state government. You may not even like the local government. But I like being at the table and being involved in the future.”

He dismisses any connection to Agenda 21.

“It was a non-binding agreement passed during the first Bush era,” he said of former president George H.W. Bush. “I don’t rail on President Bush because it happened on his watch. I’m not twitchy about it. I’m not worried about it.”

It’s instructive to notice, however, that the language Sedgwick County uses when considering sustainability comes directly from the United Nations. General Assembly Resolution 42/187: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development holds this language: “Believing that sustainable development, which implies meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, should become a central guiding principle of the United Nations, Governments and private institutions, organizations and enterprises.” (emphasis added)

Sedgwick County’s Sustainability Page holds this: Definition of Sustainability for Sedgwick County … Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs … (emphasis added)

Sedgwick County left out the word “own,” but otherwise the language is identical. This definition was repeated on the county’s 2012 Employee Sustainability Survey.

The Sedgwick County page — and other county documents — mention economic development, environmental protection, institutional and financial viability, and social equity as “the four core factors that Sedgwick County considers when making community policy and program management decisions.” These goals are often mentioned in Agenda 21 documents, especially social equity.

Government planning, itself, is dangerous

The very existence of a government plan is dangerous, as its construction creates powerful constituencies that have shaped it to fit their needs and are highly motivated to see it implemented.

Planning

In Sunday’s Wichita Eagle, Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton defended the regional community planning initiative underway in south-central Kansas. (Tim Norton: Planning effort helps shape region’s future)

Much of the Commissioner’s article simply described the program and the need for it in vague generalities that are neither correct or incorrect, and which do little to advance understanding of what is really likely to happen.

But Norton did write something useful when he attempted to deflect the fact that this is a government plan, backed by the ability of government to compel compliance (or make it very expensive to avoid). He wrote: “This is not about any one governing body or level of government imposing or mandating what we should do. It is about what we decide collectively is best for our region and then choosing to make it happen.”

When the Sedgwick County Commission voted to participate in this HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant, some commissioners justified their votes in favor of the plan because “it’s only a plan.” If we develop a plan, and then we find we don’t like it, we can shelve it. Problem solved.

This meme of “it’s only a plan” that can be shelved is likely to be repeated. Watch for it.

Except: By shelving time, millions will have been invested in the plan. Reputations like Norton’s will depend on adopting the plan. Bureaucratic jobs will be at stake (See Sedgwick County considers a planning grant for an explanation of how planning help make work for bureaucrats and academics.)

Besides boosting the interests of politicians and bureaucrats, the government planning process started in south-central Kansas will likely be captured by special interest groups that see ways to benefit from the plan. The public choice school of economics and political science has taught us how special interest groups seek favors from government at enormous costs to society, and we will see this at play again over the next years.

Once the planning process begins, special interests plot to benefit themselves at the expense of the general public. We saw this at work in the first project to emerge after the Wichita downtown planning process (Project Downtown), where public policy was shaped on the fly to meet the needs of politically-connected special interests, at detriment to the public.

Most importantly: The very existence of a government plan is dangerous, as the plan itself becomes a reason to proceed, contrary to reason and harm to liberty and economic freedom.

An example of how much reverence is given to government plans comes right from the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision Kelo v. New London, in which the Court decided that government could use the power of eminent domain to take one person’s property and transfer it to someone else for the purposes of economic development. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Stevens cited the plan: “The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community.” Here we see the importance of the plan and due reverence given to it.

Stevens followed up, giving even more weight to the plan: “To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”

To Stevens, the fact that the plan was comprehensive was a factor in favor of its upholding. The sustainable communities plan, likewise, is nothing but comprehensive, as described by county manager Bill Buchanan in a letter to commissioners: “[the plan will] consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

That pretty much covers it all. When you’re charged with promoting economic prosperity, defending earth against climate change, and promoting public health, there is no limit to the types of laws you might consider. This likely to be the argument to follow whatever emerges from Commissioner Norton’s planning process.

Intrust Bank Arena depreciation expense is important, even today

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.

Sedgwick County Working for You

The 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.

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 2102, the accounting method used in this agreement produced a profit of $703,000, to be split (not equally) between SMG and the county.

While 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 county’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2012. It states: “The Arena had an operating loss of $4.8 million. The loss can be attributed to $5.3 million in depreciation expense.”

Depreciation expense is not something that is paid out in cash. Sedgwick County didn’t write a check for the $5.3 million in depreciation expense. Instead, it 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, 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.”

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. 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.

Without frank and realistic discussion of numbers like these and the economic facts they represent, we make decisions based on incomplete and false information. This is especially important as civic leaders such as Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer ask for a dedicated revenue stream for economic development, or for another sales tax or other taxes to pay for more public investment.

As Southwest arrives in Wichita, something else happens

Airplane

Wichita officials are proud that Southwest Airlines is starting service in Wichita soon. Great economic benefit is anticipated. But at the same time Southwest arrives, AirTran Airways leaves.

It’s true that Southwest is adding five new flights, as Wichita officials are quick to remind. (City officials are equally diligent at overlooking the end of the AirTran flights.) But it’s unknown what impact the loss of the Atlanta AirTran flights will have on Wichita travelers.

In 2012, 73,980 passengers enplaned AirTran jets in Wichita. In total, there were 147,101 AirTran passengers in Wichita, out of 1,509,206 total passengers in Wichita. This means that the routes that 9.7 percent of Wichita passengers used will no longer be available after June 2.

Whatever the impact, it’s difficult to see Southwest producing the touted economic benefits. The city has a report prepared by Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research that forecasts traffic increases of around 35 percent and the creation of 7,000 jobs.

That’s a lot, and it would be great if it happened. But we have to remember that at the same time Southwest arrives, AirTran leaves. It’s difficult to see how merely a different discount carrier could make such a difference.

We have to be very careful when evaluating job creation projections such as the one prepared by CEDBR for the arrival of Southwest. Consider the 2003 study prepared by CEDBR (Wichita Mid-Continent Airport Economic Impact) on the economic impact of the Wichita airport, which concluded that the airport had an impact on employment of 41,634 jobs, with payroll of $1,630,079,797.

In its calculations, the report included all the employees of Cessna and Bombardier — 12,134 in total — in determining the economic impact of the airport. Why? To quote the study: “While it might appear that manufacturing businesses could be based anywhere in the area, both Cessna and Bombardier require a location with runways and instrumentation structures that allow for flights and flight testing of business jet airplanes.” This is true, but it is quite a stretch to attribute all the economic impact of these employees solely to the airport.

For one thing, if we count the economic impact of the income of these employees as belonging to the airport, what then do we say about the economic impact of Cessna and Bombardier? We would have to count it as very little, because the impact of their employees’ earnings has been assigned to the airport. This is, of course, assuming that we count the impact of these employees only once.

This double-counting of the economic impact is a problem. Since this report was released, both Cessna and Bombardier have asked the state, city, and county for incentives and subsidies. Companies use the economic impact of their employee payroll as justification for the subsidies. But these dollars will have already been used, as they were attributed to the airport.

Does anyone at city hall track this, that the purported economic impact of employees has already been claimed by the airport?

Further: Suppose that Cessna tires of being on the west side of town, so it moves east and starts using Jabara Airport. Would Cessna’s economic impact on the City of Wichita, Sedgwick County, or State of Kansas be any different? I think it wouldn’t. But its impact on the Wichita airport would now be zero, or very nearly so.

The CEDBR study does provide some figures with the manufacturing employees excluded. The impact without the manufacturing employees included is estimated at $183 million, or about 11 percent of the $1.6 billion claimed earlier.

It is a convenient circumstance that these two manufacturers happen to be located near the airport. To credit the airport with the economic impact of these companies — as though the airport was involved in the actual manufacture of airplanes instead of providing an incidental (but important) service — is to grossly overstate the airport’s role and its economic importance.

Of course the airport is important to Wichita. We should seek to measure its impact sensibly instead of stretching to attribute every dollar possible to it. When advocates of any cause manufacture figures like the $1.6 billion economic impact, it casts doubt on other arguments they advance.

Similarly, we need to be realistic about the economic impact of Southwest Airlines in Wichita.

In Wichita, community needn’t be government

Wichita, Kansas logo

Kansas Policy Institute offers commentary on the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan.

In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Differ on Politics and Religion, renowned psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes how the human mind is dual in nature: “We live most of our lives in the ordinary world, but we achieve our greatest joys in those brief moments of transit to the sacred world, in which we become ‘simply a part of a whole.’”

A recent survey by the City of Wichita capitalized on this innate human tendency by equating community with government. Our natural desire to become “simply a part of a whole” manifests itself in our jobs, churches, softball leagues, clubs, dinner parties and recently pride in WSU’s success in the NCAA tournament. Our citizenship in Wichita is one of many communities that define us as individuals, one of many communities we make sacrifices for, one of many communities we call upon to solve problems.

Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan

The survey respondents provide a list of wishes, all with the goal of improving our lives, many of which can and should be provided by city and county governments. Allowing businesses to openly compete to build water and street infrastructure, with competitive bidding for contracts, would strengthen the community by precluding any unfairness that weakens trust in the city.

Survey respondents showed a plea for business formation and young talent. The city could promote a sense of community by creating a welcoming culture for all businesses, one that does not pick favorites. 71.8 percent of respondents do not have faith that most people are willing to put community interests above personal interest — perhaps because so often city hall is called upon to hand out special tax treatment.

The survey also tries to identify challenges to the community; respondents were asked one question about Boeing and two questions about political divisions. Overwhelmingly respondents believe political divisions are negatively impacting our community’s ability to respond to global challenges.

We live in the biggest city in the state which brings with it many challenges; solutions to those challenges come in many forms, giving rise to the vast diversity of opinion borne out in the survey. That diversity may be trying but we should not allow the aspiration for political unity to squelch debate. Ultimately it is our ability to engage and debate these issues that unites us as a community.

Wichita survey questions based on false premises

The recently-released Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan survey results provide another opportunity to look at the survey process to see if the results will be useful as our city looks to the future.

(Good luck trying to find this document on the newly-redesigned City of Wichita website. I’ve placed it here for your convenience.)

Here are two examples of questions that have such severe problems that the results are not likely to be a reliable indicator of what citizens believe and what they want government to do.

One problematic question survey participants answered is this: “Local government should … continue to use public resources to encourage airlines to increase the number and reduce the cost of flights through Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.”

Reading this question, you would assume that public resources have increased the number of flights, wouldn’t you?

Another related question: “Recommended Change in Investment [to] Increase the number of flights and decrease the cost to fly into and out of the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.”

Again, it would be natural for survey respondents to assume that investment has been successful in increasing the number of flights.

Here’s the problem: If we consider the number of monthly departing flights, Wichita isn’t doing well compared to the nation. The chart at the end of this article illustrates.

(Since this data is highly seasonal, I present a 12-month moving average, so that each point plotted is the average of the previous 12 months data. Also, I index January 2000 to 100.)

Of particular note is that over the past two or three years, the trend of flights nationally is level, while the trend of flights available in Wichita is declining.

This trend is an example of unintended consequences of government intervention and regulation. The Affordable Airfares program imposes a rough form of price control on airfares in Wichita. If the program didn’t do that — and it appears it succeeds at this goal — then there would be no point in having the program. The inevitable effect of price controls is that less is supplied, compared to what would have been supplied. This economic phenomenon is reliable and predictable.

While travelers prefer low air fares to high, this is not the only consideration. For those who need to travel on short notice, the availability of flights is very important.

The problem we have regarding the survey is that the questions would lead survey participants to assume that the city has been successful in increasing the number of flights available in Wichita. But the data doesn’t support the premises to these two questions. The questions are based on inaccurate facts. This, in turn, casts doubt over the reliability and usefulness of these questions.

(For more about flights in Wichita, see In Wichita, confusion over air traffic statistics.)

(For a critique of the survey instrument by Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, click here.)

Monthly flights, Wichita Airport and nationally.

Sedgwick County begins legislative updates sharing

In a move sure to help citizens learn more about government, Sedgwick County has started posting legislative updates from its lobbyist in Topeka. Correction: These reports are from our taxpayer-funded lobbyist.

The reports can be found on the Government Relations page.

This program was started at the initiative of Commissioner Karl Peterjohn. Other local units of government should follow this example. These reports, after all, are paid for by taxpayers.

Download (PDF, 956KB)

Taxpayer-funded lobbying discussed

Sedgwick County Working for You

Taxpayer-funded lobbying was a subject of discussion at today’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, with the commission passing by a vote of three to two a resolution expressing the commission’s opposition to a bill under consideration in the Kansas Legislature. Video is here or at the end of this article.

The bill of interest is SB 109, described here. It states “No public funds may be used directly or indirectly for lobbying. No public funds may be used to pay membership dues to an association that is engaged in lobbying the state. Public funds shall not be used for the purpose of employing or contracting for the service of any person whose duty and responsibility includes lobbying.”

But if we must have taxpayer-funded lobbying, let’s make the best of it. Communications to and from a local governmental body and its lobbyist are open to the public under the Kansas Open Records Act. The documents might be testimony the lobbyist will deliver, reports covering the status and impact of bills, and other matters.

As these documents are open under the Kansas Open Records Act, I propose this: Instead of requiring citizens to ask for these records, possibly paying fees to obtain what they’re already paying for, why don’t local governments post these documents immediately on their websites?

Citizens could then benefit from the activities of the lobbyists they’re paying for. They could learn more about legislation as it works its way through the process.

Very importantly, citizens could judge whether the positions taken by the government lobbyists are aligned with their policy preferences.

If the actions taken by taxpayer-funded lobbyists are truly in the public interest, you’d think that cities, counties, and school boards would already be making this information easily available. In any case, there should be no resistance to starting this program immediately. Today, as the legislature is currently in session.

If any local governmental units feel that posting documents on a website is too much of a burden, here’s my offer: When your lobbyist sends you an email with testimony, legislative reports, or anything else, just forward the email to me (bob.weeks@gmail.com). I’ll take care of the rest.

Here’s one such example: Kansas Legislative Session 2013 — Week 5: An update on the Kansas Legislature from Sedgwick County’s lobbyist.

Kansas local office campaign finance reports

Kansas local office campaign finance report example

It’s hard to obtain and use local office campaign finance reports in Kansas. In Sedgwick County, for example, candidates for local offices file reports on paper with the county election office. These reports are scanned and made available online.

That sounds good. But the online system is very difficult to use. It’s hard to find the reports you want to view.

Until recently the system didn’t support modern browser programs like Firefox and Chrome. I kept a Windows virtual PC on hand and maintained with an old version of Windows and Internet Explorer for the sole purpose of using the document system at Sedgwick County.

It’s better now. You can use modern browser programs. But how many people will make the effort of creating a virtual PC so to obtain campaign finance data?

Then, the data you download or print is not machine readable. It’s images of text. It’s not searchable. It can’t be loaded into a spreadsheet or database, except by hand, or in some limited cases, through optical character recognition.

The campaign finance reports can’t be linked to like other documents that are online, like you can link to an agenda or the minutes of meetings.

The Johnson County election office didn’t do any better. There, the finance reports I looked at were available as multi-page TIFF files. These are difficult to work with. The software that most people have on their computers will show just the first page, probably.

We can do better.

As a start, I’ve created a collection of campaign finance reports from Sedgwick County. It’s not comprehensive. The documents are images as provided by the election office, meaning they’re not searchable and can’t be loaded into a spreadsheet or database.

But it’s something more than the government provides. Click here to see.

In Sedgwick County, misplaced concern for an industry

Wheat harvestExpressing concern about a large industry that he said is important to Sedgwick County and Kansas, Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton spoke in favor of the need for comprehensive government planning. He cited the commonly-held belief that humans, with their desire for large suburban home lots, are depleting the stock of available farmland.

Specifically, Norton said “Agribusiness is the third largest economic driver in our community, in our region.”

But is this true? Using 2010 figures from the Kansas Statistical Abstract, these are the largest industries in Kansas in terms of gross domestic product:

Industry GDP (millions)
State and local government $13,047
Real estate and rental and leasing $11,794
Health care and social assistance $9,898
Durable goods manufacturing $9,620
Finance and insurance $8,426
Retail trade $8,324
Wholesale trade $7,910
Non-durable goods manufacturing $7,750
Professional and technical services $6,652
Information $5,806
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting $4,612
Transportation and warehousing $4,418
Construction $4,062
Federal military $3,816
Administrative and waste services $3,769
Other services, except government $3,250
Accommodation and food services $3,157
Utilities $2,639
Federal civilian $2,608
Management of companies and enterprises $1,769
Mining $1,472
Educational services $770
Arts, entertainment, and recreation $506

 

Agriculture ranks below many other industries. In most years agriculture would rank even lower, but because of high farm prices in recent years, it ranks higher than it has.

Norton also expressed concern that humans with large home lots would deplete the land available for agriculture. But he need not worry, as I show in Saving farms from people.

Saving farms from people

Wheat combine on farm

Last week at a meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, Commissioner Tim Norton spoke in favor of the need for comprehensive government planning. In support, he cited the commonly-held belief that humans — especially with their desire for large suburban home lots — are depleting the stock of farmland to the point of being detrimental to agribusiness.

Here’s part of what Norton said (video below):

Now I know people don’t like the idea of sprawl and growth rings and all that, but the truth is there is a balance between where people live and preserving our good agricultural lands and how do you make that work. And that’s being able to sustain part of our economy. Agribusiness is the third largest economic driver in our community, in our region, and to say that we’re okay with every five acre tract being taken up by somebody’s rural residence sounds really good if you’re talking only property rights. But if you’re talking about preserving and sustaining agribusiness you gotta have the land and it’s got to be set aside for that enterprise.

Farms and ranches being driven out of existence by homeowners — that sounds like a problem that might threaten our food supply. But what are the facts?

First, there is an overabundance of farmland in America. There is so much farmland that we pay farmers billions each year to refrain from planting crops. We pay corn farmers billions in subsidies each year and then use their crops for motor fuel, instead of for making fine Kentucky bourbon and taco shells, as God intended.

Considering Sedgwick County, as that is what Norton represents: Despite being the second-most populous county in Kansas and home to its largest city and surrounding suburban communities, Sedgwick County ranks fourth among Kansas counties in the number of farms, thirty-fourth in farmland acres, seventh in total harvested cropland acres, thirty-third in market value of harvested crops, sixty-sixth in market value of livestock, and eighty-seventh in pasture acres. (Data from Kansas Farm Facts 2011, reporting on 2007 farm statistics.)

There’s something else that might ease Commissioner Norton’s concern, if he would only believe in the power of markets over government: That is the price system. If we were truly running short of farmland, crop prices would rise and farmland would become more valuable. Fewer people would be willing to pay the price necessary to have a five-acre home lot.

In fact, if crop prices were high enough, farmers would be buying back the five-acre lots, or perhaps paying homeowners to rent their yards for planting crops or grazing livestock.

In either case, markets — through the price system — provide a solution that doesn’t require politicians and bureaucrats. There are many other areas in which this is true, but government nonetheless insists on regulation and control.

The power of prices, as told by Thomas Sowell: “The last premiere of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, is said to have asked British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: How do you see to it that people get food? The answer was that she didn’t. Prices did that. And the British people were better fed than those in the Soviet Union, even though the British have never grown enough food to feed themselves in more than a century. Prices bring them food from other countries.”

Wichita economic development solution, postponed

Recent reporting in the Wichita Business Journal on Wichita’s economic development efforts has many officials saying Wichita doesn’t have enough incentives to compete with other cities. That is, we are not spending enough on incentives.

Whether these incentives are good economic development policy is open for debate. I don’t believe we need them, and that we in Kansas and Wichita can chart another course to increase economic freedom in Kansas. That will make our area appealing to companies. But our local bureaucrats, most business leaders, and nearly all elected officials believe that targeted incentives are the way to attract and retain business.

(Charts at the end of this article illustrate the record in Wichita on jobs.)

Our leaders have identified what they believe is a solution to a problem, but have not implemented that solution effectively, in their own words.

I should say have not implemented the solution on a widespread basis, because Wichita has devoted more tax money to economic development. According to the 2010 City Manager’s Policy Message, page CM-2, “One mill of property tax revenue will be shifted from the Debt Service Fund to the General Fund. In 2011 and 2012, one mill of property tax will be shifted to the General Fund to provide supplemental financing. The shift will last two years, and in 2013, one mill will be shifted back to the Debt Service Fund. The additional millage will provide a combined $5 million for economic development opportunities.”

So the city has decided to spend more tax dollars on economic development, but this allocation is being phased out — at the same time nearly everyone is calling for more to be spent in this area.

Isn’t this a failure of political and bureaucratic leadership? We have a long-standing problem, officials have identified what they believe is a solution, but it is not being implemented. These leaders have the ability to spend more on economic development, as illustrated by Wichita’s shifting of tax revenue.

Even if we believe that an active role for government in economic development is best (and I don’t believe that), we have to conclude that our efforts aren’t working. Several long-serving politicians and bureaucrats that have presided over this failure: Mayor Carl Brewer has been on the city council or served as mayor since 2001. Economic development director Allen Bell has been working for the city since 1992. City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf has served for many years. At Sedgwick County, manager William Buchanan has held that position for 21 years. On the Sedgwick County Commission, Dave Unruh has been in office since 2003, and Tim Norton since 2001. Unruh has said he wants to be Wichita’s next mayor.

Wichita City Manager Robert Layton has had less time to influence the course of economic development in Wichita. But as he approaches his fourth anniversary in Wichita, he starts to become part of the legacy of Wichita’s efforts in economic development.

Wichita’s job creation record

Two charts illustrate the record of job growth in Wichita. The first shows Wichita job growth compared to Kansas and the nation. Data is from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and indexed with values for 2001 set to 1.00.

As you can see, job growth in Wichita trails both Kansas and the nation.

The next chart shows Wichita job growth by sector.

Private sector job growth is prominently lower than government. This is a problem, because more economic activity is directed away from the productive private sector to inefficient government.

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas applauds Sedgwick County Commission for rejecting public financing for Bowllagio

TOPEKA, KAN — The Kansas chapter of the grassroots group Americans for Prosperity applauds the Sedgwick County Commission for rejecting the proposed tax-increment financing (TIF) district for the Bowllagio development in Wichita.

“We are pleased that Sedgwick County commissioners unanimously voted against public funding for this entertainment development,” said AFP-Kansas grassroots coordinator Susan Estes. “Commissioners apparently realized it wasn’t a good deal for taxpayers in Wichita and Sedgwick County.”

Estes said this proposed development was another example of a developer receiving several layers of public financing, and that additional public financing would give the Bowllagio developers an unfair advantage over competing businesses.

“Those who will benefit from today’s vote are the taxpayers and the existing businesses who have worked for years to invest in this community,” she said. “This would have been just another example of government picking winners and losers in the marketplace.”

Although some may say today’s vote was a “win” for opponents of the TIF district, Estes says it was more of a win for good government.

“This isn’t a victory in the traditional sense,” she said. “The bottom line is, we believe the Sedgwick County Commissioners today acted in the best interests of their constituents.”

From Americans for Prosperity-Kansas.

Bowllagio property purchases seem overpriced

As part of a planned real estate development, taxpayers may be asked to pay property owners much more than the appraised values for the parcels.

According to documents obtained from the Wichita city manager’s office, developers of Bowllagio have budgeted to pay a collective $1,110,300 over the property’s appraised values. This is 63 percent over the appraised values for the 14 parcels.

The source of funds for these purchases is a proposed tax increment financing (TIF) district created for the benefit of Maize 54, LLC, the developer of Bowllagio. The Wichita City Council approved the formation of the district on November 20. Now the Goddard School District and Sedgwick County Commission may veto the formation of the district. The approval of these two bodies is not required; but they have the right to cancel the formation of the district.

A meeting last week with Goddard school officials resulted in learning that it seems unlikely that the school district will take up the matter. The item is on the agenda of the county commission’s Wednesday meeting.

The Sedgwick County Appraiser’s Office explains appraised values: “The value of property is determined by market transactions. The Appraiser’s office has the responsibility to study those transactions and appraise property accordingly. The Appraiser’s office determines market value through the use of generally accepted appraisal methods.”

If the appraiser’s valuations are close to the market value of the properties — and we have reason to believe they are — we have to ask why did the Wichita city council approve spending so much taxpayer money on these properties?

And, will the Sedgwick County Commission give its approval to this waste of taxpayer money?

Proposed home purchases for Maize 54 / Bowllagio development

Flight options from Wichita decline, compared to nation

A program designed to bring low air fares to Wichita appears to meet that goal, but the unintended and inevitable consequences of the program are not being recognized.

The legislative agendas for Wichita and Sedgwick County call for supporting the retention and funding of the Affordable Airfares program. This program provides taxpayer money to subsidize low-cost air carriers in Kansas. Most of the program’s funds have been spent in Wichita, in particular on AirTran Airways.

According to Regional Economic Area Partnership, the managing organization, the goal of the program is “to provide more air flight options, more competition for air travel, and affordable airfares for Kansas.”

Is the Affordable Airfares program meeting its goals? If we look at “air flight options,” and if we consider the number of monthly departing flights as a measurement, Wichita isn’t doing well compared to the nation. The chart at the end of this article illustrates.

(Since this data is highly seasonal, I present a 12-month moving average, so that each point plotted is the average of the previous 12 months data. Also, I index January 2000 to 100.)

Of particular note is that over the past two or three years, the trend of flights nationally is level, while the trend of flights available in Wichita is declining.

In its Kansas Affordable Airfares Program Fiscal Year 2011 Report, REAP addresses the goal of “more air flight options” and reports:

“Air service through Wichita Mid-Continent Airport addresses the statutory objective of more flight options, as follows: A total of 11 airlines provide service from Wichita to seven nonstop destinations with connecting service and four nonstop destinations with no connecting service. Overall, there are on average 38 daily (with 40 on weekdays) nonstop or one-stop flights by commercial air carriers, providing access to 4,989 U.S. and international destinations.”

This statement simply addresses the current situation. But the goal is more flight options. Which is better evidence of meeting the statutory goal: A simple recitation of what’s available today, or looking at the trend, especially comparing Wichita to the nation? REAP’s statement provides very little information as to whether the program is meeting its stated goals, or whether the program is desirable. We should ask that REAP recognize the data and its implications.

This trend is an example of unintended consequences of government intervention and regulation. The Affordable Airfares program imposes a rough form of price control on airfares in Wichita. If the program didn’t do that — and it appears it succeeds at this goal — then there would be no point in having the program.

The inevitable effect of price controls is that less is supplied, compared to what would have been supplied. This economic phenomenon is reliable and predictable.

While travelers prefer low air fares to high, this is not the only consideration. For those who need to travel on short notice, the availability of flights is very important.

For more about flights in Wichita, see In Wichita, confusion over air traffic statistics.

Monthly flights, Wichita Airport and nationally.

In Wichita, confusion over air traffic statistics

As the governments of Wichita and Sedgwick County prepare their legislative agendas for next year, retaining the Affordable Airfares program is a high priority for most officials. This program provides taxpayer money to subsidize low-cost air carriers in Kansas. Most of the program’s funds have been spent in Wichita, in particular on AirTran Airways.

It’s almost certain that air fares are lower now in Wichita than they might be if not for the Affordable Airfares program. But another goal of the program is not being met. That goal is to increase the flight options from Wichita. This number has been declining for many years, but local officials seem reluctant to acknowledge this. A report produced last year by Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit, while containing many useful findings, muddies the water in a way that makes it difficult to see the trends at the Wichita airport.

Here’s an example: Sedgwick County’s 2012 legislative platform states “The Post Audit report also concluded that ‘the program appears to have the desired effect … fares have decreased while passengers and flights have increased.’”

In the chart provided in the LPA document, there mare many years where the “percent change in flights from prior year” is zero or negative. That means that for that year, the number of flights declined.

In the chart (below) titled “Monthly Departures, Wichita” we see the number of flights leaving Wichita each month since 2000. (I gathered this data from the same source as did LPA, but independently.) I draw a trend line starting in 2000. That line barely slopes upwards, supporting a claim that “flights have increased.”

But suppose we start the trend line on January 1, 2003, about seven months after AirTran entered the Wichita market. In this case, the trend line slopes downwards, and rather sharply. Which of the two lines best represents the performance of the Affordable Airfares program? I would contend it is the second line, as it shows what has been happening for the past nine or so years: Flight options from Wichita are declining.

Considering passengers, shown in the chart titled “Monthly Passengers, Wichita and U.S.”: If we take as a starting point any time from 2000 to 2002, the number of passengers is higher now than then. But since 2004 the trend for Wichita passengers is pretty flat. (Since the monthly passenger data is highly seasonal, I present a 12-month moving average, so that each point plotted is the average of the previous 12 months data.)

Comparing Wichita to national data, we can see that for the past two years the national trend is slowly rising, while Wichita’s trend is flat. The gap between national and Wichita is increasing, although slowly. This means that Wichita passenger traffic is not keeping pace with national.

In presentations made as part of the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan attendees are told: “Fares have decreased (24 % overall) while passengers (23% increase) and flights have increased.”

You have to make a selective — and I would say tortured — reading of the data for this statement to make sense and be true. The survey administered to program participants, at least in draft form, holds similar errors.

Is the number of flights important? To the business traveler — who often must make travel arrangements on short notice — it is. An available seat on an airplane, even if the fare is high, is the primary concern.

Other facts regarding the Affordable Airfares program are muddy too. The LPA report from February 2011 is Affordable Airfares: Reviewing the Benefits Claimed As a Result of State Funding to Lower Airfares. In its “Answer in Brief” the audit states: “Overall, the program appears to have had the desired effect. Since Wichita’s original affordable airfare program (FairFares) began in 2002, fares have decreased, while the number of passengers and the number of available flights have increased. However, the Regional Economic Area Partnership’s (REAP) annual reports on the program contain numerous inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Further, the economic impact of the program has been significantly overstated. Specifically, the estimated number of jobs created and the State’s return on investment were overstated because of key methodological errors and the use of some inaccurate data. We also found that overall accountability for the State funds is lacking.”

Specifically, some of the problems LPA found were:

  • REAP officials don’t use the best data available on fares and the number of passengers.
  • The baseline years and industry benchmarks REAP officials use for comparisons are inconsistent from year to year, and sometimes even within the same report.
  • REAP officials omitted data on the number of flights available to passengers — a key goal of the program — from all but one of the annual reports.
  • The annual financial reports contain numerous errors and inconsistencies.
  • The general approach to estimating the number of jobs created appears reasonable, but the actual estimate includes some key methodological errors and uses some inaccurate data. … As a result, the 2008 study’s estimate of more than 9,700 average annual jobs from AirTran entering the Wichita market is significantly overstated. … The calculated return on investment to the State is also significantly overstated.
  • Overall accountability for state funds is lacking.
  • There is a perception among some people in the State that REAP isn’t sufficiently independent to administer the State Affordable Airfares Fund.

Thea actions of Wichita and Sedgwick County officials show that they are either uninformed regarding these issues, or that they simply don’t care.

Monthly departures from the Wichita Airport.
Monthly passengers, Wichita Airport and nationally.

In Wichita, creating more willing taxpayers

What is the goal of Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan? Here’s an excerpt from “Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities,” which appeared in Government Finance Review. Authors are Mark A. Glaser, Misty R. Bruckner, and Corinne Bannon, all associated with the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University. HWS is facilitating the planning process for the city and county.

Increasingly, citizens are retreating from their responsibilities to community and demanding more from government than they are willing to pay for. But changes in local government behavior can be instrumental in reversing this trend, by strengthening citizens’ commitment to the well-being of their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are more willing to accept responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens and are also more likely to join with government and other parties to improve their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are also more willing taxpayers — that is, when government demonstrates that it can be trusted to invest public resources in ways that strengthen the community. The central thrust of this model is getting citizens and governments to work together, but realistically, many communities will require new revenue — including additional tax dollars — if they are to assemble the critical mass of resources necessary for meaningful change. Accordingly, citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes are an important component of building sustainable communities.

More willing taxpayers.

Citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes.

I recommend you read this paper. Click on Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities.

From the United Nations to Sedgwick County

It took from 1987 to 2012, but Sedgwick County has adopted the language of the United Nations regarding sustainability.

Those critical of sustainability planning are concerned that engaging in sustainable communities planning has the potential to import harmful policies and practices originating from the United Nations. Critics of these critics say this is nonsense and overreacting. Examples as reported in the Wichita Eagle come from Commissioner Dave Unruh and Commission Chair Tim Norton:

Unruh said he sees the grant simply as an “effort to make decisions about our future for us and our future generations that will save money, conserve resources and be the best solutions for all the folks in our region.” …

Norton said he sees the grant as a way to “look to the future, try to figure out best possible outcomes and make decisions today that will be good for tomorrow.”

“We’re all in this together. You may not like the federal government. You may not like the state government. You may not even like the local government. But I like being at the table and being involved in the future.”

He dismisses any connection to Agenda 21.

“It was a non-binding agreement passed during the first Bush era,” he said of former president George H.W. Bush. “I don’t rail on President Bush because it happened on his watch. I’m not twitchy about it. I’m not worried about it.”

The language Sedgwick County uses when considering sustainability comes directly from the United Nations. General Assembly Resolution 42/187: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development holds this language: “Believing that sustainable development, which implies meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, should become a central guiding principle of the United Nations, Governments and private institutions, organizations and enterprises.” (emphasis added)

Sedgwick County’s Sustainability Page holds this: Definition of Sustainability for Sedgwick County … Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs … (emphasis added)

Sedgwick County left out the word “own,” but otherwise the language is identical. This definition was repeated on the county’s 2012 Employee Sustainability Survey.

The Sedgwick County page — and other county documents — mention economic development, environmental protection, institutional and financial viability, and social equity as “the four core factors that Sedgwick County considers when making community policy and program management decisions.” These goals are often mentioned in Agenda 21 documents, especially social equity.

In Sedgwick County, a judicial candidate takes the low road

Voters are accustomed to political campaigns that sink low with distorted facts, missing facts, innuendo, and outright lies. Judges, however, ought to be held to a higher standard, and in Kansas, the Supreme Court has rules for judges to follow in their campaigns. But the campaign for incumbent Richard T. Ballinger in Sedgwick County, Kansas, doesn’t seem to be interested in following these rules.

In the Rules related to Judicial Conduct adopted by the Kansas Supreme Court, the title of canon four, covering political activity, starts with this admonition: “A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.”

Specifically, the rules state:

Rule 4.1: Political and Campaign Activities of Judges and Judicial Candidates in General
(A) A judge or a judicial candidate shall not: …
(4) knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth, make any false or misleading statement.

The comment associated with paragraph 4 illuminates:

[7] Judicial candidates must be scrupulously fair and accurate in all statements made by them and by their campaign committees. Paragraph (A)(4) obligates candidates and their committees to refrain from making statements that are false or misleading, or that omit facts necessary to make the communication considered as a whole not materially misleading.

Here’s one example of the ways the Ballinger campaign has acted in contrary to these rules in his campaign against challenger Zoe Newton: On November 2, Ballinger ran radio advertisements stating this about Newton: “more than 60 percent of her campaign contributions have come from her boss Wink Hartman, or Hartman’s companies, or a handful of Hartman’s business associates.” The ad goes on to claim that Newton, if elected, “owes a debt of gratitude to a select few.”

The actual facts, however, are that based on my analysis of campaign finance reports through October 29, Newton herself has contributed 60.2 percent of her total campaign funds. We can see, therefore, that Ballinger’s claim violates the rule that requires judges to “knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth, make any false or misleading statement.”

As far as owing a “debt of gratitude,” if a case involving Hartman or his business interests were to come before a Judge Newton, she would have to recuse herself. She wouldn’t be able to preside over the case.

But that’s not the situation with the large number of Sedgwick County attorneys who have contributed to Ballinger’s campaign. Ballinger knows who his contributors are, and the contributors know who they are. But evidently, the rules in Kansas don’t require recusal or even notification to the parties to a case that there are political campaign contributions involved.

Judge Richard Ballinger Facebook post, October 30, 2012.

Another example: A Georgia political action committee ran radio advertisements critical of Ballinger. He ran advertisements criticizing “secret Georgia money,” and for a time, the source of that money was unknown. But the Wichita Eagle published an article where Wink Hartman acknowledged that he was source of the funding for the ads, a fact which Ballinger signaled awareness of by posting so on his campaign’s Facebook page. But the ads claiming “secret Georgia money” continued to run, making claims that were known to be false.

Hartman’s response might not have been necessary if not for Ballinger’s claim made in a radio advertisement. Citing Ballinger’s long tenure as judge, the commercial — in a disparaging tone and manner — said that Newton “works for Wink Hartman.” Hartman is a well-known businessman and entrepreneur who ran for U.S. Congress in 2010. He adds value to our community through his successful business ventures. And since when is working in the private sector a bad thing? I’d argue that diversity of experience, including private sector business experience, is important to our stable of judges.

Another example: On November 1, a radio ad in Ballinger’s own voice mentioned his cease and desist order issued by the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications. That document may be read here. Ballinger says that happened seven years ago, when as you can see, the order was issued in 2006, which is six years ago.

It might be that the events for which Ballinger was cited (“inappropriately fraternizing with subordinate employees”) happened in 2005, which would be seven years ago. The cease and desist order doesn’t say. But Ballinger certainly knows when he committed these violations of judicial conduct, and if he wants to criticize an advertisement for getting dates wrong, he should reveal the record of his conduct. Either that, or we have to argue over the meaning of the word “this.” We’ve been through that (“it,” actually) with a former president.

Ballinger also claims, in the same advertisement: “… the Kansas Supreme Court reappointed me as chief judge with complete knowledge of the facts.” This, to me, is misleading. The same advertisement attempts a clarification a little later, when Ballinger states “I was appointed chief presiding judge of probate court.” Even this clarification does little to give voters accurate information, as the probate division, at least presently, appears to consist of only one judge — Ballinger himself.

Further, I believe that according to Kansas statute, it is the chief judge of a judicial district who appoints presiding judges, not the Kansas Supreme Court as Ballinger claimed.

Another example: A Ballinger advertisement mentions that he was overwhelmingly re-elected by voters in 2008. Upon hearing that, most people would assume there was a challenger that Ballinger defeated. But there was no opponent for Ballinger that year, which is not uncommon in judicial elections. Consider Ballinger’s statement in light of a comment to the rules: “Paragraph (A)(4) obligates candidates and their committees to refrain from making statements that are false or misleading, or that omit facts necessary to make the communication considered as a whole not materially misleading.” (emphasis added)

I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether boasting of an overwhelming victory in an election with no opponent is materially misleading.

Similarly, when voters make a decision about electing judges, they should remember that the Kansas Supreme Court holds judges to a high standard of conduct in their campaigns.

Sedgwick County advance voting

According to my analysis of data I’ve received from the Sedgwick County Election Office, 74,477 ballots have been mailed and 39,444 people have voted, either by mail or through in-person voting at the election office or advance voting centers.

For comparison, in the 2010 general election 136,398 people voted in Sedgwick County, and in the 2008 general election, 194,688.

Sedgwick County tower sale was not in citizens’ best interest

The sale of a radio tower owned by Sedgwick County reveals another case of local government not looking out for the interests of citizens and taxpayers, with the realization that the stain of cronyism is alive and well.

As a result of system upgrades, the county no longer needs a radio tower located near 77th Street North and Interstate 135. Pixius Communications, LLC made an offer to purchase the tower and the five acre tower site for $280,000. The county proceeded making arrangements for the sale, preparing a sales agreement contract between Sedgwick County and Pixius with a sales price of $280,000, along with several other legal documents necessary to support the sale. These documents are available at the agenda file for this item.

According to sources, County Manager William Buchanan supported the Pixius offer. So did commissioners Dave Unruh and Jim Skelton.

But commissioners Richard Ranzau and Karl Peterjohn felt that the best way to sell the tower was through an auction.

Commission Chair Tim Norton, because of his receipt of campaign contributions from Pixius, Jay Maxwell (owner of Pixius), and Penny Maxwell (spouse of owner), was going to abstain from voting. (Skelton has accepted contributions from the Maxwells, but he was going to vote nonetheless.)

So there was not a majority of three votes to accept the Pixius offer. Buchanan suggested the auction. All commissioners agreed.

Now we know the results of the auction: A Florida company offered $610,000. After a sales commission ($55,000) and half of closing costs ($1,128), the county will net $553,872. That’s almost twice the price the county manager and two commissioners were willing to sell the tower for.

There’s something else: What will be the appraised value of the tower and site for tax purposes? The selling price of a property is strong evidence of its value. As a result of the auction, therefore, this property is likely to be appraised at $610,000 instead of $280,000. That’s good for those who think it’s good for government to bring in more tax revenue.

This episode is another instance where no-bid contracts and cronyism cost taxpayers. Maxwell, the almost-beneficiary of this sweetheart no-bid contract, has been the recipient of many benefits at taxpayer expense, such as tax increment financing and community improvement district taxes. He’s tried for more, but even the Wichita City Council has a limit to its cronyism, now and then. Although cronyism and no-bid contracts have been a problem at Wichita City Hall.

Interestingly, a recent KSN Television news story characterized Ranzau and Peterjohn as “hardline fiscal conservatives.” The story went on to report “Incumbent Democrat Tim Norton often sides with the two more moderate members of the commission with many votes being decided by a 3-2 margin.” Those moderate members are, of course, Unruh and Skelton.

Norton didn’t have to take sides — at least publicly — on this issue, but I’m confident that if this was not an election year for Norton, he would have voted for the original Pixius deal that we now see was a disaster for taxpayers.

In the KSN story Norton was quoted as saying “I’m a business man of many years in Wichita. I understand the business climate and job retention.”

Unruh and Skelton are also businessmen. I hope these commissioners look after their personal business with more care and concern than they have shown for the business of taxpayers.

Select judges wisely, considering lawmaking role

While candidates for judge usually campaign as being “above politics,” as someone who will apply the law impartially without regard to personal beliefs and convictions, the reality is that judges make law. Voters need to recognize this judicial function as they decide their votes.

A recent paper by Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware (Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study) explains the role of judges. Ware’s paper is primarily concered with appellate courts, as that is where judges have the highest level of discretion. But the same principles apply to Kansas district court judges.

At issue is whether judges are simply arbitrators of the law, or actual participants 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.

Ware concludes: “Yes, of course judges’ allegiance should be to the law, including our state and federal constitutions. But that allegiance does not ineluctably guide the judge to make a particular choice among various reasonable interpretations of a vague or ambiguous constitutional or statutory provision.” For more, see Kansas lawmakers, including judges, should be selected democratically.

So voters — when deciding which judges to elect to office or deciding whether to retain those already in office — need to consider politics and ideology, not just technical legal skills or promises to “unflinchingly apply the rule of law.” Voters should ask: Is the candidate likely to be a judge who would make decisions from a limited government perspective, or will the judge be favorably disposed to make decisions that expand the size and power of government?

While political party membership is a only a rough — and not entirely accurate — indication of the political philosophy of a candidate, it’s about all voters have. Most judicial candidates avoid any mention of politics in their campaign materials and websites. Some don’t even mention the party they belong to, even though the contests may be partisan.

Ware’s complete paper may be downloaded at no charge here.