Tag Archives: Taxation

Video: Fact-checking ‘Yes Wichita’ on paved streets

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: Will the proposed Wichita sales tax result in more paved streets? It depends on what you mean by “pave.” Bob Weeks explains. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

For more on this issue, see Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Paved streets.

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For Wichita city hall, an educational opportunity

Will Wichita city officials and sales tax boosters attend an educational event produced by a leading Kansas public policy institute? It will be an opportunity for city officials to demonstrate their commitment to soliciting input from the community.

Wichita voters will face a choice in November — whether to vote for or against a proposed sales tax of one cent per dollar. Wichita city council members and city hall bureaucrats say they have spent great effort educating Wichitans on issues relevant to the sales tax. Members of the “Yes Wichita” group are holding events to educate the public on why they should vote in favor of the tax.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1975All of the information presented by the city and the “Yes Wichita” group has a common ideological thread: That our city has problems, and the way to fix things is to implement a new tax and rely on government to provide the solutions it has determined we need.

City hall might be surprised to learn that there are differing opinions as to the nature and extent of our city’s problems, and different ideas about how to fix them. Some of these ideas are novel. Some may work, and some may not. (It’s far from certain that government-provided solutions will work.) Most of these diverse ideas are well-researched. They often rely on private sector initiative rather than government taxation and spending. They may rely on voluntary cooperation through markets rather than coercive government action.

Since city hall says that knowing the facts is important, you might think that city council members and city bureaucrats would welcome the production of educational events on sales tax topics. That’s why it was discouraging that a July forum on water issues produced by Kansas Policy Institute was attended by just a handful of city officials. Even worse, the city officials that attended left the meeting at its midpoint, as soon as the city’s public works director finished his presentation.

I understand that city council members are part-time employees paid a part-time salary. Some have outside jobs or businesses to run. But that’s not the case with the city’s public works director or its governmental affairs director. That’s not the case with the city manager, or the assistant city manager, or the city’s economic development staff.

It’s especially not the case for Mayor Carl Brewer. He is paid a full-time salary to be the leader of our community. When he shows little willingness to consider views other than those produced by city hall sycophants that work — directly or indirectly — for him and the council, we have a deficit of leadership in Wichita.

It’s especially grating because several city council members and the “Yes Wichita” group contend their opponents — like me — are misinformed and/or lying. (When pressed for specific examples, few are produced.)

If you’ve attended a city council meeting, you may have to sit through up to an hour of the mayor issuing proclamations and service awards before actual business starts. Fleets of city bureaucrats are in the audience during this time.

But none of these would spend just one hour listening to a presentation in July by a university professor that might hold a solution to our water supply issue.

kansas-policy-institute-logoI understand that city officials might not be the biggest fans of Kansas Policy Institute. It supports free markets and limited government. But city officials tell us that they want to hear from citizens. The city says it has gone to great lengths to collect input from citizens, implementing a website and holding numerous meetings.

About 70 people attended the KPI forum in July. Citizens were interested in what the speakers had to say. They sat politely through the presentation by the two city officials, even though I’m sure many in the audience were already familiar with the recycled slides they’d seen before.

But it appears that Wichita city officials were not interested in alternatives that weren’t developed by city hall. They can’t even pretend to be interested.

Now, this Friday morning September 19, Kansas Policy Institute is producing another forum on issues relevant to the proposed sales tax. The event’s agenda features six speakers over about four hours. Three speakers were selected by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. Two are from out of town. Another is an expert on the Wichita and Kansas economy. There will be opportunities for attendees to ask questions.

Will city council members, city hall bureaucrats, and members of the “Yes Wichita” leadership team attend this event?

The Fostering Economic Growth in Wichita event is open to everyone and presented at no charge by Kansas Policy Institute. For more information and registration, click here.

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Before spending on new infrastructure, Wichita voters should ask why so much deferred maintenance

As the City of Wichita asks for more tax money for infrastructure, Wichita voters need to be aware of the projected costs of the city’s deferred maintenance.

When the Wichita City Council voted to increase water rates in November 2013, meeting minutes reported these remarks from the city manager explaining that Wichita has not adequately maintained its infrastructure:

Bob Layton City Manager stated the Council told staff last year that they wanted staff to continue to look at operation efficiencies to reduce the operating costs, which they are doing. Stated the rate recommendation does reflect the three percent efficiency increase. Stated over the last several years 80% of those rate increases have gone to infrastructure improvements and a lot of it is because of deferred maintenance that occurred over a long period of time. Stated they recognize even with these increases that it will difficult to keep up with the maintenance requirements of our system but are also aware of concerns residents have about significant rate increases.

This was not the first time, nor the last time, that Wichitans might have heard about problems with deferred maintenance of city infrastructure. In his 2013 State of the City address Mayor Carl Brewer told the city that over the next 30 years, “Wichita’s aging water, sewer, and storm drainage systems will require significant maintenance or replacement. Total replacement of these systems is estimated to cost $2.1 BILLION.” (emphasis in original)

Earlier this year a report presented to the Community Investments Plan Steering Committee held language like “Decades of under-investment in infrastructure maintenance … 38% of Wichita’s infrastructure is in ‘deficient/fair’ condition.”

The report also told the committee that the “cost to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards” is given as an additional $45 to $55 million per year.

It’s important to note that these costs are not for building new infrastructure. Also, these costs are not for routine, ongoing maintenance. Instead, these numbers are what it costs to catch up with what the city should have been doing. As the report says: To bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards.

This is important for Wichita voters to know as they consider their decision on a proposed one cent per dollar sales tax that will appear on the November ballot. Almost two-thirds of the tax proceeds would be spent on water.

Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities
Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities
But it’s important to note that the purpose of the $250 million allocated for water is not for catching up on the maintenance backlog. Instead, it’s earmarked for building additional water supply capability.

Whether the sales tax passes or not, the deferred maintenance needs of our existing infrastructure will remain. There will be pressure for water rates to rise, or for some other source of revenue to catch up on maintenance.

It won’t do us much good to have a new water source (the purpose of which is to allow for the watering of lawns and washing of cars during droughts) if the water pipes are broken. Perhaps Wichita voters should ask that the city present a plan for maintaining the assets we have before sending more tax dollars to city hall.

And let’s also ask this: Why hasn’t the city maintained the infrastructure that taxpayers and water users have already paid for?

Who does the proposed Wichita sales tax harm?

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: Analysis of household expenditure data shows that a proposed sales tax in Wichita affects low income families in greatest proportion, confirming the regressive nature of sales taxes. View below, or click here to view on YouTube. For more on this, see Wichita sales tax hike would hit low income families hardest.

For Wichita’s Williams, $1.33 per month is too much

Wichita city council member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) is a supporter of the proposed one cent per dollar Wichita sales tax. She has also spoken of her concern for Wichita’s low-income families, as she did in November 2013 when the Wichita City Council voted to increase water rates. City documents indicated that the average residential bill would rise by $1.33 per month for those who use modest amounts of water.

Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams
Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams
According to the meeting minutes, Williams said this:

Council Member Williams stated she realizes that some may think that $1.33 is not that big of an increase, but for so many of our constituents, it is quite an increase for them especially those who are on a fixed income. Stated this is concerning to her and appreciates staff looking at all options and are kicking off a program that will help those who need assistance from the City. Stated she realizes as a City that we have to continue moving forward and look at our infrastructure.

I wonder: When Williams voted in favor of the Wichita sales tax ballot placement, did she understand that anyone who spends $133.00 per month on taxable purchases will see a $1.33 rise in their monthly sales tax expense? Recall that Kansas applies sales tax to food, although there is a possibility of receiving a rebate. The rebate is implemented through a nonrefundable income tax credit.

Here’s something else: Since Williams applauded the formation of a payment assistance program for those who can’t afford their water bills, I wonder if she will propose a similar program for those who can’t afford a higher sales tax?

Wichita City Hall

What Boeing received from Wichita was better than cash

Supporters of the proposed Wichita sales tax contend that the millions in incentives Boeing received were not cash. That’s true — they were more valuable than cash.

At a forum on the proposed Wichita sales tax on September 9, 2014, “Yes Wichita” co-chair Jon Rolph told the audience “The Boeing incentive thing? The city never gave Boeing incentives. They didn’t take our incentive money and run.” As explained at Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Boeing incentives, the claim that the “city never gave Boeing incentives” must be astonishing news to the Wichita city officials who dished out over $600 million in subsidies and incentives to the company.

"Yes Wichita" Facebook page.
“Yes Wichita” Facebook page.
In response, “Yes Wichita” posted this on its Facebook page: “Those who were at the event understand that the conversation was about cash incentives not about IRBs. Boeing never received cash incentives from the City.”

First, it’s interesting that the person commenting on behalf of “Yes Wichita” was able to read the minds of the audience members. That’s a neat trick. But let’s talk about something more important — the confusion that often surrounds economic development incentives.

“Yes Wichita” contends that although Boeing received an estimated $657,992,250 in property tax abatements over several decades, this doesn’t count as “cash incentives” because it wasn’t given to Boeing in the form of cash.

“Yes Wichita” is correct, in a way. As a result of the City of Wichita’s issuance of industrial revenue bonds, Boeing didn’t receive cash from the city. Instead, the benefits the city initiated on Boeing’s behalf are more valuable to the company than receiving an equivalent amount of cash.

Internal Revenue Service IRS logoAccording to IRS guidelines, “tax incentives, whether in the form of an abatement, credit, deduction, rate reduction or exemption, simply reduce the tax imposed by state or local governments.” The IRS says these incentives do not count as income. Therefore, Boeing did not pay income taxes on these benefits, as it would have if the city gave the company cash.

The claim by the “Yes Wichita” group — that tax abatements don’t count as cash incentives — is characteristic of the way economic development incentives are justified. Instead of passing out cash, it’s more common that government uses abatements, credits, tax increment financing, investment in training and infrastructure, or exemptions. Many of these programs are confusing to citizens, and perhaps also to the elected officials who approve them. This allows government to shroud the economic realities of the transaction, and “Yes Wichita” is contributing to this confusion.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Unknown stories of economic development, Uber, Fact-checking Yes Wichita

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita economic development, one more untold story. The arrival of Uber is a pivotal moment for Wichita. Fact-checking Yes Wichita on paved streets. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 58, broadcast September 14, 2014.

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To pay for a Wichita water supply, there are alternatives

Supporters of a proposed Wichita sales tax contend there is only one alternative for paying for a new water supply, and it is presented as unwise.

The major component of the proposed Wichita one cent per dollar sales tax is to pay for a new water supply. Controversy surrounds how the water should be supplied (ASR? El Dorado? New reservoir?) and its urgency. But according to sales tax boosters, there is no controversy about how to pay for a new water supply.

"Yes Wichita" campaign material. Click for larger version.
“Yes Wichita” campaign material. Click for larger version.
The City of Wichita and the “Yes Wichita” group present two alternatives to Wichita voters: Either (a) approve a sales tax to pay for a new water supply, or (b) the city will borrow to pay for the water supply and water users will pay a lot of interest. Campaign material from “Yes Wichita” states that without a sales tax, “we end up paying 50% more over 25 years because of financing costs.”

Are there other alternatives? Here’s one: If the water supply project costs $250 million, let’s raise water bills by that amount over five years. In this way, water users pay for the new water supply, and we avoid the long-term debt that city council members and “Yes Wichita” seem determined to avoid.

It's best to have those who use something pay for it directly.
It’s best to have those who use something pay for it directly.
Water bills would have to rise by quite a bit in order to raise $50 million per year. But it’s important to have water users pay for water. Also, Wichitans need to be aware — acutely aware — of the costs of a new water supply. Many citizens are surprised to learn that the city has spent $247 million over the past decade on a water project, the ASR program. That money was mostly borrowed, much of it by the same mayor, council members, and city hall bureaucrats that now shun long-term debt.

It will be easier to let people know how much a new water supply costs and how it affects them personally when its cost appears on their water bills. The money that is collected through water bills can be placed in a dedicated fund instead of flowing to the city’s general fund. Then, after the necessary amount is raised, water bills can be immediately adjusted downwards. That’s more difficult to do with a sales tax.

If we pay for a new water supply through a general retail sales tax, the linkage between cost and benefit is less obvious. There is less transparency, and ultimately, less accountability.

Sales tax supporters like “Yes Wichita” claim that one-third of the sales tax collected in Wichita is paid by non-Wichitans. It’s smart, they say, to have visitors to Wichita pay for a portion of the costs of a new water supply. But don’t retail stores pass along their costs — including water bills — to their customers?

Consider this: What is probably the most expensive item sold on a routine basis by a Wichita water utility customer? A good guess would be a Boeing 737 fuselage manufactured by Spirit Aerosystems and sold to Boeing. This item isn’t subject to sales tax. But Spirit can pass along higher water bills to Boeing. (This assumes that shifting costs to outsiders is desirable. I’m not convinced it is.)

According to the Wichita budget, the Wichita water utility provides water to 425,000 customers. As the population of Wichita is about 385,000, there are some 40,000 Wichita water utility customers outside the city. How best to have them help pay for a new water supply: Through their water bills, or hoping that residents of Derby drive past their local Wal-Mart and Target stores to shop at identical stores in Wichita so they can pay sales tax to the city?

There are alternatives for paying for a new water supply other than a sales tax and long-term debt. As has been illustrated by sales tax opponents, water is important, but the need for a new water supply is not as urgent as sales tax supporters portray. There is time to consider other alternatives.

City of Wichita Spends 2 million Rebuffs Citizen’s Transparency Request

For proposed Wichita sales tax, claims of transparency

Claims of valuing and promoting government transparency by the City of Wichita are contradicted by its taxpayer-funded surrogates.

As boosters of a proposed Wichita sales tax promise accountability and transparency in how money will be spent, especially the portion designated for jobs and economic development, voters may want to consider the city’s past and present attitude towards government transparency and open records.

Brochure from Kansas Attorney General's office
Brochure from Kansas Attorney General’s office
The city has three surrogate quasi-governmental agencies that are almost totally taxpayer-funded, specifically Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Each agency contends it is not a “public agency” as defined in Kansas law, and therefore does not have to fulfill records requests.

These agencies spend considerable sums of tax money. In December the city approved funding Go Wichita with $2,322,021 for 2014, along with a supplemental appropriation of $150,000. Earlier this year the council voted to increase the city’s hotel tax by 2.75 cents per dollar, with the proceeds going to Go Wichita. That tax is thought to raise $2.5 million per year.

That’s a lot of tax money. It’s also a very high portion of the agency’s total funding. According to the 2012 IRS form 990 for Go Wichita, the organization had total revenue of $2,609,545. Of that, $2,270,288 was tax money from the city. That’s 87 percent taxpayer-funded. When the surge of higher hotel tax money starts flowing in, that percent will undoubtedly rise, perhaps to 93 percent or more.

Despite being nearly totally funded by taxes, Go Wichita refuses to supply spending records. Many believe that the Kansas Open Records Act requires that it comply with such requests. If the same money was being spent directly by the city, the records would be supplied.

City of Wichita Spends 2 million Rebuffs Citizen’s Transparency RequestI’ve appeared before the council several times to ask that Go Wichita and similar organizations comply with the Kansas Open Records Act. See Go Wichita gets budget approved amid controversy over public accountability, City of Wichita Spends $2 million, Rebuffs Citizen’s Transparency Request, and articles at Open Records in Kansas.

This week Go Wichita refused to provide to me its contract with a California firm retained to help with the re-branding of Wichita. If the city had entered into such a contract, it would be public record. But Go Wichita feels it does not have to comply with simple transparency principles.

Supporters of the proposed one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax promise transparency in the way decisions are made and money is spent. Below, Mike Shatz explains how this promise is hollow.

City of Wichita wants to increase sales tax by 14%

The City of Wichita funnels your tax dollars into “non-profit” development groups that refuse to show us how that money is spent, and now the City wants you to vote in favor of a sales tax increase so they can give these organizations even more of your money.

These groups, Go Wichita, The Downtown Development Corporation, and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, get roughly 90% of their overall funding from Wichita tax dollars, but claim that they are exempt from the Kansas Open Records Act, because they are “private” organizations.

The City of Wichita could easily place conditions on the money it gives to these groups, requiring them to show taxpayers how their tax dollars are being spent, but the City refuses to do so. This is not transparency.

Continue reading at Kansas Exposed.

Coalition for a Better Wichita logo

Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Sales tax cost per household

The cost of the proposed Wichita sales tax to households is a matter of dispute. I present my figures, and suggest that “Yes Wichita” do the same.

At a forum on the proposed Wichita sales tax on September 9, 2014, Jennifer Baysinger told the audience that “the average family bringing in about $50,000 a year would pay about $240 a year tax.” She was speaking on behalf of Coalition for a Better Wichita, a group that opposes the one cent per dollar sales tax that Wichita voters will see on their November ballots.

In his rebuttal, “Yes Wichita” co-chair Jon Rolph disputed these figures, saying that Baysinger’s claim would mean that the average family spends $24,000 per year on “groceries and sweaters and socks.” He said a family would need to make $200,000 per year to spend that much on taxable items.

So who is correct? It’s relatively easy to gather figures about sales taxes and households. Here’s what I found.

According to a report from the Kansas Department of Revenue, in fiscal year 2013 the City of Wichita generated $372,843,844 in retail sales tax collections. With a population of 385,577 (2012 value), the tax collected per Wichita resident was $966.98.

Supporters of the proposed sales tax say that one-third of the sales tax collected in Wichita is paid by non-Wichitans. If true, that leaves $248,562,563 in sales tax paid by 385,577 Wichita residents, or $645 per person. This figure is from sales tax being collected at a rate of 7.15 percent, which implies that one cent per dollar of sales tax generates $90 per person. (This assumes that people do not change their purchases because of higher or lower sales taxes, which does not reflect actual behavior. But this is an estimate.)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 2.49 persons per household in Wichita. That means that a one cent per dollar sales tax has a cost of $224 per household. That’s close to Baysinger’s figure of $240.

We could also take sales tax collections of $248,562,563 and divide by the 151,309 households in Wichita to get a figure of $1,642.75 in sales tax paid per household. Again, since that is tax paid at the rate of 7.15 percent, it implies that one cent per dollar of sales tax generates $230 per household, subject to the same caveats as above. Again, this is close to Baysinger’s figure.

These results are close to my estimation of the cost of the proposed sales tax derived in an entirely different way. I took Census Bureau figures for the amount spent in various categories by families of different income levels. For each category of spending, I judged whether it was subject to sales tax in Kansas. The result was that the average household spent $22,287 per year on taxable items. One percent of that is $223, which is an estimate of the cost of a one cent per dollar sales tax per household. For households in the middle quintile of income, the value was $194. See Wichita sales tax hike would hit low income families hardest for details and charts.

How can the claims of Baysinger and Rolph be so far apart? I’ve presented my reasoning and calculations. The results are figures very close to what Coalition for a Better Wichita is using. Wichita voters might ask that Jon Rolph or one of the other co-chairs of “Yes Wichita” do the same.

Yes Wichita logo

Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Boeing incentives

The claim that the “city never gave Boeing incentives” will come as news to the Wichita city officials who dished out over $600 million in subsidies and incentives to the company.

At a forum on the proposed Wichita sales tax on September 9, 2014, “Yes Wichita” co-chair Jon Rolph told the audience “The main reason I’m here, I need to educate folks on this. There’s been a lot of misinformation out there.”

The proposed one cent per dollar Wichita sales tax will be voted on by Wichita voters in November. The city plans to use the proceeds for four areas: A new water supply, bus transit, street maintenance and repair, and economic development, specifically job creation. It is the last area that is the most controversial. Sales tax boosters make the case that Wichita has a limited budget for incentives, generally pegged at $1.65 million per year. They say that other cities have much larger budgets, and unless Wichita steps up with additional incentives, Wichita will not be able to compete for jobs.

Wichita has, however, many available incentive programs that are worth much more than $1.65 million per year. Just this week the city extended property tax abatements to one company that are valued at $108,541 per year. The company will receive this benefit annually for five years, with a likely extension for another five years. The city will also apply for a sales tax exemption on behalf of the company. City documents estimate its value at $126,347.

None of this money counts against the claimed $1.65 million annual budget for incentives, as these incentive programs have no cash cost to the city. There is a cost to other taxpayers, however, as the cost of government is spread over a smaller tax base. To the recipient companies, these benefits are as good as receiving cash. I’ve detailed other incentive programs and some recent awards at Contrary to officials, Wichita has many incentive programs.

The nature of, and value of, available incentive programs is important to understand. “Yes Wichita” co-chair Jon Rolph is correct. There is much misinformation. Here’s what he told the audience of young Wichitans after warning about misinformation: “The Boeing incentive thing? The city never gave Boeing incentives. They didn’t take our incentive money and run.”

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer Facebook 2012-01-04The claim that the “city never gave Boeing incentives” will come as news to the Wichita city officials who dished out the subsidies and incentives. In a written statement at the time of Boeing’s announcement that it was leaving Wichita, Mayor Carl Brewer wrote “Our disappointment in Boeing’s decision to abandon its 80-year relationship with Wichita and the State of Kansas will not diminish any time soon. The City of Wichita, Sedgwick County and the State of Kansas have invested far too many taxpayer dollars in the past development of the Boeing Company to take this announcement lightly.”

Along with the mayor’s statement the city released a compilation of the industrial revenue bonds authorized for Boeing starting in 1979. The purpose of the IRBs is to allow Boeing to escape paying property taxes, and in many cases, sales taxes. According to the city’s compilation, Boeing was granted property tax relief totaling $657,992,250 from 1980 to 2017. No estimate for the amount of sales tax exemption is available. I’ve prepared a chart showing the value of property tax abatements in favor of Boeing each year, based on city documents. There were several years where the value of forgiven tax was over $40 million.

Boeing Wichita tax abatements, annual value, from City of Wichita.
Boeing Wichita tax abatements, annual value, from City of Wichita.
Kansas Representative Jim Ward, who at the time was Chair of the South Central Kansas Legislative Delegation, issued this statement regarding Boeing and incentives:

Boeing is the poster child for corporate tax incentives. This company has benefited from property tax incentives, sales tax exemptions, infrastructure investments and other tax breaks at every level of government. These incentives were provided in an effort to retain and create thousands of Kansas jobs. We will be less trusting in the future of corporate promises.

Not all the Boeing incentives started with Wichita city government action. But the biggest benefit to Boeing, which is the property tax abatements through industrial revenue bonds, starts with Wichita city council action. By authorizing IRBs, the city council cancels property taxes not only for the city, but also for the county, state, and school district.

We’re left wondering, as we have wondered before, whether the “Yes Wichita” campaign is uninformed, misinformed, or intentionally deceptive in making its case to Wichita voters.

Fostering economic growth in Wichita

Kansas Policy Institute is hosting a conference titled “Fostering Economic Growth in Wichita.” This is the second in a series of events looking at issues surrounding the proposed sales tax in Wichita. Voters will see the sales tax question on the ballot in November.

Wichita job development sales tax Kansas Policy InstituteThis event focuses on the economic development, or jobs, portion of the sales tax. The other areas sales tax funds would be spent on are a new water supply, street maintenance and repair, and bus transit.

This is event on Friday September 19, from 7:30 am to noon, held in room 132 of the Wichita State University MetroPlex. the event is free, and you may register here.

Here is the lineup of speakers and topics:

  • Nuts and Bolts of the “Jobs Fund” Proposal: Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce with:
    • Paul Allen, Allen Gibbs & Houlik, Leadership Council Jobs Task Force
    • Jeff Finkle, President/CEO, International Economic Development Council
    • Dr. John Tomblin, Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer, Wichita State University
  • Examining Kansas’ Incentive History:
    • Nathan Jensen, Ph.D., Associate Professor at George Washington University
  • Trends of Wichita’s Economy:
    • Jeremy Hill, Director of Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research
  • Creating a Dynamic Local Economy:
    • Pamela Villarreal, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis

This is the second in a series of KPI-sponsored forums covering the various aspects of the 1% sales tax proposal. A forum on the water proposal was held in July, and a forum on the street and transit portion will be held in the near future. Kansas Policy Institute is hosting these events to give citizens the opportunity to hear experts address all sides of the issues, and is not taking a position on the individual aspects of the 1% sales tax proposal.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1990

Wichita economic development, one more untold story

Readers of the Wichita Eagle might be excused for not understanding the economic realities of a proposed tax giveaway to a local development.

Tomorrow’s meeting of the Wichita City Council holds an item of economic development that might be confusing to citizens unless they read the meeting’s agenda packet. Here’s what the Wichita Eagle is reporting to readers: “The owner of the former Wichita Mall is seeking $3.6 million in industrial revenue bonds for a new parking lot — a request that the Wichita City Council will consider at its Tuesday meeting.” (Owners of former Wichita Mall seek IRBs for new parking lot, kansas.com, September 8, 2014)

The article doesn’t present much more about the economics of this transaction and its importance to public policy. That’s unfortunate, as after reading this article, citizens could be excused for thinking that the city is making a loan to a private entity.

But that isn’t the purpose of industrial revenue bonds, or IRBs, in Kansas. By issuing these bonds, the City of Wichita is not lending any money, and is not guaranteeing — not even hinting — that any loan will be repaid. Instead, city documents — but not Wichita Eagle reporting — tell us that Co-Co Properties, LLC will purchase the bonds. Who is Co-Co, you may be wondering? It’s the company that owns the Wichita Mall property, the same company that wants to borrow money to repair its parking lot. By purchasing the IRBs, the company is, in effect, lending money to itself. (It’s possible that Co-Co may seek other loans to get the funds to buy the IRBs, but if so, these would be private transactions and therefore not a matter of public policy.)

So if Co-Co is buying these IRBs itself, what is the purpose of the transaction? Why is Co-Co taking $3.6 million from one of its corporate pockets and transferring it to another pocket, and incurring costs in the process?

At this point, if all you’ve done is read the Wichita Eagle story, you may be confused. Actually, you’d be uninformed, because the Eagle story says nothing about who will purchase the IRBs. Further, the Eagle story tells us nothing about the reason for this transaction, which is to avoid paying two forms of taxes.

The city council agenda packet, available on the city’s website, explains that property tax forgiveness accompanies the IRBs. Specifically:

The one year estimated tax abatement on Co-Co’s proposed $3.6 million real property improvements when fully complete would be $108,541. … The value of a 100% real property tax exemption as applicable to taxing jurisdictions is:

City of Wichita, $29,258
Sedgwick County, $26,439
State of Kansas, $1,350
Wichita school district, $51,494

These annual numbers would be repeated for five years, plus another five years if the city council approves, based on council review. That’s potentially over one million dollars of forgiven property taxes.

That’s not all. City documents say city staff will also apply for a sales tax exemption. No value is given for how much sales tax Co-Co may avoid paying. If all purchases were taxable the value of the sales tax exemption would be $257,400, but it’s unlikely the value of the exemption would reach that level.

So there it is. The purpose of the industrial revenue bonds transaction is to avoid paying taxes. That inspires a question. In its application, Co-Co says it has spent millions renovating the building in order to attract tenants, done without public incentive or financing. But now we’re told the parking lot can’t be repaired without two forms of tax giveaways?

When the city finds it necessary to forgive taxes in order to make investment possible, it tells us that taxes in Wichita are too high. Those high taxes are blocking investment. It’s either that, or cronyism — a simple taxpayer-funded gift to a city council crony.

One more thing: Boosters of the proposed Wichita sales tax, part to be used for economic development, tell us that Wichita has only $1.65 million per year to fund incentives. The incentives being considered for Co-Co are worth over $1 million, but have no cash cost to the city. These incentives aren’t part of the $1.65 million annual budget for incentives. But the incentives do have a cost, paid by taxpayers when the city, county, state, and school district spend and expect taxpayers to make up this missing tax revenue.

calculator-178164_1280

Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Arithmetic

A group promoting the proposed Wichita sales tax makes an arithmetic error, which gives us a chance to ask a question: Is this error an indication of Yes Wichita and the city’s attitude towards, and concern for, factual information?

VoteYesWichita website, September 6, 2014. Click for larger version.
VoteYesWichita website, September 6, 2014. Click for larger version.
“Yes Wichita” is a group that promotes a one cent per dollar sales tax that Wichita voters will see on the November ballot. Using a $10 purchase as an example, a page on the Yes Wichita website breaks down the tax among the four areas of spending sales tax revenue, informing voters that means 6.3 cents to water, 2 cents to jobs, 1 cent to transit, and .07 cent to streets.

These numbers, however, don’t add up. On a $10 purchase, the one percent sales tax generates ten cents of sales tax revenue. The numbers used in the Yes Wichita example sum to 9.37 cents. The correct number is 0.7 cent to streets, not 07.

Should we be concerned about errors like this? For what it’s worth, this error is repeated at least once more on the voteyeswichita.com site. This site has been online with these errors for at least two weeks. Haven’t any of the members of the Yes Wichita team noticed this error? Or have they noticed the error, but don’t think it’s worth a correction?

Most importantly for Wichita voters: Is this error an indication of Yes Wichita and the city’s attitude towards, and concern for, factual information?

This does give us a chance to look at the cost of the sales tax for various levels of taxable purchases. I’ve prepared a table. As you can see, once we make purchases that add up to large amounts, so too does the amount of the extra sales tax Wichita city hall recommends citizens pay. Click on it for a larger version.

Proposed Wichita Sales Tax Amounts 01

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita’s blatant waste, Transforming Wichita, and how you can help

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Let’s ask that Wichita trim its blatant waste of tax dollars before asking for more. We’ll look back at a program called Transforming Wichita. Then: We need to hold campaigns accountable. I’ll give you examples why, and tell how you can help. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 57, broadcast September 7, 2014.

United States Currency

Fact-checking Yes Wichita: NetApp incentives

In making the case that economic development incentives are necessary and successful in creating jobs, a Wichita campaign overlooks the really big picture.

In November Wichita voters will decide whether to approve a sales tax of one cent per dollar. Part of the proceeds, about 20 percent, is dedicated to economic development, specifically the creation of jobs. On its website under the heading “Most of our growth comes from within,” the “Yes Wichita” campaign presents this argument in favor of sales tax revenue for economic development:

In the past, more than 90% of our existing economic development resources have been used to support expansion of local companies. NetApp is a great example because they had new work and needed to locate 400 new jobs in one of their existing facilities. They looked at multiple locations and it came down to expanding in an existing facility in the Research Triangle or an existing facility in Wichita. Those 400 jobs came to Wichita because of our great workforce and the partnership with WSU along with a small forgivable loan. With this new system, Wichita could have invested in training the 400 new hires at WSU.

VoteYesWichita website, September 4, 2014. Click for larger version.
VoteYesWichita website, September 4, 2014. Click for larger version.
Voters reading this might conclude that all that was needed to create 400 new jobs in Wichita was a “small forgivable loan,” along with things we already have (“great workforce and the partnership with WSU”). But voters might be interested in the entire picture of what NetApp received.

First, what the city and county offered to NetApp was not a forgivable loan. NetApp received, and will continue to receive, an annual grant as long as the company meets conditions. City documents explain: “Under the terms of the attached grant agreement, NetApp would be issued an annual grant payment of $312 per year during the 5-year term of the agreement for each employee in excess of 439 base employees, but in no event will the sum of all grant payments exceed $418,000.”

We won’t quibble over the difference between “grant” and “forgivable loan.” Instead, let’s take a look at the entire incentive package offered to NetApp.

Kansas Department of Commerce logoA letter to NetApp from the Kansas Department of Commerce laid out the potential benefits from the state. As detailed in the letter, the programs with potential dollar amounts are:

  • Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK), up to $7,705,535
  • Kansas Industrial Training with PEAK, up to $160,800
  • sales tax savings of $6,880,000
  • personal property tax exemption, $11,913,682
  • High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP), $8,500,000

The total of these is $35,160,017. Some of these benefits are paid over a period of years. The PEAK benefits are payable over seven years, according to the letter, so that’s about $1.1 million per year. These are potential benefits; the company may not actually qualify for and receive this entire amount. But it’s what the state offered.

(We should qualify that the nearly $12 million in personal property tax exemption arises from a 2006 law whereby the state no longer taxes business equipment and machinery. This is not a targeted incentive for NetApp; it is something that benefits all companies in Kansas.)

It’s true that these programs are not cash incentives paid by the City of Wichita. But if a company is going to make purchases, and if the state says you can skip paying sales tax on the purchases — well, that’s as good as cash. $6,880,000 in the case of NetApp, according to the Kansas Department of Commerce. Unless the state reduces its spending by an equivalent amount, that’s missing revenue that other taxpayers have to make up, including Wichita taxpayers.

The City of Wichita is — or should be — generally aware of the entire incentive package offered to NetApp and other companies. In a presentation made to the Wichita City Council by Gary Schmitt, an executive at Intrust Bank and the Chair of Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, NetApp was presented as an example of a successful economic development effort. On a chart in the presentation, figures indicate that NetApp received $2,000 per job from local incentives, and $84,115 per job from state incentives.

In another section of the presentation, this is noted: “The $4.5 million PEAK program incentive from the Kansas Department of Commerce was an important factor in keeping NetApp in Wichita.”

Wichita voters will have to decide whether the Yes Wichita campaign is being forthright when it claims that a “small forgivable loan” was all the cash incentive that was necessary to create NetApp jobs in Wichita. If voters choose to believe that the small forgivable loan was all the incentive needed to seal the NetApp deal, they should then wonder why the State of Kansas offered many millions of unnecessary incentives.

street-chalk-73583_1280

Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Paved streets

Will the proposed Wichita sales tax result in more paved streets? It depends on what you mean by “pave.”

Of the proposed Wichita sales tax that voters will consider in November, a portion is scheduled to be used for streets. The specific language in the ordinance that the Wichita City Council passed on August 5 states “with an amount not to exceed $27.8 million dollars of such tax applied for street maintenance and repairs.”

VoteYesWichita website, September 4, 2014. Click for larger version.
VoteYesWichita website, September 4, 2014. Click for larger version.
But “maintenance and repairs” may mean different things to different people. The “Yes Wichita” group that supports the sales tax states this on their website:

What happens to neighborhood streets if we pass the sales tax proposal?

The city would contract to pave an additional 111 miles of neighborhood streets. This would help catch up the backlog with an infusion of additional resources targeted to some of the worst streets in the city. It would join the $8 million in regular funding to pave more than 1,900 miles of neighborhood streets.

Appearing on KNSS radio on August 26, Yes Wichita spokesman Jon Rolph said “we’ll be able to double the number of miles of paved streets over the next five years.”

That sounds as though sales tax money will be used to convert dirt streets into concrete or asphalt streets. That, I believe, is what most people would conclude when reading or hearing the language produced by the Yes Wichita group.

Pave definition

But that’s not what will happen if the sales tax passes. No sales tax money will be used to convert dirt streets to concrete or asphalt streets, which is the normal meaning of “pave.”

Paving dirt streets in Wichita, excerpt. Click for larger version.
Paving dirt streets in Wichita, excerpt. Click for larger version.
Here’s how dirt streets are paved in Wichita: The surrounding property owners petition for the formation of an improvement district. If a successful petition is filed, the city paves the street, and the property owners in the improvement district pay the cost. A city document titled Petitioning for Residential Street Paving explains in more detail.

How will sales tax proceeds be used regarding streets? The July 22 presentation to the city council held this: “The sales tax funds would repair 111 lane miles of streets over the next five years, focusing on some of the worst residential streets in Wichita. Coupled with the current CMP budget allocation of $8 million, a total of 1,964 lane miles will be repaired over the next five years.”

A little backwards arithmetic shows that without sales tax revenue, the city plans to pay for the repair of 1964 – 111 =1853 lane miles. The sales tax would increase what is already planned and budgeted through existing funding by (1964 – 1853) / 1853 = six percent.

As for Rolph’s contention that “we’ll be able to double the number of miles of paved streets over the next five years”: Even if we grant that he used pave to mean repair, the city won’t be able to double the miles. Instead, city documents indicate the sales tax will allow for an additional six percent in the number of lane miles to be repaired. That’s quite different from doubling, which means to increase something by 100 percent.

Has the Yes Wichita group been merely careless in using the word pave? Or is the group trying to present the proposed sales tax as something other than what it is?

Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve in the Kansas Flint Hills

Kansas sales tax reform: Revenue booster?

Kansas has a problem with sales tax exemptions, but the potential revenue boost from reform is not as great as commonly mentioned, unless Kansas wants to place its manufacturers at severe disadvantage.

While the Wichita Eagle editorial board is correct to argue for eliminating sales tax exemptions, the amount of potential revenue is far less than presented, if we want to keep Kansas manufacturers competitive. Here’s what the Eagle editorial held:

As a result, the number of sales-tax exemptions keeps growing — from 30 in 1985 to more than 100 today. 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.” (Reduce state sales tax exemptions, August 27, 2014)

First, it’s good that the editorial board mentioned — as one possibility — the right thing to do if sales tax exemptions are eliminated, which is to reduce other taxes. Second, the state is not “losing out on more revenue” by granting sales tax exemptions. The state is simply letting people conduct certain transactions without being taxed, thereby letting them keep more of their own money. It’s true that the exemptions are granted in a way that is not equitable and does not promote economic growth, but that’s another issue.

The big problem with the editorial is the amount of money mentioned as up for grabs, which is $5.9 billion. That is a lot of money. It’s almost as much as Kansas annual general fund spending. It’s worthwhile to look in detail at the nature of Kansas sales tax exemptions to understand their nature.

In 2010 Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit looked at the topic of sales tax exemptions and issued a report titled Kansas Tax Revenues, Part II: Reviewing Sales Tax Exemptions. The data in this report is from 2009, so it’s a few years out of date. But the principles and relative amounts remain the same. At the time of this report, advocates of eliminating sales tax exemptions in Kansas pointed, as they do now, to the great amount of revenue that could be raised if Kansas eliminated these exemptions, estimated at some $4.2 billion per year for 2009. 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 tax policy.

Tax exemption policy is an important economic policy matter. In its background discussion, the Post Audit report noted “the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion that tax exemptions and tax deductibility are a form of subsidy that is administered through the tax system. A tax exemption has much the same effect as a cash grant to the organization of the amount of tax it would have to pay on its income.”

Sometimes these sales tax exemptions are issued to specific organizations. Others are issued to organizations that fall within certain categories. In this case, the exemption is like an entitlement, granted to any organization that falls within the scope of definition of the exemption. Some exemptions are for categories of business transactions that shouldn’t be taxed.

It’s this last category that is important to recognize, because of the large amount of economic activity that falls within its scope. An example is exemption 79-3606 (m), described as “Ingredient/Component parts: Of items manufactured or produced for sale at retail.” The audit report estimates that for 2009, this exemption cost the state $2,248.1 million in lost sales tax revenue.

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

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

Another big-dollar exemption is “items already taxed” such as motor fuel. This is an estimated $232.5 loss in revenue.

Two other categories of exemptions are purchases made by government, or purchases made by contractors on behalf of government. Together these account for an estimated $449.9 million in lost sales tax revenue. If these two exemptions were eliminated, government would be taxing itself and no net revenue is gained.

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

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

Wichita City Hall

‘Transforming Wichita’ a reminder of the value of government promises

When Wichita voters weigh the plausibility of the city’s plans for spending proposed new sales tax revenue, they should remember this is not the first time the city has promised results and accountability.

Do you remember Transforming Wichita? According to the city, “Transforming Wichita is the journey by which we are fundamentally changing the way we measure, report and perform the work of delivering services to the citizens of Wichita.”

In more detail, the city website proclaimed: “TW is the journey by which we will be fundamentally changing the way we deliver services to the citizens of Wichita. Our vision is for Wichita to be a premiere Midwestern city where people want to visit, live and play and for the city government to be a model of world class city governance where citizens receive the best possible value for their tax dollars and have confidence in their city government.”

At the end of this article I present the complete page from the city’s website as captured on November 10, 2007. That’s just seven years ago. There are officeholders (Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, City Council member Jeff Longwell, City Council member Lavonta Williams) and many bureaucrats still in office from that year. It’s not ancient history.

Some of the most frequently-mentioned concepts in this document are:

  • performance
  • accountability
  • trust
  • confidence
  • measure and report

Wichita spending data.
Wichita spending data.
The document mentions “supported by modernized information systems that facilitate collaboration with our partners.” That promise was made seven years ago. Today, do you know what you get when you ask the City of Wichita for spending records? The city can supply data of only limited utility. When I asked for spending records, what was supplied to me was data in pdf form, and as images, not text. It would be difficult — beyond the capability of most citizens — to translate the data to useful format. Even if someone translated the reports to computer-readable format, I don’t think the data would be very useful. This is a serious defect in the city’s transparency efforts.

How does Wichita compare to other jurisdictions in this regard? Many governmental agencies post their checkbooks on their websites, having mastered this aspect of accountability and trust years ago. Not so the City of Wichita.

Speaking of websites: The new and “improved” wichita.gov website is actually less useful than the city’s website in 2007. For more on this see A transparency agenda for Wichita.

Regarding performance: One of the most important functions city leaders say they perform is economic development, specifically the creation of jobs. Last year when the Wichita Eagle asked for job creation figures, it reported this:

“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.

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. If the city had these figures available, it would be evidence of trustworthiness, performance, accountability, and measuring and reporting. But the city isn’t doing this.

Regarding values for dollars spent: During the past decade Wichita spent $247 million on the Aquifer Storage and Recovery Program, or ASR. As that project was contemplated, Wichita was told there was sufficient water for the next 50 years. We should ask: What value did we receive for those dollars?

Speaking of accountability: Much of the money used to pay for the ASR project was borrowed in the form of long-term debt. Now we are told that long-term borrowing to pay for a new water supply would be bad fiscal management. So was it was prudent and advisable to borrow over $200 million for water projects during the last decade? Who do we hold accountable for that decision, if what city leaders now say is correct?

Here’s a page from the city’s website as captured on November 10, 2007:

Transforming Wichita

Transforming Wichita is the journey by which we are fundamentally changing the way we measure, report and perform the work of delivering services to the citizens of Wichita. Our Vision:

  • For Wichita to be a premiere Midwestern city where people want to visit, live and play (as envisioned in Visioneering Wichita).
  • For Wichita City government to be a model of world class city governance — where citizens are getting the best possible value for their dollars and the City has the public’s confidence and trust. For this vision to be attained, we have to adapt to change!

twWhile we are doing a lot of things right, we can’t be complacent, resting on our laurels from past successes. The paradox is that we must retain faith that the future is bright, while being willing to face challenges of our current situation. We must be willing to challenge every aspect of how we’re doing things today. We must position ourselves for the future.

We will do this by transforming City government into a high performance organization that:

  • Focuses on results
  • Understands what results matter most to their customers
  • Makes performance matter
  • Moves decision-making down and out to the front-line, closest to customers; and
  • Fosters an environment of excellence, inclusiveness, accountability, learning and innovation.

Through Transformation Wichita:

  • We deliver outstanding results that matter to our customers and are trustworthy stewards of the funds with which citizens have entrusted us;
  • We utilize team work and the best business processes, supported by modernized information systems that facilitate collaboration with our partners;
  • We measure and report on our work, using a balanced scorecard that shows progress and results in how we carry out programs and activities, so that performance matters; and
  • We engage in work that produces results that matter for our customers; we will work with colleagues in an environment where learning enriches us and innovation expands our potential.

More about TW

TW is the journey by which we will be fundamentally changing the way we deliver services to the citizens of Wichita. Our vision is for Wichita to be a premiere Midwestern city where people want to visit, live and play and for the city government to be a model of world class city governance where citizens receive the best possible value for their tax dollars and have confidence in their city government.

While the City is doing a lot of things right, we can’t be complacent. We must be willing to challenge every aspect of how we’re doing things today and position ourselves for the future.

We will accomplish this by transforming City government into a high performance organization that:

  • Delivers outstanding results that matter to our customers and is a trustworthy steward of the funds with which citizens have entrusted us;
  • We utilize team work and the best business processes, supported by modernized information systems that facilitate collaboration with our partners;
  • We measure and report on our work, using processes that show progress and results in how we carry out programs and activities; and
  • We engage in work that produces results that matter for our customers.

As Wichita asks for more taxes, it continues to waste what it has

The lights are on at the Wichita Transit Center on a sunny day — on a day the buses are not running.

The City of Wichita is recommending that voters approve a new city sales tax. Part would be used to fund the existing bus transit system and expand service.

Wichita Transit Center, Sunday August 31, 2014. It may be difficult to detect that some lights are on, as it's a sunny day.
Wichita Transit Center, Sunday August 31, 2014. It may be difficult to detect that some lights are on, as it’s a sunny day.
Whether or not you agree with that goal, people want government to spend taxpayer money carefully and efficiently. This is why it’s annoying to see the outside lights turned on in the middle of a sunny day. Especially so on Sunday, when the Transit Center is not open and buses do not run.

Wasting electricity like this is common at the Transit Center and other parts of downtown Wichita. I’m pretty sure that fixing this problem won’t fix the transit system’s failing finances. But we’ve learned that Wichita city hall isn’t concerned about blatant waste of taxpayer funds. And when we see city hall indifferent to the blatant waste of tax dollars, what about all the waste that’s not easy to see like street lights burning during the day?

Intrust Bank Arena, Wichita, KS

Wichita arena sales tax not a model of success

Supporters of a new sales tax in Wichita use the Intrust Bank Arena as an example of successful application of a sales tax.

As Wichita debates the desirability of a sales tax, a former sales tax is used as a model of success. Let’s take a look at a few of the issues.

Ongoing vs. capital expenses

A portion of the proposed sales tax will be used for operational expenses, and the demand for this spending will not end when the sales tax ends.

The sales tax for the Intrust Bank Arena was used to build a capital asset and establish a small reserve fund. Spending on capital assets is characterized by a large expense in a short period of time as the asset is constructed. Then, the spending is over — sort of.

For the proposed Wichita sales tax, 63 percent is scheduled for capital asset spending on an enhanced water supply. The remainder, 37 percent, is for operation of the bus transit system, street repair, and economic development. These three items are operational in nature, meaning they are ongoing expenses. It’s not likely that after five years the bus system will be self-sustaining, or that streets will no longer need repair, or that there will be no more clamoring for economic development.

There is a large difference, then, between the arena sales tax and the proposed Wichita sales tax. While sales tax boosters say the tax will end in five years, the likelihood is that because much of it will have been paying for operational expenses, there will be great pressure to continue the tax and the spending it supports. That’s because the appetite for tax revenue by government and its cronies is insatiable. An example: As the arena sales tax was nearing its end, Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton “wondered … whether a 1 percent sales tax could help the county raise revenue.” (“Norton floats idea of 1 percent county sales tax,” Wichita Eagle, April 4, 2007)

Intrust Bank Arena economics

Having promoted a false and incomplete picture of the economics of the Intrust Bank Arena, civic leaders now use it as a model of success.

The building of a new arena in downtown Wichita was promoted as an economic driver. So far, that hasn’t happened. There have been spurts of development near the arena. But the arena is also surrounded by empty lots and empty retail space, and there have been months where no events took place at the arena.

Regarding the accounting of the profits earned by the arena, we need to realize that civic leaders are not telling citizens the entire truth. If proper attention was given to the depreciation expense of Intrust Bank Arena, that would recognize and account for the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to pay for the arena. This would be a business-like way of managing government — something we’re promised. But that hasn’t happened.

Civic leaders and arena boosters promote a revenue-sharing arrangement between the county and the arena operator, referring to this as profit or loss. But this arrangement is not an accurate and complete accounting, and it hides the true economics of the arena. An example of the incomplete editorializing comes from Rhonda Holman of the Wichita Eagle, who earlier this year wrote “Though great news for taxpayers, that oversize check for $255,678 presented to Sedgwick County last week reflected Intrust Bank Arena’s past, specifically the county’s share of 2013 profits.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Effect on sales and jobs

Taxes have an impact. Definitely.

Boosters of the proposed Wichita sales tax say that since it is so small — “just one cent,” they say — its effect won’t be noticed. I wonder: If increasing prices by one percent has no effect, why don’t merchants raise their prices by one percent right now and pocket the profit?

Taxes have an impact. The problem with assessing the impact is that the results of the tax are usually concentrated and easy to see — a new arena, water supply, repaved streets, more buses, etc. But the consequences of the tax are usually spread out over a large number of people and collected in small amounts. The costs are dispersed, and therefore more difficult to detect. But there has been an analysis performed of a situation parallel to the Intrust bank Arena tax.

A paper titled “An Assessment of the Economic Impact of a Multipurpose Arena” by Ronald John Hy and R. Lawson Veasey, both of the University of Central Arkansas, (Public Administration & Management: An Interactive Journal 5, 2, 2000, pp. 86-98) looked at the effect of jobs and economic activity during the construction of the Alltel Arena in Pulaski County, Arkansas. This arena cost $50 million. It was funded in part by a one percent increase in the county sales tax for one year (1998). The sales tax generated $20 million.

In the net, considering both jobs lost and jobs gained due to sales tax and construction effects, workers in the wholesale and retail trades lost 60 jobs, and service workers lost 52 jobs. There was a net increase of 198 jobs in construction.

The fact that jobs were lost in retail should not be a surprise. When a sales tax makes nearly everything sold at retail more expensive, less is demanded. It may be difficult to estimate the magnitude of the change in demand, but it is certain that it does change.

The population of Pulaski County in 2000 was 361,474, while Sedgwick County’s population at the same time was 452,869, so Sedgwick County is somewhat larger. The sales tax for the arena lasted 2.5 times as long, and our arena was about three times as expensive. How these factors affected the number of jobs is unknown, but it’s likely that the number of jobs lost in Sedgwick County in retail and services was larger that what Pulaski County experienced.

Tax Foundatation State and Local Tax Burden, August 2014

State and local tax burdens presented

For two decades the Tax Foundation has estimated the combined state and local tax burden for all the states. I’ve created an interactive visualization that lets you compare states and see trends in rank over time.

In its publication, the Tax Foundation explains:

For nearly two decades, the Tax Foundation has published an estimate of the combined state and local tax burden shouldered by the residents of each of the fifty states, regardless of the jurisdictions to which those taxes are paid. We argue that it is important to note that a taxpayer’s true tax burden must include the substantial taxes they pay directly or indirectly to out-of-state governments.

Tax Foundatation State and Local Tax Burden, August 2014When organizations analyzing federal tax burdens, such as the Congressional Budget Office or the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, measure tax burdens by income group, they go beyond measuring the legal incidence of a tax (who writes the check to the government) and account for the fact that taxes legally imposed on a given person in one income group (such as employers via the payroll tax) can be shifted to a different person in another income group (like employees). Similarly, our state and local tax burden estimates account for the shifting of taxes from one group to another under a different variable by which household are organized: state of residence rather than income level. …

In this annual study, our goal is to move the focus from the tax collector (how much revenue is collected) to the taxpayer (how much income is foregone). We aim to find what percentage of state income residents are paying in state and local taxes and whether those taxes are paid to their state of residence or to others. …

When answering the question of which state’s residents pay the most in state and local taxes, it should be clear that such tax burden measures are not measures of the size of government in a state, nor are they technically measures of the complete burden of taxation faced by a given state’s residents.

The most recent version of the report is located at Annual State-Local Tax Burden Ranking FY 2011.

To use the visualization, hover over any state from the map. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. The most recent data is for fiscal year 2011. Data from Tax Foundation; visualization created using Tableau Public.

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Voice for Liberty Radio: Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan

Voice for Liberty Radio 150x150In this episode of Voice for Liberty Radio: Nick Jordan is Secretary of Revenue for the State of Kansas. He spoke to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on the topic “An Analysis of Governor Brownback’s Tax Policy” on August 22, 2014. In the shownotes for this episode you can find the link to the handout he distributed.

Here’s Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on August 22, 2014.

Shownotes

Handout: Kansas Tax Policy: Key Points
Kansas Department of Revenue
Wichita Pachyderm Club

Jennifer Baysinger: More than one business voice in Wichita

By Jennifer Baysinger

Monday’s decision by the Chamber of Commerce to support Wichita’s sales tax initiative was disappointing, though not a surprise. Even without a clear plan from City Hall, the Chamber has been vocally supportive of the referendum for months.

Wichita Chamber of Commerce 2013-07-09 004However, there is more than one business voice in Wichita. I believe the Chamber’s decision is unrepresentative of our city’s business community as a whole.

It was business leaders who first approached me with concerns regarding the potential tax hike when the Coalition for a Better Wichita began to take shape. Making it more expensive to be a business owner and consumer in Wichita simply seemed counterintuitive to us.

As a small business owner, I know it is not a simple task to be successful. There are dozens of complicated decisions that have to be made every day in order to realize a profit. There are rarely easy answers on the road to success. As a result, it is puzzling that the Wichita Chamber decided a so-called select committee can simply pick what companies, in a myriad of markets, deserve public money to be bestowed upon them. Highly-compensated mutual fund managers rarely beat the S&P averages. Why do we think this committee will do any better?

Rather than creating a level playing field for the businesses in our city that will allow all entrepreneurs to thrive on their own merits, this select committee will direct taxpayer funds to the chosen few. This government spending of additional tax dollars raises the cost of government for everyone — including the business startups struggling to succeed.

Whether we are talking about private dollars, or public money, $400 million is a lot of money. That $400 million could do so much more for our wonderful city than what has been proposed.

There truly is no need to rush such an important decision that will cost us all. Voters should reject this haphazard proposal. Let’s start over and make a real effort to engage our community’s citizens to find out what we all can do to make this great City even better. Let’s invest in ourselves, not some committee whose job is to give away our tax money.

Jennifer Baysinger is the spokesperson for the Coalition for a Better Wichita. She can be contacted at jennifer@abetterwichita.com.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita’s missing water, sales tax, Gidget, smartphone activism

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A former Wichita mayor wonders what happened to Wichita’s water supply. Then, I’ll introduce you to Gidget, a Kansas blogger I think you will enjoy. Then, how can you use your smartphone to help candidates and causes? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 56, broadcast August 24, 2014.

Wichita city hall

Public opinion on Wichita sales tax

As Wichita prepares to debate the desirability of a sales tax increase, a public opinion poll finds little support for the tax and the city’s plans.

Wichita City Hall 2014-08-05 11In April Kansas Policy Institute commissioned SurveyUSA to conduct a scientific poll concerning current topics in Wichita. The press release from KPI, along with a link to the complete survey results, is available at Poll: Wichitans don’t want sales tax increase. In summary:

  • Only 28% say the city has been spending efficiently.
  • Only 34% agree with the idea of local governments using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development.
  • When asked whether they would personally pay a higher sales tax to pay for certain things, there was majority support for securing a long term water source, maintaining existing infrastructure, and building new infrastructure, but one-third or less would pay a higher sales tax for business incentives, developing downtown Wichita, and expanding or renovating convention spaces.
  • 78% said that to fund existing infrastructure, build new infrastructure, and secure a long-term water source Wichita should fund those items by adjusting spending and being more efficient rather than raising taxes.

More detail on these results follows.

Is city spending efficiently?

The first question the survey asked was “In the past few years, have Wichita city officials used taxpayer money efficiently? Or inefficiently?” Following are the results for everyone, and then divided by political party and political ideology.

Overall, 58 percent believe city spending was inefficient, compared to 28 percent believing spending was efficient.

The results are surprisingly consistent. An exception is that political independents strongly believed that city spending was inefficient. Those identifying as liberal were more likely to say that city spending was inefficient.

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Taxes for subsidies for economic development

About one-third of voters polled support local governments using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development.

The second question the survey asked was “In general, do you agree? Or disagree? With the idea of local governments using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development?” Following are the results for everyone, and then divided by political party and political ideology.

Overall, 55 percent disagreed with using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development. 34 percent agreed.

The results are fairly consistent across political party and ideology, although Republicans are somewhat more likely to agree with using taxpayer funds for economic development incentives, as are those who self-identify as political moderates.

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Voters willing to pay for fundamentals

Voters are willing to pay a higher sales tax for fundamentals like infrastructure and water supply, and less willing for business incentives, downtown development, and convention centers.

In a series of questions asking if Wichita voters would be willing to pay a higher sales tax to provide certain services, a pattern appeared: Voters are willing to pay for things that are fundamental in nature, and less willing to pay for others.

As can be seen in the nearby chart, voters are willing to pay for infrastructure, and more willing to pay for maintenance of existing infrastructure than for new infrastructure. Voters are most willing to pay for securing a long-term water source.

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For business incentives, downtown development, and convention centers, Wichita voters express less willingness to pay higher sales tax to fund these items.

For the first three items, the average was 68 percent of voters willing to pay a higher sales tax. For the last three, the average is 30 percent.

Following is the complete text of the questions:

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to fund incentives to businesses expanding in Wichita or moving here from other states?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to fund maintenance work on existing infrastructure, such as sewers and roads?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to fund new infrastructure, such as new highways and passenger rail connections?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to continue developing downtown Wichita with apartments, businesses, and entertainment destinations?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to expand or renovate convention spaces, such as the Hyatt Hotel and Century II?

Would you personally be willing to pay a higher sales tax in the city of Wichita to secure a long-term water source?

How to pay for infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

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Wichita City Library, 1965

What incentives can Wichita offer?

Wichita government leaders complain that Wichita can’t compete in economic development with other cities and states because the budget for incentives is too small. But when making this argument, these officials don’t include all incentives that are available.

In making the case for an economic development fund paid for by a sales tax, the argument goes like this: “Wichita and Sedgwick County compete conservatively with incentives. The City of Wichita and Sedgwick County have a total of $1.65 million in new uncommitted funds for cash incentives this year with any unused money going back to the general fund.” (Will Wichita Accelerate Competition for Primary Jobs?, presentation made to Wichita city council.)

This statement is true only if we use a very narrow definition of the word “incentive.” By any reasonable definition, Wichita has many incentives worth much more than what is claimed by Wichita economic development officials and politicians.

In fact, the report cited above contains contradictory information about the amounts that are available for economic development incentives in Wichita. Here is an example: “The $4.5 million PEAK program incentive from the Kansas Department of Commerce was an important factor in keeping NetApp in Wichita. Locally we were able to provide $836,000 in incentives.”

So with an incentives budget of $1.65 million, a Wichita company received $5.3 million in incentives. Some of that, like the PEAK incentive, is paid over a period of years. But that amount doesn’t begin to describe the benefits NetApp received.

Available incentive programs

Kansas Department of Commerce logoA letter to NetApp from the Kansas Department of Commerce laid out the potential benefits from the state. As detailed in the letter, the programs with potential dollar amounts are:

  • Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK), up to $7,705,535
  • Kansas Industrial Training with PEAK, up to $160,800
  • sales tax savings of $6,880,000
  • personal property tax exemption, $11,913,682
  • High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP), $8,500,000

The total of these is $35,160,017. Some of these benefits are paid over a period of years. The PEAK benefits are payable over seven years, according to the letter, so that’s about $1.1 million per year. These are potential benefits; the company may not actually qualify for and receive this entire amount. But it’s what the state offered.

It’s true that some of these programs are not cash incentives of the type Wichita complains of lacking. But if a company is going to make purchases, and the state says you can skip paying sales tax on the purchases — well, that’s as good as cash. $6,880,000 in the case of NetApp, according to the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Local tax exemptions

Besides sales tax exemptions, the city has other types of tax exemptions it regularly offers. These exemptions can have substantial value. In 2008 as Drury contemplated Broadview Hotel 2013-07-09 020purchasing the Broadview Hotel, the city allowed the hotel to escape paying much of the taxes that the rest of us have to pay. According to city information, Drury planned to spend $22,797,750 on the hotel. If we use this as the appraised value for the property when it is complete, the annual property taxes due for this property would be $22,797,750 times .25 times 126.323 divided by 1000, or $719,970. This calculation may be rough, but it gives us an approximation of the annual operating subsidy being given to this hotel for the next ten years.

It's important for citizens to know incentivesWhen Boeing announced in 2012 that it was closing its Wichita operations, city leaders complained that Boeing was leaving Wichita even though it had received many incentives. 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. (This is not money the city lent or gave to Boeing. IRBs provide a vehicle for granting tax abatements or exemptions.) At the time, city officials said the average amount of bonds was $120 million per year. With Wichita commercial property tax rates at 3.008 percent ($30.08 per $1,000 of appraised value), according to GWEDC, that’s a tax savings of around $3.6 million per year. To Boeing, that’s as good as receiving cash year after year.

Tax increment financing

In 2013 Wichita approved a package benefiting Exchange Place in downtown. Here’s what the city council agenda packet gives as the sources of financing for this project.

HUD Loan Amount         $29,087,700
Private Equity            5,652,254
Tax Credit Equity        19,370,395
TIF Proceeds             12,500,000
Total Sources of Funds  $66,610,349

TIF, or tax increment financing, diverts future increased tax revenues away from their normal uses and diverts them back to the project. In this case, the city will borrow $12,500,000 by selling bonds. It will give this money to the developer. Then, TIF proceeds will be used to repay these bonds.

Some will argue that TIF isn’t really an incentive. The owners of the property will have to pay their property taxes, just like any other property owner. But for this project, the property taxes are used for the project’s own benefit instead of funding the costs of city government. This project gets to spend $12.5 million of its property tax payments on itself, rather than funding the costs of Wichita city government.

Tax credits

Ambassador Hotel sign 2014-03-07Note that the sources of financing for the Exchange Place project includes “Tax Credit Equity.” Here’s an example of another downtown project, the Ambassador Hotel, and the incentive package the city prepared:

  • $3,325,000 in tax increment financing.
  • $4,245,000 in city funding under the capital improvement plan (CIP), to build parking for the hotel.
  • $3,800,000 in tax credits from the State of Kansas.
  • $3,500,000 in tax credits from the U.S. government.
  • $537,075 in sales tax exemptions on purchases during the construction and furnishing of the hotel.
  • $60,000 per year in community improvement district (CID) sales tax. The hotel charges an extra two cents per dollar sales tax, which the state returns to the hotel.
  • $127,499 per year (estimated) in rental revenue to the developers from a sweetheart lease deal.
  • Participation in Wichita’s facade improvement program, which provides special assessment financing that is repaid.

All told, this project was slated to receive $15,407,075 in taxpayer funds to get started, with additional funds provided annually.

The tax credits for this project are historic preservation tax credits. They have the same economic impact as a cash payment. The federal tax credits are available across the country, while the Kansas tax credits, of course, are a state program. In this case the hotel developers received an upfront payment of $3.8 million from the state in a form that’s as good as cash.

STAR bonds

Last year a STAR bonds district in northeast Wichita was approved to receive $31,570,785 from these bonds. The STAR bonds are paid off with sales tax revenue that would otherwise go to the state and overlapping jurisdictions. This is sales tax collected from the business’s customers, and doesn’t cost the business anything.

Adding it up

This list is not complete. There are other programs and other beneficiaries of economic development subsidies. With this in mind, it is disingenuous for city and other officials to use the $1.65 million figure as though it was all Wichita had to offer. It’s important for citizens to know that contrary to the claims of officials, Wichita has many economic development incentive programs available, and some have substantial value to the recipients, with corresponding cost to the city and other jurisdictions.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Issues surrounding the Wichita sales tax and airport

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Who would be most harmed by the proposed Wichita sales tax? Also: A look at updated airport statistics, and what the city could do if it wants to pass the sales tax. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 55, broadcast August 17, 2014.

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Economic development in Wichita, one tale

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at a recent episode of economic development in Wichita, and what can we learn from that. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Originally broadcast June 15, 2014.

For more on this issue, see A lesson for Wichita in economic development.

Additional cost of proposed Wichita sales tax as percent of after-tax income, by income quintile

Wichita sales tax hike would hit low income families hardest

Analysis of household expenditure data shows that a proposed sales tax in Wichita affects low income families in greatest proportion, confirming the regressive nature of sales taxes.

One of the criticisms of a sales tax is that it is regressive. That is, it affects low-income families in greatest proportion. This is an important consideration to explore, because in November Wichita voters will decide whether to create a new city sales tax of one cent per dollar. If enacted, the sales tax in Wichita would rise from 7.15 percent to 8.15 percent.

It’s an important issue because to hear some people talk, it seems as though they are saying the proposed tax is “one penny.” Anyone can afford that, they say. But the tax is an extra penny on each dollar spent, meaning that the cost of, say, fifty dollars of food at the grocery store increases by fifty cents, not one penny.

Further, we hear the sales tax spoken of as being a one percent increase. That’s true, if we mean a one percent increase in the cost of most things we buy. And one percent, after all, is just one percent. Not a big deal, people say. But considering the sales tax we pay, a relevant calculation is this: (8.15 – 7.15) / 7.15 = 14 percent. Which is to say, the amount of sales tax we pay will rise by 14 percent.

Click the table for a larger version.
Click the table for a larger version.
To explore the effect of the proposed sales tax on families of different incomes, I gathered data from the U.S. Census Bureau, specifically table 1101, which is “Quintiles of income before taxes: Annual expenditure means, shares, standard errors, and coefficient of variation, Consumer Expenditure Survey, 2012, (Selected Values).” This table divides families into five quintiles. It gives annual expenditures for each quintile in various categories. For each category, I judged whether it is subject to sales tax. For example, for housing, I indicated it is not subject to sales tax. This is not totally accurate, as some of the spending in this category may be for taxable items like maintenance and repair supplies. Food is subject to sales tax in Kansas, although low-income families may apply for a rebate of the tax. Despite these shortcomings, I feel this data gives us an approximation of the effect of the sales tax. (Click on the table to view a larger version, or see below for how to obtain the data.)

As you might imagine, as income rises, so does total taxable expenditures. Of interest, the percent of expenditures that are taxable is relatively constant across income levels.

Additional cost of proposed Wichita sales tax as percent of after-tax income, by income quintileAn important finding is the bottom line of the table, which shows the increase in cost due to the proposed sales tax as percent of income after taxes. This calculates the relative impact of the proposed sales tax increase as a percent of income. It is here that we expect to see the regressive nature of a sales tax appear. For all consumers, the increase in cost is 0.35 percent. For the lowest class of income, the increase in cost is 0.97 percent of income. It falls to 0.26 percent for the highest income class.

This means that the lowest income class of families experience an increase nearly four times the magnitude as do the highest income families, as a percentage of after-tax income. This is the regressive nature of sales taxes illustrated in numbers, and is something that Wichita policy makers and voters should consider.

I’ve made the data available as a Google Docs spreadsheet. Click here for access.

Kansas Capitol

Kansas budgeting “off the tops” is bad policy

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Budget “Off The Tops” Bad Policy

By Steve Anderson

Direct transfers of taxpayer money sent to a specific business or industry is always a tough sell to politicians, let alone the voting public. But, that is why some corporations pay lots of money to lobbyists. If we can’t get a company more revenue (via a taxpayer-funded payment) why don’t we lower their expenses via a tax loophole that lowers how much they pay in taxes?

These sort of special interest tax breaks come in a variety of different forms but the net effect of each is the same — revenues are diverted from the appropriation process and instead sent to some “special” group. A shrewd lobbyist will often make sure the program is funded in a way that their client(s) will receive their funding even if the statute is changed in the future. However, that should not preclude bringing these special interest deals to an end. This is especially important given that the reduction in tax rates will increase the impact of these programs on the revenue stream even as the state continues along the path to eliminating the individual income tax.

These transfer schemes are funded in a number of different ways that obscure the transaction from both the public and the appropriation process. For example, there are a number of these special deals that are funded by payroll withholding taxes. The payroll withholding exemptions are programs where the state abates collection of state income tax withheld on employee’s wages. The state then provides either a program or directly funds some benefit for the employer. These programs come in many forms and often are nearly impossible to find within the very complex tax and revenue reporting statements. In general these programs require relatively long commitments by the state of taxpayer funds. The discontinuance of these type of programs will not generally eliminate the programs immediately but it will create savings going forward that could be substantial to the maintenance of a stable fiscal environment and a more transparent tax code. It would also be a breach of trust, on some level, to yank away a promise made by the state to an entity or individual. But, that doesn’t mean we have to let these program exist into perpetuity.

Investments in Major Projects and Comprehensive Training (IMPACT)

IMPACT provides for major project investment to provide financial assistance to defray business costs. IMPACT uses withholding revenue for a direct funding source to pay for bonds issued by the state for projects. In fiscal year 2013 that percentage was 2% and the program expended $25,420,654 of funds that otherwise would have gone to the state coffers. The good news is that Kansas stopped issuing bonds in the IMPACT program effective Dec. 31, 2011. The bad news was it was replaced with other programs that are very similar. The IMPACT payments will extend on for a number of years in to the future because of the bond’s that funded those projects. This ability to bind future legislators and taxpayers to these sort of “deals” is, in and of itself, problematic but there is more damage done to the state of Kansas than just the direct cost of these bonds.

Bad policy like the type of special interest payment that IMPACT represents often have negative impacts in the future that are not foreseen at the time of their passage. For example, the IMPACT bonds were at the heart of the recent Moody’s down grade of the Kansas state bond rating. The IMPACT bond’s ratings were reviewed by Moody’s rating agency because the funding source to pay off the bonds — withholding taxes — was being reduced by a cut in the tax on wage earners in the state income tax rates. The media, which generally is not comprised of individuals with a financial background, reported that the change in the IMPACT bond ratings were caused by the broad tax cuts, which is only partially true. What the media in general did not report, at least not with the same enthusiasm as their portrayal of the impact of the income tax cuts, was that Moody’s noted the long running unfunded liabilities of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) and the lack of spending cuts as key elements of their downgrade.

However, analysis of the IMPACT bond rating issues bring to light another important problem with these type of giveaways. Future legislators have their hands tied because their predecessors have committed future tax revenues in a manner that precludes the ability to bring an immediate cessation, or even partial reduction, in the special interest funding source without repercussions such as the recent bond rating issue.

Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK)

The PEAK program allows companies that create 100 new jobs within a specified two-year period to retain 95% of employee withholding taxes for up to 10 years. Not surprisingly with such a generous incentive companies have grown its use rapidly going from $2.7 million in expenditures in 2010 to an estimated $12.5 million in 2012 years. The “cap” on this program going forward is: In FY 2014, the cap is $12 million. In FY 2015, the cap is $18 million, $24 million in FY 2016, $30 million in FY 2017, $36 million in FY 2018, and $42 million 2019. Immediately freezing the cap at the current level and eliminating the program going forward to prevent new obligations generates significant savings going forward for the state. This is giveaway is even more troubling when considering that a recent analysis from Kansas City’s Kauffman Foundation found that, “PEAK incentives recipients are statistically not more likely to generate new jobs than similar firms not receiving incentives.”

Kansas Bioscience Authority (KBA)

The KBA’s short lifespan is a microcosm of what can go wrong with the concept of dedicated directed funding. The lack of transparency created by bypassing the scrutiny of the appropriation process often leads to expenditures that generate headlines but don’t create economic growth.

The legislation that created the KBA produced a number of programs and funding streams. It also set the total funding limit to the authority over 15 years at almost $582 million. The funding was to be for a period of 15 years from the effective date of the establishment of the KBA and required the State Treasurer to annually pay 95% of withholding above the certified base, as certified by the Secretary of Revenue, on Kansas wages paid by bioscience employees to the bioscience development (code categories from NAISC) and investment fund of the KBA.

The amount of funding transferred to the KBA grew from almost $20 million in 2006 to nearly $36 million by 2008 before the creation of the annual funding cap of $35 million in 2009. Issues with operations and management emerged in 2011 which led to a forensic audit by an outside CPA firm. The audit pointed to a number of issues that led subsequent legislatures to reduce the Authority’s funding to $11.3 million in 2012, $6.3 million in 2013, and $4.0 million in 2014 (KBA funding history here). It is doubtful that the current Administration or legislatures would increase funding above current levels but the $35 million is still the statutory cap leaving open that possibility.
There is a secondary issue with KBA’s statutory cap caused by the treatment of these type of dedicated directed funding in the budgeting process. These statutory caps for entities like KBA are considered to be at their cap amount when forecasting future budgets. The $35 million of KBA statutory cap, for example, creates an illusion in fiscal impact statements issued by the Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) because those statements show the full statutory amount of $35 million being spent every year for the five years they project. Based on the current trend line of KBA funding this will not happen and, instead, creates a significant overstatement of expenditures and helps create fiscal deficits where none may exist. These projections are used by legislators and the media and should strive to present as accurate a picture as possible of current and possible future realities. A more proper and accurate display of these type of funded programs for five year projections like KLRD produces would consider whether spending could be altered or removed completely. This should be reflected in either the actual amount shown, if there was a history of partial funding, or, at the very least, in a separate line item with a notation that the sum could be arbitrarily reduced or eliminated.

Job Creation Fund

Another of those dedicated directed funds is the Job Creation Fund (JCF). The Job Creation Program Fund or the “deal closing” fund, its more press-friendly moniker, lets the state, led by the Office of the Governor, make investments and extend incentives aimed at attracting or retaining businesses within a range of statutory guidelines. The funding for the JCF was from the elimination of three other credits: Kansas Enterprise Zone, Job Expansion and Investment Credit Act and a refundable credit for property taxes paid on machinery and equipment. This sort of reallocation of funding sources carry the coveted title of “revenue neutral” and hence have no fiscal impact statement for legislators to worry about when the funding was created. This allowed elected officials to be able to say on one hand they eliminated special interest funding while creating another special interest fund out of the “elimination” of those entities. The annual cap on JCF funds is $10 million which is how much could be immediately saved by letting JCF join its now-defunct predecessors in state history.

Transfers Out of the State General Fund

There is another area where what would be State General Funds are diverted from the appropriation process. There are a number of transfers out of the State General Fund with the largest and most notorious being the $135 million School District Improvements Fund. Not only does this amount not get counted in the school formula, the recent Gannon ruling on school funding pointed directly to this fund as an example of inequity in funding. This “inducement” to issue bonds for new buildings was a bad idea both from a policy and process aspect. Policy-wise the Kansas Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling was correct in pointing out that only the growing school districts could use this fund with a few big school districts garnering most of the monies. Process-wise the choice to use a transfer as the funding mechanism not only bypassed the school finance formula but also ensured that these funds are not counted by the National Center for Education Statistics; NCES is the “go to” place for comparing education-related data from across the country and is run by the U.S. Dept. of Education.

There is also another series of transfers that have their own particular issues.The adjacent list shows the recipient and the amount for FY-2015 (available at link above).The picking of winners and losers by government is never a good idea and the direct transfer of taxpayer funding to companies is a suspect type of economic development.

Transfers out of the State General Fund
Spirit Aerosystems Incentive ($3,500,000)
Eaton MDH Spec. Qual. Indus. Mfg. Fund ($30,000)
Siemens Manufacturing Incentive ($650,000)
Learjet Incentive ($6,000,000)
TIF Replacement Fund ($900,000)
Learning Quest Match  ($500,000)
Total ($11,580,000)

It is also troubling when local communities enter into Tax Increment Finance (TIF) arrangements, not to mention other subsidy giveaways, which are basically an agreement between a company or individual and the city to suspend property tax payments for that company or individual. State taxpayers as a whole have to make up for lost revenues to the governing body of each such city from the TIF arrangement. This means that a TIF issued in Johnson County is, at least in part, paid for by residents of Bourbon County and Elkhart. This distribution of funds from taxpayers across the state to individual “redevelopment areas” that were created by local governments in a manner that is basically hidden from the citizens is another great example of why these “off the tops” are bad policy. Requiring these TIF subsidies to be debated in the light of the full appropriation process would no doubt lead to questions by legislators whose districts did not include cities who receive this subsidy.

A general thought for legislators, citizens and industry on these economic subsidies. The reduction in income tax rates by the state on withholding rates has already provided a huge incentive for these companies in addition to the direct largess they receive from these dedicated funds. The rate cut on withholding taxes increased the take home pay of their employees without those companies having to give a pay raise to their employees out of company funds. Note that the “incentive” of lower withholding taxes is applied to EVERY wage earner in the state and does not go about picking favored businesses, industries, or individuals. This type of transparent, rules-based, and equally-applied policy is the correct way to encourage economic growth and allow the free market to dictate outcomes not politicians or bureaucrats.

Conclusion

Every program that spends the funds of the taxpayer should be examined regularly and the nature of these “off the tops” suggests that is not happening. The need for transparency and accountability is especially true of programs that benefit any specific individual, company or sector of the economy at the expense of another. Because of the contractual type of arrangement some of these represent we do not advocate for the state breaking existing contracts in regards to incentives. But, the creation of new or expansion of existing economic development handouts that are direct redistributions from taxpayers to other sectors of the economy needs to be halted and those still in existence need to be reviewed.

A complete review of every agreement entered into by the state to ascertain if that agreement is contractual in nature or are not legally binding going forward should proceed this next legislative session. The state should review those that are not legally binding and current renewals that can be foregone and put this “off the top” funding back in the appropriation process going forward. How much could the state expect to realize would be determined by that review. Even a preliminary, informed estimate would be in the neighborhood of $50 million annually without breaking any contractual arrangements. The following chart gives an estimate of just three programs with statutory flexibility.

Total Dollars Returned to the State Coffers
$s in Millions FY16 FY17 FY18 FY18
Freeze PEAK at Current Levels $6 $12 $18 $24
Kansas Bioscience Authority $25 $25 $25 $35
Cease Job Creation Fund $10 $10 $10 $10
Totals $41 $47 $53 $69
The issue of transparency is front and center in all of these programs and it would be appropriate for every “off the top” to be displayed on both Consensus Revenue Estimates and Appropriation profiles so that legislators and citizens can see that a significant amount of funds have already been appropriated by these arrangements.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 2015

Wichita city budget to have public hearing

This week the Wichita City Council holds the public hearing for the budget. Following are several observations.

(To view the budget, click here to go to wichita.gov. The best document to read is Volume I. The most important parts to read are the City Manager’s Policy Message (eleven pages) and the Budget Issues section (seven pages). Don’t worry; there are lots of pictures to skip over.)

The mill levy

The city says — many times — that the mill levy has not risen for a long time: “The 2015 Proposed Budget is based on City Council policy direction. It will not require a mill levy rate increase, for the 21st consecutive year.” (page 21)

Wichita mill levy rates. This table holds only the taxes levied by the City of Wichita and not any overlapping jurisdictions.
Wichita mill levy rates. This table holds only the taxes levied by the City of Wichita and not any overlapping jurisdictions.
In 2002 the City of Wichita mill levy rate was 31.845. In 2013 it was 32.509, based on the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. That’s an increase of 0.664 mills, or 2.09 percent, since 2002. In one year the mill levy rate increased .038 mills, or 0.12 percent. (These are for taxes levied by the City of Wichita only, and do not include any overlapping jurisdictions.)

Recent Wichita mill levy rates.
Recent Wichita mill levy rates.
The Wichita City Council did not take explicit action to raise this rate. Instead, the rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to Wichita taxation.

Change in Wichita mill levy rates, year-to-year and cumulative.
Change in Wichita mill levy rates, year-to-year and cumulative.
While the city doesn’t have direct control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend.

The city may dismiss small changes in the mill levy as the result of errors in estimating assessed value. If there are errors in estimation, we would expect the errors to be random. That is, in some years we would expect the city to have estimated that assessed values would be lower than the actual value. In those years, the mill levy could go down. But that happened for only one year since 2002.

No matter what the cause, the Wichita city mill levy today is 2.09 percent higher than in 2002. The city should recognize this in its budget documents.

Stewardship of assets

Wichita Pavement Condition Index, from the city's 2012 Performance Measure Report
Wichita Pavement Condition Index, from the city’s 2012 Performance Measure Report
While the city boasts that the mill levy has not risen, part of the reason why it is (relatively) low is the city has not been taking care of the assets that citizens purchased and trusted the city to maintain. For example: “Pavement condition has slowly deteriorated over the last decade in Wichita. New pavement strategies will enhance the effectiveness of City efforts; however, additional funds would expedite improvements to streets in poor condition and help to more rapidly stabilize overall pavement conditions in Wichita.” (page 33)

Earlier this year the council received a document from the Community Investments Plan Steering Committee. It measured the amount by which the city is behind in maintaining its assets: “Decades of under-investment in infrastructure maintenance … 38% of Wichita’s infrastructure is in ‘deficient/fair’ condition.”

The cost to remedy this lack of maintenance is substantial. The document says that on an annual basis, Wichita needs to spend $180 million on infrastructure depreciation/replacement costs. Currently the city spends $78 million on this, the presentation indicates. The “cost to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards” is given as an additional $45 to $55 million per year.

This is spending that the city has deferred to future years. The city knows this, too. The Wichita Eagle recently quoted Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer: “We’ve put them off for too long. We didn’t want the challenges. We didn’t want the tax bills. But now, to maintain our quality of life, we’ve got to catch up.”

The question is this: Does this budget make plans for correcting this maintenance deficit? The answer is: Yes, it does something, as described by the city: “In 2012, staff developed a new model to determine the impact of street treatment options. This model focuses on maximizing the return on investment of each treatment option. This method attempts to match the timing and method of treatment with the projected remaining service life (RSL) and value of the street network to ensure treatments maximize Wichita’s return on investment (ROI).” (page 34)

But this change is tiny compared to the magnitude of the problem. The budget talks about the proposed one cent per dollar sales tax that voters may be asked to approve. Of the nearly $80 million per year the sales tax might raise, only $5.5 million per year is allocated towards maintenance of infrastructure, in this case additional street maintenance. Remember, the city believes it needs to spend an additional $45 to $55 million per year “to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards.”

Outsourcing

The budget lists the areas in which Wichita has made use of outsourcing, which are the mowing of parks and security screening at city hall. The budget says that in 2015 the intergovernmental relations function will be outsourced. Also, the city will contract with private firms to supplement snow removal, and the removal of dead trees. The city is also soliciting proposals for some street maintenance activities.

But if this is all the city is doing regarding outsourcing, Wichita is missing out on many opportunities to improve service to citizens and reduce costs.

There’s a difference between government and business. As an example, consider city golf courses. Recently an advisory board recommended that the city improve customer service and salesmanship through training of golf staff and management. Successful businesses know that customer service and salesmanship are what business is all about, especially in a service-oriented product like golf. Businesses seek to provide good customer service because that is how they earn profit. But too often government sees customers as a burden, not an asset.

Outsourcing changes city services from being a burden placed on government employees, to something that a company actually wants to do.

Waste

Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
I’ve illustrated many instances where the city is using electricity to light streetlights during the day. If the city seems unconcerned about such blatant and visible waste that surely must be easy to avoid, what does that tell us about waste that is not easily seen?

ballot-296577_640

Women for Kansas voting guide should be read with caution

If voters are relying on a voter guide from Women for Kansas, they should consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.

A political advocacy group known as Women for Kansas has produced a voting guide, listing the candidates that it prefers for Kansas House of Representatives. But by reading its “Primer on the Issues,” we see that this group made its endorsements based on incorrect information.

One claim the group makes is this regarding taxes in Kansas: “Income taxes were reduced for many Kansans in 2012 and 2013, and eliminated entirely for some, with a corresponding increased reliance on sales taxes and local property taxes. This shifted the tax burden to the less affluent and from the state to counties, cities and school districts.”

This is a common theme heard in Kansas the past few years. But let’s unravel a few threads and look at what is actually happening. First, keep in mind that the lower tax rates took effect on January 1, 2013, just 1.5 years ago.

Then, Women for Kansas may be relying on information like this: A university professor who is a critic of Sam Brownback recently wrote in a newspaper column that “Property taxes are on track to increase by more than $400 million statewide during Gov. Sam Brownback’s term in office.”

Through correspondence with the author, Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute found that this claim is based on increases of $300 million plus an estimated $100 million increase yet to come. Trabert noted that this amounts to an increase of 11 percent over four years. To place that in context, property taxes increased $767 million and 29 percent during the first term of Kathleen Sebelius. Inflation was about the same during these two periods. A more accurate claim would be that Kathleen Sebelius shifted taxes to counties, cities, and school districts, and that Sam Brownback’s administration has slowed the rate of local property tax increases compared to previous governors.

Another claim made by Women for Kansas concerns school spending: “Reflecting decreased revenues due to tax cuts, per-pupil spending is down, and both K-12 and higher education are facing further reductions in the immediate future.”

The allegations that per-pupil spending is down due to tax cuts is false. The nearby chart of Kansas school spending (per pupil, adjusted for inflation) shows that spending did fall, but under budgets prepared by the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. Since then, spending has been fairly level. (Remember, lower tax rates have been in effect for just 1.5 years.)

Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.
Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.

If we look at other measures of school support, such as pupil teacher ratios, we find that after falling during the administrations of previous governors, these ratios have rebounded in recent years.

When spending figures for the just-completed school year become available, it’s likely that they will show higher spending than the previous year. That’s been the trend.

If you’ve received or read the voter guide from Women for Kansas, please consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.

For McGinn, a liberal voting record is a tradition

Based on votes made in the Kansas Senate, the advertising claims of Sedgwick County Commission candidate Carolyn McGinn don’t match her record.

Kansas CapitolIn a radio advertisement, Carolyn McGinn says she is conservative. In a mailer, she touts her “fiscal conservative leadership” in the Kansas Senate.

But voting records don’t match these claims.

Several voting scorecards in recent years show Senator McGinn ranking low in terms of voting for economic freedom issues. These issues generally concern taxation, wasteful spending, and unnecessary regulation. In recent years, a freedom index has been produced by Kansas Policy Institute. In 2012 the Kansas Economic Freedom Index was a joint product of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, Kansas Policy Institute, and myself. In 2010 I produced an index by myself. All tabulations show McGinn rarely voting in favor of economic freedom.

In the 2014 formulation, McGinn scored 25.8 percent. Four senators (Kansas has 40 senators) had lower scores. Some Wichita-area legislators that had higher scores than McGinn include Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Representatives Ponka-We Victors, Gail Finney, Jim Ward, Tom Sawyer, and Brandon Whipple. All these are Democrats, by the way, and they voted more in favor of economic freedom than did Carolyn McGinn.

In 2013, McGinn scored 40 percent. Eight senators had lower scores.

In 2012 the scores were calculated in a different manner. McGinn scored -6, with 16 senators scoring lower.

There was no index for 2011.

In 2010, on an index that I produced, McGinn scored seven percent. Three other senators had the same score, and one had a lower score.

At a recent forum, McGinn criticized the concept of a vote index, telling the audience: “The economic freedom index, I just find that interesting. Because it’s based on amendments after we’re out of session, so you can pick and choose what you want for who.”

She’s right, in a way. I don’t know what she meant by “amendments,” but the organizations that construct voting scorecards choose votes that they believe distinguish candidates along some axis. Usually the votes are chosen after they’re made, although sometimes organizations “key vote” an issue. That means they alert legislators in advance of a vote that the vote will be included on their scorecard.

There are organizations that are in favor of more spending, less accountability, and fewer choices for Kansas parents and schoolchildren. They produce scorecards, too. In particular, Kansas Association of School Boards found that McGinn never voted against their position from 2009 to 2012. Kansas National Education Association, while not making a scorecard public, recommended that its members vote for McGinn.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Waste, economic development, and water issues.

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichitans ought to ask city hall to stop blatant waste before it asks for more taxes. Then, a few questions about economic development incentives. Finally, how should we pay for a new water source, and is city hall open to outside ideas? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 53, broadcast July 27, 2014.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1993

For Wichita’s new water supply, debt is suddenly bad

Wichita city leaders are telling us we need to spend a lot of money for a new water source. For some reason, debt has now become a dirty word.

Details are not firm (that’s a problem right there), but the amount needed is $250 million, city officials say. It could be less, they now speculate, maybe only $200 million.

To raise these funds, here’s the choice we’re given: Either (a) endure a sales tax for five years, or (b) borrow money, raise water bills for 20 years, and pay a lot of interest.

Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities
Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities
It’s a similar argument made in favor of a sales tax to pay for the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita. By paying higher sales tax for a short while, we avoid long-term debt.

There’s also the argument made that by using a sales tax, visitors to Wichita help pay for the water project. Of course, the sales tax is largely paid by local residents. My estimates indicate that raising the sales tax by one cent per dollar costs the average household $223 per year. That’s based on U.S. Census data of household spending in various categories, some subject to sales tax, and some not.

But even if we can get visitors to Wichita to pay part of the project’s cost through a sales tax, that’s not necessarily a wise course of action. By making it more expensive to visit Wichita, we make it a less desirable destination.

The motivation of those who argue for raising funds by getting outsiders to pay for our water project through a sales tax may be missing a subtle point. That is, much of what is “sold” in Wichita is not subject to sales tax, as the output of many manufacturers in Wichita isn’t taxed. The fuselages of Boeing 737 jetliners is an example. But these manufacturers use a lot of water and pay water bills. The cost of that they’ll probably pass on to their customers.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1993Of course, by making products manufactured in Wichita more expensive, we make them less desirable. There really is no free lunch, as the economists say.

All these arguments link the project with its funding too closely. They ought to be independent decisions.

What’s really curious is the city’s sudden aversion to debt. Almost all the money used to pay for the ASR to this point was borrowed. So far, the total cost of ASR is $247 million. It’s common to pay for long-lived capital assets with borrowed funds. So it’s strange for city council members to suddenly decide that debt is not good, and that we have to pay for this project with cash, which is what the sales tax does.

Here’s another alternative: If the project costs $250 million, let’s raise water bills by that amount over five years. In this way, water users pay for the new water supply, and we avoid the debt that city council members seem determined to avoid.

This might be a bitter pill to swallow. In 2013, the Wichita water utility collected about $65 million in revenue. That doesn’t represent the total that people pay on their water bills, as the sewer utility collected $50 million. Adding $50 million per year to water bills might seem like a large increase, and it would be.

But it’s important to have water users pay for water. Also, we need to be aware of the costs of a new water supply. That’s easier to accomplish when people pay this cost through their water bills. When paying through a general sales tax, this linkage is less obvious. There is less transparency, and ultimately, less accountability.

A street light in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.

If the transit lights are off, the street lights are probably on

When the city of Wichita is not concerned about waste that is easily observed, how careful is it about avoiding waste not easily seen by citizens?

Last Friday afternoon the parking lot lights Wichita Transit Center where switched on, as they often are during the day.

Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
So at lunchtime today as I drove by the Transit Center and saw that the lights were off, I was relieved that the city wasn’t wasting electricity lighting the noonday sky.

But I didn’t have to travel much farther before I saw street lights turned on for several blocks on Douglas, Broadway, and Topeka. This is not unusual.

Waste like this is unacceptable. The city council is likely to recommend that Wichitans vote for higher sales taxes as the city can’t afford to run the buses or adequately maintain streets. Before asking for higher taxes, the city should stop wasteful spending on burning street lights in the middle of the day.

You have to wonder: If the city is, apparently, not concerned about blatant waste like this — waste that anyone can easily observe — what is it doing about waste that can’t easily be seen?

A street light in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
A street light in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
This is indicative of the attitude of the city as explained in Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters. The city has an advertising campaign to persuade residents to do things like unplugging phone chargers and televisions when not in use. You see, these devices may use small amounts of electricity even when not in use. That’s the “vampire” power waste. The city says we need to avoid this waste in order to keep our air clean.

But street lights burning in the middle the day: This wastes a lot of power.

Before considering any extra funding for the city, let’s ask that it stop wasteful spending like these lights. Even better, before sending any funding, let’s stop this waste.

I realize that the lights illustrated in these photographs are, undoubtedly, a small portion of the city’s spending. But you don’t have to look very hard to find waste like this, and we know that small examples of waste are multiplied many times. So when city leaders tell us that there is nowhere left to cut in the budget, that everything that can be done to trim the fat has already been done, and that the only thing we can do is raise taxes — well, think of this photograph and others illustrated in Waste in Wichita, the seen and probably unseen, Wichita’s monsters on display, again, Forget the vampires. Let’s tackle the real monsters, Wichita advances in the field of cost savings, Another Friday lunch, and even more lights are on, To compensate, Wichita switched on the street lights, In Wichita, the streetside seating is illuminated very well, In Wichita, the rooftops are well-lit and On a sunny day in downtown Wichita you can see the street lights.

This is not to say that waste like this does not occur in the private sector. Of course it does. But businesses and individuals have a powerful incentive to avoid waste that isn’t present in government: Businesses and people are spending their own money. And even if they waste money, it’s their money, not ours.

Wichita City Council Chambers

For Wichita leaders, novel alternatives on water not welcome

A forum on water issues featured a presentation by Wichita city officials and was attended by other city officials, but the city missed a learning opportunity.

This week Kansas Policy Institute held an educational form on the issues of water in the Wichita area. The event featured four presentations with questions and answers, with most being about one hour in length.

This was a welcome and important event, as the city is proposing to spend several hundred million dollars on an increased water supply. It is likely that citizens will be asked to approve a sales tax to pay this cost. It’s important that we get this right, and citizen skepticism is justified. The city has recently spent $247 million on a water project that hasn’t yet proved its value over a reasonably long trial. A former mayor has told audiences that he was assured Wichita had adequate water for the next 50 years. It was eleven years ago he was told that. Wichita’s current mayor has admitted that the city has not spent what was needed to maintain our current infrastructure, instead pushing those costs to the future.

Most of the information that Wichitans have access to is provided by city government. So when an independent group produces an educational event on an important topic, citizens might hope that Wichita city officials take part.

And, Wichita city officials did take part. The second of the four presentations was delivered by Wichita public works director Alan King and council member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita). City governmental affairs director Dale Goter and council member Lavonta Williams were in the audience.

But after this presentation ended, the four city officials left.

What did they miss? They missed two additional presentations, or half the program. The city officials did not hear a presentation by Dr. Art Hall of Kansas University which presented novel ideas of using markets for water resources. Particularly, how Wichita could secure increased water supply by purchasing water rights and using the infrastructure it already has in place.

In the final presentation, the audience asked questions that the presenter was not able to answer. City officials like public works director King would have been able to provide the answers.

I understand that city council members are part-time employees paid a part-time salary. Some have outside jobs or businesses to run. But that’s not the case with the city’s public works director or its governmental affairs director.

Come to think of it, where was the city manager? Assistant city manager? Other council members? The city’s economic development staff?

Where was Mayor Carl Brewer?

If you’ve attended a city council meeting, you may have to sit through up to an hour of the mayor issuing proclamations and service awards before actual business starts. Fleets of city bureaucrats are in the audience during this time.

But none of these would spend just one hour listening to a presentation by a university professor that might hold a solution to our water supply issue.

I understand that city officials might not be the biggest fans of Kansas Policy Institute. It supports free markets and limited government.

But city officials tell us that they want to hear from citizens. The city has gone to great lengths to collect input from citizens, implementing a website and holding numerous meetings.

About 70 people attended the KPI forum. Citizens were interested in what the speakers had to say. They sat politely through the presentation by the two city officials, even though I’m sure many in the audience were already familiar with the recycled slides they’d seen before.

But it appears that Wichita city officials were not interested in alternatives that weren’t developed by city hall. They can’t even pretend to be interested.

Wichita commercial property taxes are high … really high

Wichita commercial property tax rates compared to national average
Wichita commercial property tax rates compared to national average
In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV. Wichita commercial property taxes are very high, according to an ongoing study. View below, or click here to view on YouTube. For more on this topic, including a summary of Wichita data compared to other cities, see Wichita property taxes compared.