Tag Archives: Tax abatements

Wichita City Hall.

Wichita’s legislative agenda favors government, not citizens

city-council-chambers-sign-small

This week the Wichita City Council will consider its legislative agenda. This document contains many items that are contrary to economic freedom, capitalism, limited government, and individual liberty. Yet, Wichitans pay taxes to have someone in Topeka promote this agenda. I’ve excerpted the document here, and following are some of the most problematic items.

Agenda: Existing economic development tools are essential for the continued growth and prosperity of our community.

First. The premise of this item is incorrect. We don’t have growth and prosperity in Wichita. Compared to a broad group of peer metropolitan areas, Wichita performs very poorly. See For Wichita’s economic development machinery, failure for details.

Second: In general, these incentives don’t work to increase prosperity. Click here for a summary of the peer-reviewed academic research that examines the local impact of targeted tax incentives from an empirical point of view. “Peer-reviewed” means these studies were stripped of identification of authorship and then subjected to critique by other economists, and were able to pass that review.

Third: Wichita leaders often complain that Wichita doesn’t have enough “tools in the toolbox” to compete effectively in economic development. The city’s document lists the tools the city wants the legislature to protect:

  • GWEDC/GO WICHITA: Support existing statutory records exemptions
  • Industrial Revenue Bond tax abatements (IRBX)
  • Economic Development Exemptions (EDX)
  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
  • Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) Bonds
  • Community Improvement Districts (CID)
  • Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) tax rebates
  • Special Assessment financing for neighborhood infrastructure projects, facade improvements and abatement of asbestos and lead-based paint.
  • State Historic Preservation Tax Credits (HPTC)
  • State administration of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC)
  • High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP) tax credits
  • Investments in Major Projects and Comprehensive Training (IMPACT) grants
  • Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program
  • Economic Revitalization and Reinvestment Act bonding for major aviation and wind energy projects
  • Kansas Industrial Training (KIT) and Kansas Industrial Retraining (KIR) grants
  • Network Kansas tax credit funding
  • State support for Innovation Commercialization Centers in Commerce Department budget

That’s quite a list of incentive programs. Some of these are so valuable that Kansas business leaders told the governor that they value these incentives more than they would value elimination of the state corporate income tax.

Agenda: GWEDC/GO WICHITA: Support existing statutory records exemptions

This may refer to the city wanting to prevent these agencies from having to fulfill records requests under the Kansas Open Records Act. (If so, I wonder why the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation was left off.) City leaders say Wichita has an open and transparent government. But Kansas has a weak records law, and Wichita doesn’t want to follow the law, as weak as it is. This is an insult to citizens who are not able to access how their taxes are spent. For more on this issue, see Open Records in Kansas.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council opposes any legislative attempts to restrict the taxing and spending authority of local governments.

As Wichita city leaders prepare to ask for a higher sales tax rate in Wichita, we can hope that the legislature will save us from ourselves. At best, we can hope that the legislature requires that all tax rate increases be put to popular vote.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council opposes any restrictions on the use of state and/or local public monies to provide information to our citizens and to advocate on their behalf.

This is the taxpayer-funded lobbying issue. As you can see in this document, many of the things that Wichita city leaders believe people want, or believe that will be good for their constituents, are actually harmful. Additionally, many of the methods the city uses to engage citizens to determine their needs are faulty. See In Wichita, there’s no option for dissent for an example. Also, see Wichita survey questions based on false premises.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council supports the current framework for local elections, continuing the current February/April schedule of local primary and general elections, as well as the local option allowing non-partisan elections.

The present system of non-partisan elections held in the spring results in low voter turnout that lets special interest groups exercise greater influence than would be likely in fall elections. See my legislative testimony in Kansas spring elections should be moved.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council supports the development of appropriate state and local incentives to nurture and preserve arts activity throughout the City of Wichita and the State of Kansas.

Translation: The city knows better than you how to provide for your entertainment and cultural edification, and will continue to tax you for your own benefit.

Agenda: Public support and awareness of the possibility of passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City and Wichita/Newton has grown over the past two years.

I’m not sure where the claim of public support and awareness growing comes from, but people are definitely not informed about the economics of passenger rail. In 2010, when the state rolled out several plans for this passenger rail service link, I reported as follows:

Expansion of rail service in Kansas is controversial, at least to some people, in that any form of rail service requires taxpayer involvement to pay for the service. First, taxpayer funding is required to pay for the start-up costs for the service. There are four alternatives being presented for rail service expansion in Kansas, and the start-up costs range from $156 million up to $479 million.

After this, taxpayer subsidies will be required every year to pay for the ongoing operational costs of providing passenger rail service. The four alternatives would require an annual operating subsidy ranging from $2.1 million up to $6.1 million. Taking the operating subsidy and dividing by the estimated number of passengers for each alternative, the per-passenger subsidy ranges from $35 up to $97 for every passenger who uses the service.

It would be one thing if tickets sales and other revenue sources such as sale of food and beverage paid for most of the cost of providing passenger rail service, and taxpayers were being asked to provide a little boost to get the service started and keep it running until it can sustain itself. But that’s not the case. Taxpayers are being asked to fully fund the start-up costs. Then, they’re expected to pay the majority of ongoing expenses, apparently forever.

Also, in Amtrak, taxpayer burden, should not be expanded in Kansas I reported on the Heartland Flyer route specifically. This is from 2010, but I doubt much has changed since then.

For the Heartland Flyer route, which runs from Fort Worth to Oklahoma, and is proposed by taxpayer-funded rail supporters to extend into Kansas through Wichita and Kansas City, we find these statistics about the finances of this operation:

Amtrak reports a profit/loss per passenger mile on this route of $-.02, meaning that each passenger, per mile traveled, resulted in a loss of two cents. Taxpayers pay for that.

But this number, as bad as it is, is totally misleading. Subsidyscope calculated a different number. This number, unlike the numbers Amrak publishes, includes depreciation, ancillary businesses and overhead costs — the types of costs that private sector businesses bear and report. When these costs are included, the Heartland Flyer route results in a loss of 13 cents per passenger mile, or a loss of $26.76 per passenger for the trip from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.

Asking the taxpayers of Wichita to pay subsidies each time someone boards an Amtrak train: This doesn’t sound like economic development, much less a program that people living in a free society should be forced to fund.

Wichita City Hall.

Wichita’s legislative agenda favors government, not citizens

city-council-chambers-sign-small

This week the Wichita City Council will consider its legislative agenda. This document contains many items that are contrary to economic freedom, capitalism, limited government, and individual liberty. Yet, Wichitans pay taxes to have someone in Topeka promote this agenda. I’ve excerpted the document here, and following are some of the most problematic items.

Agenda: Existing economic development tools are essential for the continued growth and prosperity of our community.

First. The premise of this item is incorrect. We don’t have growth and prosperity in Wichita. Compared to a broad group of peer metropolitan areas, Wichita performs very poorly. See For Wichita’s economic development machinery, failure for details.

Second: In general, these incentives don’t work to increase prosperity. Click here for a summary of the peer-reviewed academic research that examines the local impact of targeted tax incentives from an empirical point of view. “Peer-reviewed” means these studies were stripped of identification of authorship and then subjected to critique by other economists, and were able to pass that review.

Third: Wichita leaders often complain that Wichita doesn’t have enough “tools in the toolbox” to compete effectively in economic development. The city’s document lists the tools the city wants the legislature to protect:

  • GWEDC/GO WICHITA: Support existing statutory records exemptions
  • Industrial Revenue Bond tax abatements (IRBX)
  • Economic Development Exemptions (EDX)
  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
  • Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) Bonds
  • Community Improvement Districts (CID)
  • Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) tax rebates
  • Special Assessment financing for neighborhood infrastructure projects, facade improvements and abatement of asbestos and lead-based paint.
  • State Historic Preservation Tax Credits (HPTC)
  • State administration of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC)
  • High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP) tax credits
  • Investments in Major Projects and Comprehensive Training (IMPACT) grants
  • Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program
  • Economic Revitalization and Reinvestment Act bonding for major aviation and wind energy projects
  • Kansas Industrial Training (KIT) and Kansas Industrial Retraining (KIR) grants
  • Network Kansas tax credit funding
  • State support for Innovation Commercialization Centers in Commerce Department budget

That’s quite a list of incentive programs. Some of these are so valuable that Kansas business leaders told the governor that they value these incentives more than they would value elimination of the state corporate income tax.

Agenda: GWEDC/GO WICHITA: Support existing statutory records exemptions

This may refer to the city wanting to prevent these agencies from having to fulfill records requests under the Kansas Open Records Act. (If so, I wonder why the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation was left off.) City leaders say Wichita has an open and transparent government. But Kansas has a weak records law, and Wichita doesn’t want to follow the law, as weak as it is. This is an insult to citizens who are not able to access how their taxes are spent. For more on this issue, see Open Records in Kansas.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council opposes any legislative attempts to restrict the taxing and spending authority of local governments.

As Wichita city leaders prepare to ask for a higher sales tax rate in Wichita, we can hope that the legislature will save us from ourselves. At best, we can hope that the legislature requires that all tax rate increases be put to popular vote.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council opposes any restrictions on the use of state and/or local public monies to provide information to our citizens and to advocate on their behalf.

This is the taxpayer-funded lobbying issue. As you can see in this document, many of the things that Wichita city leaders believe people want, or believe that will be good for their constituents, are actually harmful. Additionally, many of the methods the city uses to engage citizens to determine their needs are faulty. See In Wichita, there’s no option for dissent for an example. Also, see Wichita survey questions based on false premises.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council supports the current framework for local elections, continuing the current February/April schedule of local primary and general elections, as well as the local option allowing non-partisan elections.

The present system of non-partisan elections held in the spring results in low voter turnout that lets special interest groups exercise greater influence than would be likely in fall elections. See my legislative testimony in Kansas spring elections should be moved.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council supports the development of appropriate state and local incentives to nurture and preserve arts activity throughout the City of Wichita and the State of Kansas.

Translation: The city knows better than you how to provide for your entertainment and cultural edification, and will continue to tax you for your own benefit.

Agenda: Public support and awareness of the possibility of passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City and Wichita/Newton has grown over the past two years.

I’m not sure where the claim of public support and awareness growing comes from, but people are definitely not informed about the economics of passenger rail. In 2010, when the state rolled out several plans for this passenger rail service link, I reported as follows:

Expansion of rail service in Kansas is controversial, at least to some people, in that any form of rail service requires taxpayer involvement to pay for the service. First, taxpayer funding is required to pay for the start-up costs for the service. There are four alternatives being presented for rail service expansion in Kansas, and the start-up costs range from $156 million up to $479 million.

After this, taxpayer subsidies will be required every year to pay for the ongoing operational costs of providing passenger rail service. The four alternatives would require an annual operating subsidy ranging from $2.1 million up to $6.1 million. Taking the operating subsidy and dividing by the estimated number of passengers for each alternative, the per-passenger subsidy ranges from $35 up to $97 for every passenger who uses the service.

It would be one thing if tickets sales and other revenue sources such as sale of food and beverage paid for most of the cost of providing passenger rail service, and taxpayers were being asked to provide a little boost to get the service started and keep it running until it can sustain itself. But that’s not the case. Taxpayers are being asked to fully fund the start-up costs. Then, they’re expected to pay the majority of ongoing expenses, apparently forever.

Also, in Amtrak, taxpayer burden, should not be expanded in Kansas I reported on the Heartland Flyer route specifically. This is from 2010, but I doubt much has changed since then.

For the Heartland Flyer route, which runs from Fort Worth to Oklahoma, and is proposed by taxpayer-funded rail supporters to extend into Kansas through Wichita and Kansas City, we find these statistics about the finances of this operation:

Amtrak reports a profit/loss per passenger mile on this route of $-.02, meaning that each passenger, per mile traveled, resulted in a loss of two cents. Taxpayers pay for that.

But this number, as bad as it is, is totally misleading. Subsidyscope calculated a different number. This number, unlike the numbers Amrak publishes, includes depreciation, ancillary businesses and overhead costs — the types of costs that private sector businesses bear and report. When these costs are included, the Heartland Flyer route results in a loss of 13 cents per passenger mile, or a loss of $26.76 per passenger for the trip from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.

Asking the taxpayers of Wichita to pay subsidies each time someone boards an Amtrak train: This doesn’t sound like economic development, much less a program that people living in a free society should be forced to fund.

Wichita economic development on tap

Wichita city hall

The role of government in economic development should be limited to that of providing the framework necessary for equally protecting the rights and property of all citizens, through the rule of law, and not by acting as a participant in any activity that places it in a position of granting a competitive advantage to one group of citizens to the exclusion of all others. When government becomes an active participant in economic activity, it abdicates its proper role of providing the legal framework and physical security that is essential for natural coercive-free trade to flourish.
— John Todd

This week the Wichita City Council will consider another economic development incentive in the form of property tax abatements, this time to a company described as a “frequent flyer” in this regard. The council ought to take a few moments to explain to citizens why this action is necessary, if in fact it is.

The company requesting the tax breaks is Hijos, LLC/JR Custom Metal Products, Inc. This company has received several incentives like the one it is requesting this week. The incentive being considered is under the Economic Development Tax Exemption (“EDX”) program, which allows the city to forgive the payment of property taxes. In many instances, the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds is required by law in order to achieve tax forbearance. The EDX program does away with the often meaningless issuance of bonds, and lets the city do, in a streamlined fashion, what the applicant company wants: Permission to skip the payment of property taxes.

Based on a formula the city has established to guide the awarding of economic development strategies, this company qualifies to have 46 percent of the property taxes forgiven. Not 45 percent, and not 47 percent. Precisely 46 percent. This reminds me of the old saw that economists use a decimal point to remind us they have a sense of humor.

There are a number of questions that the city council ought to answer and explain to citizens before it grants this special treatment.

1. Since the incentive being considered is in the form of reduced property taxes, does this mean that property taxes in Wichita are a barrier to investment? A related question is whether the tax breaks are required to make the project economically feasible, or does the company simply want to avoid its share of the tax burden?

2. What distinguishes this company and these jobs from others that will be created this month in Wichita? Why do these jobs require a subsidy, and so many others do not?

3. When granting tax breaks like this, how does the city council explain that the tax burden is not being applied fairly and evenly to everyone? Related: If the theory of taxation is ________ (fill in the blank with your favorite theory), how does this tax exemption coexist with that theory?

4. Has the city checked with the overlapping jurisdictions that will be affected by the tax abatements? These would be Sedgwick County, the Wichita school district, and the State of Kansas. When Wichita grants a tax break, it also abates these taxes, without advice or consent. Notice is required, however.

5. If we really believe in this benefit to the city (and similar benefits to the county, school district, and state) as proclaimed by the cost-benefit studies, why doesn’t the city make more investments like this? Surely there are other worthy companies could expand if not for the burden of property taxes. And that’s what this contemplated action means, if we are to believe it is anything but cronyism and business welfare: Property taxes in Wichita are what prevented this company from expanding. Erase 46 percent of the company’s property tax burden, and it is able to make new capital investment and jobs.

If it really is so easy to promote economic growth and job creation, we should be doing things like this at every city council meeting. Several times each meeting, don’t you think?

I also wonder about companies that made expansions as did this applicant company, but did not ask the city for incentives. What is their secret?

The reality is that these economic development incentives don’t work, if we are willing to consider the effect on everyone in the region instead of just this applicant company, and also if we are willing to consider the long-term effects instead of only the immediate.

Peer-reviewed research on economic development incentives — this is the conclusion of all the studies — find business location decisions to be favorably influenced by targeted tax incentives. That’s not a surprise. But the research also finds that the benefits to the communities that offered them were less than their costs.

Wichita and Peer Job Growth, Total Employment

If peer-reviewed research is not convincing, let’s take a look at the record of Wichita.
Here is a chart of job growth for Wichita, the nation, and our Visioneering peers. (Click it for a larger version, or click here for the interactive visualization, or here to watch a video.) The data shows that Wichita hasn’t been doing well.

So if we believe that an active role for government in economic development is best, we have to also recognize that our efforts aren’t working.

Wichita city council advances economic development

city-council-chambers-sign-b

Can you fill in the blank?

Wichita City Council says: “By allowing Cessna to avoid paying property taxes, we are showing our support for the company.”

“By requiring other companies to pay their full share of property taxes, we are showing our ________ for these companies.”

Yesterday’s action taken by the Wichita City Council regarding economic development incentives granted to Cessna Aircraft Company through the Industrial Revenue Bond program may be confusing to some people. The Wichita Eagle is not helping citizens understand what is happening when the city issues IRBs. The headline and lede of the article illustrate: “Wichita approves $40.2 million in industrial revenue bonds for Cessna improvements.”

The bonds are a sideshow and not economically relevant. In fact, Wichita has a related program called EDX that implements the benefits of IRBs without the charade of a company buying its own bonds. The Eagle gets around to this, explaining: “Industrial revenue bonds are issued by governments without any taxpayer liability, a type of municipal bond repaid from the proceeds of bond sales. They do not affect the tax revenue or the credit of the issuing governmental entity. The company will buy its own bonds.”

This explanation isn’t accurate, however. IRBs do affect the tax revenue of the issuing governmental entity, because property purchased under the program is exempt from property taxation, and often sales tax. The article does finally explain why Cessna is applying for the IRBs: “The value of the abated taxes could be as much as $37,197 for the first year.”

That — or something like it — should have been the headline to this article. The fact that Kansas law grants tax abatements for bond-purchased property is the only reason that Cessna applied for the IRB program. As Wichita City Council Member and Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) explained from the bench and as quoted by the Wichita Eagle: “I’d like to confirm to the public that what we’re doing is voting to allow Cessna to purchase $40 million of their own bonds for all these improvements.”

I’m glad he understands. We still have to endure the spectacle of a governing body voting to allow a company to issue bonds that the company will purchase from itself. Perhaps someday we will have laws that allow a company to issue debt and purchase that same debt without governmental approval.

In remarks from the bench, several council members thanked Cessna for its commitment to Wichita. Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) thanked Cessna for showing their commitment to Wichita, “as they have for decades.” I wonder: What do other business owners in Wichita who have to pay their full share of taxes think about Cessna’s commitment to Wichita?

Clendenin also expressed appreciation for their charitable nature and their “humongous” heart. I wonder: Why doesn’t Cessna pay the same taxes that everyone else has to pay so that we may keep more of our own money to be charitable as we see fit?

In their remarks, no member of the Wichita City Council made the argument that is often used to justify economic development incentives: economic necessity. No one proffered that absent these tax breaks, Cessna would be unwilling or unable to make this investment. No one wondered that given that Cessna is such a good corporate citizen, why does it ask to be excused from shouldering the same tax burden that almost everyone else has to bear?

No one spoke on behalf of the other business firms in Wichita that, when wanting to make an investment to expand and hire people, are not able to qualify for the type of favored treatment that companies like Cessna receive.

No one offered any evidence that these jobs are somehow different from other jobs in Wichita that area created every day without companies receiving special tax treatment.

No one argued that the tax burden should be applied fairly and evenly to everyone.

No one made the moral case for free enterprise — rather than cronyism and business welfare — as the way to grow and diversify the Wichita economy.

FITB - Cessna property tax abatements

Spirit Aerosystems applies for tax relief

Wichita City HallThe Wichita City Council will consider excepting a large company from property and sales taxation. Is this action wise for the city’s economy?

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider granting Industrial Revenue Bonds to Spirit Aerosystems, the city’s largest employer.

The amount of the proposed bond issue is $49,000,000. The purpose of the IRBs is to allow the recipient to escape the payment of property taxes, and often sales taxes too. This action by the council may exempt up to $49,000,000 of property from taxation, both ad valorem (property) and sales. A 100 percent exemption is proposed for five years, plus a second five years if conditions are met.

The city uses benefit-cost ratios to justify its expenditures on economic development incentives. The reasoning is that by spending cash (such as on a forgivable loan) or forgiving taxes (as in the current case), the city (and county, state, and school district) gain even more than they give up. Generally, Wichita requires a benefit-cost ratio of 1.3 to 1 or better, although there are many exceptions and loopholes that are used if a potential deal doesn’t meet this criteria.

The council’s agenda packet gives benefit-cost ratios for the various taxing authorities, but it doesn’t list the dollar amounts of the tax abatements. Usually these dollar amounts are supplied.

One of the taxing jurisdictions affected by this proposed action is USD 260, the Derby school district, as the property is within its boundaries. In this case, the benefit-cost ratio given for the Derby school district is 1.00 to 1. Since the City of Wichita requires 1.3 to 1 or better for itself, by what right does the city impose a burden on a school district that it would not accept for itself? (The tax rate for Derby schools is 59.3 mills; while for the City of Wichita the rate is 32.5 mills.)

It’s important to note that the benefits claimed from the IRBs are in the form of increased taxes paid.

The harm of this incentive is that the taxes not paid by Spirit Aerosystems are shifted to other taxpayers. The money these taxpayers would have spent or invested is instead spent on taxes. Instead of people and businesses firms deciding how to spend or invest, Wichita City Hall does this for them. This brings into play a whole host of problems. These include the deficit of knowledge needed to make good investment decisions, decisions being made for political rather than economic reasons, and the corrosive influence of cronyism.

There is something the city could to do alleviate this problem. Would the city consider reducing its spending by the amount of tax being abated? In this case, the cost of these tax abatements will not be born by others.

Wichita’s management of incentives

Recent reporting told us what some have suspected: The city doesn’t manage its economic development efforts. One might have thought that the city was keeping records on the number of jobs created on at least an annual basis for management purposes, and would have these figures ready for immediate review. But apparently that isn’t the case.

We need to recognize that because the city does not have at its immediate disposal the statistics about job creation, it is evident that the city is not managing this effort. Or, maybe it just doesn’t care. This is a management problem at the highest level. Shouldn’t we develop our management skills of tax abatements and other economic development incentives before we grant new?

Wichita’s results in economic development

Wichita and Peer Job Growth, Total Employment
Despite the complaints of many that Wichita doesn’t have a rich treasure chest of incentives, the city has been granting tax abatements for years. What is the result? Not very good. Wichita is in last place in job creation (and other measures of economic growth) among our Visioneering peer cities. See here Wichita and Visioneering peers job growth.

If we believe that incentives have a place, then we have to ask why Wichita has done so poorly.

Particularly relevant to this applicant today: Boeing, its predecessor, received many millions in incentives. After the announcement of Boeing leaving in 2012, a new report contained this: “‘They weren’t totally honest with us,’ said [Wichita Mayor Carl] Brewer of Boeing, which has benefited from about $4 billion of municipal bonds and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax relief. ‘We thought the relationship was a lot stronger.’” Has anything changed?

A diversified economy

wichita-detroit-job-industry-concentration
The mayor and council members have said that we need to diversify our economy. This action contemplated this week reduces diversification. It gives special benefits worth millions to the largest company in our most concentrated industry. The costs of these incentives are born by other companies, especially entrepreneurs and start up companies. It’s these entrepreneurs and young companies that must be the source of diversity and dynamism in our economy.

(If we really believe that these incentives have no cost, why don’t we offer them more often? Think of how many companies go out of business each month. Many of them could be saved with just a little infusion of cash. Why doesn’t the city rescue these firms with incentives?)

Do incentives work?

The uncontroverted, peer-reviewed research tells us that targeted economic development incentives don’t work, if we consider the entire economy. See: Research on economic development incentives. Some of the conclusions of the studies listed there include:

No evidence of incentive impact on manufacturing value-added or unemployment”

Small reduction in employment by businesses which received Ohio’s tax incentives”

No evidence of large firm impacts on local economy”

No permanent employment increase across a quasi-experimental panel of all Cabela’s stores”

“Employment impact of large firms is less than gross job creation (by about 70%)”

These research programs illustrate the fallacy of the seen and the unseen. It is easy to see the jobs being created by economic development incentives. It’s undeniable that jobs are created at firms that receive incentives, at least most of the time. But these jobs are easy to see. It’s easy for news reporters to find the newly-hired and grateful workers, or to show video footage of a new manufacturing plant.

But it’s very difficult to find specific instances of the harm that government intervention produces. It is, generally, dispersed. People who lose their jobs usually don’t know the root cause of why they are now unemployed. Businesses whose sales decline often can’t figure out why.

But uncontroverted evidence tells us this is true: These incentives, along with other forms of government interventionism, do more harm than good.

Can officials manage growth?

Alan Peters and Peter Fisher wrote an academic paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives, published in Journal of the American Planning Association. 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.

In 2008 Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit investigated spending on economic development. It found about the same as did Peters and Fisher.

Going forward

Politicians and bureaucrats promote programs like this tax abatement as targeted investment in our economic future. They believe that they have the ability to select which companies are worthy of public investment, and which are not. It’s a form of centralized planning by the state that shapes the future direction of the Wichita and Kansas economy.

These targeted economic development efforts fail for several reasons. First is the knowledge problem, in that government simply does not know which companies are worthy of public investment. This lack of knowledge, however, does not stop governments from creating policies for the awarding of incentives. This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led to companies receiving grants or escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form.

Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy

Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business is critical of this approach to economic development. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and 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 expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

In the same paper, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

In making his argument, Hall cites research on the futility of chasing large employers as an economic development strategy: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. To quote from the most comprehensive study: ‘The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.’”

There is also substantial research that is it young firms — distinguished from small business in general — that are the engine of economic growth for the future. We can’t detect which of the young firms will blossom into major success — or even small-scale successes. The only way to nurture them is through economic policies that all companies can benefit from. Reducing tax rates is an example of such a policy. Abating taxes for specific companies through programs like IRBs is an example of precisely the wrong policy.

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach. We need to advocate for policies — at Wichita City Hall, at the Sedgwick County Commission, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. We need political leaders who have the wisdom to realize this, and the courage to act appropriately. Which is to say, to not act in most circumstances.

Wichita economic development not being managed

The Wichita Eagle has reported that Wichita has increased its granting of property tax exemptions in recent years. (Wichita doubles property tax exemptions for businesses, October 20, 2013) Buried in the story is the really important aspect of public policy. In his reporting, Bill Wilson wrote:

The Eagle asked the city last week for an accounting of the jobs created over the past decade by the tax abatements, a research project that urban development staffers have yet to complete.

“It will take us some time to pull together all the agenda reports on the five-year reviews going back to 2003. That same research will also reveal any abatements that were ‘retooled’ as a result of the five-year reviews,” city urban development director Allen Bell said. “I can tell you that none of the abatements were terminated.”

wichita-economic-development

One might have thought that the city was keeping records on the number of jobs created on at least an annual basis for management purposes, and would have these figures ready for immediate review. But apparently that isn’t the case.

We need to recognize that because the city does not have at its immediate disposal the statistics about job creation, it is evident that the city is not managing this effort. Or, maybe it just doesn’t care.

This is a management problem at the highest level. In January when the city council awarded city manager Robert Layton a large raise, the praise from council members was effusive. This means one of several things: (a) that the mayor and city council have not asked for these job creation numbers, or (b) city council members don’t care about the numbers, or (c) they’re not interested in knowing the numbers. There could be other explanations, but all point to a lack of bureaucratic management and political oversight.

I wonder why the city officials didn’t explain that according to their analysis and way of thinking, these tax abatements don’t have a cost. When presented to the council, each abatement opportunity is generally accompanied by a benefit-cost analysis that purports to show that the city, county, school district, and state gain more in tax revenue than they forego from the abatement. Does this extra government revenue create jobs?

In any case, the number of jobs stemming from our economic development efforts is small. In his State of the City Address for 2012, Mayor Carl Brewer said that the city’s efforts in economic development had created “almost 1000 jobs.” While that sounds like a lot of jobs, that number deserves context. According to estimates from the Kansas Department of Labor, the civilian labor force in the City of Wichita for December 2011 was 192,876, with 178,156 people at work. This means that the 1,000 jobs created accounted for from 0.52 percent to 0.56 percent of our city’s workforce, depending on the denominator used. This minuscule number is dwarfed by the normal ebb and flow of other economic activity. (The mayor didn’t mention job creation figures in his 2013 address.)

The case of InfoNXX

Here’s an example of property tax abatements granted for which the city received little in return. In 2005, with great fanfare, the city announced that its economic development recruitment efforts had landed InfoNXX, an operator of call centers. The council agenda report of November 15, 2005 recommended that the council approve a letter of intent for tax abatements. The report stated this:

The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition has worked with a national site consultant to recruit a new company to Wichita. InfoNXX, Inc., major provider of telephone directory assistance and enhanced information services to leading communications companies, businesses and consumers located principally in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Italy. As a result of the recruitment effort, InfoNXX will locate a large customer service center in the former MCI Building, near Rock Road and K-96 in northeast Wichita, and hire over 900 customer care representatives. As an economic development incentive, the City offered InfoNXX Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs) and property tax abatement on equipment and furnishings, subject to City Council approval.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Approve a Letter of Intent to InfoNXX Inc. for Industrial Revenue Bonds in an amount not-to-exceed $6 million, subject to the Letter of Intent conditions, for a term of six-months, approve a 100% tax abatement on all bond-financed property for an initial five-year period plus an additional five years following City Council review, and authorize the application for a sales tax exemption on bond-financed property.

On December 13, 2005 the council approved the ordinance granting the tax abatements.

Fast forward to the February 15, 2011 council agenda packet. The five year initial property tax abatement granted in 2005 was over, and the council could extend it for another five years if the committed goals had been met. The agenda report gave this summary for capital investment: “Purchase furniture, fixtures and equipment for a capital investment of $6 million.” Results, according to city documents, were “Invested $7,331,379 million [sic] in FF&E.”

For job creation, the 2005 commitment was “Create 944 new jobs in five years.” Results, according to city documents, were “Created 870 new jobs; current job level is 185.”

InfoNXX was short of its job creation commitments, but the city used a loophole to grant a one-year extension of the tax abatement. That one-year extension was never the subject of further consideration, as InfoNXX changed its name, and in January 2012 closed the Wichita facility that was the subject of these incentives.

It’s unfortunate for Wichita and the InfoNXX employees that the facility closed. The important public policy consideration is that we learn from this. So, when Wichita counts the number of jobs created, does it adjust for short-lived jobs like these?

The answer, I believe, is no. We don’t adjust our job creation statistics, and we don’t learn.

gwedc-office-operations

In fact, we don’t even keep current. GWEDC — that’s the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition credited with recruiting InfoNXX to Wichita — doesn’t update its website to reflect current conditions. InfoNXX closed its facility in Wichita in 2012, and as we saw above, city documents said that at its peak the company employed 870 in Wichita. As of today, here’s what GWEDC says on a page titled Office Operations:

Wichita hosts over a dozen customer service and processing centers – including a USPS Remote Encoding Center (985 employees), InfoNXX (950), T-Mobile (900), Royal Caribbean (700), Convergys (600), Protection One (540), Bank of America (315) and Cox Communications (230.) (emphasis added)

So the official Wichita-area economic development agency proclaims the existence of a company that no longer exists in Wichita, and claims a job count that the company never achieved. This is beyond careless negligence. This is malpractice.

The USPS Remote Encoding Center mentioned? It’s being closed this year.

Going forward

In his State of the City address for 2013 the Wichita mayor lamented the fact that Wichita has no dedicated funding source for economic development. It’s likely that Wichitans will be asked to approve increased taxes for economic development, as well as for many other things we want like a new central library, new water and sewer pipes, improved public transit, and downtown development.

But before Wichita officials ask for more taxes so there can be more spending, they need to convince us that they care about measuring and managing results. They haven’t shown this so far.

Research on economic development incentives

symbols-going-upwardsHere’s a summary of the peer-reviewed academic research that examines the local impact of targeted tax incentives from an empirical point of view. “Peer-reviewed” means these studies were stripped of identification of authorship and then subjected to critique by other economists, and were able to pass that review.

Ambrosius (1989). National study of development incentives, 1969 — 1985.
Finding: No evidence of incentive impact on manufacturing value-added or unemployment, thus suggesting that tax incentives were ineffective.

Trogan (1999). National study of state economic growth and development programs, 1979 — 1995.
Finding: General fiscal policy found to be mildly effective, while targeted incentives reduced economic performance (as measured by per capita income).

Gabe and Kraybill (2002). 366 Ohio firms, 1993 — 1995.
Finding: Small reduction in employment by businesses which received Ohio’s tax incentives.

Fox and Murray (2004). Panel study of impacts of entry by 109 large firms in the 1980s.
Finding: No evidence of large firm impacts on local economy.

Edmiston (2004). Panel study of large firm entrance in Georgia, 1984 — 1998
Finding: Employment impact of large firms is less than gross job creation (by about 70%), and thus tax incentives are unlikely to be efficacious.

Hicks (2004). Panel study of gaming casinos in 15 counties (matched to 15 non-gambling counties).
Finding: No employment or income impacts associated with the opening of a large gambling facility. There is significant employment adjustment across industries.

LaFaive and Hicks (2005). Panel study of Michigan’s MEGA tax incentives, 1995 — 2004.
Finding: Tax incentives had no impact on targeted industries (wholesale and manufacturing), but did lead to a transient increase in construction employment at the cost of roughly $125,000 per job.

Hicks (2007a). Panel study of California’s EDA grants to Wal-Mart in the 1990s.
Finding: The receipt of a grant did increase the likelihood that Wal-Mart would locate within a county (about $1.2 million generated a 1% increase in the probability a county would receive a new Wal-Mart), but this had no effect on retail employment overall.

Hicks (2007b). Panel study of entry by large retailer (Cabela’s).
Finding: No permanent employment increase across a quasi-experimental panel of all Cabela’s stores from 1998 to 2003.

(Based on Figure 8.1: Empirical Studies of Large Firm Impacts and Tax Incentive Efficacy, in Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It, Russell S. Sobel, editor. Available here.)

In discussing this research, the authors of Unleashing Capitalism explained:

Two important empirical questions are at the heart of the debate over targeted tax incentives. The first is whether or not tax incentives actually influence firms’ location choices. The second, and perhaps more important question, is whether, in combination with firms’ location decisions, tax incentives actually lead to improved local economic performance.

We begin by noting that businesses do, in fact, seem to be responsive to state and local economic development incentives. … All of the aforementioned studies, which find business location decisions to be favorably influenced by targeted tax incentives, also conclude that the benefits to the communities that offered them were less than their costs.

References:

Ambrosius, Margery Marzahn. 1989. The Effectiveness of State Economic Development Policies: A Time-Series Analysis. Western Political Quarterly 42:283-300.
Trogen, Paul. Which Economic Development Policies Work: Determinants of State Per Capita Income. 1999. International Journal of Economic Development 1.3: 256-279.
Gabe, Todd M., and David S. Kraybill. 2002. The Effect of State Economic Development Incentives on Employment Growth of Establishments. Journal of Regional Science 42(4): 703-730.
Fox, William F., and Matthew Murray. 2004. Do Economic Effects Justify the Use of Fiscal Incentives? Southern Economic Journal 71(1): 78-92.
Edmiston, Kelly D. 2004. The Net Effects of Large Plant Locations and Expansions on County Employment. Journal of Regional Science 44(2): 289-319.
Hicks, Michael J. 2004. A Quasi-Experimental Estimate of the Impact of Casino Gambling on the Regional Economy. Proceedings of the 93rd Annual Meeting of the National Tax Association.
LeFaivre, Michael and Michael Hicks 2005. MEGA: A Retrospective Assessment. Michigan:Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Hicks, Michael J. 2007a. The Local Economic Impact of Wal-Mart. New York: Cambria Press.
Hicks, Michael J. 2007b. A Quasi-Experimental Test of Large Retail Stores’ Impacts on Regional Labor Markets: The Case of Cabela’s Retail Outlets. Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy, 37 (2):116-122.

Ambassador Hotel Industrial Revenue Bonds

The City of Wichita should not approve a measure that is not needed, that does not conform to the city’s policy (based on relevant information not disclosed to citizens), and which is steeped in cronyism.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider authorizing industrial revenue bonds (IRB) for the Ambassador Hotel project in downtown Wichita.

In most cases, the major benefit of IRBs is exemption from paying property taxes. Since the Ambassador Hotel is located within a tax increment financing (TIF) district, it’s not eligible for property tax abatement. (Because of the TIF, the developers have already achieved the diversion of the majority of their property tax payments away from the public treasury for their own benefit.)

Instead, in this case the benefit of the IRBs, according to city documents, is an estimated $703,017 in sales tax that the hotel won’t have to pay.

The Ambassador Hotel has benefited from many millions of taxpayer subsidy, both direct and indirect. So it’s a good question as to whether the hotel deserves another $703,017 from taxpayers.

But if we follow the city’s economic development policy, the city should not authorize the IRBs. Here’s why.

The Sedgwick County/City of Wichita Economic Development Policy states: “The ratio of public benefits to public costs, each on a present value basis, should not be less than 1.3 to one for both the general and debt service funds for the City of Wichita; for Sedgwick County should not be less than 1.3 overall.”

The policy also states that if the 1.3 to one threshold is not met, the incentive could nonetheless be granted if two of three mitigating factors are found to apply. But there is a limit, according to the policy: “Regardless of mitigating factors, the ratio cannot be less than 1.0:1.”

In September 2011 the city council passed a multi-layer incentive package for Douglas Place, now better known as the Ambassador Hotel and Block One. Here’s what the material accompanying the letter of intent that the council passed on August 9, 2011 held: “As part of the evaluation team process, the WSU Center for Economic Development and Business Research studied the fiscal impact of the Douglas Place project on the City’s General Fund, taking into account the requested incentives and the direct, indirect and induced generation of new tax revenue. The study shows a ratio of benefits to costs for the City’s General Fund of 2.62 to one.

The same 2.62 to one ratio is cited as a positive factor in the material prepared by the city for Tuesday’s meeting.

So far, so good. 2.62 is greater than the 1.3 that city policy requires. But the policy applies to both the general fund and the debt service fund. So what is the impact to the debt service fund? Here’s the complete story from the WSU CEDBR report (the report may be viewed at Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research Study of Ambassador Hotel):

                                   Cost-benefit ratio
City Fiscal Impacts General Fund         2.63
City Fiscal Impacts Debt Service Fund    0.83
City Fiscal Impacts                      0.90

We can see that the impact on the debt service fund is negative, and the impact in total is negative. (A cost-benefit ratio of less than one is “negative.”)

Furthermore, the cost of the Ambassador Hotel subsidy program to the general fund is $290,895, while the cost to the debt service fund is $7,077,831 — a cost factor 23 times as large. That’s why even though the general fund impact is positive, the negative impact of the much larger debt service fund cost causes the overall impact to be unfavorable.

The city didn’t make this negative information available to the public in 2011, and it isn’t making it available now. It was made public only after I requested the report from WSU CEDBR. It is not known whether council members were aware of this information when they voted in 2011.

So the matter before the council this week doesn’t meet the city’s economic development policy standards. It’s not even close.

There are, however, other factors that may allow the city to grant an incentive: “In addition to the above provisions, the City Council and/or County Commission may consider the following information when deciding whether to approve an incentive.” A list of 12 factors follows, some so open-ended that the city can find a way to approve almost any incentive it wants.

A note: The policy cited above was passed in August 2012, after the Ambassador Hotel incentives package passed. But the 1.3 to one threshold was de facto policy before then, and whether a proposed incentive package met that standard was often a concern for council members, according to meeting minutes.

Timing and campaign contributions

Citizens might wonder why industrial revenue bonds are being issued for a hotel that’s complete and has been operating for over three months. The truly cynical might wonder why this matter is being handled just two weeks after the city’s general election on April 2, in which four city council positions were on the ballot. Would citizens disagree with giving a hotel $703,017 in sales tax forgiveness? Would that have an effect on the election?

Campaign contributions received by James Clendinin from parties associated with Key Construction. Clendenin will vote tomorrow whether to grant sales tax forgiveness worth $703,017 to some of these donors.Campaign contributions received by James Clendinin from parties associated with Key Construction. Clendenin will vote tomorrow whether to grant sales tax forgiveness worth $703,017 to some of these donors. (Click for larger view.)

Combine this timing with the practice of part of the hotel’s ownership team of engaging in cronyism at the highest level. Dave Burk and the principals and executives of Key Construction have a history of making campaign contributions to almost all city council candidates. Then the council rewards them with overpriced no-bid contracts, sweetheart lease deals, tax abatements, rebates of taxes their customers pay, and other benefits. The largesse dished out for the Ambassador Hotel is detailed here. This hotel, however, was not the first — or the last time — these parties have benefited from council action.

Campaign contributions received by Lavonta Williams from parties associated with Key Construction. Williams will vote tomorrow whether to grant sales tax forgiveness worth $703,017 to some of these donors.Campaign contributions received by Lavonta Williams from parties associated with Key Construction. Williams will vote tomorrow whether to grant sales tax forgiveness worth $703,017 to some of these donors. (Click for larger view.)

Campaign finance reports filed by two incumbent candidates illustrate the lengths to which Key Construction seeks to influence council members. Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) and Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) received a total of $7,000 from Key Construction affiliates in 2012. Williams received $4,000, and $3,000 went to Clendenin. For Williams, these were the only contributions she received in 2012.

A table of campaign contributions received by city council members and the mayor from those associated with the Ambassador Hotel is available here.

Wichita mayor Carl Brewer with major campaign donor Dave Wells of Key Construction. Brewer will vote tomorrow whether to grant a company Wells is part owner of sales tax forgiveness worth $703,017.

This environment calls out for campaign finance reform, in particular laws that would prohibit what appears to be the practice of pay-to-play at Wichita City Hall.

There was a time when newspapers crusaded against this type of governance. Unfortunately for Wichitans, the Wichita Eagle doesn’t report very often on this issue, and the editorial board is almost totally silent. Television and radio news outlets don’t cover this type of issue. It’s left to someone else to speak out.

Carl Brewer: The state of Wichita, 2013

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, State of the City Address, January 29, 2013

Much like President Barack Obama in his recent inaugural address, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer displayed his collectivist instincts in his “State of the City” address for 2013. His speech, as prepared, may be read here.

Opening, the mayor said “Wichita has overcome great challenges in the past and will overcome these as well, but we’ll need to work together.”

Near the close, the mayor said “THE TIME FOR ACTION IS NOW! We have reached a point where we MUST come together as a community, and create a plan that defines our priorities and the City we are to become.” And then: “For all of our differences, I have never doubted this community’s ability to come together and protect what matters most.” (The capitalization is in the mayor’s prepared text.)

But what’s really important to Wichita is economic development. Regarding that, Brewer said this:

As we struggle to compete for new businesses and new jobs, especially in light of job losses in aviation, we must face the reality that we are competing with other cities that offer economic incentives for business development and expansion. If we want to be IN the game, we need to PLAY the game, but we have no dedicated funding source for economic development. If we’re serious about finding new jobs for our people — and I am — we must change this scenario as soon as possible. Where will those incentive dollars come from? (Capitalization, again, is from the original.)

The idea of a dedicated funding source for economic development is something that many in Wichita would support. Many would oppose it, too. But instead of just lobbing rhetorical questions (Where will those incentive dollars come from?), the mayor should give us some answers. Or, at least make a specific proposal. Does the mayor recommend a sales tax increase? Or allocating specific levels of property tax to economic development? (The city is doing this on a temporary basis.) Or asking the state legislature to fund Wichita’s economic development, as we insist the legislature fund our airline subsidy program?

Whatever it is, Mayor Brewer, give us some specific ideas as to how you want to raise this money, and how you would spend it.

It’s that spending, I think, that people in Wichita have concern over. The cumulative record of Brewer, the city council, and city bureaucratic staff hasn’t inspired trust and confidence. Giving the city additional dollars to spend on economic development is not a wise investment.

For example, the mayor says that subsidizing downtown development is good economic development strategy. But we see the mayor and nearly all council members voting to give an overpriced no-bid contract to their significant campaign contributors. This happened despite the company’s large cost overruns on previous no-bid contracts awarded by the city. Is that good economic development practice?

We see the city council sitting in a quasi-judicial role, adjudicating the award of an airport construction contract when one of the parties is a significant campaign contributor. In fact, Key Construction — the company that prevailed in that decision — through its principals and executives, was the sole source of campaign funds raised by Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) in 2012 as she prepared to run for reelection this spring.

Key’s executives also contributed heavily to James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) last year. He’s running this spring, too.

At the time this airport contract was being handled, Council Member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) was campaigning for the Sedgwick County Commission. Campaign finance reports revealed contributions from parties associated with Walbridge, a Michigan construction company. Why would those in Michigan have an interest in helping a Wichita City Council member fund his campaign for a county office? Would the fact that Walbridge is a partner with Key Construction on the new airport terminal, and that Longwell would be voting on that contract, provide a clue?

Or: A movie theater owner and business partners contribute to the mayor’s (and other) campaigns. Mayor and council vote to give a no-interest and low-interest loan and tax breaks to theater owner and his partners. Mayor goes into barbeque sauce business. Mayor’s barbeque sauce is now sold at movie theater.

Doesn’t Carl Brewer see anything wrong with this? Don’t his advisors tell him that this creates the appearance of impropriety? Does the mayor consider whether these actions make a positive impression on those who might want to invest in Wichita?

We see the city awarding economic development incentives that were not necessary for the project to proceed. It took a special election to teach the mayor and council that lesson. By the way, that unneeded and rejected incentive was awarded to the significant campaign contributors of Mayor Brewer and most council members.

We see the city taking credit for building up the tax base, yet giving away tax revenue in the form of property tax abatements, IRBs, tax increment financing, and STAR bonds.

The bureaucratic missteps: The Southfork TIF district is just the latest example.

The lack of respect for citizens’ right to know how taxpayer funds are spent is another troubling aspect of Brewer’s tenure as mayor. None of the words “accountability,” “transparency,” or “open government” were mentioned in the mayor’s address this year, as they have been in the past. No sense in calling attention to an area where the city has failed, I suppose.

All this is done in the name of economic development and jobs. But Wichita is underperforming Kansas and the nation in these areas. Under Brewer’s leadership, however, we are overachieving in the advancement of cronyism and its ills.

The record indicates that our officeholders, and those who advise them, are not worthy of our trust, and certainly not more taxes for economic development.

After last year’s State of the City speech, I noted “Wichita’s mayor is openly dismissive of economic freedom, free markets, and limited government, calling these principles of freedom and liberty ‘simplistic.’ Instead, his government prefers crony capitalism and corporate welfare.”

I also wrote: “Relying on economic freedom, free markets, and limited government for jobs and prosperity means trusting in free people, the energy of decentralized innovation, and spontaneous order. A government plan for economic development is the opposite of these principles.”

This year, the outlook for economic freedom and limited government in Wichita is gloomier than ever before. The door for those who wish to profit through cronyism is wide open. We’ll have to hope that, somehow, Wichita can learn to thrive under this regime.

Wichita’s $60 million gift to Spirit Aerosystems — not

When I read that Wichita had invested nearly $60 million in its Spirit AeroSystems plant, I thought I must have been napping during a city council meeting. Instead, the lede of the story in the Tulsa World newspaper was a misstatement of the mechanism of Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs).

The News reported “News that the city of Wichita is moving to invest nearly $60 million in its Spirit AeroSystems plant has Vision2 backers warning that Tulsa’s aerospace jobs are at risk of poaching by other cities.”

A Tulsa television news report offered similar reporting: “… after the City of Wichita, Kansas offered roughly $60 million in incentives to try and steal Spirit Aerosystems away from Tulsa.”

When news stories cover IRBs, the stories usually focus on the amount of the bonds, as in these two examples. That’s unfortunate, as the amount of the bonds is really a minor component of the story.

You see this misunderstanding revealed in comments left to newspaper articles reporting the issuance of IRBs, where comment writers complain that the city shouldn’t be in the business of lending companies money.

This confusion hides the reason why IRB transactions take place, which is tax avoidance. That’s the real story of Industrial Revenue Bonds: Companies escape paying the property and sales taxes that you and I — as well as most business firms — must pay.

Reading the city council agenda packet regarding the IRB issue tells the story. The city is not lending Spirit money. In fact, no one is, according to the city document: “Spirit AeroSystems, Inc. intends to purchase the bonds itself, through direct placement, and the bonds will not be reoffered for sale to the public.”

Also, the city has no obligation to pay the bondholders should Spirit default. This is a moot point in this case, as the issue of the bonds is also the buyer. But this is the case with all IRBs.

It’s not uncommon for the issuing company to buy the bonds. So why issue the bonds? The agenda packet has the answer: “The bond financed property will be eligible for sales tax exemption and property tax exemption for a term of ten years, subject to fulfillment of the conditions of the City’s public incentives policy.”

City documents didn’t give the amount of tax Spirit will avoid paying, so we’re left to surmise. Bonds could be issued up to $59.5 million. Taxable business property of that value would generate an annual tax bill of around $1.8 million per year, but Spirit would not pay that for up to ten years. If all the purchased property was subject to sales tax, that one-time tax exemption would be $4.3 million. These are the upper bounds of the tax savings Spirit Aerosystems may receive. Its actual savings will probably be lower, but still substantial.

These numbers are the economic benefit of the bonds to Spirit, and the opportunity cost of the bonds to taxing jurisdictions. The $60 million “investment” or “incentive” reported by two Tulsa news sources is incorrect.

Industrial Revenue Bonds, a confusing program

IRBs are a confusing economic development program. It sounds like a loan from the city or state, but it’s not. The purpose is to convey tax avoidance.

Here’s language from the Wichita ordinance that was passed to implement the bonds: “The Bonds, together with the interest thereon, are not general obligations of the City, but are special obligations payable (except to the extent paid out of moneys attributable to the proceeds derived from the sale of the Bonds or to the income from the temporary investment thereof) solely from the lease payments under the Lease, and the Bond Fund and other moneys held by the Trustee, as provided in the Indenture. Neither the credit nor the taxing power of the State of Kansas or of any political subdivision of such State is pledged to the payment of the principal of the Bonds and premium, if any, and interest thereon or other costs incident thereto.”

So no governmental body has obligations to pay the bondholders in case of default. But this language hints at another complicating factor of IRBs: The city actually owns the property purchased with the bond proceeds, and leases it to Spirit. Here’s the preamble of the ordinance: “An ordinance approving and authorizing the execution of a lease agreement between Spirit Aerosystems, Inc. and the City of Wichita, Kansas.”

Other language in the ordinance is “WHEREAS, the Company will acquire a leasehold interest in the Project from the City pursuant to said Lease Agreement.” There’s other language detailing the lease.

We create this imaginary lease agreement — and that’s what it is, as it doesn’t have the same purpose and economic meaning as most leases — for what purpose? Just so that certain companies can avoid paying taxes.

The city does have another program that allows it to exempt these taxes under some circumstances without having to issue bonds. In this case the goal of the program is laid clear: tax avoidance.

IRBs are a confusing program that obfuscates the actual economic transaction. That’s not good public policy, whether or not you agree with the concept of selective tax abatements as economic development.

Similarly, a principle of good tax policy is that those in similar situations should face the same laws. IRBs are contrary to this.

While we can understand that citizens — with their busy lives — may not be informed or concerned about the complex workings of IRBs, we should expect more from our elected (and paid) officials. But we find often they are not informed.

As an example, in 2004 the Wichita Eagle reported: “In July, the council approved industrial revenue bond financing and a $1.7 million property tax abatement for Genesis Health Clubs. Council members later said they didn’t realize they had also approved a sales-tax break.” (Kolb goal : Full facts in future city deals, September 26, 2004)

Here we see Wichita City Council members not aware of the basic mechanism of a major city program that is frequently used. This is in spite of an informative city web page devoted to IRBs which prominently states: “Generally, property and services acquired with the proceeds of IRBs are eligible for sales tax exemption.”

Yes, that page was active in 2004.

Wichita revises economic development policy

The City of Wichita has passed a revision to its economic development policies. Instead of promoting economic freedom and a free-market approach, the new policy gives greater power to city bureaucrats and politicians, and is unlikely to produce the economic development that Wichita needs. Sedgwick County will also consider adopting this policy.

The city wants to have policies that everyone can understand, but it also wants flexibility to waive policies and guidelines in light of mitigating factors.

Here’s an illustration of how difficult it is to adhere to policies. The draft proposal of the new economic development policy states: “The ratio of public benefits to public costs, each on a present value basis, should not be less than 1.3 to one for both the general and debt service funds for the City of Wichita; for Sedgwick County should not be less than 1.3 overall.”

The policy also states that if the 1.3 to one threshold is not met, the incentive could nonetheless be granted if two of three mitigating factors are found to apply. But there is a limit, according to the policy: “Regardless of mitigating factors, the ratio cannot be less than 1.0:1.”

Last August the city council passed a multi-layer incentive package for Douglas Place, which is better known as the Ambassador Hotel and environs. Here’s what the material accompanying the letter of intent that the council passed on August 9, 2011 held: “As part of the evaluation team process, the WSU Center for Economic Development and Business Research studied the fiscal impact of the Douglas Place project on the City’s General Fund, taking into account the requested incentives and the direct, indirect and induced generation of new tax revenue. The study shows a ratio of benefits to costs for the City’s General Fund of 2.62 to one.

So far, so good. 2.62 is greater than 1.3. But the policy applies to both the general fund and the debt service fund. So what about the impact to the debt service fund? Here’s the complete story from the WSU CEDBR report:

                                   Cost-benefit ratio
City Fiscal Impacts General Fund         2.63
City Fiscal Impacts Debt Service         0.83
City Fiscal Impacts                      0.90

The impact on the debt service fund is negative, and the impact in total is negative. (A cost-benefit ratio of less than one is “negative.”)

Furthermore, the cost of the Ambassador Hotel subsidy program to the general fund is $290,895, while the cost to the debt service fund is $7,077,831 — a cost factor 23 times as large.

So does the city have the wherewithal to stick to the policies it formulates? In my experience, not always. In this case, the city didn’t make this negative information available to the public. It was made public only after I requested the report from WSU CEDBR. It is not known whether council members were aware of this information when they voted.

There are, however, other factors that may allow the city to grant an incentive: “In addition to the above provisions, the City Council and/or County Commission may consider the following information when deciding whether to approve an incentive.” A list of 12 factors follows, some so open-ended that the city can find a way to approve almost any incentive it wants.

At yesterday’s city council meeting, when explaining the policy to the council, Wichita economic development chief Allen Bell said there should be “rational criteria” for when exceptions can be considered. We should also ask for truthfulness and complete disclosure, including negative factors.

When considering cost-benefit ratios, we also need to realize that the “benefits” in the calculation are in the form of increased tax revenue paid to the city, county, etc. There is no consideration of actually rewarding the taxpayers that pay for — and assume the risk of — economic development incentives. Furthermore, these benefits are not like profits that business firms earn. Instead, they are in the form of taxes that government takes.

Speculative industrial buildings

A new feature of the policy implements property tax forgiveness for speculative industrial buildings. The proposed plan had a formula that grants a higher percentage of tax forgiveness as building size increases, but the council eliminated that and voted a 100 percent tax abatement for all buildings larger than 50,000 square feet.

Given tax costs and industrial building rents, this policy gives these incentivized buildings a cost advantage of about 20 percent over competitors. That’s very high, and makes it difficult for existing buildings to compete. Probably no one will build these buildings unless they qualify for and receive this incentive.

While the city hopes that these incentivized buildings will generate new jobs in Wichita, there appears to be nothing in the policy that prevents existing companies in Wichita from moving to these buildings. This simply moves jobs from one location to another, and would harm existing landlords.

While the policy was designed to encourage large buildings instead of small, there appears to be no limitation on the size of space someone can rent. A building 100,000 square feet in size gets 100 percent tax abatement. But the space could be rented out in smaller parcels to multiple tenants, making it easy to steal local tenants from another landlord.

Finally, are pre-built facilities really necessary? Wind energy firms in Newton and Hutchinson built their plants from ground up.

Tax costs

Since many of the economic development incentives involve relief from paying taxes, we have to ask whether our tax levels and tax policies are discouraging business investment. Now we have an answer.

This year the Tax Foundation released a report that examines the tax costs on business in the states and in selected cities in each state. The news for Kansas is worse than merely bad, as our state couldn’t have performed much worse: Kansas ranks 47th among the states for tax costs for mature business firms, and 48th for new firms. Wichita was cited in the report, and the city did not do well. See Kansas and Wichita lag the nation in tax costs.

Wichita’s record on economic development

Earlier this year Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition issued its annual report on its economic development activities for the year. The shows us that power of government to influence economic development is weak. In its recent press release, the organization claimed to have created 1,509 jobs in Sedgwick County during 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force in Sedgwick County in 2011 was 253,940 persons. So the jobs created by GWEDC’s actions amounted to 0.59 percent of the labor force. This is a very small fraction, and other economic events are likely to overwhelm these efforts.

In his 2012 State of the City address, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer took credit for creating a similar percentage of jobs in Wichita.

Rarely mentioned are the costs of creating these jobs — the costs of the incentives and the cost of the economic development bureaucracy. These costs have a negative economic impact on those who pay them, meaning that economic activity and jobs are lost somewhere else in order to pay for the incentives.

Also, at least some of these jobs would have been created without the efforts of GWEDC. All GWEDC should take credit for is the marginal activity that it purportedly created. Government usually claims credit for all that is good, however.

The targeted economic development efforts of governments like Wichita and Sedgwick County fail for several reasons. First is the knowledge problem, in that government simply does not know which companies are worthy of public investment. In the case of the Wichita and Sedgwick County policy, do we really know which industries should be targeted? Are we sure about the list of eligible business activities that subsidies can be used to pay? Is 1.3 to one really the benchmark we should seek, or we be better off and have more jobs if we insisted on 1.4 to one or relaxed the requirement to 1.2 to one?

This lack of knowledge, however, does not stop governments from creating policies for the awarding of incentives. This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led to companies escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form.

Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business is critical of this approach to economic development. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and 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 expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

In the same paper, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers that Wichita and other cities engage in: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

In making his argument, Hall cites research on the futility of chasing large employers as an economic development strategy: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. To quote from the most comprehensive study: ‘The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.’”

There is also substantial research that is it young firms — distinguished from small business in general — that are the engine of economic growth for the future. We can’t detect which of the young firms will blossom into major success — or even small-scale successes. The only way to nurture them is through economic policies that all companies can benefit from. Reducing tax rates is an example of such a policy. Abating taxes for specific companies through programs like IRBs and other economic development programs is an example of precisely the wrong policy.

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach. We need to advocate for policies — at Wichita City Hall, at the Sedgwick County Commission, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. We need political leaders who have the wisdom to realize this, and the courage to act appropriately. Which is to say, to not act in most circumstances. Wichita and Sedgwick County are moving in the wrong direction.

Kansas reasonable: We’re number 47 (and 48)

What is the record of those who promote a reasonable, balanced, and responsible approach to Kansas government? These are terms that Kansas moderate Republicans use as they seek re-election in the August primary election. But this approach has lead to slow economic growth and economic development programs that don’t seem to be producing the results we want. Now we know part of the reason why the “Kansas reasonable” approach hasn’t worked well: Our tax rates are high — way too high.

Earlier this year the Tax Foundation released a report that examines the tax costs on business in the states and in selected cities in each state. The news for Kansas is worse than merely bad, as our state couldn’t have performed much worse: Kansas ranks 47th among the states for tax costs for mature business firms, and 48th for new firms.

The report is Location Matters: A Comparative Analysis of State Tax Costs on Business.

The study is unusual in that it looks at the impact of states’ tax burden on mature and new firms. This, according to report authors, “allows us to understand the effects of state tax incentives compared to a state’s core tax system.” In further explanation, the authors write: “The second measure is for the tax burden faced by newly established operations, those that have been in operation less than three years. This represents a state’s competitiveness after we have taken into account the various tax incentive programs it makes available to new investments.”

The report also looks at the tax costs for specific types of business firms. For Kansas, some individual results are better than overall, but still not good. For a mature corporate headquarters, Kansas ranks 30th. For locating a new corporate headquarters — one that would benefit from tax incentive programs — Kansas ranked 42nd. For a mature research and development facility, 46th; while new is ranked 49th. For a mature retail store, 38th, while new is ranked 45th.

There are more categories. Kansas ranks well in none.

In its summary for Kansas, the authors note the fecklessness of Kansas economic development incentives: “Kansas offers among the most generous property tax abatements and investment tax credits across most firm types, yet these incentives seem to have little impact on the state’s rankings for new operations.”

While economic development incentives can help reduce the cost of taxes for selected firms, incentives don’t help the many firms that don’t receive them. In fact, the cost of these incentives is harmful to other firms. The Tax Foundation report points to this harm: “While many state officials view tax incentives as a necessary tool in their state’s ability to be competitive, others are beginning to question the cost-benefit of incentives and whether they are fair to mature firms that are paying full freight. Indeed, there is growing animosity among many business owners and executives to the generous tax incentives enjoyed by some of their direct competitors.”

But there is one incentive that can be offered to all firms: Reduce tax costs for everyone. The policy of reducing tax costs for the selected few is not working. This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led companies in Wichita and Kansas escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form.

Tax costs block progress in Kansas

If we in Kansas and Wichita wonder why our economic growth is slow and our economic development programs don’t seem to be producing results, there is now data to answer the question why: Our tax costs are high — way too high.

Recently the Tax Foundation released a report that examines the tax costs on business in the states and in selected cities in each state. The news for Kansas is worse than merely bad, as our state couldn’t have performed much worse: Kansas ranks 47th among the states for tax costs for mature business firms, and 48th for new firms.

The report is Location Matters: A Comparative Analysis of State Tax Costs on Business.

The study is unusual in that it looks at the impact of states’ tax burden on mature and new firms. This, according to report authors, “allows us to understand the effects of state tax incentives compared to a state’s core tax system.” In further explanation, the authors write: “The second measure is for the tax burden faced by newly established operations, those that have been in operation less than three years. This represents a state’s competitiveness after we have taken into account the various tax incentive programs it makes available to new investments.”

The report also looks at the tax costs for specific types of business firms. For Kansas, some individual results are better than overall, but still not good. For a mature corporate headquarters, Kansas ranks 30th. For locating a new corporate headquarters — one that would benefit from tax incentive programs — Kansas ranked 42nd. For a mature research and development facility, 46th; while new is ranked 49th. For a mature retail store, 38th, while new is ranked 45th.

There are more categories. Kansas ranks well in none.

The report also looked at two cities in each state, a major city and a mid-size city. For Kansas, the two cities are Wichita and Topeka.

Among the 50 cities chosen, Wichita ranks 30th for a mature corporate headquarters, but 42nd for a new corporate headquarters.

For a mature research and development facility, Wichita ranks 46th, and 49th for a new facility.

For a mature and new retail store, Wichita ranks 38th and 45th, respectively.

For a mature and new call center, Wichita ranks 43rd and 47th, respectively.

In its summary for Kansas, the authors note the fecklessness of Kansas economic development incentives: “Kansas offers among the most generous property tax abatements and investment tax credits across most firm types, yet these incentives seem to have little impact on the state’s rankings for new operations.”

Kansas tax cost compared to neighbors. Click here for a larger version.

It’s also useful to compare Kansas to our neighbors. The comparison is not favorable for Kansas.

More evidence of failure

Recently the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition issued its annual report on its economic development activities for the year. This report shows us that power of government to influence economic development is weak. In its recent press release, the organization claimed to have created 1,509 jobs in Sedgwick County during 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force in Sedgwick County in 2011 was 253,940 persons. So the jobs created by GWEDC’s actions amounted to 0.59 percent of the labor force. This is a very small fraction, and other economic events are likely to overwhelm these efforts.

In his 2012 State of the City address, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer took credit for creating a similar percentage of jobs in Wichita.

The report by the Tax Foundation helps us understand why the economic development efforts of GWEDC, Sedgwick County, and Wichita are not working well: Our tax costs are too high.

While economic development incentives can help reduce the cost of taxes for selected firms, incentives don’t help the many firms that don’t receive them. In fact, the cost of these incentives is harmful to other firms. The Tax Foundation report points to this harm: “While many state officials view tax incentives as a necessary tool in their state’s ability to be competitive, others are beginning to question the cost-benefit of incentives and whether they are fair to mature firms that are paying full freight. Indeed, there is growing animosity among many business owners and executives to the generous tax incentives enjoyed by some of their direct competitors.”

But there is one incentive that can be offered to all firms: Reduce tax costs for everyone. The policy of reducing tax costs for the selected few is not working. This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led companies in Wichita and Kansas escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form.

Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business is critical of this approach to economic development. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and 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 expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

In the same paper, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers that Wichita and Kansas has been pursuing and which Wichita’s Brewer wants to step up: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

In making his argument, Hall cites research on the futility of chasing large employers as an economic development strategy: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. To quote from the most comprehensive study: ‘The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.’”

There is also substantial research that is it young firms — distinguished from small business in general — that are the engine of economic growth for the future. We can’t detect which of the young firms will blossom into major success — or even small-scale successes. The only way to nurture them is through economic policies that all companies can benefit from. Reducing tax rates is an example of such a policy. Abating taxes for specific companies through programs like IRBs is an example of precisely the wrong policy.

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach. We need to advocate for policies — at Wichita City Hall, at the Sedgwick County Commission, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. We need political leaders who have the wisdom to realize this, and the courage to act appropriately. Which is to say, to not act in most circumstances, except to reduce the cost of government for everyone.

Kansas and Wichita lag the nation in tax costs

If we in Kansas and Wichita wonder why our economic growth is slow and our economic development programs don’t seem to be producing results, there is now data to answer the question why: Our tax rates are high — way too high.

This week the Tax Foundation released a report that examines the tax costs on business in the states and in selected cities in each state. The news for Kansas is worse than merely bad, as our state couldn’t have performed much worse: Kansas ranks 47th among the states for tax costs for mature business firms, and 48th for new firms.

The report is Location Matters: A Comparative Analysis of State Tax Costs on Business.

The study is unusual in that it looks at the impact of states’ tax burden on mature and new firms. This, according to report authors, “allows us to understand the effects of state tax incentives compared to a state’s core tax system.” In further explanation, the authors write: “The second measure is for the tax burden faced by newly established operations, those that have been in operation less than three years. This represents a state’s competitiveness after we have taken into account the various tax incentive programs it makes available to new investments.”

The report also looks at the tax costs for specific types of business firms. For Kansas, some individual results are better than overall, but still not good. For a mature corporate headquarters, Kansas ranks 30th. For locating a new corporate headquarters — one that would benefit from tax incentive programs — Kansas ranked 42nd. For a mature research and development facility, 46th; while new is ranked 49th. For a mature retail store, 38th, while new is ranked 45th.

There are more categories. Kansas ranks well in none.

The report also looked at two cities in each state, a major city and a mid-size city. For Kansas, the two cities are Wichita and Topeka.

Among the 50 cities chosen, Wichita ranks 30th for a mature corporate headquarters, but 42nd for a new corporate headquarters.

For a mature research and development facility, Wichita ranks 46th, and 49th for a new facility.

For a mature and new retail store, Wichita ranks 38th and 45th, respectively.

For a mature and new call center, Wichita ranks 43rd and 47th, respectively.

In its summary for Kansas, the authors note the fecklessness of Kansas economic development incentives: “Kansas offers among the most generous property tax abatements and investment tax credits across most firm types, yet these incentives seem to have little impact on the state’s rankings for new operations.”

Kansas tax cost compared to neighbors. Click here for a larger version.

It’s also useful to compare Kansas to our neighbors. The comparison is not favorable for Kansas.

More evidence of failure

Recently the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition issued its annual report on its economic development activities for the year. This report shows us that power of government to influence economic development is weak. In its recent press release, the organization claimed to have created 1,509 jobs in Sedgwick County during 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force in Sedgwick County in 2011 was 253,940 persons. So the jobs created by GWEDC’s actions amounted to 0.59 percent of the labor force. This is a very small fraction, and other economic events are likely to overwhelm these efforts.

In his 2012 State of the City address, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer took credit for creating a similar percentage of jobs in Wichita.

The report by the Tax Foundation helps us understand why the economic development efforts of GWEDC, Sedgwick County, and Wichita are not working well: Our tax costs are too high.

While economic development incentives can help reduce the cost of taxes for selected firms, incentives don’t help the many firms that don’t receive them. In fact, the cost of these incentives is harmful to other firms. The Tax Foundation report points to this harm: “While many state officials view tax incentives as a necessary tool in their state’s ability to be competitive, others are beginning to question the cost-benefit of incentives and whether they are fair to mature firms that are paying full freight. Indeed, there is growing animosity among many business owners and executives to the generous tax incentives enjoyed by some of their direct competitors.”

But there is one incentive that can be offered to all firms: Reduce tax costs for everyone. The policy of reducing tax costs for the selected few is not working. This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led companies in Wichita and Kansas escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form.

Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business is critical of this approach to economic development. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and 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 expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

In the same paper, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers that Wichita and Kansas has been pursuing and which Wichita’s Brewer wants to step up: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

In making his argument, Hall cites research on the futility of chasing large employers as an economic development strategy: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. To quote from the most comprehensive study: ‘The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.’”

There is also substantial research that is it young firms — distinguished from small business in general — that are the engine of economic growth for the future. We can’t detect which of the young firms will blossom into major success — or even small-scale successes. The only way to nurture them is through economic policies that all companies can benefit from. Reducing tax rates is an example of such a policy. Abating taxes for specific companies through programs like IRBs is an example of precisely the wrong policy.

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach. We need to advocate for policies — at Wichita City Hall, at the Sedgwick County Commission, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. We need political leaders who have the wisdom to realize this, and the courage to act appropriately. Which is to say, to not act in most circumstances, except to reduce the cost of government for everyone.

Carl Brewer: State of the City for Wichita, 2012

Last night Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer delivered his annual State of the City Address. The text of the address may be read at State of the City Address.

In his speech, Brewer several times criticized those who act on “partisan agendas.” This is quite a remarkable statement for the mayor to make. Partisan usually refers to following a party line or platform. The mayor didn’t mention who he was criticizing, but it’s likely he was referring to myself and others like John Todd, Susan Estes, and Clinton Coen, as we appear regularly before the city council, usually in disagreement with the mayor and his policies.

What’s remarkable is that the council, even though it has four Republican members, almost always votes uniformly with Democrat Brewer and the other two politically liberal members of the council. The only exception is Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita), who is often in a minority of one voting in opposition to the other six. The other Republican members — Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita), James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita), and Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) — routinely vote in concert with the Democrats and liberals on the council.

Remarkable also are the many members of the business community who appeal to the council for subsidies, increased government intervention, and more central planning from city hall: many of these are Republicans. Conservative Republicans, many have personally told me.

This describes a lack of partisanship. Most of the mayor’s critics, such as myself, are more accurately characterized not as acting along party lines, but as acting on their belief in economic freedom, free markets, and limited government.

Economic development

The mayor said that the city’s efforts in economic development had created “almost 1000 jobs.” While that sounds like a lot of jobs, that number deserves context.

According to estimates from the Kansas Department of Labor, the civilian labor force in the City of Wichita for December 2011 was 192,876, with 178,156 people at work. This means that the 1,000 jobs created accounted for from 0.52 percent to 0.56 percent of our city’s workforce, depending on the denominator used. This miniscule number is dwarfed by the normal ebb and flow of other economic activity.

The mayor did not mention the costs of creating these jobs. These costs have a negative economic impact on those who pay these costs. This means that economic activity — and jobs — are lost somewhere else in order to pay for the incentives.

The mayor’s plan going forward, in his words, is “We will incentivize new jobs.” But under the mayor’s leadership, this “active investor” policy has produced a very small number of jobs, year after year. Doubling down on the present course is not likely to do much better.

But there are those who disagree, despite all evidence to the contrary. Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh — a conservative Republican, for those keeping track of partisanship — recently called for a “deal-closing” fund of $100 million. A funding source of this magnitude would undoubtedly require a new tax. There are many who feel there should be a new sales tax devoted to economic development and downtown Wichita development. We should not be surprised to see such a proposal emerge, and not be surprised that civic and business institutions will support it.

The mayor repeatedly said that the city has been “courageous.” In reality, Wichita does about the same as everyone else. But there is a way Wichita could distinguish itself among cities.

Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business has made a convincing case that Kansas needs to move away from the “active investor” approach to economic development. This is where government decides which companies will receive special treatment, be it in the form of tax abatements, tax credits, grants, tax increment financing, community improvement district special taxes, and other forms of subsidy. Being an “active investor” has been the approach of the City of Wichita, and according to the mayor’s vision, this plan is to be stepped up in the future.

In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and 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 expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

Later, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers that Wichita and Kansas rely on for economic development: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

We need business and political leaders in Wichita and Kansas who can see beyond the simplistic imagery of a groundbreaking ceremony and can assess the effect of our failing economic development policies on the entire community. Unfortunately, we don’t have many of these — and Mayor Brewer leads in the opposite direction.

Critical of misinformation campaigns

In his speech, Brewer was critical of those who “spread misinformation.” He was not specific as to who he’s criticizing, and I wouldn’t expect him to name specific people in a speech like this.

But when the mayor criticizes people for being uninformed or misinformed, he needs to look first at himself. He and city staff also need to engage their critics and be responsive to requests for information.

As an example of misinformation, the mayor cited this evidence that city policies are working: “The proposed Ambassador Hotel with a 3-to-1 private to public investment ratio.”

The city arrived at this ratio by employing a very narrow definition of public investment. When tax credits from the State of Kansas and federal government as well as other sources of public subsidy are accounted for, the ratio drops to less than two to one.

It’s true that considering only the city’s artificially narrow definition of public funding, the ratio does reach three to one. But Wichitans also have to pay part of the costs of the tax credits and other subsidies.

The city has also been less than honest in its promotion of the cost-benefit ratio for the Ambassador Hotel project. The city officially cites a cost-benefit study produced by Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research. Part of that study produced a cost-benefit ratio of 2.63 to one, and that’s what the city uses as justification for its participation in the project.

But the full story of the costs and benefits of this project are contained in these numbers from the WSU analysis:

                                    ROI   Cost-benefit ratio
City Fiscal Impacts General Fund  163.2%        2.63
City Fiscal Impacts Debt Service  -17.2%        0.83
City Fiscal Impacts                -9.8%        0.90

WSU evaluated the impact of the Ambassador Hotel on the City of Wichita’s finances in two areas: The impact on the city’s General Fund, and separately on the city’s Debt Service Fund. The two were combined to produce the total fiscal impact, which is the bottom line in this table.

The City of Wichita cites only the positive impact to the General Fund figure. But the impact on the Debt Service fund is negative, and the impact in total is negative.

It’s true that the ROI and cost-benefit ratio for the General Fund indicate a positive investment return. But the cost of the Ambassador Hotel subsidy program to the General Fund is $290,895, while the cost to the Debt Service Fund is $7,077,831 — a cost factor 23 times as large.

Citizens ought to ask: Who is spreading misinformation?

It is difficult to get a response from city hall regarding questions like these. So far city economic development director Allen Bell has not agreed to meet with representatives of Tax Fairness for All Wichitans, a group opposed to the subsidies for the Ambassador Hotel. (I am part of that group.) The city and its allied economic development groups will not send representatives to participate in a public forum on this matter.

Simplistic answers

The mayor criticized those who “provide simplistic answers to very complicated challenges.” He may be — we don’t really know — referring to those like myself who advocate for free market solutions to problems rather than reliance on government. Certainly the mayor believes that government must act — “courageously” he said — to confront our problems.

A problem with the mayor’s plan for increased economic interventionism by government is the very nature of knowledge. In a recent issue of Cato Policy Report, Arnold King wrote:

As Hayek pointed out, knowledge that is important in the economy is dispersed. Consumers understand their own wants and business managers understand their technological opportunities and constraints to a greater degree than they can articulate and to a far greater degree than experts can understand and absorb.

When knowledge is dispersed but power is concentrated, I call this the knowledge-power discrepancy. Such discrepancies can arise in large firms, where CEOs can fail to appreciate the significance of what is known by some of their subordinates. … With government experts, the knowledge-power discrepancy is particularly acute.

Relying on free market solutions for economic growth and prosperity means trusting in the concept of spontaneous order. That takes courage. It requires faith in the values of human freedom and ingenuity rather than government control. It requires that government officials let go rather than grabbing tighter the reins of power.

Mayor Brewer, five of six city council members, and the city hall bureaucracy do not believe in these values. Wichita’s mayor is openly dismissive of economic freedom, free markets, and limited government, calling these principles of freedom and liberty “simplistic.” Instead, his government prefers crony capitalism and corporate welfare. This is the troubling message that emerges from Brewer’s State of the City address.

Boeing departure presents challenge for Wichita and Kansas

The announcement of the departure from Wichita of Boeing presents challenges for the Wichita area and the state of Kansas. The response of government officials over the next few years will need to depart from past and present practice if Wichita wants to build a dynamic and sustainable economy. With a few exceptions, our current elected officials will likely proceed with targeted economic development, and Wichita and Kansas will miss an opportunity to implement meaningful and lasting change.

Aid offered to Boeing

Boeing has been the recipient of much targeted economic development incentives over the years. From 1979 to 2007, Boeing received tax abatements through the industrial revenue bond process worth $658 million, according to a compilation provided by the City of Wichita.

In his remarks, Kansas Representative Jim Ward said “Boeing is the poster child for corporate tax incentives.” Kansas Legislative Research has compiled a list of legislative measures that benefited Boeing, which may be viewed at Kansas and Boeing. This document contains only those measures passed by the state, not by cities and counties to help Boeing.

Some of the legislation on the list really should not be included, as it benefited all companies, not just Boeing. An example is the 2006 machinery and equipment property tax exemption. The author correctly notes that Boeing often received targeted relief from this tax through the IRB process. Still, this is an example of good economic policy that affects all businesses, which is important.

Similarly, the repeal of the franchise tax — another bill on this list — benefited not only Boeing, but everyone, and should not be on this list.

An example of legislation crafted specifically for Boeing was 2003′s Economic Development and Revitalization Reinvestment Act, which became statute 74-50,136. This law awarded Boeing with $80 million, the money to be repaid by the withholding taxes of Boeing’s employees — in other words, at no cost to Boeing. This bill passed the Kansas House of Representatives by a vote of 107 to 6, with Rep. Ward voting with the majority to pass.

Now, Ward says “We will be less trusting in the future of corporate promises.”

The danger going forward

The danger we in Kansas, and specifically the Wichita area, face is the overwhelming urge of politicians to be seen doing something in response to the departure of Boeing. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, in his statement, called for the community to “launch an aggressive campaign of job recruitment and retention.”

It is likely that we will become susceptible to large-scale government interventions in an attempt to gain new jobs. Our best course would be to take steps to make Kansas and Wichita an inviting place for all firms to do business. The instinct of politicians such as Brewer, however, is to take action, usually in the form of targeted incentives as a way to spur economic development.

We’ve seen the results of this. Not only with Boeing, but also in a report showing that Wichita has declined in economic performance compared to other areas.

These targeted economic development efforts fail for several reasons. First is the knowledge problem, in that government simply does not know which companies are worthy of public investment. This, however, does not stop governments from creating policies for the awarding of incentives. It also doesn’t stop the awarding of incentives willy-nilly without a policy, as the Wichita City Council has done for a hotel.

This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led to Boeing escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form.

Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business is critical of this approach to economic development. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and 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 expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

In the same paper, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers that Wichita is sure to undertake in response to the loss of Boeing: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

In making his argument, Hall cites research on the futility of chasing large employers as an economic development strategy: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. To quote from the most comprehensive study: ‘The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.’”

There is also substantial research that is it young firms — distinguished from small business in general — that are the engine of economic growth for the future. We can’t detect which of the young firms will blossom into major success — or even small-scale successes. The only way to nurture them is through economic policies that all companies can benefit from. Reducing tax rates is an example of such a policy. Abating taxes for specific companies through programs like IRBs is an example of precisely the wrong policy.

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach. We need to advocate for policies — at Wichita City Hall, at the Sedgwick County Commission, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. We need political leaders who have the wisdom to realize this, and the courage to act appropriately. Which is to say, to not act in most circumstances.

Kansas tax policy

One person reminded me of this: “The real point about Boeing’s departure that no one is discussing is the fact that the positions leaving here are going to three states: Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington. Two of these states have no income tax while the third, Oklahoma, has tight limits on both state and local tax increases while reducing state income tax rates in recent years.”

While Governor Brownback and many members of the legislature want to reduce income rates in Kansas to make our state more competitive for business, there is much opposition. It has been thought that the plan would be to gradually reduce income tax rates over several years. If anything, the departure of Boeing means we should act to reduce tax rates sooner rather than later.

Those who oppose reducing taxes raise the problem of how to replace the income lost due to lower tax rates. They fear that the state will raise the sales tax, or that local governments such as cities, school districts, and counties will raise sales or property taxes.

But the answer should be: Don’t replace the missing income. Instead, spend less at the state level. That will improve the Kansas economy as more money will be left in the private sector instead of being transferred to an unproductive and wasteful government. And if the state can be successful in nurturing a competitive business and economic climate, that will bring more jobs, which will reduce the demand on the state for various social services. More jobs mean more revenue to the state in other forms besides income taxes, too.

Our challenge is this: Boeing said that costs in its San Antonio, Texas facility are 70 percent lower than in Wichita. We need to figure out why this discrepancy — if it is real — exists. We need to eliminate this differential cost of doing business in Kansas. The instinct of politicians and bureaucrats will be to offer targeted relief to the companies they believe deserve it. For those few companies, perhaps this differential can be reduced.

But this is the wrong policy. All business firms deserve relief, and by doing that we can create a dynamic Kansas economy so that we all will prosper.

Wichita falls in economic performance ranking

Recently the Milken Institute released a report examining the economic performance of metropolitan areas in the United States. The report, titled Best-Performing Cities 2011, describes itself as “The annual Best-Performing Cities index provides an objective, comprehensive measure of economic performance across metropolitan areas of the country.”

Specifically, this report “measures growth in jobs, wages and salaries, and technology output over a five-year span (2005–2010 for jobs and technology output and 2004-2009 for wages and salaries) to adjust for extreme variations in business cycles.”

On the composition of the index, the report states: “Employment growth is weighted most heavily in the index because of its critical importance to community vitality. Wage and salary growth measures the quality of the jobs being created and sustained. Technology output growth is another key element of economic vibrancy.”

Among the top 200 metropolitan areas, Wichita ranked 104th in overall performance this year, down from 72nd the year before.

In the category of one-year job growth from 2009 to 2010, Wichita ranked 199th out of the 200 largest metropolitan areas. For five-year job growth Wichita did better, ranking 63rd of 200.

Interestingly, Wichita ranks high — ninth out of 200 — in a measure of high-technology industry concentration. The description of this measure in which Wichita ranks highly is: “High-tech location quotients (LQs), which measure the concentration of the technology industry in a particular metro relative to the national average, are included to indicate a metro’s participation in the knowledge-based economy.”

Reports such as these can be useful, but can also be misunderstood or misapplied — or sometimes incorrect. For example, Wichita isn’t usually thought of as a center of concentration in high-tech industry. In a 2011 ranking of the best cities for high tech jobs produced by Joel Kotkin, Wichita didn’t make the list, which included 51 cities. That list was based on “Employment in 45 high technology manufacturing, services, and software industry sectors.”

Some will dismiss Wichita’s fall in rankings because of our heavy reliance on aviation, particularly business aviation, which was hit very hard by the recession.

Wichita — and Kansas — can take note, however, of the high performance by cities in Texas. Four of the top five are in Texas, as are nine of the top 25. There is a movement in Kansas to reduce the state’s income tax rates to make Kansas more attractive to business. Texas has no state income tax.

We should also note that Wichita’s ranking fell at a time of vigorous economic development efforts by Wichita and Sedgwick County, the major components of the Wichita metropolitan area. In his State of the City address this year, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer spoke about Wichita’s economic development efforts. The mayor said that the city’s efforts saved 745 jobs and created 435 jobs, for a total impact of 1,180 jobs. To place those numbers in context, we note that American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates the labor force in Wichita is 191,760 persons. This means that the economic development efforts of the City of Wichita affected a number of jobs equivalent to 0.6 percent of the city workforce.

This small number of jobs impacted by the city’s economic development initiatives is dwarfed by other economic events. Additionally, these efforts by the city are counterproductive — if our interest is creating a dynamic economy in Wichita. Analysis by the Kauffman Foundation finds that it is new firms — young firms, in other words — that are the primary drivers of job creation. But the economic development policies of cities like Wichita are definitely biased toward older, established firms. The cost of these economic development efforts, which are paid for by everyone — including young businesses firms struggling to grow — means that we prop up unproductive companies at the expense of the type of firms we need to really grow the Wichita economy.

Wichita is not the only component of the Wichita metropolitan area, but is certainly the driving force in the region’s economy.

Reports such as these are evidence that the economic development policies of Wichita and Sedgwick County are not working well. We need to distinguish ourselves somehow and produce greater economic growth. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback released an economic development plan that sounded some of the right notes, but in practice his administration is relying on more of the same targeted subsidies that most states and cities use.

Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business has made a convincing case that Kansas needs to move away from the “active investor” approach to economic development. This is where government decides which companies will receive special treatment, be it in the form of tax abatements, tax credits, grants, tax increment financing, community improvement district special taxes, and other forms of subsidy. Being an “active investor” is the approach of the City of Wichita.

In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and 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 expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

Later, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers that Wichita and Kansas rely on for economic development: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

We need business and political leaders in Wichita and Kansas who can see beyond the simple imagery of a groundbreaking ceremony and can assess the effect of our failing economic development policies on the entire community. Unfortunately, we don’t have many of these.

Bombardier Learjet should pay just a little

In a presentation made to economic development officials, aviation manufacturer Bombardier LearJet speaks with pride of its investment in Kansas. But for the present project before the Sedgwick County Commission today, it appears that the company is planning to make no investment at all.

Bombardier LearJet financing plan. Later the document states “Requesting State of Kansas support to help find gap of $16M.”

Taking the total project cost of $52.7 million and subtracting the government funding already secured, there is a gap of $16.1 million. Instead of being grateful for the $36.6 million in subsidy already (or about to be) secured, the company is asking for more: Bombardier LearJet is asking the State of Kansas to fund this gap.

What happened to capitalism?

What happened to companies funding even a portion of their capital requirements?

The proponents of economic development incentives often make their case that the incentives are just a “sweetener” to secure the deal. But in the present case with Bombardier LearJet, local governments — the City of Wichita, Sedgwick County, and the State of Kansas — are being asked to pay for the entire meal.

We in Kansas and Sedgwick County are already doing much for Bombardier LearJet. It is likely that we will agree to let LearJet forgo paying any property tax at all — the same property taxes that other business struggle to pay. These businesses compete with LearJet for labor and other things they need.

The State of Kansas is allowing the income taxes of Lear Jet employees to be used for the exclusive benefit of that company.

Both of these actions call into question the fundamental question of fairness in taxation: that all pay their fair share. When companies like the applicant company ask to be excused from the burden of taxation, others have to pay.

If you are not persuaded by this appeal to principle, there is evidence that chasing the big catch is often counterproductive, and that the net economic effect of these deals is overestimated. One study finds: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured.”

Perhaps the worst thing we take away from this episode is that our state is making no progress towards a concept developed by Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business. He has made a convincing case that Kansas needs to move away from the “active investor” approach to economic development. This is where government decides which companies will receive special treatment, be it in the form of tax abatements, tax credits, grants, and other forms of subsidy. This is what we are doing with the present applicant, Bombardier LearJet.

In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and 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 expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

Later, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers we are considering today: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach. This commission needs to advocate for policies — in this chamber, at Wichita City Hall, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. What we’re doing today is not sustainable.

A small and reasonable step towards this goal is to ask Bombardier LearJet to consider paying just $1 million themselves on a project with a cost of $52.7 million.

Wichita property taxes are high, leading to other problems

An ongoing study by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association tells us that Wichita has high business property taxes. This may be a reason why the Wichita City Council feels it is necessary to offer relief from these taxes, but it is not an effective economic development strategy.

The MTA study (50-State Property Tax Comparison Study) finds that for a business consisting of property and fixtures, the effective tax rate of business property in Wichita is 2.914 percent. The average nationwide is 1.940 percent. This means that these taxes in Wichita are 50.2 percent higher than the nationwide average.

The situation isn’t so bad when we consider a different business with machinery and equipment as part of its mix of assets, as Kansas has exempted that property from taxation. In one scenario, the effective tax rate is 1.598 percent, which is still 12.1 percent above the nationwide average of 1.426 percent. In another scenario where the proportion of business property that is machinery and equipment is very high, the effective tax rate for Wichita is only slightly above the national average.

The study finds that Wichita is out-of-step with the rest of the nation when it comes to the ratio of effective tax rates between business and home tax rates. The U.S. average for this value is 1.724, meaning that the effective tax rate for business property is 1.724 times that of residential property. For Wichita, the value is higher at 2.316.

Wichita as active investor

Last week’s grant by the Wichita City Council of tax relief to Pulse Systems in the amount of about $87,000 per year illustrates how the city’s high business property tax rates inhibit business investment. It’s either that, or the city succumbs to simple greed by those who are willing to ask the government for money and make empty threats in pleading their case.

That day the city also started down a path that will lead it to exempting Bombardier LearJet from paying $1,217,000 per year in property taxes.

I can understand that people such as these applicant companies want to escape paying high business property taxes. But the solution is not to do what the Wichita City Council does week after week: grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis. These exemptions amount to the council asking the people of Wichita to make specific investments in these companies. That’s because when the city grants exemptions from paying taxes, others have to pay. This may be a reason why our effective tax rate is so high — for those companies that do pay taxes.

The notion that the City of Wichita can decide which companies are worthy of tax exemptions and investment is an illustration of what economist Frederich Hayek called a “conceit.” It’s so dangerous that his book on the topic is titled “The Fatal Conceit.” The failure of government planning throughout the world has taught that it is through markets and their coordination of dispersed knowledge that we learn where to direct capital investment. It is simply impossible for this city government to effectively decide which companies Wichitans should invest their tax dollars in.

Locally, Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business has made a convincing case that Kansas needs to move away from the “active investor” approach to economic development. This is where government decides which companies will receive special treatment, be it in the form of tax abatements, tax credits, grants, and other forms of subsidy.

While many feel that Wichita and Kansas must offer incentives to be competitive with our cities and states, our leaders, most recently Lynn Nichols, president of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, routinely complain that Wichita doesn’t have as much incentives and cash to offer as do other locations. The “embracing dynamism” approach advocated by Hall and others provides a way to break out of this rat race and provide a sustainable foundation for economic growth in Wichita and Kansas.

In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and 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 expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

Later, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers that Wichita and Kansas rely on for economic development: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

In making his argument, Hall cites research on the futility of chasing large employers as an economic development strategy: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. To quote from the most comprehensive study: ‘The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.’”

While it’s easy to see people going to work at a new large company, or an existing company that has expanded, we need to look at the effect on everyone in the city, county, or state. And when we do that, the research is not encouraging.

Echoing the findings of Hayek regarding the impossibility of government picking winning companies through its active investor approach, Hall writes: “Embracing dynamism starts with a change in vision. Simply stated, the state government of Kansas should abandon its prevailing policy vision of the State as an active investor in businesses or industries and instead adopt the policy vision of the State as a caretaker of a competitive ‘platform’ — a platform that seeks to induce as much commercial experimentation as possible. By way of analogy, the platform-caretaker vision says: The State of Kansas runs tournaments; it does not field players. Creating a platform to host world-class tournaments will attract world-class players. The platform will endure but players will come and go. The platform-caretaker vision implies that the state government need not commit scarce resources to the enormously difficult task of predicting the outcome of competition if it focuses on the much more manageable task of creating the platform on which competition takes place.”

We need business and political leaders in Wichita and Kansas who can see beyond the simple imagery of a groundbreaking ceremony and can assess the effect of our failing economic development policies on the entire community. Unfortunately, we don’t have many of these.

Paying for incentives

Something the Wichita City Council should consider implementing is a form of “pay-go.” This is where the city would reduce spending by the cost of economic development incentive.

The city, however, believes it has cost-benefit studies that purport that incentives pay for themselves. These studies, provided by Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research are not of the same type that a business makes, or that people make in their personal lives. There are not legitimate business investments that have a return of what the city council routinely accepts over any reasonable period of time, at least not without accepting huge risks.

The “benefit” that goes into these equations is in the form of future anticipated tax revenues. It simply recognizes that economic activity is good, and since government levies taxes based on economic activity, its tax revenues go up. This happens whether or not government claims responsibility for creating the economic activity.

More taxes being paid to the city doesn’t benefit the people of Wichita, and it’s they who have to pay in order so that the city can have increased tax revenues. It’s not beneficial to take more money out of the productive private sector for the purpose of feeding government.

Sedgwick County, Golf Warehouse, reveal shortcomings in procedure

Wednesday’s decision by the Sedgwick County Commission to grant a forgivable loan of $48,000 to The Golf Warehouse is yet another example of local government relying on corporate welfare as economic development, and exposes how little deliberation is given to making these decisions.

This subsidy was promoted by the county and TGW’s consultant as necessary to persuade the applicant company to expand its operations in Wichita rather than Indiana, where the company has other operations and had also received an offer of subsidy. The same argument had been made to the Wichita City Council in May 10th, and it was successful in persuading all council members but one to vote in favor of granting a forgivable loan of the same amount as the county.

At the county commission meeting, commissioners received a presentation by Leslie Wagner, Director of Project Management and Development for Ginovus, an economic development and site location advisory services firm working on behalf of TGW.

While The Golf Warehouse was started in Wichita by entrepreneurs, Wagner told commissioners that the company is now owned by Redcats, a Paris, France company. That acquisition took place in 2006, she said.

A focus of Wagner’s presentation was how large and successful an enterprise Redcats is, with $4.8 billion in annual sales revenue and over 14,000 employees. As to TGW specifically, Wagner said it offers the largest and broadest selection of golf products in the world, and has expanded to included baseball, softball, and soccer products.

Right away some might be inclined to ask why, with the company so large and successful, local governments find it necessary to prop up this company with public assistance.

According to Wagner, TGW will add 105 new employees by 2015, and the company’s average annual payroll by then will be $9,995,000.

The argument for subsidy

In her presentation, Wagner listed the incentives offered to TGW by both Indiana and Kansas. But she did not supply the value of each incentive, which makes the comparison largely meaningless. Additionally, the list of the incentives and subsidies offered by the State of Kansas was not complete. Further, some of the incentives offered by Indiana are already present in Kansas.

For example, one incentive offered by Indiana was an abatement on personal property tax, which Wagner indicated was a factor in favor of that state. But Kansas does not tax business personal property, that is, business machinery and equipment newly purchased, leased, or moved into Kansas. This ranges from desks, computers, and copiers to large pieces of machinery and equipment. The incentive offered by Indiana, therefore, is already in place in Kansas without companies needing to ask for it, and Wagner should not have included this as a distinguishing factor between Indiana and Kansas.

In addition, Kansas has added “expensing,” which allows businesses to depreciate purchases in one year instead of several, which reduces Kansas state income tax. As TGW expands and makes these purchases, it will be able to take advantage of this new provision in the Kansas tax code.

Wagner also mentioned an Indiana program called EDGE (Economic Development for a Growing Economy), which rebates employees’ state income tax withholding back to the company. We have that in Kansas, too. It’s called Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK), and the range of situations where this program can be applied has been expanded by this year’s legislature. This, again, is an example where an incentive offered by Indiana and promoted by Wagner as a reason as to why the county must grant a subsidy of its own to TGW is already present in Kansas.

Another part of Wagner’s presentation that deserves a second look is her analysis of the economic impact of TGW. Wagner said that over ten years the payroll — the wages paid to its employees in Wichita — of TGW would be $100,623,437, with a “conservative” apportionment to the county of $50,311,718.

She then showed the commission a slide where she computed the return on the county’s investment. For the “return,” she used the $50,311,718 figure of payroll that she attributed to the county. For the “investment,” she used $96,000, which is the sum of the forgivable loans from both Wichita and Sedgwick County. (Why she used both entity’s investment but only county payroll, I don’t know.)

Her calculations from these numbers produced a return on investment of 524 percent. “If I were making an investment, that’s a phenomenal return, and I’d make that one all day long,” she told commissioners.

But her actual calculation should have been as follows ($50,311,718 – $96,000) / $96,000 * 100 = 52,308 percent for the rate of return, if she was looking to fluff up her numbers as much as possible.

But even that calculation wouldn’t make economic or financial sense. The $50,311,718 is returned over a period of 10 years, so the receipt of that money needs to be spread over that time. Then, since long time periods are involved, the returns in future years need to be discounted, because a dollar expected to be received in ten years is not worth as much as a dollar received this year. I made a few other assumptions and used Excel’s internal rate of return function to compute a rate of return of 5,241 percent.

This tremendous rate of return, of course, makes no economic sense either. The $50,311,718 used as the “return” to the county is not that at all. This money is wages paid to workers. It belongs to them, not to the county. True, the county will get some of that in the form of sales taxes these workers pay as they make purchases within the county, and perhaps in other forms of taxes. Using an estimate of that number would make sense on some level, and that is the type of reasoning the Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research uses to compute the cost-benefit figures the city and county often rely upon in making decisions.

But the figures and calculations Wagner used to make the case for TGW make absolutely no economic or financial sense. Worse than being merely absurd, they are deceptive. Compounding the error, elected officials such as commission chair Dave Unruh cited them as a factor in making his vote in favor of granting the forgivable loan.

Completing her presentation, Wagner said “Perhaps as important, it’s goodwill. … Does the state want us to stay, does the community want us to stay, and are they willing to help us grow?” Brad Wolansky, CEO of TGW, said the loan is part of the “element of partnership” between the county and TGW, which he said was indicative of the county’s support. This is the same attitude expressed at the Wichita City Council meeting: Many of these companies requesting incentives and subsidies believe they deserve some sort of reward for investing in Wichita and creating jobs. The profits of entrepreneurs or capitalists are no longer sufficient, it seems, for some companies.

In remarks from the bench, Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau questioned the need for this incentive, citing the recent example of a Save-A-Lot store which will be built by a developer without incentives, after the original developer failed to acquire all the incentive he asked for. Video of his remarks and an exchange with Wagner is below.

In his remarks, Commissioner Jim Skelton said this decision is a “no-brainer,” and that he was proud to do this for the community. Chairman Unruh said “we’re competing with someone else for this company.” He referenced the “great return” on the county’s investment, and that he could not find a reason not to support it.

All commissioners except Ranzau voted to grant the forgivable loan, with Karl Peterjohn absent.

City and county information not complete

The forgivable loan subsidy granted by both Wichita and Sedgwick County is not the only subsidy TGW will receive. An inquiry to the Kansas Department of Commerce indicates that from the state of Kansas, TGW will receive $125,000 from the Kansas Economic Opportunity Initiatives Fund, $125,000 in Kansas Industrial Retraining, $50,000 in Kansas Industrial Training, $96,000 in sales tax savings, $315,918 in personal property tax savings, and $623,796 from the High Performance Incentive Program, for total incentives from the state of $1,310,714.

These state incentives were not mentioned by the county. The value is also much higher than the City of Wichita reported in its material for its May 10th meeting when the city approved its forgivable loan to TGW. At that time, city documents reported the value of state subsidies at $275,000, a figure just 21 percent of the value reported by the Department of Commerce.

Corporate welfare, again

This episode, where subsidy is heaped on a company who presents a threat — real or imagined — of leaving Wichita or expanding elsewhere, represents local officials not grounding a decision on actual facts. The wild claims of return on investment made by the company’s representative simply can’t be believed. Her information about the incentives offered and available, as well as that from the City of Wichita, is incomplete or misleading.

With some time to analyze the claims made by Wagner (and others who appear in similar situations), we can expose them for what they are. But commissioners — city council members too — often don’t have time or expertise to examine the facts. Commissioner Ranzau told me that he did not receive Wagner’s slides before the meeting. The information delivered to the council by Sherdeill Breathett, Economic Development Specialist for the county, did not appear in the new agenda system the county recently implemented. During meetings there is not time to analyze calculations or examine the claims made by presenters.

We have to ask, however, if local government officials have the desire to examine these presentations and claims. Once the veneer of economic development hucksterism — thin as it is — is stripped away, we are left with what Ranzau has stated several times from his position on the commission bench: a simple transfer of one person’s money to another using the force of government as the agent. This reality of corporate welfare is something that officials would rather not recognize, and it’s not economic development in my book.

Kansas needs a dynamic economic growth policy

Note: Since Dr. Hall’s address to the Wichita Pachyderm Club covered below, the business expensing that he proposed has been signed into law by Governor Brownback. The governor also issued an economic development plan that incorporates large portions of Hall’s advice, but legislation expanding some of the present-day “active investor” economic development practices has also been signed into law. The Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program, which allows companies to retain their employees’ payroll withholding taxes, has been expanded, but not so that it covers all new business firms, as Hall recommended.

A dynamic market where many new business startups attempt to succeed and thrive while letting old, unproductive firms die is what contributes to productivity and economic growth. But most economic development policies, including those of Kansas and Wichita, do not encourage this dynamism, and in fact, work against it.

That’s the message of Dr. Art Hall, who spoke to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on the topic “Business Dynamics and Economic Development in Kansas.” Hall is Director of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business.

At the start of his talk, Hall said that economic development has become an industry of its own, a public industry sometimes implemented as public-private partnerships. But its agenda is often not genuine economic development, he said.

In a short history lesson, Hall described how Walter Beech came to Wichita from North Carolina simply because Clyde Cessna was in Wichita. Sprint began in Abilene in 1899. Fred Koch, who founded the company that became Koch Industries, came to Wichita because Lewis Winkler was here. “Serendipity — that’s the theme.”

Hall displayed a map of taxpayer migration. There is a huge and wide swath of deep blue — representing the highest rate of out-migration — stretching north to south through the Great Plains, including much of Kansas. The Plains are urbanizing, Hall said. Pockets are doing well, but generally the rural areas are losing population. Economic development strategies must realize this long-term trend, he said.

A chart showed the geographic distribution of income earned in Kansas. In 1970, 55 percent of income was earned outside the state’s two major urban areas: Wichita and the Kansas City and Lawrence areas. In 2008, that number had declined to 38 percent. The cause of this is people moving to cities from small towns and rural areas.

On a map of Kansas counties, Hall showed how jobs are moving — concentrating — to a few areas of the state. “I think this is a positive development, because density tends to be a precursor to productivity, and productivity — meaning the value of output per worker — is one of the core fundamental definitions of economic growth.” It’s the reason, generally speaking, as to why cities are prosperous.

Hall said that we should care about our rural communities, but if we slow down the process of densification, we may be losing out on productivity growth and its benefit to economic development.

Continuing on this important theme, Hall said that the key to real and sustainable economic development is productivity growth: “Productivity growth happens on the front lines of individual businesses. You cannot will productivity growth. You cannot legislate productivity growth. You must create the conditions under which individual businesspeople, slogging it out on the front lines every day, create prosperity and productivity by trying new things and working hard. That requires a climate in which they feel optimistic enough to try new things, are rewarded for their efforts, and are willing to test new ideas.”

Dynamism is one of the most underappreciated aspects of the U.S. economy among those working in economic development, Hall told the audience. There is a high correlation between the average size of a business and economic growth, and particularly employment growth. In other words, small companies tend to grow faster than large companies. In the chart Hall displayed, there is a clear demarcation at companies with about 20 employees.

But most of our economic development policies have a bias towards big business. Hall said this is understandable. Further, he said that Wichita is a big business town, meaning that statistically, it is not poised to be a fast-growing area. Hall said we should create an atmosphere where we have lots of small businesses, where there is lots of experimentation. “If our economic development policies are biased against that, that is not helpful.”

A chart showed that each year many business firms die or contract, and many others are born or expand. These numbers are large, relatively speaking: in most years, around 150,000 jobs are created through new firms or expansion of existing firms, and about the same number are lost. Given that Kansas has about one million jobs, each year about 30 percent of Kansas jobs are in in play, just as a result of business dynamics.

Hall said that when the Kansas Department of Commerce announces the creation of 80 new jobs in Kansas, we need to remember that the marketplace swamps anything that individual economic development agencies can do. Hall called for policies that can handle a large volume of businesses — 15,000 to 25,000 — in growth mode each year. Our state’s economic development policies can not handle this level of volume, he said.

Another chart of the states illustrated the relationship between job reallocation rate — the “churn” of jobs — and the economic growth rate in a state. States with high growth rates have high turnover rates in jobs. Kansas ranks relatively low in economic growth.

Economic development policy should encourage new business startups, Hall said, although there is a high correlation between newness and death of businesses. “What you’re trying to do is have enough experimentation that enough good experiments take hold, and they grow.” This concept of experimentation is related to serendipity, or “making desirable discoveries by accident” that Hall mentioned earlier.

But much economic development policy focuses on retaining jobs. Hall said that if what we mean by job retention is saving jobs in companies that ought to die, the policy is not productive. Instead, job retainment policies should create a climate where people can find new jobs quickly here in Kansas. Job retention should not mean bailouts, he added.

Hall emphasized that while there is a high correlation between new businesses and being small, he said it is new businesses that are most important to driving economic growth.

Newness of business firms is vitally important, Hall said. Summarizing a chart of Kansas job creating by age of the firm, he told the audience: “Without year-zero businesses [meaning the newest firms], the entire state of Kansas is almost always losing jobs. It’s the same for the United States. It’s the newness that matters. We want new businesses, but new businesses create churn, as there’s a high correlation between birth and death.”

Hall said this is a complicated process, and that most discussions of economic development do not recognize this complexity.

Hall explained that the state, in conducting economic development activity, often acts as an investor in a company. Specifically, he said that the state acts as an “active manager” similar to an actively managed stock mutual fund. The other type of investor or mutual fund is the passively-managed index fund, where the fund invests in all stocks, usually weighted by the size of the firms. Which approach works best: active management, or investing in all companies. This historical record shows that very few actively-managed funds beat index funds, only 2.4 percent from 1994 to 2004.

Hall said the data shows it is very difficult to predict which are the right firms to pick to come to Kansas. Therefore, we need policies that benefit all companies in order to have a dynamic market in new business firms. “Everyone gets the same deal,” he said.

Hall recommended three specific policies: First, universal expensing of all new capital investment made in Kansas, which means that companies can deduct new investment immediately. Second, eliminate the tax on capital gains. Third, automatic property tax abatements for new or improved business investment for a period of five years.

Hall’s talk was based on his paper from earlier this year titled Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy. That paper contains the charts referred to, and also more detail, additional information, and policy recommendations.

Wichita forgivable loan action raises and illustrates issues

Today the Wichita City Council decided to grant a forgivable loan of $48,000 to The Golf Warehouse. This subsidy was promoted by the city as necessary to properly incentivize the applicant company to expand its operations in Wichita rather than Indiana, where the company has other operations and had also received an offer of subsidy. For more information, see Forgivable loan a test for new Wichita City Council members.

In presenting the item to the council, Allen Bell, Wichita’s Director of Urban Development said the forgivable loan was a “deal-closing” device intended to “win a competition with other locations.”

Further discussion brought out the fact that companies often “test the waters,” asking for incentives from cities like Wichita as a location they might consider moving to, only to us that as leverage for getting more incentives back home. (Wichita has suffered at the hands of this ruse, most recently granting a large forgivable loan to a company when the city used as leverage says they did not have discussions with the company.)

Council Member Michael O’Donnell asked if there was another form of economic development that The Golf Warehouse could have received. Bell said that in this case there wasn’t, that IRB financing with accompanying tax abatements wasn’t available for this project. As he has in the past, Bell pointed to the lack of tools in the toolbox, or “arrows in our quiver” he said today.

When the CEO of the applicant company spoke to the council, it was easy to get the impression that this company — like the many other companies that plead for incentives and subsidy — feel that because of their past and pending investment in Wichita, they are entitled some form of incentive. When the company’s outside site selection consultant spoke, this sense of entitlement became explicit. She told how the company has made “significant investment and has employed a lot of people and kept a lot of families employed.” She said that instead of forgivable loan, this should be called an “act of goodwill.” She said the company has made a huge investment, never asking for incentives, and that the loan allows the company to continue making investment into the community.

She also said that the offer made by Indiana amounted to twice Wichita’s offer, on a per-job basis.

Citizens spoke against the forgivable loan. John Todd asked if this is the economic formula that has blessed our city and county with the wealth and prosperity we enjoy today.

Clinton Coen told the council that these incentives are a bargaining tool, allowing cities to blackmail each other.

Susan Estes asked a question that built on O’Donnell’s earlier remarks: Why would we see this forgivable loan as egregious? On the surface, we see jobs, which is good, she said. But the money to pay for this loan comes from other taxpayers, she said, and there are many companies that need help, citing the number of companies filing for bankruptcy and having tax liens filed against them. “Why I find it egregious is that we’re doing something that helps one company at a time. We really need to take an overall look at our tax policy and address the tax issue. We have one of the highest tax rates on the Plains, and that’s why we get in these situations where we have to compete. If we had a better competitive tax rate we could spare all of this.”

Of interest for the political theater was the vote of three new council members, based on statements they made regarding forgivable loans on the campaign trail (see Forgivable loan a test for new Wichita City Council members). In making the motion to accept staff recommendation of the forgivable loan, council member Pete Meitzner said of the loan: “It is an investment, incentive, whatever you want to call it. It is not a give-away.”

Meitzner and James Clendenin voted with all the veteran council members to approve the forgivable loan. Only O’Donnell voted consistent with how he campaigned.

Analysis

This item before the Wichita City Council today requires analysis from two levels.

First, the economics and public policy aspects of granting the forgivable loan are this: It is impossible to tell whether The Golf Warehouse would not expand in Wichita if the forgivable loan was not granted. The companies that apply for these subsidies and that cite competitive offers from other states and cities have, in some cases, multi-million dollar motives to make Wichita think they will move away, or not invest any more in Wichita. Most politicians are scared to death of being labeled “anti-job,” and therefore will vote for any measure that has the appearance of creating or saving jobs.

Particularly inappropriate is the attitude of many of these companies in that they deserve some sort of reward for investing in Wichita and creating jobs. First, companies that make investments do, in fact, deserve a reward. That reward is called profit, but it has to be earned in the marketplace, not granted by government fiat. When a company earns profits in free markets, we have convincing evidence that wealth is being created and capital has been wisely invested. Everyone — the investors certainly but also the customers and employees — is better off when companies profit through competition in free markets.

But when government steps in with free capital, as was the case today, markets are no longer free. The benefits of capitalism are no longer available and working for us. The distortion that government introduces interferes with market processes, and we can’t be sure if the profit and loss system that is so important is working. Companies, as we saw today, increasingly revert to what economists call rent seeking — profiting through government rather than by pleasing customers in market competition.

Entrepreneurship, of which Wichita has a proud tradition, is replaced by a check from city hall.

Wichita’s own Charles Koch explained the harm of government interventionism in his recent recent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Government spending on business only aggravates the problem. Too many businesses have successfully lobbied for special favors and treatment by seeking mandates for their products, subsidies (in the form of cash payments from the government), and regulations or tariffs to keep more efficient competitors at bay. Crony capitalism is much easier than competing in an open market. But it erodes our overall standard of living and stifles entrepreneurs by rewarding the politically favored rather than those who provide what consumers want.”

A forgivable loan — despite Council Member Meitzner’s claim to the contrary — is a cash payment to business, which Mr. Koch warns against.

The focus on job creation is also a confounding factor that obscures the path to true wealth and prosperity for Wichita. When companies ask the city, county, and state for subsidy and incentive, they tout the number of jobs and the payroll that will be created. But jobs are a cost, not a benefit, to business and most firms do all they can to minimize their labor costs just as they seek to minimize all costs. For Wichita to prosper, we need to focus on productivity and wealth creation, not merely employment.

The actions of the city council today keep Wichita on its path of piecemeal economic development and growth. Movement to a system that embraces economic dynamism, as advocated by Dr. Art Hall and as part of Governor Sam Brownback’s economic development plan for Kansas, is delayed. Economic development in Wichita keeps its present status as a sort of public utility, subject to policy review from time to time, as was mentioned today by the city manager.

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

Particularly interesting is the inability of politicians to admit they were wrong, or that they made a mistake, or that they were simply uninformed or misinformed when they made a campaign promise or statement. It was refreshing to hear Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, when he was in Wichita a few weeks ago, forthrightly admit that he was wrong about his initial position on cap-and-trade energy policies. City council members Clendenin and Meitzner could not bring themselves to admit that their votes today were at odds with their statements made while campaigning. This lack of honesty is one of the reasons that citizens tune out politics, why they have such a cynical attitude towards politicians, and perhaps why voter turnout in city elections is so low.

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

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday May 9, 2011

Airfares down in Wichita. A city press release announces: “Wichita Mid-Continent Airport had the country’s 11th largest airline fare decrease since 2000 and now ranks 43rd in average fare of the 100 busiest airports, according to research by the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).” The program’s major source of funding is $5 million per year from the state. Currently, it is not known whether this funding will be in the budget the legislature is working on. … The program is controversial for claims of economic benefit that appear overstated. There is a way to pay for the program that shouldn’t be controversial. When government provides services that benefit everyone, such as police protection, most people agree that taxes to pay for these services should be broad-based. But we can precisely identify the people who benefit from cheap airfares: the people who buy tickets. Wichita could easily add a charge to tickets for this purpose. The mechanism is already in place.

Wichita City Council this week. A speaker on the public agenda will speak about restoring Joyland. Undoubtedly, the goal of the speaker will be to obtain public funds for this project. … City staff is recommending that the council deny a request for Industrial Revenue Bond financing by Pixius Communications LLC. As always, the benefit of the IRB financing to the applicant is the property tax and possible sales tax abatements that accompany the program. The city does not lend money, and does not guarantee that the applicant will repay the bonds. The reason staff is recommending not to approve the application is that Pixius is a service business, and under current policy, a service business must generate a majority of its revenues from outside the Wichita area. Pixius does not, and is asking the city to waive this policy for their benefit. … Separately, Pixius is applying for low-cost financing of renovations to the same building though the facade improvement program. The city has performed its “gap” analysis and has “determined a financial need for incentives based on the current market rates for economic rents.” This is another example of government investing in money-losing businesses. … Then The Golf Warehouse in northeast Wichita asks for a forgivable loan from the city as part of a larger package of incentives and subsidy. This item will prove to be a test for several council members who campaigned against these loans. … Council members will receive a quarterly financial report and view an “artistic concept” for WaterWalk.

Joyland topic of British tabloid. The British tabloid newspaper Daily Mail, in its online version, has a story and video about Wichita’s closed Joyland amusement park. For those who remember the park in its heyday, this is a fascinating — if not bittersweet — look at the park’s current condition. The headline of the article (“New images of an abandoned theme park reveal desolation in America’s heartland”) makes a connection between the deterioration of Joyland and the economic condition of America, a false impression which several comment writers corrected. … I don’t think the closing of Joyland has anything to do with public policy. Businesses come and go all the time as tastes and generations change.

Educational freedom to be discussed in Wichita. This week Kansas Policy Institute and The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice will be discussing what other states have done to increase student achievement through reforms based on educational freedom and creating a student-centric focus. KPI and FFEC recently launched the “Why Not Kansas” initiative to educate Kansans on the need to reform the state’s K-12 educational system to allow Kansas schools to continue to improve. Speakers at the event will be Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute, and Leslie Hiner, vice president of programs and state relations at The Foundation for Educational Choice. The event is Thursday, May 12 at 10:30 am, at the Central Wichita Public Library Auditorium. RSVP is requested by email to James Franko or by calling 316-634-0218.

Do you want to live in the world of Atlas Shrugged? From LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies: “In her masterpiece of fiction, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand emphasizes three key classical liberal themes: individualism, suspicion of centralized power, and the importance of free markets. In this video, Prof. Jennifer Burns shows how Rand’s plot and characters demonstrate these themes, principally through innovative entrepreneurs who are stifled by laws and regulations instituted by their competitors. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, free markets and individual liberty have been traded away for equality and security enforced by the government. Burns ends by reviving Rand’s critical question: do you want to live in this kind of world?” … The video is six minutes in length.

Who are the real robber barons? In summarizing a chapter from his book How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, From the Pilgrims to the Present, Thomas J. DiLorenzo explains the false lessons of capitalism and government that we have been taught:

“The lesson here is that most historians are hopelessly confused about the rise of capitalism in America. They usually fail to adequately appreciate the entrepreneurial genius of men like James J. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, and more often than not they lump these men (and other market entrepreneurs) in with genuine “robber barons” or political entrepreneurs.

Most historians also uncritically repeat the claim that government subsidies were necessary to building America’s transcontinental railroad industry, steamship industry, steel industry, and other industries. But while clinging to this “market failure” argument, they ignore (or at least are unaware of) the fact that market entrepreneurs performed quite well without government subsidies. They also ignore the fact that the subsidies themselves were a great source of inefficiency and business failure, even though they enriched the direct recipients of the subsidies and advanced the political careers of those who dished them out.

Political entrepreneurs and their governmental patrons are the real villains of American business history and should be portrayed as such. They are the real robber barons.

At the same time, the market entrepreneurs who practiced genuine capitalism, whose genius and energy fueled extraordinary economic achievement and also brought tremendous benefits to Americans, should be recognized for their achievements rather than demonized, as they so often are. Men like James J. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt were heroes who improved the lives of millions of consumers; employed thousands and enabled them to support their families and educate their children; created entire cities because of the success of their enterprises (for example, Scranton, Pennsylvania); pioneered efficient management techniques that are still employed today; and donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charities and nonprofit organizations of all kinds, from libraries to hospitals to symphonies, public parks, and zoos. It is absolutely perverse that historians usually look at these men as crooks or cheaters while praising and advocating “business/government partnerships,” which can only lead to corruption and economic decline.

Sedgwick County Commission to consider corporate welfare as economic development

Ed. note: the two measures discussed below passed.

Today the Sedgwick County Commission will consider two measures that, if adopted, will further establish corporate welfare and rent-seeking as Wichita’s and Sedgwick County’s economic development strategy.

When people are living on welfare, we usually see that as a sad state of affairs. We view it as a failure, both for the individual and for the country. We seek ways to help people get off welfare so that they become self-sufficient. We want to help them contribute to society rather than being a drain on its resources.

But local economic development officials don’t see corporate welfare as a bad thing. Instead, as these two measures — both which will likely pass — illustrate, welfare is good when you’re a business in Sedgwick County. Especially if you can raise speculation that your company might move out of the area.

The term rent, or more precisely, economic rent is somewhat unfortunate, as the common usage of the term — paying someone money for the use of an asset for a period of time — contains no sinister connotation. But economic rent does carry baggage.

What is rent seeking? Wikipedia defines it like this: “In economics, rent seeking occurs when an individual, organization or firm seeks to earn income by capturing economic rent through manipulation or exploitation of the economic environment, rather than by earning profits through economic transactions and the production of added wealth.”

This explanation doesn’t do full justice to the term, because it doesn’t mention the role that government and politics usually play. The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics adds this: “The idea is simple but powerful. People are said to seek rents when they try to obtain benefits for themselves through the political arena. They typically do so by getting a subsidy for a good they produce or for being in a particular class of people, by getting a tariff on a good they produce, or by getting a special regulation that hampers their competitors.”

The deals the Sedgwick County Commission will consider are both corporate welfare and rent-seeking. Both are harmful to our community.

The first item concerns Apex Engineering International LLC, which is proposed to receive forgivable loans of $220,000 each from Wichita and Sedgwick County. (The City of Wichita has already approved its loan.) The company will also receive grants and tax credits totaling $1,272,000 from the state. Surprisingly, no property tax exemption is mentioned for this company. The city’s material on this matter may be read at Approval of Forgivable Loan Agreement (Apex Engineering International).

Apex will also receive $1,272,000 in tax credits and grants under programs offered by the State of Kansas.

The second item concerns MoJack Distributors, LLC, a company that makes an accessory for riding lawn mowers. It is proposed that the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County each make a forgivable loans of $35,000 to this company. (Again, Wichita has already approved its loan to this company.) If the company maintains a certain level of employment, the loans do not need to be repaid.

But this is not the only welfare being given to Mojack. The city also proposes a 100% Economic Development Exemption (EDX) property tax exemption. This exemption obliges the county to abate its share of property tax, too. The term would be five years, with renewal for another five years if conditions are met. The city’s material on this matter may be read at Approval of Forgivable Loan Agreement, MoJack.

For both companies, there was the treat of moving operations elsewhere, and the incentives offered made the difference, say the companies.

Targeted investment, or welfare

Government bureaucrats and politicians promote programs like these as targeted investment in our region’s economic future. They believe that they have the ability to select which companies are worthy of public investment, and which are not. It’s a form of centralized planning by city hall that shapes the future direction of Wichita’s economy.

Arnold King has written about the ability of government experts to decide what investments should be made with public funds. There’s a problem with knowledge and power:

As Hayek pointed out, knowledge that is important in the economy is dispersed. Consumers understand their own wants and business managers understand their technological opportunities and constraints to a greater degree than they can articulate and to a far greater degree than experts can understand and absorb.

When knowledge is dispersed but power is concentrated, I call this the knowledge-power discrepancy. Such discrepancies can arise in large firms, where CEOs can fail to appreciate the significance of what is known by some of their subordinates. … With government experts, the knowledge-power discrepancy is particularly acute.

I emphasized the last sentence to highlight the problem of the dispersed nature of knowledge.

Yet this week, our Wichita and Sedgwick County bureaucrats feel they have the necessary knowledge to recommend to the commissions that the citizens of Sedgwick County make investments of public funds in these two instances. All Wichita city council members were gullible enough to believe it.

One thing is for sure: the city and the county have the power to make these investments. They just don’t have — they can’t have — the knowledge as to whether these are wise.

We need a dynamic job creation engine

Furthermore, we have to question the wisdom of investing in these established companies, especially a company involved in aviation, as Wichita and Sedgwick County are always seeking to diversify their economies away from dependence on aviation.

Through research conducted by Dr. Art Hall and others, we now know that it is dynamic young companies that are the main drivers of job creation in Kansas. Hall wrote: “Embracing dynamism starts with a change in vision. Simply stated, the state government of Kansas should abandon its prevailing policy vision of the State as an active investor in businesses or industries and instead adopt the policy vision of the State as a caretaker of a competitive “platform” — a platform that seeks to induce as much commercial experimentation as possible.” (While Hall wrote about the State of Kansas, Sedgwick County is playing the same role at a local level.)

The “active investor” role that Sedgwick County is about to take with regard to these two companies is precisely the wrong role to take. These actions increase the cost of government for the dynamic small companies we need to nurture. Instead these efforts concentrate and focus our economic development efforts in an unproductive way.

Kansas loses chance to improve tax climate

Legislation that would have improved the tax climate in Kansas over time appears dead this year. It’s something that we need in Kansas, but Kansas Senate leadership is not in favor of the bill.

The bill, named the March to Economic Growth, would have used increases in Kansas revenue to reduce state personal and corporate income tax rates. This is something that is needed, as new rankings published by the Tax Foundation indicate that the business tax climate in Kansas is poor. Kansas ranks 35th among the 50 states, just 15 spots from the bottom. In last year’s ranking, Kansas placed 32nd, so our state is slipping relative to other states.

The economic development strategy of Kansas and Wichita has been to offer tax abatements as an inventive to lure or retain industry. The study authors note the problem with this: “State lawmakers are always mindful of their states’ business tax climates but they are often tempted to lure business with lucrative tax incentives and subsidies instead of broad-based tax reform. … Lawmakers create these deals under the banner of job creation and economic development, but the truth is that if a state needs to offer such packages, it is most likely covering for a woeful business tax climate. A far more effective approach is to systematically improve the business tax climate for the long term so as to improve the state’s competitiveness.”

New Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has an economic development plan that includes parts of Dr. Art Hall’s “embracing dynamism” strategy. This strategy recognizes the futility of bureaucrats attempting to dish out economic development incentives, and recommends a strategy of creating an environment favorable to all businesses of all sizes. In particular, research has shown that it is new, young firms that are the dynamic driver of growth and innovation, but economic development policies are slanted towards old, established firms.

While it is refreshing to see the governor’s plan recognize the need for an environment that promotes dynamism, the plan still contains mechanisms for targeted economic development, including incentives to retain companies that threaten to leave Kansas. As for Wichita, city council members and bureaucrats yearn for “more tools in the toolbox.” The governor’s message hasn’t quite reached them.

Are taxes and tax policy important? After a review of the literature, the Tax Foundation report concludes: “… the general consensus of the literature has progressed to the view that taxes are a substantial factor in the decision-making process for businesses.” But there are some authors who disagree.

The state business climate index considers these factors: corporate taxes, individual income taxes, sales tax, unemployment tax, and property taxes. Kansas performs best on unemployment taxes, ranking 7th among the states. Our worst raking is 41st in property taxes. In sales tax, Kansas ranks 32nd, and this does take into account the statewide sales tax increase of one cent per dollar that started July 1.

The report recognizes that taxes are only one of many factors that companies use when deciding where to locate facilities. Kansas’ low ranking means we can make large improvements in this area. If we don’t, we are likely to have to keep up our ad hoc approach to economic development, were we craft special deals under the conceited belief that we know which deals to make.

The full report is available at the Tax Foundation by clicking on 2011 State Business Tax Climate Index. An introductory article is at Background paper: 2011 State Business Tax Climate Index (Eighth Edition).

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday February 10, 2011

Politicians’ Top 10 Promises Gone Wrong. This Monday (February 14) Americans for Prosperity will show the 2010 John Stossel documentary “Politicians’ Top 10 Promises Gone Wrong.” For a preview and interview with Stossel, click here. For my reporting and review of the show, click on Stossel on politicians’ promises. … This event, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, will be held on Monday, February 14 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Cabela’s to seek community improvement district tax. It should come as no surprise that when a major retailer comes to Wichita, they will take advantage of the state’s community improvement district law. If approved, formation of the CID would allow Cabela’s to charge an extra tax on its sales. In this case, according to Wichita Eagle reporting, the tax will be 1.2 cents per dollar. … Sources tell me that this is likely not the only special tax treatment Cabela’s will seek. Look for an application for tax abatements through IRBs or the EDX program. This would fit right in with Cabela’s notoriety for squeezing all it can from government. … As these CIDs spread across Wichita, we are, in effect, experiencing a sales tax increase, drip by drip.

Kansas legislature website. The Kansas legislature’s website is improving. A huge irritation remains, however: when pdf documents are presented, they’re in a “fancy” non-standard window that reduces the usability of the site. On an Iphone, the documents can’t be read, as the fancy window wants to do its own scrolling. … Sometimes clicking on a link produces the wrong document, as just now on the house of Representatives page, I clicked on “Session 20 – Wed Feb 09 2011 PDF” and was presented with the Senate’s journal for January 31. … Judging by the log of completed features added each day and by the list of things promised, it’s clear that this site is still in development. Doing this during the session was a terrible lapse of judgment. … Listed are “Special reports for members” such as “House and Senate Subject Index with bill status.” Why, I wonder, should this be available only for members?

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday January 16, 2011

Wichita swoons over Boston attention. The self-congratulatory back-patting by a group of Wichitans over attention paid by a Boston Globe travel writer is starting to be embarrassing for us. The Wichita Eagle article on this topic mentions chicken-fried steak and biscuits and gravy in its opening sentence, a sure sign that the article will attempt to draw a contrast between our image and our purported reality. Which is, if I understand, mostly street statues, the Old Mill Tasty Shop, and Exploration Place. … As it turns out, Geoff Edgers, the writer, has a financial motive in his praise of Wichita. On his initial visit: “Festival directors put up Edgers, his wife and two small children at the Hotel at Old Town.” Now Wichitans are raising money to help the writer, who is also a filmmaker, get his movie on television, and “the Wichita groups offered to raise money to help Edgers’ get his film shortened and syndicated for public broadcasting. … If he raises $2,500 while in Wichita next month, Edgers intends to include a ‘thank-you’ to Wichita in the credits of his syndicated film.”

Harm of expanding government explained. Introducing his new book Back on the Road to Serfdom: The Resurgence of Statism, Thomas E. Woods, Jr. writes: “The economic consequences of an expanded government presence in American life are of course not the only outcomes to be feared, and this volume considers a variety of them. For one thing, as the state expands, it fosters the most antisocial aspects of man’s nature, particularly his urge to attain his goals with the least possible exertion. And it is much easier to acquire wealth by means of forcible redistribution by the state than by exerting oneself in the service of one’s fellow man. The character of the people thus begins to change; they expect as a matter of entitlement what they once hesitated to ask for as charity. That is the fallacy in the usual statement that ‘it would cost only $X billion to give every American who needs it’ this or that benefit. Once people realize the government is giving out a benefit for ‘free,’ more and more people will place themselves in the condition that entitles them to the benefit, thereby making the program ever more expensive. A smaller and smaller productive base will have to strain to provide for an ever-larger supply of recipients, until the system begins to buckle and collapse.” … Phrases like “smaller and smaller productive base” apply in Wichita, where our economic development policies like tax increment financing, community improvement districts, and tax abatement through industrial revenue bonds excuse groups of taxpayers from their burdens, leaving a smaller group of people to pay the costs of government.

Kansas economic growth policy should embrace dynamism

A dynamic market where many new business startups attempt to succeed and thrive while letting old, unproductive firms die is what contributes to productivity and economic growth. But most economic development policies, including those of Kansas and Wichita, do not encourage this dynamism, and in fact, work against it.

That’s the message of Dr. Art Hall, who spoke to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on the topic “Business Dynamics and Economic Development in Kansas.” Hall is Director of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business.

At the start of his talk, Hall said that economic development has become an industry of its own, a public industry sometimes implemented as public-private partnerships. But its agenda is often not genuine economic development, he said.

In a short history lesson, Hall described how Walter Beech came to Wichita from North Carolina simply because Clyde Cessna was in Wichita. Sprint began in Abilene in 1899. Fred Koch, who founded the company that became Koch Industries, came to Wichita because Lewis Winkler was here. “Serendipity — that’s the theme.”

Hall displayed a map of taxpayer migration. There is a huge and wide swath of deep blue — representing the highest rate of out-migration — stretching north to south through the Great Plains, including much of Kansas. The Plains are urbanizing, Hall said. Pockets are doing well, but generally the rural areas are losing population. Economic development strategies must realize this long-term trend, he said.

A chart showed the geographic distribution of income earned in Kansas. In 1970, 55 percent of income was earned outside the state’s two major urban areas: Wichita and the Kansas City and Lawrence areas. In 2008, that number had declined to 38 percent. The cause of this is people moving to cities from small towns and rural areas.

On a map of Kansas counties, Hall showed how jobs are moving — concentrating — to a few areas of the state. “I think this is a positive development, because density tends to be a precursor to productivity, and productivity — meaning the value of output per worker — is one of the core fundamental definitions of economic growth.” It’s the reason, generally speaking, as to why cities are prosperous.

Hall said that we should care about our rural communities, but if we slow down the process of densification, we may be losing out on productivity growth and its benefit to economic development.

Continuing on this important theme, Hall said that the key to real and sustainable economic development is productivity growth: “Productivity growth happens on the front lines of individual businesses. You cannot will productivity growth. You cannot legislate productivity growth. You must create the conditions under which individual businesspeople, slogging it out on the front lines every day, create prosperity and productivity by trying new things and working hard. That requires a climate in which they feel optimistic enough to try new things, are rewarded for their efforts, and are willing to test new ideas.”

Dynamism is one of the most underappreciated aspects of the U.S. economy among those working in economic development, Hall told the audience. There is a high correlation between the average size of a business and economic growth, and particularly employment growth. In other words, small companies tend to grow faster than large companies. In the chart Hall displayed, there is a clear demarcation at companies with about 20 employees.

But most of our economic development policies have a bias towards big business. Hall said this is understandable. Further, he said that Wichita is a big business town, meaning that statistically, it is not poised to be a fast-growing area. Hall said we should create an atmosphere where we have lots of small businesses, where there is lots of experimentation. “If our economic development policies are biased against that, that is not helpful.”

A chart showed that each year many business firms die or contract, and many others are born or expand. These numbers are large, relatively speaking: in most years, around 150,000 jobs are created through new firms or expansion of existing firms, and about the same number are lost. Given that Kansas has about one million jobs, each year about 30 percent of Kansas jobs are in in play, just as a result of business dynamics.

Hall said that when the Kansas Department of Commerce announces the creation of 80 new jobs in Kansas, we need to remember that the marketplace swamps anything that individual economic development agencies can do. Hall called for policies that can handle a large volume of businesses — 15,000 to 25,000 — in growth mode each year. Our state’s economic development policies can not handle this level of volume, he said.

Another chart of the states illustrated the relationship between job reallocation rate — the “churn” of jobs — and the economic growth rate in a state. States with high growth rates have high turnover rates in jobs. Kansas ranks relatively low in economic growth.

Economic development policy should encourage new business startups, Hall said, although there is a high correlation between newness and death of businesses. “What you’re trying to do is have enough experimentation that enough good experiments take hold, and they grow.” This concept of experimentation is related to serendipity, or “making desirable discoveries by accident” that Hall mentioned earlier.

But much economic development policy focuses on retaining jobs. Hall said that if what we mean by job retention is saving jobs in companies that ought to die, the policy is not productive. Instead, job retainment policies should create a climate where people can find new jobs quickly here in Kansas. Job retention should not mean bailouts, he added.

Hall emphasized that while there is a high correlation between new businesses and being small, he said it is new businesses that are most important to driving economic growth.

Newness of business firms is vitally important, Hall said. Summarizing a chart of Kansas job creating by age of the firm, he told the audience: “Without year-zero businesses [meaning the newest firms], the entire state of Kansas is almost always losing jobs. It’s the same for the United States. It’s the newness that matters. We want new businesses, but new businesses create churn, as there’s a high correlation between birth and death.”

Hall said this is a complicated process, and that most discussions of economic development do not recognize this complexity.

Hall explained that the state, in conducting economic development activity, often acts as an investor in a company. Specifically, he said that the state acts as an “active manager” similar to an actively managed stock mutual fund. The other type of investor or mutual fund is the passively-managed index fund, where the fund invests in all stocks, usually weighted by the size of the firms. Which approach works best: active management, or investing in all companies. This historical record shows that very few actively-managed funds beat index funds, only 2.4 percent from 1994 to 2004.

Hall said the data shows it is very difficult to predict which are the right firms to pick to come to Kansas. Therefore, we need policies that benefit all companies in order to have a dynamic market in new business firms. “Everyone gets the same deal,” he said.

Hall recommended three specific policies: First, universal expensing of all new capital investment made in Kansas, which means that companies can deduct new investment immediately. Second, eliminate the tax on capital gains. Third, automatic property tax abatements for new or improved business investment for a period of five years.

Hall’s talk was based on his paper from earlier this year titled Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy. That paper contains the charts referred to, and also more detail, additional information, and policy recommendations.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday December 1, 2010

Tax incentives questioned. In a commentary in Site Selection Magazine, Daniel Levine lays out the case that tax incentives that states use to lure or keep jobs are harmful, and the practice should end. In Incentives and the Interstate Competition for Jobs he writes: “Despite overwhelming evidence that state and local tax incentives are having little to no positive effect on promoting real economic growth anywhere in the country, states continue to up the ante with richer and richer incentive programs. … there are real questions as to whether the interstate competition for jobs is a wise use of anyone’s tax dollars and, if not, then what can be done to at least slow down this zero sum game?” As a solution, Levine proposes that the Internal Revenue Service classify some types of incentives as taxable income to the recipient, which would reduce the value and the attractiveness of the offer. Levine also correctly classifies tax credits — like the historical preservation tax credits in Kansas — as spending programs in disguise: “Similarly, when a ‘tax credit’ can be sold or transferred if unutilized it ceases to have a meaningful connection to state tax liability. Instead, in such circumstances the award of tax credit is merely a delivery mechanism for state subsidy.” In the end, the problem — when recognized as such — always lies with the other guy: “Most state policy makers welcome an opportunity to offer large cash incentives to out-of-state companies considering a move to their state but fume with indignation when a neighboring state uses the same techniques against them.”

Yoder: No business as usual. Kansas Watchdog reports on a speech by newly-elected U.S. Congressman Kevin Yoder from the Kansas third district. Said Yoder: “Business as usual has to stop in Washington.” They always say this. Let’s hope Yoder and the other new representatives from Kansas mean it, and can resist the inevitable pressures. Remember the assessment of Trent Lott, a former Senate majority leader and now a powerful lobbyist, as reported in the Washington Examiner: “‘We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,’ Lott told the Washington Post, referring to the conservative South Carolina senator who has been a gadfly for party leadership and a champion for upstart conservative candidates. ‘As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.’”

Kansas revenue outlook was mixed in November . From Kansas Reporter: “Kansas’ economy and the state government’s cash flow continued to struggle in November, preliminary tax revenue numbers indicated Tuesday. A Kansas Department of Revenue calculation of state tax receipts during November showed the state collected $384 million in taxes during the month, a whisker-thin $783,000, or 0.2 percent, less than forecasters calculated just three weeks ago, but nearly $30 million, or 8.5 percent more than in November, 2009.” The 8.5 percent growth from a year ago is partly from the increase in the state’s sales tax. “This suggests that actual retail sales activity, on which state officials are counting to hit future revenue targets, may be trailing year-earlier levels by about 2.4 percent.”

Teacher organization offers alternative to KNEA . “The Kansas Association of American Educators says it offers the benefits of a union membership, but doesn’t involve itself in partisan issues.” More at Kansas Reporter.

Kansas education officials may overstate student performance. Kansas schools claim rapidly rising test scores while other measures of student performance remain largely unchanged, even falling in some years. Kansas Watchdog reports: “There are nagging questions about the validity of claims based on state assessments and the tests are only one measure of the education system’s performance. Several national education watchdogs and the U.S. Department of Education have questioned the rigor of state tests, proficiency standards, graduation rates and graduates preparation for college and the workforce.” The story is Kansas Education Officials May Overstate Student Performance.

Kansas ranks low, says Tax Foundation

New rankings published by the Tax Foundation indicate that the business tax climate in Kansas is poor. Kansas ranks 35th among the 50 states, just 15 spots from the bottom. In last year’s ranking, Kansas placed 32nd, so our state is slipping relative to other states.

The economic development strategy of Kansas and Wichita is to offer tax abatements as an inventive to lure or retain industry. The study authors note the problem with this and what this action tries to cover up: “State lawmakers are always mindful of their states’ business tax climates but they are often tempted to lure business with lucrative tax incentives and subsidies instead of broad-based tax reform. … Lawmakers create these deals under the banner of job creation and economic development, but the truth is that if a state needs to offer such packages, it is most likely covering for a woeful business tax climate. A far more effective approach is to systematically improve the business tax climate for the long term so as to improve the state’s competitiveness.”

Are taxes and tax policy important? After a review of the literature, the report concludes: “… the general consensus of the literature has progressed to the view that taxes are a substantial factor in the decision-making process for businesses.” But there are some authors who disagree.

The state business climate index considers these factors: corporate taxes, individual income taxes, sales tax, unemployment tax, and property taxes. Kansas performs best on unemployment taxes, ranking 7th among the states. Our worst raking is 41st in property taxes. In sales tax, Kansas ranks 32nd, and this does take into account the statewide sales tax increase of one cent per dollar that started July 1.

The report recognizes that taxes are only one of many factors that companies use when deciding where to locate facilities. Kansas’ low ranking means we can make large improvements in this area. If we don’t, we are likely to have to keep up our ad hoc approach to economic development, were we craft special deals under the guise that we know which deals to make.

The full report is available at the Tax Foundation by clicking on 2011 State Business Tax Climate Index. An introductory article is at Background paper: 2011 State Business Tax Climate Index (Eighth Edition).

Wichita’s alphabet soup of ‘tax tricks’

Thank you to Marian Chambers of Wichita for submitting this letter. It also appeared in today’s Wichita Eagle.

I want to commend the courage shown by the October 10 Sunday Wichita Eagle editorial “Get control of incentives.” It takes some intestinal fortitude to speak out against the “tax tricks” (wonderful description) that have been foisted on the city and county taxpayers already burdened by federal, state, and property taxes.

Wichita is a wonderful place to live. But some of our leaders seem to be threatening our historic legacy by burdening us with an alphabet soup of “tax tricks”; so far, I have counted TIF, STAR, and CID (not to mention the broader state version of EDX and PEAK). The alphabet soup of “incentives” has the same result, regardless of the letters: taking money from taxpayers without them seeing it in their paychecks.

I have no objection to paying straightforward taxes that provide the services we all need and expect: firefighters, police, roads, water, sewers, emergency vehicles, basic schools for our children and basic coverage for our elderly. But “incentives” masquerading as hidden taxes do not promote a quality of life for our citizens.

The Eagle has taken a courageous stand in drawing attention to these ugly, hidden taxes.

Economic incentives and corporate welfare in Wichita

At a Wichita city council meeting, economic development incentives in the form of property tax abatements are discussed.

News coverage: Council to vote on bridge and tax exemptions (Wichita Eagle), Council approves tax exemption for Leading Technology Composites (Wichita Eagle), Tax exemption approved for Leading Technology Composites (Wichita Business Journal).

Economic development planning in Wichita on tap

Tuesday’s meeting of the Wichita City Council features four public hearings concerning Community Improvement Districts. One CID also will have a public hearing on its application for tax increment financing (TIF).

CIDs are a creation of the Kansas Legislature from the 2009 session. They allow merchants in a district to collect additional sales tax of up to two cents per dollar. The extra sales tax is used for the exclusive benefit of the CID.

Under tax increment financing (TIF), developers get to use their property taxes to pay for the same infrastructure (or other costs) that everyone else has to pay for. That’s because in TIF, the increment in property taxes are used to pay off bonds that were issued for the exclusive benefit of a development. Or, as in the case with a new form of TIF called pay-as-you-go, the increment in property taxes are simply given back to the developer. (Which leads to the question: why even pay at all?)

The developments seeking this form of public financing include a grocery story in Plainview, a low-income and, according to the application, underserved area of town. Material on this hearing provided by the city is at Plainview Grocery Store CID and TIF in Wichita, Kansas.

A second applicant asks to charge an extra one cent per dollar sales tax for Central Park Place, a proposed suburban shopping center. Read more here: Community Improvement District at Central Park Place, Wichita, Kansas.

Then the developers of Bowllagio, a proposed bowling alley and entertainment district, will make their pitch to add two cents per dollar sales tax. Read more here: Community Improvement District for Bowllagio (Maize 54 Development).

Finally, the developers of the downtown Wichita Broadview Hotel will ask to add two cents per dollar sales tax on purchases made by the hotel’s visitors. Read more here: Community Improvement District for Broadview Hotel, Wichita, Kansas.

All of these applications should be turned down by the city council, and for a variety of reasons.

For example, the goal of the Plainview grocery store is to serve a low-income area of town. To do that, however, the store will be charging its customers an extra $1 for every $50 spent. Supporters make the case that many of the potential customers presently shop at Quik-Trip, which is not an inexpensive store, so the city is really doing these people a favor. The developer makes the case that he’s just trying to do something for the community, giving back something.

But if the developer really wants to do something for the community, he should agree to pay his share of property taxes like almost everyone else pays. That won’t happen, as most of the taxes he will pay will be routed right back to him through the TIF district.

The extra sales tax is a consumer protection issue, both in the case of the Plainview grocery store and the suburban shopping center. Shoppers won’t have any idea that they’re going to be paying extra sales tax by shopping at these merchants until after they get their receipt. Most people probably won’t notice then.

There are several council members who normally would be in favor of exposing greedy merchants who overcharge people, but they haven’t shown this concern so far regarding Community Improvement Districts.

The Broadview hotel is already the recipient of potentially $4.75 million in Kansas historic preservation tax credits. Despite the name of the program, the tax credits are in effect a grant of money to the developers — the state might as well write the developers a check. The City of Wichita has also assisted the hotel in several ways. But now it’s back at the government trough asking for even more corporate welfare.

We ought to ponder the wisdom of renovating this hotel if it can’t survive without so much government assistance. And having plowed so much into an economically unfeasible project, we can easily see sometime a few years down the road where owner Drury Hotels come to the city saying they can’t make a profit, and they need some other form of assistance.

Having given so much already, the city won’t be able to turn down the request for a little more. It’s happened before.

Even pointing out how the city works at cross-purposes with itself doesn’t impress the council. We spend millions every year subsidizing airlines so that airfares to Wichita are low. Then we turn around and add extra tax to visitors’ hotel bills, with Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell and the Wichita Eagle editorial board approving this as a wise strategy.

People remember high taxes. I don’t think it’s a good strategy to establish high-tax districts designed to capture extra tax revenue from visitors to our city. A good strategy for Wichita to pursue would be to establish itself as a low-cost destination, but we’re going the other way.

Then we must consider: does all this economic development planning work? The answer, emphatically, is: No. City leaders tell us that they do these things to grow Wichita’s economy. The activity of developers who seek subsidy like this is called, in economic terms, rent seeking, and city leaders encourage it. But evidence shows that rent seeking activity harms economic growth.

It’s usually pretty good for the favored developers who receive such economic rents (subsidy). But it’s a bad deal for everyone else. It illustrates one of the primary problems with government taxation and spending. John Stossel explains:

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

We see this in play nearly every week in Wichita as the city seeks to manage economic development. City leaders portray “success stories” (that’s when a company accepts subsidy from the city to build something) as evidence of people having faith in Wichita. Someone has confidence in Wichita because they’re investing here, they say.

But I wonder why these people won’t invest in Wichita unless they receive millions of dollars through preferential tax treatment such as tax abatements, CID, TIF, STAR bonds, forgivable loans, and other forms of local corporate welfare.

These preferential tax treatments increase the cost of government for everyone else in the city. That fuels the cycle of people coming to city council saying their plans are not feasible unless they receive tax breaks. This expanding role of Wichita in centralized economic planning is great if you’re a city hall bureaucrat like Wichita city manager Bob Layton and Wichita economic development director Allen Bell. It satisfies the incentives and motivations of bureaucrats. But it’s bad for economic freedom and the people of Wichita.

Finally, perhaps the simplest public policy issue is this: If merchants feel they need to collect additional revenue from their customers, why don’t they simply raise their prices? Why the roundabout process of the state collecting extra sales tax, only to ship it back to the merchants in the CID?

Kansas airports and their economic impact

Last week’s release by the Kansas Department of Transportation of a study of the economic impact of Kansas airports caused quite a stir, with newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times (at least its online version) carrying the Associated Press coverage.

Perhaps the reason so many distant newspapers were interested in the story is the sensationally large economic impact figures reported. The number of jobs purported to airports is large, by any standard.

But there’s a problem with these numbers. They’re similar to sensational claims made a few years ago when the case for subsidizing airlines in Wichita was made. Those figures were bogus. So are these.

The staggeringly large figures come from two aspects of the study. First, the study counts the economic activity from businesses near the airport as attributable to the airport. In the case of the Wichita airport, this means that the employees of Cessna and Bombardier Learjet, and all the economic activity these companies produce, is credited as economic impact of the airport.

This economic sleight-of-hand allows the study to attribute 22,313 jobs to the Wichita airport. The total economic impact of the Wichita airport is reported as $4.7 billion.

All these employees don’t work for the airport. Almost all of them work at business firms located near the airport. But the study doesn’t really make that distinction. And when you do things like this, you can really pump up some inflated figures.

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.

A second problem is the study’s use of economic impact multipliers to pump up the figures. A multiplier reflects the fact that money spent at, say an airport, get spent again. Proponents of multipliers forget that money spent elsewhere get multiplied too. In fact, money that is saved and invested get multiplied, too.

These two factors inspired the Associated Press reporter to lead off a story with “Airports in Kansas support more than 47,000 jobs, generate $2.3 billion in payroll and have an annual economic impact of $10.4 billion …” With numbers so big, you can see why news editors in far-away cities might run the story.

There’s another problem: these studies usually assume that all the activity is the responsibility of the entity being promoted, that none of it would have happened without the celebrated entity, and that since (usually) the promoted entities are government-owned, all this is evidence of the goodness of government.

Another problem is that these economic impact figures get used several times to support various government subsidies to business. Here we have the airport claiming two aircraft manufacturing companies’ employees and their economic impact as the product of the airport.

But when these companies want corporate welfare from the Kansas state government, the economic impact of the companies and their employees will be cited as justification. Politicians, bureaucrats, and the public will believe their case.

Then, the same numbers might be cited again at Wichita city hall, and maybe before the Sedgwick County Commission as the company makes its case for industrial revenue bonds, tax abatements, forgivable loans, and other forms of local corporate welfare.

But this economic impact can’t be recycled like this. It exists only once. If the Wichita airport claims it, then it can’t be used again to justify some other program or request.

Another way the study leaps beyond credibility is its inclusion of the Beech Factory Airport in east Wichita. This is an airport without commercial air service. It exists solely for the convenience of Hawker Beechcraft, and is undoubtedly a necessary component of the capital plant needed to manufacture airplanes.

The study, however, mixes this airport in with all other Kansas airports, so this airport’s claimed $1.8 billion in economic impact is treated the same as any other Kansas airport. But regular people can’t catch a flight at this airport.

When government officials use stretched and inflated figures like these, they diminish their credibility. The Kansas Department of Transportation already snowed the Kansas public earlier this year with their claims of the need for huge spending on Kansas roads and highways.

Now they’re at it again, with claims that simply make no economic sense at all. The fact that news media laps up these figures without any skepticism or critical thought doesn’t help.

Does this mean that Kansas and its local government shouldn’t offer airports and businesses like aircraft manufacturers help from the public treasury? That’s a different question for a different day.

Today, however, we need to realize that accurate, reasonable, and believable information about Kansas airports and other transportation infrastructure isn’t available from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Kansas tax burdens getting heavier, studies show

While Kansas ranks in the middle of the states in total tax burden, the state’s take is getting larger, compared to other states.

This finding is important as Kansas and its largest city are increasingly using favorable tax treatment to centrally plan and manage economic development. When the state allows a company’s employee withholding taxes to be used for its own exclusive benefit — as outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson recently granted to Wichita’s Bombardier Learjet — it increases the cost of government for everyone else.

The Kansas PEAK bill that the legislature passed this year allows this practice to be extended to more and smaller companies.

In cities like Wichita, the city council routinely grants tax abatements and other favorable tax treatment to companies that it believes are deserving.

The result of all this intervention is that the tax base is narrowed, and the high cost of government is born by a smaller group of taxpayers.

To top it off, the result of this centralized planning and management of economic development is: pretty much zero.

In 2008 the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit looked at the use of economic development incentives in Kansas, examining some $1.3 billion in spending over five years. In examining the literature, the auditors found: “Most studies of traditional economic development incentives suggest these incentives don’t have a significant impact on economic growth.”

It also found: “The majority of research concludes there is a lack of demonstrated impact from the typical types of economic development assistance, and that incentives aren’t cost-effective.” The audit can be read at Economic Development: Determining the Amounts the State Has Spent on Economic Development Programs and the Economic Impacts on Kansas Counties. The document has an executive summary.

The concentrating of the cost of government on a shrinking tax base spells trouble. One solution that I proposed to the Wichita city council is that when tax incentives are given, the city reduce its spending by the cost of the incentive: “The harmful effect of this tax abatement is this: When someone escapes paying taxes, someone else has to make up the difference. … As long as this body is willing to grant tax abatements and other special tax favors, I propose this simple pledge: that when the City of Wichita allows a company to escape paying taxes, that it reduce city spending by the same amount. By following this simple rule, the City can be reminded of the cost of granting special tax favors, and the rest of us won’t have to pay for them.”

Kansas tax burdens getting heavier, studies show

By Gene Meyer, Kansas Reporter

(KansasReporter) TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansans’ state and local sales taxes are now 12th highest in the nation, though their total tax burden is nearer the middle of the pack in 24th place, say two new reports released Thursday.

But, as investment companies always remind us when pitching their new products, your actual results may vary.

“Even within a state, it can be difficult to know what the average tax rate is when there can be hundreds of different jurisdictions charging different rates,” said Kail Padgitt, an economist at the Washington, D.C. based Tax Foundation, which calculates Kansas’ 7.95 percent average state and local sales taxes are 12th highest in the nation.

Within that average, though, actual local rates in some 790 different county, local and special tax districts across Kansas vary from 6.3 percent where only the basic state rate is charged to more than 10.5 percent in a few special taxing districts.

The ranking, one of the first nationally to include Kansas’ recently raised 6.3 percent statewide sales tax that became effective July 1, puts the 12th ranked Sunflower state higher than its neighbors in 15th ranked Missouri, 25th ranked Colorado and 29th ranked Nebraska. Only Oklahoma, where an average 8.33 percent sales tax burden clocks in at seventh highest in the nation, comes in higher.

Continue reading at Kansas Reporter

More intervention for Wichita proposed

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider accepting petitions for the formation of another Community Improvement District. In this case the applicant is the Broadview Hotel in downtown Wichita.

This hotel is already the recipient of potentially $4.75 million in Kansas historic preservation tax credits. Despite the name of the program, the tax credits are in effect a grant of money to the developers.

Now the hotel seeks permission to charge extra sales tax for its own benefit.

The action the council may take tomorrow is on the consent agenda, as noticed by the Wichita Eagle’s Brent Wistrom. The consent agenda is usually reserved for non-controversial items. It’s likely that many more CIDs will be proposed, so many that accepting petitions requesting their formation is now considered a routine item of business.

Each CID, however, must have a public hearing. But already council members have indicated they are ready to approve all CIDs, and council members are not receptive to opposition, if a televised overheard whispered remark by one council member is any indication.

Separately a proposed downtown Wichita grocery store gets government assistance. Announced by the Kansas Department of Commerce, the Exchange Market & Deli in downtown Wichita can receive $2.5 million in government stimulus financing. The bonds are exempt from federal income taxes, and the federal government pays 45 percent of the interest. It’s part of President Obama’s stimulus program.

The project this grocery store is attached to — Exchange Place — is the beneficiary of over $10 million in Wichita tax increment financing. That is, if the developers, Real Development, can close on their financing of a nearby project. That financing has been delayed several times.

Each of these projects is another example of increasing government intervention in the future of downtown Wichita. Each represents a loss of economic freedom to Wichitans, as the city council uses taxes to override the decisions that thousands of Wichitans have made as to where to live and locate their business. Some of the city council members that consistently vote for these interventions describe themselves as conservative.

The ‘tax expenditure’ solution for our national debt

While most critics of government spending focus on entitlements, regular appropriations, and earmarks, there is a category of spending that not many pay much attention to. The spending is called “tax expenditures.”

It’s a big issue. As economist Martin Feldstein writes in the Wall Street Journal, tax expenditures will increase the federal budget deficit by $1 trillion this year.

Tax expenditures are implemented through the tax system. It’s usually the income tax system, especially at the federal level. Taxpayers may receive tax credits, which reduce the tax that must be paid dollar for dollar. Many credits are refundable, meaning that if the taxpayer has no tax liability, the government will send the recipient a check. Examples cited by Feldstein include “$500 million annual subsidy for the rehabilitation of historic structures and a $4 billion annual subsidy of employer-paid transportation benefits.”

While supporters of many of these programs portray them as not costing the government anything, Feldstein writes that they do: “These tax rules — because they result in the loss of revenue that would otherwise be collected by the government — are equivalent to direct government expenditures.”

I argued this in testimony I presented to a committee in the Kansas Legislature this year, when it was considering restoring and expanding the Kansas historic preservation tax credit program. I told committee members: “We must recognize that a tax credit is an appropriation of Kansans’ money made through the tax system. If the legislature is not comfortable with writing a developer a check for over $1,000,000 — as in the case with one Wichita developer — it should not make a roundabout contribution through the tax system that has the same economic impact on the state’s finances.”

In that committee, not one member voted against this program, even though the committee has some members who consider themselves very fiscally conservative and hawks on spending.

Here in Wichita, the city council regularly steers spending to certain companies through the tax system by granting property tax exemptions and tax increment financing.

Feldstein describes problems with spending implemented through the tax system:

  • Politicians use tax expenditures to grow the welfare state. While proposing a freeze on discretionary spending, President Obama at the same time proposed an expansion of a tax credit program for child or elderly care.
  • Once enshrined in the tax law, these appropriations don’t have to be reauthorized each year. They’re on auto-pilot, so to speak.
  • Eliminating tax expenditures is looked on by Republicans as a tax increase, so they are reluctant to support their elimination. Felstein counters: “But eliminating tax expenditures does not increase marginal tax rates or reduce the reward for saving, investment or risk-taking.”
  • Tax expenditures distort the economy in harmful ways: “[Eliminating tax expenditures] would also increase overall economic efficiency by removing incentives that distort private spending decisions.”

Feldstein concludes: “Cutting tax expenditures is really the best way to reduce government spending. And to be politically acceptable, the cuts in tax expenditures must be widespread, requiring most taxpayers to give up something so that the fiscal deficits can decline.”

The ‘Tax Expenditure’ Solution for Our National Debt

The credits and subsidies that make the tax code so complicated cost big bucks. Reduce them by third and the debt will be 72% of GDP in 2020 instead of 90%.

By Martin Feldstein

When it comes to spending cuts, Congress is looking in the wrong place. Most federal nondefense spending, other than Social Security and Medicare, is now done through special tax rules rather than by direct cash outlays. The rules are used to subsidize a wide range of spending including education, child care, health insurance, and a myriad of other congressional favorites.

These tax rules — because they result in the loss of revenue that would otherwise be collected by the government — are equivalent to direct government expenditures. That’s why tax and budget experts refer to them as “tax expenditures.” This year tax expenditures will raise the federal deficit by about $1 trillion, according to estimates by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. If Congress is serious about cutting government spending, it has to go after many of them.

Continue reading at the Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Wichita community improvement districts should have warning signs

At today’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, council members may approve the start of the process to create two Community Improvement Districts in Wichita.

CIDs are a creation of the Kansas Legislature from last year. They allow merchants in a geographic district to collect additional sales tax of up to two cents per dollar. The extra sales tax is used for the exclusive benefit of the CID.

In Wichita, one CID is limited to a Fairfield Inn hotel being built downtown. That CID proposes to collect an additional two cents per dollar sales tax. The second is a retail and office development of about two blocks at Central and Oliver that asks to collect an additional one cent per dollar.

There are a few problems associated these CIDs. One is this: How will potential tenants of a CID know that they will have to charge their customers higher sales tax? I asked this question earlier this year at a council meeting, and no answer was given.

But more importantly, how will consumers considering purchases from a merchant located in a CID know that they’ll have to pay higher sales tax?

The City of Lawrence is considering how to deal with this problem. Normally I’m cautious of adopting ideas coming out of Lawrence, although that is where I received my university education.

In Lawrence the mayor and some city council members are concerned for the welfare of consumers, according to reporting in the Lawrence Journal-World. According to the article: “Commissioners said they have heard multiple concerns from residents who fear they may buy products at locations without knowing they are paying the extra tax.”

That’s a problem. Most people are generally aware of their state’s sales tax rate, and of that in the city where they live. But shoppers are just starting to realize that different stores in a city may charge different sales tax rates. And it’s not in the interest of merchants located in CIDs to publicize that their customers will spend more by shopping in a CID.

So mandated warning signs might be the answer to this issue of consumer protection and education.

Some might say this isn’t much of a problem, as the extra sales tax is just one or two cents. But it’s more than that. It’s an additional one or two cents per dollar spent. Since the sales tax in Wichita is now 7.3 cents per dollar, an increase of one cent per dollar is 13.7 percent more paid in sales tax.

Or, in the case of the Wichita hotel CID, it’s two cents per dollar, or 27.4 percent more sales tax.

Proponents of economic development tools like CIDs often attempt to justify their use by arguing that the proceeds can be used only for certain eligible costs. Because of this restricted use, it’s not like we’re simply giving money to the CID, they argue.

This type of doublespeak actually makes sense to some people. But as long as the CID proceeds pay for something that developers must pay for anyway, these restrictions have no meaningful economic effect.

It’s as if I gave someone $100 with the stipulation that it can be spent only on Mondays. Who could deny that I have not enriched that person by $100, even considering the restriction? As long as the person was going to spend at least $100 on any Monday, the restriction is without meaning.

Some on the Wichita city council, like council member and Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell contend that since some taxes — like the extra sales tax on hotel rooms in a CID — are paid mostly by visitors to Wichita, they’re a wise economic development strategy.

We ought to consider, however, that once visitors to Wichita examine their hotel bills and realize how much sales tax they’ve paid, they’re not going to feel happy about Wichita. The high sales tax rate expressed on the hotel bill may give visitors the impression that is the sales tax that applies to the entire city. Is that the impression we want to leave with our visitors?

Or, if visitors realize they paid extra tax by staying in a hotel located in a certain geographical district, they may regret their decision. They may also wonder why a city allows certain merchants to collect tax at such a high rate.

I have one question: If merchants feel they need to collect additional revenue from their customers, why don’t they simply raise their prices?

Is the answer as simple as this: that it’s preferable for merchants to blame the state for high prices?

Wichita Warren Theater groundbreaking raises policy issues

Friday’s groundbreaking of a new Warren Theater and renovation of the existing theater in west Wichita provide an opportunity to revisit some of the public policy issues surrounding Wichita city government and its intervention in the economy in the name of economic development.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell claim that the economic development incentives or subsidies offered to Warren do not cost Wichita taxpayers anything.

Reading comments left to stories at various media outlets, there is definitely a problem with citizens understanding the nature of the city’s industrial revenue bond program. There is no money being lent by the city, as many citizens seem to believe. Instead, the benefit of the program is the escape from paying property taxes and possibly sales taxes. The fact that tax forgiveness is mixed in with a private loan or bond purchase is definitely a source of confusion. The city should seek to simplify this program, if it intends to continue this practice.

But what about the claim that tax forgiveness does not cost other taxpayers? Will the new theater make use of city services such as fire and police protection? Will employees of the theater send their children to public schools? Vice mayor Longwell says that the city is not adding new police officers because of the new theater, so there is no additional cost for police protection. At the margin, that may be true — each additional house or building does not require a new policeman be hired. But at some time, additional city services and personnel will be required.

The city’s practice of liberally granting tax abatements goes against the constant refrain that we must “build up the tax base.” The city’s position is that by “investing” in tax breaks, the city will gain more revenue in the future.

The fallacy of the city’s investment philosophy can easily be seen. When the city grants tax abatements, there is a cost-benefit analysis that accompanies the proposal. The rationale of this analysis that by giving up tax revenue now, more will flow in at some future time.

That’s the source of the fallacy. The return to the city and other governmental units is more tax revenue. Is it the purpose of the city to generate more and more tax revenue? Is it productive to grant one taxpayer favored status so that other hapless taxpayers can be soaked instead?

When a business invests, it does so in order to increase its productive capacity so that it can earn higher future profits, those profits — or losses — being the measure of success of the investment. Government has no ability to calculate profit and loss, and therefore has no way to judge whether its investment has been wise and productive.

There is also, of course, the concept that private business investment is voluntary, while the action the city takes is not voluntary. Citizens must comply.

The companies that receive tax breaks are often prominent companies that ask for large tax abatements. It is worth considerable time and effort — and campaign contributions — for these companies to pursue these benefits. Small companies, however, often don’t fit into the various programs the city has. Instead, they face additional taxes to pay for the taxes the city doesn’t collect when it grants incentives and subsidies.

Recently Alan Cobb wrote of the harm that targeted incentives cause, using Detroit as an example: “While state and local government poured incentives into the Big Three’s trough, the marginal costs of doing business for everyone else crept up.” See Wichita targeted economic development should end.

An aspect of the incentive or subsidy package granted in this case is a fixed, negotiated, growth in property taxes the renovated theater will pay. There are a few points that deserve discussion. First, the base taxable value for the theater is the present value. The theater owner, however, is spending several million dollars on a renovation of that theater. This, according to the Sedgwick County Appraisers Office, would increase the taxable value of the theater by a large amount.

But based on the deal struck with the City of Wichita, this increase in value will not figure into the base taxable value and therefore, will not affect the taxes (PILOT, actually) the theater owner will pay.

Further, the rate of growth in value, 2.3 percent per year, is lower than what might be expected for commercial property to increase in value in many years. This fixed, predictable rate of growth is reminiscent of last year’s Proposition K proposal. The Wichita Eagle rejected this proposal, editorializing: “Over time, this system could result in significant disparities and a disconnect from actual market values, thus likely violating the Kansas Constitution’s requirement of a ‘uniform and equal basis of valuation.’”

But in this case one politically-favored business was able to receive this benefit. These special deals breed justifiable cynicism and distrust of not only City Hall politicians and bureaucrats but businesses that seek this form of pork-barrel spending through the tax system.

Finally, the payments the existing theater will make are not taxes, but payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT. These payments are different in character from regular property taxes. Instead of falling under the Kansas property tax law regarding payment and possible sale of the property to pay taxes if the taxpayer falls behind for long enough, PILOTS are more in the form of a contract between the city and the taxpayer. If the taxpayer were to fail to pay, the city would have to sue for breach of contract. If the city should prevail in such a suit, it would stand in line with other creditors instead of taking a preferred position as in a tax sale.

This is, of course, assuming the city would choose to pursue such a lawsuit. Nothing would require it to do so. As the city has in the past bailed out this theater owner with a no-interest and low-interest loan, we could easily imagine the city deciding to let these missing or late PILOT payments slide by.

This too assumes that failure to pay PILOT payments as agreed would become public knowledge. The Sedgwick County Treasurer’s office prints lists of delinquent property taxpayers. There is no corresponding list of delinquent PILOT payments.

Wichita’s Jeff Longwell on TIF districts, tax abatements

Is a tax increment financing (TIF) district a tax abatement? Wichita city council member Jeff Longwell, now Wichita’s vice mayor, doesn’t think so. During this week’s city council meeting, Longwell said this in explaining his support of a TIF district created for the benefit of Real Development: “One of the things that people I think need to understand is that this is not a tax abatement.”

He said tax revenues will increase from $28,000 to half a million dollars, repeating that it is not a tax abatement.

So is it true that TIF is not a tax abatement?

A little background: The Wichita City council grants property tax abatements regularly as part of its Industrial Revenue Bond program. In the IRB program, the city is not the lender of funds, and it does not guarantee that the bonds will be repaid. Instead, the benefit of the IRB program is that the applicant won’t have to pay property tax on property purchased with the bond money. This abatement is generally granted for a period of ten years, although it is reviewed after five years to see if the company is fulfilling the promises it made to justify the tax abatement. In addition, a sales tax exemption may be granted on the property purchased with the bond money.

Confused? Many people are. A few weeks ago the city issued IRBs to a Wichita movie theater operator. Comments left at various online forums often argued that the city should not be lending money to the theater and its controversial ownership group. But as we’ve seen, the city is not making a loan. Instead, the IRB program is simply a vehicle that is used to grant relief from paying property taxes to the city, county, and school district.

So the IRB program, despite its name, is a tax abatement program. What about tax increment financing, then?

Under TIF, a district is formed. The property taxes being paid by a property in the district at the time of formation is noted and called the base. Usually this property is blighted or run-down, so this base is a very low value.

Then a development plan is created, perhaps to build apartments or a shopping center. Based on that plan and the property taxes that the completed project will likely pay, the city will borrow money and give it to the developers.

After the project is completed, the tax appraiser notices that there’s something new and valuable where there wasn’t before, and he levies a higher tax bill on the property. The difference between the original taxes — the base — and the new taxes is called the increment.

Under normal conditions when new property comes on the tax rolls, the tax revenue is used to provide public services such as police and fire protection. The school district is usually a recipient of a large portion of the new tax revenue, which might be used to pay for the schooling of residents of the new apartments, for example.

But in a TIF district, what happens to this new tax revenue — the increment?

Recall that the city borrowed money and gave it to the developers. The new property taxes — the increment — is used to pay off these bonds.

So council member Longwell is correct, in a way. Real Development will pay increased property taxes.

But when these increased taxes are used to pay off bonds that exclusively benefit Real Development, how is this any different from not paying property taxes?

Consider development not in a TIF district. Developers generally borrow money. Then they have to make loan payments and higher tax payments.

But TIF developers pay only higher taxes. There are no loan payments, as their increased property tax payments are used to pay off the loan.

So when considering the total economic reality, council member Longwell is wrong. Several other council members have the same mistaken belief.

Tax increment financing is a tax abatement in disguise. Actually, it’s worse than that. Tax abatements granted in the IRB program don’t require the city to be on the hook for a loan. But in a TIF district, the city is the lender, and city taxpayers are liable if the TIF district doesn’t perform up to projections. This has happened in Wichita, and taxpayers had to pay in one way or another.

Why is Longwell, now Wichita’s vice mayor, unable to grasp these facts? Perhaps he does but chooses to ignore them. He has a reason to do so. Downtown Wichita real estate developers — let’s be clear: developers who seek public subsidy instead of working to meet market demand — are generous with campaign contributions, funding both political liberals like Wichita city council member Janet Miller and self-styled fiscal conservatives such as Longwell.

Longwell’s term expires next spring, and he may choose to run for his same office or even the mayor’s office, as some political observers have speculated.

Longwell has already drawn one challenger for his city council position, tea party activist Lynda Tyler. While lacking experience holding elective office, Tyler has well-established conservative credentials and can be expected to run a vigorous and well-funded campaign.

Longwell, who along with Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer complains that Wichita doesn’t have enough “tools in the toolbox” for dishing out economic development incentives to politically-connected city hall insiders, will have to explain his actions to voters in his largely conservative west-side district.

Someone should ask him if he really understands the economic reality of tax increment financing districts.

Wichita Larksfield Place bonds should not be issued

Today’s meeting of the Wichita city council will have a public hearing concerning the issuance of health care facilities revenue bonds for Larksfield Place, a decidedly high-end retirement and assisted living center in east Wichita.

These bonds are similar to the Industrial Revenue Bonds that the city issues frequently. The primary economic benefit to recipients of IRBs is the property tax exemption that accompanies the bonds. In the case of the applicant Larksfield Place, the property tax exemption is of no value, since as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, it doesn’t pay property taxes. The economic benefit to Larksfield is that the buyer of the bonds will not have to pay taxes on the interest it earns. This allows Larksfield to reduce its interest costs on the bonds.

Larksfield may also benefit from a sales tax exemption on materials purchased with bond proceeds. A Larksfield representative said that it will apply to the State of Kansas for the exemption, which it has received in the past. With the state budget situation, however, that exemption may not be granted, he said.

The important public policy question is why does Larksfield operate as a non-profit institution, and what impact does that have on Wichita. Generally we think of non-profits as having an educational or charitable mission, perhaps helping the elderly who can’t afford to live in an assisted living center. The Larksfield representative I spoke to was not able to give examples of things Larksfield does to merit non-profit and tax-exempt status. Instead, he referred me to the organization’s IRS form 990. That form asks for the organization’s primary exempt purpose. Larksfield’s response on that form is this: “To operate and maintain suitable resident facilities and services for the care, treatment, and rehabilitation of elderly persons including non-acute health care, in an integrated environment in which quality of life can be maintained at the lowest feasible cost.”

It’s a good thing that the statement didn’t mention the lowest possible cost, as Larksfield Place is definitely not a low-cost operation. It is probably the most luxurious retirement home and assisted living center in Wichita.

Good public policy requires that similar organizations are treated equally by government. It is difficult to distinguish the mission and business plan of Larksfield Place from assisted living centers in Wichita that don’t have non-profit status. The fact that Larksfield is able to operate outside the realm of the tax system gives it an advantage that isn’t justified by any rational pubic policy.

Further, the privileged tax status of Larksfield Place serves as a deterrent to others who may wish to compete in the same market. This is the reason why the Wichita city council should deny the application for health care revenue bonds. Businesses without tax-advantaged status have to pay higher overhead costs (in the form of higher property taxes) and are at a competitive disadvantage for hiring workers from within this community if they compete with Larksfield Place (or other firms with these tax breaks) in hiring workers and raising capital.

Although the Wichita City Council did not issue the 501(c)(3) tax exempt status to Larksfield Place (that was issued by the Internal Revenue Service), the council can help keep the playing field level by denying this application.