In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: How does Tax Increment Financing (TIF) work in Kansas? Is is a good thing, or not? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Originally broadcast June 7, 2015.
Difficulty balancing the Kansas budget is different from, and has not caused, widespread spending cuts.
Across the state Kansas newspapers declare Governor Sam Brownback’s tax cuts a failure. There are two prongs of criticism. One is that the budget is not balanced; that is, the state is spending more than it has received in revenue. That has been true, especially for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. That problem can be fixed by either collecting more revenue, or by cutting spending. Last year the Governor and the Legislature decided to balance the budget by relying, almost entirely, on collecting more revenue. Raising taxes, in other words.
The second prong of attack on the tax cuts is to hold them responsible for spending cuts. This is what really upsets the state’s liberals and moderates. Here’s an example. Former Kansas State Budget Director Duane Goossen recently wrote “The Brownback tax cuts brought the revenue stream down so significantly that truly damaging expense cuts coupled with a sales tax increase have not repaired the budgetary mess.” (emphasis added) (I will agree with Goossen that we have a problem with the budget, a problem that could be fixed with relatively small reforms in spending. But Goossen wants more revenue.)
But have there been severe spending cuts in Kansas? “Truly damaging” cuts? While some programs have been trimmed, overall state spending continues on a largely upward trend (for all funds spending) or remains mostly flat (for general fund spending).
So why are Kansas liberals and moderates upset? It is the spending of money by government that is important when considering how well the state is providing the services liberals and moderates (conservatives, too) look for government to provide. Taxation is merely one way to pay for government spending. And spending isn’t declining.
Is this an important distinction?
For the years when Kansas was spending down its bank balance, the state was experiencing the benefit of Washington-style deficit spending. That is, the state was spending more than it collected in revenue. The difference is that Kansas made up the revenue deficit by using savings rather than debt. (At least mostly so.)
(Another difference between Kansas and federal spending is that Kansas can’t continue to borrow to support spending unless it engages in extraordinary measures, some of which may have happened. The federal budget, however, has been in a permanent state of deficit spending since 2000 and appears to remain in deficit for as far as anyone can project.)
The takeaway is that problems with balancing the budget is not the same as spending cuts. We’ve had the former, but not the latter, when considering the entire budget.
Nearby charts show Kansas government spending, from both the general fund and all funds spending. One chart shows total dollars spent, and one shows per-capita spending. Both are adjusted for inflation. On these charts it’s difficult to see where total spending has been cut or slashed in recent years. All funds spending continues its upward trend, with a few exceptions. General fund spending remains level or trending slightly upwards.
Notes for charts:
Data is from Kansas Fiscal Facts 2015
2015 through 2017 are approved figures, not actual spending
2015 and beyond population are my estimates
CPI is Consumer Price Index – All Urban Consumers, CUUR0000AA0
In order to simplify this chart, I created four groups of taxes. As there are many taxes that are small in amount, I group them together as “Other.” For the group “Sales” I include the general sales and use tax, plus the cigarette and tobacco tax, plus liquor and beer tax, as these are of the same nature as the general sales tax.
Note this is both taxes collected by the state, and also by local governments.
Source of data is Kansas Tax Facts, various years. Values are nominal; not adjusted for inflation. To access the interactive visualization that is the basis of the example shown below, click here.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: There are things simple and noncontroversial that the Kansas Legislasture should do in its upcoming session, and some things that won’t be easy but are important. Also, a look at eminent domain. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 106, broadcast January 3, 2016.
Click here for an updated version of this article.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The City of Wichita’s attitude towards empowering citizens, government spending through tax credits, and school choice in Kansas. View below, or click here to view on YouTube. Episode 103, broadcast December 13, 2015.
The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP) is at it again, pushing their political viewpoint disguised as economic analysis, writes Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute.
CBPP pushes political viewpoint as economic analysis
By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute
Well, the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP) is at it again … pushing their political viewpoint disguised as economic analysis. CBPP’s November 30 blog post attempts to use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data to warn other states that Kansas’ tax reform is failing.
CBPP’s simplistic look at annual changes in GDP seems merely designed to support their political preference for higher taxes and spending, as a look at the underlying data throws a lot of cold water on their contention.
First of all, CBPP is talking about total real GDP, which includes government and is adjusted for inflation. The intent of tax reform was to grow the private sector, not government, so an honest analysis would at least show the difference. The CBPP chart shows 2013 growth at -0.3% for Kansas and 1.9% for the nation; Kansas also trailed (1.8% to 2.2%) in 2014. The adjacent table shows private sector growth is closer to the national average, but that is just the beginning.
Tax policy certainly has an impact on economic growth but some change is unrelated to tax policy. For example, Kansas is much more reliant on aerospace that most states and changes in that industry are driven by global demand more than anything else. The Kansas economy is also more reliant on oil and gas than most states, so declining oil prices have disproportionate economic impact on extraction and refining.
Each of those three areas declined in 2013 (aerospace is a sub-sector of Other Transportation Equipment Manufacturing) in Kansas but they increased in the nation as a whole. But Kansas outperformed the nation on everything else (97% of the U.S. economy, 95.4% in Kansas), growing 2.5% to the nation’s 2.2%.
That’s not to say that tax reform is a success — it’s far too early to judge — but it does show that factors other than tax reform had a very significant negative impact in 2013.
Let’s now look at 2014. BEA has not yet published sub-sector data for 2014 but we can look at the sectors that include them. Mining (oil & gas extracting) increased in Kansas and the nation, but much less so in Kansas. Non-Durable Goods (petroleum manufacturing) did slightly better in Kansas than across the nation but Durable Goods (aerospace) declined in Kansas while the nation as a whole increased. But once again, everything else grew faster in Kansas (2.5%) than the nation overall (2.3%).
We won’t know for certain until the sub-sector data is published, but there is a reasonable possibility that, aside from those three relatively small sub-sectors, Kansas again outperformed the rest of the nation in private sector GDP.
This is really easy information to find if one bothers to look, but CBPP apparently isn’t interested in real economic analysis; they distort data to support their political perspective as we have shown here and here.
The 2015 projection comes from Kansas Legislative Research and appears to include government rather than just reflect the private sector. Their underlying rationale has been requested and will be addressed here once they provide the data.
When Kansas cities grant economic development incentives, they may also unilaterally take action that affects overlapping jurisdictions such as counties, school districts, and the state itself. The legislature should end this.
When Kansas cities create tax increment financing (TIF) districts, the overlapping county and school district(s) have an opportunity to veto its creation.
But for some other forms of incentives, such as tax increment financing district redevelopment plans, property tax abatements, and sales tax abatements, overlapping jurisdictions have no ability to object. There seems to be no rational basis for not giving these jurisdictions a chance to object to the erosion of their tax base.
This is especially important for school districts, as they are often the largest tax consumer. As an example, when the City of Wichita offered tax abatements to a company in June 2014, 47 percent of the abated taxes would have gone to the Wichita school district. But the school district did not participate in this decision. State law gave it no voice.
Supporters of economic development incentives say that the school district benefits from the incentives. The argument is that even though the district gives up some tax revenue now, it will get more in the future. This is the basis for the benefit-cost ratios Wichita uses to justify incentives. For itself, the City of Wichita requires a benefit-cost ratio of 1.3 to one or better, although there are many loopholes the city can use to grant incentives when this threshold is not met. For the June project, city documents reported these benefit-cost ratios for two overlapping jurisdictions:
Sedgwick County 1.18 to one
USD 259 1.00 to one
In this case, the city forced a benefit-cost ratio on the county that the city would not accept for itself, unless it uses a loophole. For the school district, the net benefit is zero.
The Kansas Legislature should look at ways to make sure that overlapping jurisdictions are not harmed when economic development incentives are granted by cities. The best way would be to require formal approval of the incentives by counties, school districts, and any other affected jurisdictions.
In June 2014 the City of Wichita granted tax abatements for a new warehouse. City documents gave the benefit-cost ratios for the city and overlapping jurisdictions:
City of Wichita General Fund 1.30 to one
Sedgwick County 1.18 to one
USD 259 1.00 to one
State of Kansas 12.11 to one
It is not known whether these ratios include the sales tax forgiveness.
While the City of Wichita insists that projects show a benefit-cost ratio of 1.3 to one or better (although there are many exceptions), it doesn’t apply that standard for overlapping jurisdictions. Here, Sedgwick County experiences a benefit-cost ratio of 1.18 to one, and the Wichita school district (USD 259) 1.00 to one. These two governmental bodies have no input on the decision the city is making on their behalf. The school district’s share of the forgiven taxes is 47.4 percent.
In November 2014 a project had these dollar amounts of property tax abatement shared among the taxing jurisdictions in these estimated amounts, according to city documents:
USD 259 $143,038
The listing of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, is likely an oversight by the city, as the subject properties lie in the Derby school district. This is evident when the benefit-cost ratios are listed:
City of Wichita 1.98 to one
General Fund 1.78 to one
Debt Service 2.34 to one
Sedgwick County 1.54 to one
U.S.D. 260 1.00 to one (Derby school district)
State of Kansas 28.23 to one
Note that the ratio for the Derby school district is 1.00 to one, far below what the city requires for projects it considers for participation. That is, unless it uses a loophole.
A Wichita developer seeks to have taxpayers fund a large portion of his development costs, using a wasteful government program of dubious value.
When you hear of a program titled “historic preservation tax credits” you might find yourself in agreement. Preserving history: Who can be against that? And tax credits: Aren’t those just technical adjustments on someone’s tax form?
If you look closely, however, you’ll find that the historic preservation tax credits program can include buildings with only the slightest historic significance, and has great cost to taxpayers.
The Colorado-Derby Building at 201 N Water Street in Wichita has been nominated for placement on the Register of Historic Kansas Places. It’s a nondescript building which currently houses administrative offices for the Wichita public school district and is known by a different name. Still, it is eligible for placement on the register for being an “example of this private investment trend,” that being the building of office buildings midcentury. A laudable accomplishment, but hardly notable.
The real reason for seeking placement on the register of historic places is money. By using historic preservation tax credits the developer of this building can get taxpayers to pay for much of the costs of rehabilitation. Almost half, which will be millions in this case.
Under the program this building is entering, its owners will receive 25 percent of rehabilitation expenses. The federal government provides tax credits of 20 percent. It’s likely that the owners of this building will also seek these credits.
So with both tax credit programs, 45 percent of the cost of rehabilitating this building could be paid for by taxpayers. And, given the history of the developer, it’s likely he will find other ways to get taxpayers to pay for even more.
Tax credits may be a mystery to many, but there is no doubt as to their harmful effect on state and federal budgets. When using tax credits, the government, conceptually, issues a slip of paper that says something like “The holder of this document may submit it instead of $500,000 when making a tax payment.” So instead of paying taxes with actual money, the holder of the credit pays with, well, a slip of paper worth nothing to the government treasury.
This is a direct cost to the government, according to both reason and the Kansas Division of Legislative Post Audit. Last year, after conducting an audit of Kansas tax credit programs, auditors explained: “Tax credits, which the government offers to try to induce certain actions by the taxpayer, reduce income tax revenues because they are subtracted directly from the amount of taxes due.” (emphasis added)
The confusing nature of tax credits leads citizens to believe that they have no cost to the state or federal government. But tax credits are equivalent to government spending. The problem is that by mixing spending programs with taxation, some are lead to believe that tax credits are not cash handouts. But not everyone falls for this seductive trap. In an article in Cato Institutes’s Regulation magazine, Edward D. Kleinbard explains:
Specialists term these synthetic government spending programs “tax expenditures.” Tax expenditures are really spending programs, not tax rollbacks, because the missing tax revenues must be financed by more taxes on somebody else. … Tax expenditures dissolve the boundaries between government revenues and government spending. They reduce both the coherence of the tax law and our ability to conceptualize the very size and activities of our government. (The Hidden Hand of Government Spending, Fall 2010)
The use of tax credits to pay for economic development incentives leads many to believe that what government is doing is not a direct subsidy or payment. In order to clear things up, perhaps we should require that government write checks instead of issuing credits.
Back to Kansas: The audit of the historic preservation tax credits program found that in 2001, when the program was started, the anticipated cost to the state was about $1 million per year. By 2007, the actual cost to the state was reported at almost $8.5 million.
Further, the audit found what many already knew: tax credit aren’t an efficient way of transferring subsidy to developers. Most of the time, the developers sell the credits to someone else at a discount, as the audit explains: “The Historic Preservation Tax Credit isn’t cost-effective. That credit works differently than the other three because the amount of money a historic preservation project receives from the credit is dependent upon the amount of money it’s sold for. Our review showed that, on average, when Historic Preservation Credits were transferred to generate money for a project, they only generated 85 cents for the project for every dollar of potential tax revenue the State gave up.”
It would be more efficient for everyone if the state would simply write checks to the developers instead of issuing tax credits. But then the actual economic meaning of the transaction would be laid bare for all to see.
Then, what qualifies as historic can change as political conditions require. Earlier this year the Wichita city council reversed a decision by the Historic Preservation Board and allowed a property owner to proceed with the demolition of three formerly historic buildings in southern downtown Wichita.
The historic preservation tax credit program is a government handout mechanism we no longer need. Today, most of the money goes to wealthy developers or corporations that can afford to redevelop downtown hotels and lofts with their own money — instead of asking low-income families to pay sales tax on their groceries to fund their tax credits.
Material from the Kansas State Historical Society
Nomination for listing on Register of Historic Kansas Places
Colorado-Derby Building – 201 N Water St., Wichita, Sedgwick County
Constructed in 1959-1960, the nine-story Colorado-Derby Building is an early example of a Modern Movement speculative office tower erected within a pattern of development that shaped Wichita’s downtown at midcentury. New buildings erected as icons on the skyline were intended to refresh, modernize, and revitalize the downtown core through public and private investment in civic and commercial improvements. Frank and Harvey Ablah recognized the onset of this trend and constructed the Colorado-Derby Building to provide speculative office space, redeveloping the site of the Ablah Hotel Supply Company. Named for its largest and most prominent tenant, the Colorado-Derby Building was fully occupied when it opened in 1960 and maintained high occupancy rates over the following decade. The construction and subsequent occupancy of this building illustrates the continuing importance of manufacturing industries to the economy of Wichita at midcentury and the ability of these industries to contribute to the economic and physical revitalization of downtown. The blocks immediately surrounding the building continued to develop in a similar fashion over the following decade with large-scale modern buildings and parking lots replacing smaller commercial and industrial buildings built a half-century earlier. All of this development activity culminated in a formal Urban Renewal project utilizing federal funds in the late 1960s. In Wichita, private investment focused on providing office space for industrial companies, rather than public funding initiated the revitalization that transformed downtown. The Colorado-Derby Building is nominated under Criterion A an important early example of this private investment trend.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Jonathan Williams of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) explains the goals of ALEC, changes to Kansas tax policy and the results, and the effects of state taxes on charitable giving. View below, or click here to view in high definition at YouTube. Episode 100, broadcast November 8, 2015.
Those evaluating the Kansas fiscal “experiment” should consider what is the relevant input variable.
An experiment implies changing inputs (one or more independent variables) and examining outputs (dependent variables). If we are to consider the Kansas budget an experiment — and I’m not sure that analogy is apt — what is the independent variable? Is it tax revenue collected, or government spending?
If we believe the purpose of taxation is to pay for spending, then the independent variable is the level of spending. As can be seen in the nearby table and chart, Kansas spending has risen in recent years. Perhaps it has not risen as fast as some people want. Also, these numbers are not adjusted for inflation (which has been low).
But to conclude the “experiment” is a failure because tax revenue is lower is not looking at the right input variable. We should be looking at spending, which keeps going up.
Here is an interactive version of the list of delinquent property taxes in Sedgwick County. This list is printed in a local newspaper three times each summer.
The Sedgwick County Treasurer issues a disclaimer regarding this list, which is that some of the taxes may have been paid, or are waiting the result of a grievance or protest.
Click here to open the interactive list in a new window. As shown in the illustration below, you may click to expand the addresses of properties for an owner, and sort by any column.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Do Wichita’s many laws and regulations accomplish their goals? Then, are Wichita’s economic development policies likely to work? Episode 98, broadcast October 18, 2015. View below, or click here to view in high definition at YouTube.
Mike O’Neal, President of Kansas Chamber of Commerce, spoke to members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on October 9, 2015. His topic was “The Kansas Budget and Taxes: The 2015 Legislative Session and Looking Ahead to the 2016 Legislative Session.” This is an audio presentation.
Reporting from the Wichita Eagle on this event is here, but be sure to read the comment by Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute:
The Eagle’s analysis here is just wrong. The statute does not refer to current spending as the Eagle used, but total spending.
72-64c01. Sixty-five percent of moneys to be spent on instruction. (a) It is the public policy goal of the state of Kansas that at least 65% of the moneys appropriated, distributed or otherwise provided by the state to school districts shall be expended in the classroom or for instruction. http://www.kslegislature.org/…/072…/072_064c_0001_k/
Absent a qualification limiting the analysis to current spending or anything else, the statue applies to total spending.
Total spending according to KSDE in 2014 (2015 hasn’t been publised) was $5,975,517,681 and Instruction spending (downloaded and tabulated across all funds in the KSDE Comprehensive Fiscal and Performance System) was $3,293,217,088, which is 55.1% of spending. Mike O’Neal correctly said that Instruction accounted for 55% of total spending.
The difference between actual spent on Instruction and 65% is therefore $591,576,250. That is more than $500 million…and the Eagle is again wrong on the facts.
FYI, the definition of Instruction comes from KSDE and the US Dept of Education…and has not changed over the period.
A national survey finds that small business leaders overwhelmingly believe that state economic development incentives favor big businesses, that states are overspending on large individual deals, and that state incentive programs are not effectively meeting the needs of small businesses seeking to grow. From Good Jobs First.
Survey: Small Business Group Leaders Say States Favor Big Businesses at the Expense of Small Firms Seeking to Grow
Washington, DC, September 29, 2015 — A national survey of 41 leaders of small business organizations representing 24,000 member businesses in 25 states reveals that they overwhelmingly believe that state economic development incentives favor big businesses, that states are overspending on large individual deals, and that state incentive programs are not effectively meeting the needs of small businesses seeking to grow.
A large majority also say small businesses interests in economic development are not well represented in their state capitols. The credit crunch is a critical problem, and many also emphasize that public goods that benefit all employers-such as job training, education, and transportation-deserve to be a higher priority.
The study was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. It is available on the Good Jobs First website here.
“Our findings are absolutely consistent with what we have heard for years from small business leaders,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy. “Despite their pro-small business rhetoric, state officials’ programs are perceived as biased in favor of large companies that receive big tax-break packages.”
- 92 percent believe that the spending balance on incentives between small and large businesses in their state is biased toward big businesses (69 percent strongly believe).
- 79 percent believe that their state is overspending on big incentive deals, hurting state finances (56 percent strongly).
- 87 percent say that small business interests in economic development issues are not effectively represented in their state’s capital (36 percent strongly).
- 85 percent believe that economic development incentives in their state are not effectively addressing the current needs of small businesses that are seeking to grow (36 percent strongly).
- 72 percent do not believe their state’s current incentive policies are effective in promoting economic growth (23 percent strongly).
The respondents lead groups from 25 states, including all but one of the 15 most-populous. They belong to networks formed in the past 15 years, many with economic development missions. None is contracted by state or local governments to perform economic development functions such as outside-firm recruitment.
“Our next study will examine in great detail how well or poorly state incentive programs treat small, local and/or entrepreneurial businesses versus large, multistate companies” added LeRoy.
Good Jobs First is a non-profit, non-partisan resource center on economic development. Founded in 1998, it is based in Washington DC.
States with higher rates of economic growth grow total charitable giving at a faster rate than states with low rates of economic growth, finds a new report by American Legislative Exchange Council.
From ALEC: Charity is a crucial component of efforts to address societal challenges and help individuals thrive. From religious organizations to community charities, philanthropic donations drive the institutions of civil society and enable communities to develop around a greater sense of shared purpose. Despite this important role, charitable giving is rarely addressed in discussions around public policy — especially state tax policy.
The report uses data collected from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and focuses on both the levels of charitable giving and the growth of charitable giving throughout the states. We examined these trends over two different time periods. First, the IRS data begins in 1997 and is available through 2012. Second, we measured state charitable giving from 2008 to 2012 to understand how states fared during the recession.
Here are some of the most significant findings from our report:
- States with higher taxes generally experienced lower levels and lower rates of growth in charitable giving compared with their lower tax counterparts
- A one percent increase in a state’s total tax burden is associated with a 1.16 percent decrease in the state’s rate of charitable giving
- A one percent increase in a state’s personal income tax burden is associated with a 0.35 percent decrease in the state’s rate of charitable giving as a percent of total state income
- In every category, over each time period, the nine states without income taxes grew their rates of charitable giving more than the nine states with the highest income taxes
The report is available to download and read at The Effect of State Taxes on Charitable Giving. Following is material from the report’s executive summary:
An often overlooked aspect of public policy is the role that charitable organizations have in addressing some of society’s most pressing concerns. Because of this important role and since charitable organizations are funded privately through donations, understanding how state policies interact with charitable organizations is crucial for a robust discussion about public policy. This State Factor examines state tax policies that encourage charitable giving, apart from the charitable giving deduction.
While many factors certainly influence an individual’s choice about donating to charity, there are broad policy choices that can encourage higher rates of growth in charitable giving. By examining various tax burdens and tax rates with rigorous economic analysis, this paper’s research findings show that a 1 percent increase in the personal income tax burden is associated with 0.35 percent decrease in charitable giving per dollar of state income. Similarly, this State Factor found that an increase in personal income tax burden of roughly 1 percentage point of total state income results in a roughly 0.10 percentage point decrease in the level of measured charitable donations as a percent of income.
When all state taxes are considered, a 1 percentage point increase in the total tax burden is associated with a 1.16 percent drop in charitable giving per dollar of state income. Similarly, this State Factor found that an increase in total tax burden of roughly 1 percentage point of total state income results in a roughly 0.09 percentage point decrease in the level measured charitable donations as a percent of income.
According to the new report, The Effect of State Taxes on Charitable Giving the following states donated the most to charity as a percent of total income between 1997 and 2012, in order from 1st to 10th: Utah, Wyoming, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Maryland, Idaho, North Carolina and Mississippi. The report examines patterns of philanthropic contributions in the states over time and uses rigorous economic analyses to draw significant conclusions about charitable giving in the United States.
The report is written by Jonathan Williams, William Freeland, research analyst for the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform, and Ben Wilterdink, research manager for the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform. The report reveals that states with higher rates of economic growth grow total charitable giving at a faster rate than states with low rates of economic growth.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Does the elimination of sales tax exemptions hold the solution to Kansas budget problems? We have a problem with overcriminalization and the criminal justice system. Then, is there a difference between government and charity? View below, or click here to watch in high definition at YouTube. Episode 96, broadcast September 27, 2015.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Do our governmental agencies really want to share data and documents with us? Community Improvement Districts and homeowners compared. And, the last episode of “Love Gov” from the Independent Institute. View below, or click here to view in high definition at YouTube. Episode 95, broadcast September 20, 2015.
Can eliminating sales tax exemptions in Kansas generate a pot of gold?
Advocates of eliminating sales tax exemptions in Kansas point to the great amount of revenue that could be raised if Kansas eliminated these exemptions, estimated at some $5.9 billion per year. Analysis of the nature of the exemptions and the amounts of money involved, however, leads us to realize that the additional tax revenue that could be raised is much less than spending advocates claim, unless Kansas was to adopt a severely uncompetitive, and in some cases, unproductive and harshly regressive tax policy.
A recent advocate for eliminating some sales tax exemptions is Phillip Brownlee of the Wichita Eagle editorial board. In a previous op-ed on this topic he wrote ” And with each added exemption, the state is losing out on more revenue — $5.9 billion this fiscal year, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue. That’s money the state could be using to cover its budget shortfalls, increase funding to public schools or further reduce its income-tax rates.” At least he mentioned reducing other tax rates. Usually advocates of closing sales tax exemptions simply want more tax money to spend.
$5.9 billion dollars, by the way, is a lot of money, almost as much as the state’s general fund spending. But we need to look at the nature of these exemptions. I’ve prepared a simplified table based on data from the Kansas Department of Revenue. I simplified because there are many deductions that probably should be eliminated, but they represent very small amounts of money.
Some sales tax exemptions are for categories of business activity that shouldn’t be taxed, at least if we want to constrain the state to a retail sales tax only. An example is exemption 79-3606 (m), described as “Property which becomes an ingredient or component part of property or services produced or manufactured for ultimate sale at retail.” The tax that could be collected, should the state eliminate this exemption, is given as $3,083.24 million ($3,083,240,000).
But this exemption isn’t really an “exemption,” at least if the sales tax is a retail sales tax designed to be levied as the final tax on consumption. That’s because these goods aren’t being sold at retail. They’re sold to manufacturers who use them as inputs to products that, when finished, will be sold at retail. Most states don’t tax this type of sales. If Kansas decided to tax these transactions, it would place our state’s manufacturers at a severe disadvantage compared to almost all other states.
There are two other exemptions that fall in this category of inputs to production processes, totaling an estimated $632 million in lost revenue. Another similar exemption is “Machinery and equipment used directly and primarily in the manufacture, assemblage, processing, finishing, storing, warehousing or distributing of property for resale by the plant or facility.” Its value is nearly $159 million.
Together, these exemptions account for $3,874 million of the $5,900 million in total exemptions.
Another big-dollar exemption is “items already taxed” such as motor fuel. This is an estimated $318.90 million loss in revenue. Other exemptions are purchases made by government, or purchase made by contractors on behalf of government. These account for an estimated $624.90 million in lost revenue. If these two exemptions were eliminated, the government would be taxing itself.
Not taxing prescription drugs means lost revenue estimated at $96.49 million. If the state started taxing residential and agricultural use utilities, it could gain an estimated $169.98 million. These taxes, like the sales tax on food and the motor fuel tax, fall hardest on low-income families. As Kansas is one of the few states to tax food, do we want to make life even more difficult for low-income households?
Adding these exemptions comes to about $5,084 million. There are other exemptions for which we could make similar arguments for their retention. What’s left over — the exemptions that really should not exist — isn’t much at all. The entire category of “Exemptions to Charitable Organizations by Name.” amounts to $3.05 million in exempted sales tax. These represent the organizations where a lawmaker has crafted an exemption like “Property and services purchased by Jazz in the Woods and sales made by or on behalf of such organization.”
So when the Eagle’s Brownlee writes “As is, favored groups are saving billions of dollars a year, worsening the tax burden for everybody else” he must be including broad categories of business like “All Kansas manufacturing companies” as a “favored group.” Or maybe he means prescription drug users are a “favored group.” Or families struggling to pay utility bills.
But there are more problems. Brownlee describes these sales tax exemptions as a “cost in lost revenue of $5.9 billion last fiscal year.” The only way this makes sense is if one thinks that our property (our money) first belongs to the state, and that in order to spend it, we have to give the state its cut. That’s an opinion — ideology, if you will — that you may agree with, or you may oppose. What’s remarkable — shocking, really — is that in his previous career Brownlee was a Certified Public Accountant. He ought to understand the nature of sales taxes meant to be applied to retail sales, not components of manufactured goods.