Jonathan Williams, Vice President in charge of the Center for State Fiscal Reform at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), addressed a luncheon gathering of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on July 22, 2016, presenting “A National Perspective on Kansas Fiscal Policy.” View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Videography by Paul Soutar.
Is Kansas government “hollowed-out” even though spending is rising?
In the Wichita Eagle,Burdett Loomis writes: “In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback and a far-right Kansas House of Representatives began to hollow out state government, all in the name of smaller, more efficient, more private administration.”1
Loomis doesn’t define what he means by “hollow out” but the measure of the size of government is spending. Not taxation, but spending, because if government spends without taxing by the same amount, someone has to pay, eventually. Or, in the case of Kansas, we spent funds saved from years when Kansas collected more than it spent. (Yes, Kansans were over-taxed.) Then, we raised taxes.
In recent history Kansas general fund spending hasn’t fallen, except for one year, and that doesn’t “hollow out” government. Tax revenue declined, but what did Kansas do in response? Instead of cutting spending, the state engaged in deficit spending. For two years in a row, Kansas spent over $300 million each year from its savings in order to support (mostly) increasing spending. When that savings ran out, the state raised taxes rather than cutting spending.2
Charts at the end of this article show Kansas government spending, from general fund and all funds spending. One chart shows total dollars spent, and one shows per-capita spending. Both are adjusted for inflation. On these charts it’s difficult to see where total spending has been cut or slashed in recent years. All funds spending continues its upward trend, with a few exceptions. General fund spending remains level or trending slightly upwards.
Loomis: “But the value of a stable, reliable state government that delivers core programs in education, transportation, health and social services remains a bedrock element of most successful American states.”
Education spending in Kansas is not falling.3 Tables at Kansas State Department of Education have the numbers.4 Now we hear that the increases in spending are “all KPERS,” meaning contributions to the state retirement fund for teachers, and the state has recently changed to method of reporting KPERS contributions in a way that artificially inflates school spending. But Kansas State Department of Education says the method of reporting KPERS has not changed for ten years.5 Maybe we should ask former governor Kathleen Sebelius why she changed the method of reporting KPERS contributions in a way that (purportedly) artificially inflates school spending.
By the way, when writing about “reliable” state services, I wish Loomis would take notice of the huge gaps in achievement in our state’s schools between white students and minority students. For Kansas white students, 42 percent are proficient in reading at grade 4. For Kansas black students, only 15 percent are proficient, and 20 percent of Kansas Hispanic students. Similar gaps appear in reading at grade 8, and in math at grades 4 and 8.6 The sad fact is that this gap is reliable, occurring year after year.
As for transportation, there have been transfers from the state’s transportation fund to the general fund. This has been going on for a long time. But look at actual spending on roads. KDOT’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows spending in the categories “Preservation” and “Expansion and Enhancement” has grown rapidly over the past five years. Spending in the category “Maintenance” has been level, while spending on “Modernization” has declined. For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2015 totaled $932,666 million, up from a low of $698,770 in fiscal 2010. This is actual spending on roads without regard to transfers in or out of the highway fund.7
And while critics of the current administration focus on transfers from the highway fund, look at transfers to the fund. Nearby is a chart showing how many sales tax dollars were transferred to the highway fund. In 2006 the transfer was $98,914 million, and by 2015 it had grown to $511,586 million, an increase of 417 percent. Inflation rose by 18 percent over the same period.8
I’ll leave it to someone else to research spending on health and social services.
Near the end of the article, Loomis writes: “Over the past few years, much of the political discourse has focused on shrinking revenues from tax cuts.” But we should really be looking at the level of spending.
Now: Could it be possible that even with rising state spending that services are, in fact, being “hollowed out?” Yes. Absolutely. It is, after all, government providing these services.
Notes for charts:
Data is from Kansas Fiscal Facts 2015
2015 through 2017 are approved figures, not actual spending
2015 and beyond population are my estimates
CPI is Consumer Price Index – All Urban Consumers, CUUR0000AA0
A recent op-ed in the Wichita Eagle read: “Some have begun to call public schools ‘government schools,’ a calculated pejorative scorning both education and anything related to government.”1
This is not the only time people have objected to the term “government schools.” Public schools bristle at use of the term. In a 2008 email from Wichita School Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart to Wichita school employees, he took issue with those who, using his words, “openly refer to public education as ‘government schools.'”2 “Openly refer,” he writes, as though it should be kept a secret.
It’s surprising that liberals and progressives object to the term “government schools.” They like government, don’t they? They want more taxation and government spending, don’t they?
When we think about public schools, we find they have all the characteristics of government programs.
Public schools are owned by government.
Their funding comes almost totally from governmental sources, which is to say taxes. (Isn’t it strange that few will donate to public schools?) If you can’t use the services of public schools and don’t want to pay for them — even if you are also paying for other schools that meet your needs — the full weight of the government will come crashing down on you.
Through laws passed by government, public schools are guaranteed a stream of customers.
Public schools are regulated — heavily — by government.
The members of their “board of directors” (the local school board) are chosen through a governmental process — elections.
Public schools are welcoming to labor unions at the time the private sector is becoming less unionized. In fact, labor unions are becoming a hallmark of government, and government only.3
Accountability of public schools, like other forms of government, is weak.
In sum, public schools have all the negative attributes of government institutions and few or none of the positive characteristics that make markets the source of continuous improvement and innovation. So I guess it isn’t surprising that public school advocates like Merritt object to being lumped in with government in general. But public schools share all the characteristics of government, and government is the worst way to supply services except in a few special instances.
What’s also troubling is how Merritt equates using the term “government schools” with scorn for education. Turning over education to government — with its litany of troubles as listed above — is scornful for children.
Merritt and others want to have the benefits of governmental institutions without accepting the reality of what government means. That’s a shame for Kansas schoolchildren.
Explaining common economic development programs in Kansas.
TIF projects: Some background
Tax increment financing disrupts the usual flow of tax dollars, routing funds away from cash-strapped cities, counties, and schools back to the TIF-financed development. TIF creates distortions in the way cities develop, and researchers find that the use of TIF means lower economic growth. Click here.
STAR bonds in Kansas
The Kansas STAR bonds program provides a mechanism for spending by autopilot, without specific appropriation by the legislature. Click here.
Industrial Revenue Bonds in Kansas
Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes. Click here.
Community Improvement Districts in Kansas
In Kansas Community Improvement Districts, merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public. Click here.
In Kansas, PEAK has a leak
A Kansas economic development incentive program is pitched as being self-funded, but is probably a drain on the state treasure nonetheless. Click here.
Government intervention may produce unwanted incentives
A Kansas economic development incentive program has the potential to alter hiring practices for reasons not related to applicants’ job qualifications. Click here.
City of Wichita
City of Wichita’s economic development page is here. The Sedgwick County/City of Wichita Economic Development Policy is here.
State of Kansas
A page at the Kansas Department of Commerce with incentive programs is here.
Wichita’s mayor pens an op-ed that is counter to facts that he knows, or should know.
In the pages of the Wichita EagleWichita Mayor Jeff Longwell wrote: “The city of Wichita has held its mill levy steady for the past 22 years.”1
That’s the mayor’s opinion. The facts, as can be easily found in government documents, are that the Wichita mill levy rises nearly every year.2 Since 2005 it has risen every year.
The mayor, city council, and bureaucrats say they have not taken action to raise the mill levy. They also say the mill levy is set by the county. All this is true.
But the county sets the mill levy based on two factors, one the city controls: The amount it decides to spend. The other factor, the assessed valuation of property, is not controlled by the city. So it is understandable that the mill levy may vary by small amounts from year to year when the two numbers are melded to form the actual mill levy. Some years the levy might rise, and in some years, it may fall. If it is a truly random matter, we should expect that over time the number of rising years and falling years should be equal, and that the overall change should be near zero.
But in Wichita, the mill levy rises nearly every year. And over time, since 1995, it has risen by 4.46 percent.
(Besides that, there has been a shift in the application of property tax revenue, with revenue was diverted from debt service to current spending. As recently as 2007 the city devoted 31 percent of property tax revenue to debt service. In 2015 it was 26 percent.)
What should concern Wichitans about their mayor’s op-ed is that he knows these facts. Or, at least he should. Despite the data that is readily available in the city’s comprehensive annual financial reports, Mayor Longwell has chosen to remain misinformed and/or uninformed, and to spread that to citizens.
Following are excerpts from the minutes of the August 7, 2012 council meeting, which Jeff Longwell attended as council member, and following that, video.
Wichita City Council, August 7, 2012
Bob Weeks 2451 Regency Lakes Court stated we say the City has not raised its mill levy in a long time and thinks it is true that this Council has not taken action to raise the mill levy, but it has increased. Stated in 2002 the City’s mill levy was 31.845 and last year 32.359, which is an increase of about half a mill or 1.6 percent. Stated we should also recognize that property tax revenue increased from about $83 million to $118 million dollars or 42 percent. Stated we did not experience anything near that in the rate of growth of population or inflation? even the two put together. Stated in the City sales tax collection for the same years, $41 million to about $55 million or 34 percent increase. Stated City revenues have increased quite a bit even though the Council has not taken explicit action to increase either the sales tax rate or the property tax rate. Stated another thing he is concerned about is shifting one mill of property tax revenue from the debt service fund to the general fund. Stated over the past years since 2007 there has been a shift of about 2.5 mills, which is more than the explicit policy of one mill, which will be ending over the next two years. Stated we have not delayed paying off debt in the sense that we have not made our scheduled bond payments but that 2.5 mills could have been used to retire debt instead of supporting current spending. Stated we could have repurchased some of our outstanding bonds or we could have used that money to pay for things that we borrowed for. Stated we need to realize that we have been not taking advantage of opportunities to retire longterm debt and had been redirecting that spending to current fund spending, which is where Cowtown and the Nature Center come from. Stated we need to be aware of these types of things as we make the policies going forward.
Mayor Brewer asked staff to explain the figures that Mr. Weeks was talking about.
Kelly Carpenter Finance Director stated regarding the mill levy, they started out at 10 mills in the capital improvement plan. Stated they reduced that down to 7.5 mills and now we are gradually increasing that mill levy back up in the debt service fund to 8.5 mills over the next two years.
Council Member O’Donnell stated he was referring that the mill levy has actually increased.
Kelly Carpenter Finance Director stated the overall mill levy has not increased within the last 19 years. Stated there has been a shift between the general fund and the debt service fund but the overall mill levy of the 32 mills has not increased.
Council Member O’Donnell asked Mr. Weeks to return to the podium and asked where his figures are from.
Bob Weeks stated from the 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, page H17. Stated they are the numbers that he extracted from that report. Stated it may not be that this Council took an action to raise the mill levy but somehow it did increase.
Council Member O’Donnell asked staff to answer that.
Mark Manning Finance Department the mill levy is set by the county and what they tell the Council each year is that the mill levy in the proposed budget is not changed from the mill levy certified by the county, the prior year. Stated they do not know what the mill levy will be for 2013 right now and will not know until November when the county finalizes its evaluation. Stated it may be slightly higher or lower and that is why you see those annual fluctuations. Stated Mr. Weeks is correct? some years it goes up and some years it goes down a little bit. Stated it does fluctuate and there is nothing we can do to control that but the general policy has been to keep it level for the last 19 years.
Wichita’s largest employer asks to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.
This week the Wichita City Council will consider offering Spirit Aerosystems economic development incentives that will allow the company to avoid paying some $45 million in taxes. This will be accomplished through the authorization of $280 million of Industrial Revenue Bonds. 1
Industrial Revenue Bonds are a vehicle for generating and conveying tax exemptions. 2 In the IRB program, government is not lending money, and Wichita taxpayers are not at risk if the bonds are not repaid. In fact, in the present case the applicant company plans to purchase the bonds itself, according to city documents. Instead, the purpose of the IRB process is to allow Spirit to escape paying property taxes and sales taxes.
Usually the agenda packet the city prepares for council members and the public contains the amount of tax expected to be foregone. For this item that summary is missing, and the sales tax exemption is not mentioned. I have prepared a table summarizing data from the analysis prepared for the city by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University.
Of note, the share of the cost of the incentives born by the City of Wichita is small, slightly less than one percent. The bulk of the cost is born by the State of Kansas, with the Derby School District and Sedgwick County facing smaller shares of the cost.
Also, the city is forcing a decision on a neighboring jurisdiction that it would not accept for itself, unless it uses one of many exceptions or loopholes. This adverse decision is forced upon the Derby School District. It faces a benefit-cost ratio of 1.16 to 1, which is below the city’s standard of 1.30 to 1, unless an exception is cited. 3 The Derby School District is not involved in this action and has no ability to affect the issuance of these bonds, should it desire to.
Besides this, the granting of these tax breaks calls into question the validity of taxation. If a company can be excused from tens of millions of dollars in taxes, can we say there is equal treatment under law?
Effect on young companies
When large companies receive tax abatements and exemptions, others must pay the cost of government. In particular, small and young business firms are usually not eligible for incentive programs like that being offered to Spirit, and therefore must bear a disproportional share of the cost of government. This is an important consideration, as Wichita is relying on entrepreneurship as a principle method of growing its economy.
The cost of these tax abatements burdens a class of business firms that can’t afford additional cost and risk. These are young startup firms, the entrepreneurial firms that we need to nurture in order to have real and sustainable economic growth and jobs. This action — the award of incentives to an established company — is harmful to the Wichita economy for its strangling effect on entrepreneurship and young companies. As this company and others receive incentives and escape paying taxes, others have to pay.
There’s plenty of evidence that entrepreneurship, in particular young business firms, are the key to economic growth. But Wichita’s economic development policies, as evidenced by this action, are definitely stacked against the entrepreneur. As Wichita props up its established industries, it makes it more difficult for young firms to thrive.
Based on documents supplied by the city, Spirit will avoid paying $6,620,025 in sales tax through its participation in the IRB program. Kansans should be aware that our state has one of the highest sales taxes in the nation on groceries. The effect of this falls disproportionally on low-income households. 4
While Spirit seeks to avoid paying millions in sales tax, it campaigned for ordinary Wichitans to pay more sales tax. When Wichita placed a one cent city sales tax on the ballot in November 2014, Spirit Aerosystems contributed $10,000 to the group campaigning in favor of the sales tax. 5 Spirit’s immediate past president contributed $10,000 to the same effort.
This week American City Business Journals presented the results of a study of small business vitality in cities. 6 Wichita ranked at number 104 out of 106 cities studied. Awarding incentives to large companies places small business at a disadvantage. Not only must small business pay for the cost of government that incentivized companies avoid, small companies must also compete with subsidized companies for inputs such as capital and labor.
Finally, research has found that the pursuit of large companies doesn’t produce the desired growth: “The results show that large firms fail to produce significant net benefits for their host communities, calling into question the high-stakes bidding war over jobs and investment.” 7
Kansas Center for Economic Growth, often cited as an authority by Kansas news media and politicians, is not the independent and unbiased source it claims to be.
When supporters of more government spending and taxation in Kansas want to bolster their case, they often turn to Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG). Portraying itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization,” KCEG says its mission is “to advance responsible policies by informing public discussion through credible, fact-based materials.” It says it conducts research and analysis to “promote balanced state policies.” 1
As it turns out, KCEG is not really the nonpartisan, independent think tank it pretends to be. Instead, as shown below, KCEG is a side project of Kansas Action for Children, Inc.. Both organizations are funded by and affiliated with well-known liberal organizations whose goals are always to expand the size and scope of government.
This is of interest to Kansans as groups that support low taxes, efficient government spending, and economic freedom are often maligned as being merely puppets of larger organizations that hide their purportedly nefarious goals. In particular, Kansas Policy Institute is often mentioned in this regard.
On its website KPI says it is “an independent think-tank that advocates for free market solutions and the protection of personal freedom for all Kansans.” 2 Also, KPI says it produces “objective research and creative ideas to promote a low-tax, pro-growth environment.”
Whenever KPI is mentioned, often condemnation of American Legislative Exchange Council follows, scorned for purportedly being a shadowy outfit that forces model legislation on unwitting legislators. But ALEC’s mission is quite clear and transparent. Its website says ALEC is “dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.” Economic freedom is also mentioned. ALEC says it provides a “toolkit for anyone who wants to increase the effectiveness and reduce the size, reach and cost of government.” 3
These mission statements plainly state the purposes of KPI and ALEC. Contrast them with the mission of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which is filled with material like this: “We pursue federal and state policies designed both to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility in equitable and effective ways.” 4 “Fiscal responsibility” can mean almost anything. To CBPP and its affiliates like KCEG, it means more taxes and more spending.
That dovetails cleanly with the preference of most Kansas newspapers. They — and most other news outlets — call for more spending and more taxation as the solution to all problems, state and local. They do so explicitly on their editorial pages, which is their right and privilege. In their news reporting, by using KCEG as an “objective” source, they rely on a source that isn’t being honest about its independence, its organizational status, and its ingrained policy preferences.
Who — or what — is Kansas Center for Economic Growth?
On its website, Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG) says it is a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.” But no records exist for this entity at either the IRS or Kansas Secretary of State. Instead, KCEG uses Kansas Action for Children, Inc. (KAC) as its “fiscal agent” and funding source. KAC is a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.
On its IRS form 990s, KAC lists a grant from AECF and SFAI, the purpose of which is supporting the type of work KCEG performs. AECF is Annie E. Casey Foundation, a non-profit with income of nearly $223 million and an endowment of $2.9 billion, according to most up-to-date IRS form 990 available. SFAI is State Priorities Partnership, originally founded as the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative (SFAI). It lists KCEG as a partner organization. 5 Both organizations promote solutions involving more government spending and taxation.
State Priorities Partnership, in turn, is coordinated by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 6 CBPP promotes itself as pursuing “federal and state policies designed both to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility in equitable and effective ways.” 7 Its recommend policies nearly always call for more government spending and taxation.
In 2013 Bob Weeks was recognized by the Kansas Policy Institute with the John J. Ingalls Spirit of Freedom Award, given annually to a Kansan who uniquely supports the principles of individual liberty and economic freedom.
An interactive visualization of tax collections by state governments shows Kansas distinguished from some of its neighbors.
As shown in the nearby illustration, Kansas collects more taxes than some nearby states, on a per-person basis. This information should guide Kansas legislators and policymakers and Kansas prepares to balance its budget. Does Kansas want to further separate itself from its neighbors with even higher taxes?
The values are from the United States Census Bureau, and are for tax collections by the state only. Local governmental entities like cities, counties, townships, improvement districts, cemetery districts, library districts, drainage districts, watershed districts, and school districts are not included.
You may use this interactive visualziaton to prepare your own analysis and illustrations. Of particular interest is the “State Total” tab. Here you can select a number of states and compare their tax burdens. (Probably three or four states at a time is the practical limit.)
The City of Wichita says it hasn’t raised its property mill levy in many years. But data shows the mill levy has risen, and its use has shifted from debt service to current consumption.
In 1994 the City of Wichita mill levy rate was 31.290. In 2015 it was 32.686, based on the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and the Sedgwick County Clerk. That’s an increase of 1.396 mills, or 4.46 percent, since 1994. (These are for taxes levied by the City of Wichita only, and do not include any overlapping jurisdictions.)
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.
While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend.
Also, while some may argue that an increase of 4.46 percent over two decades is not very much, this is an increase in a rate of taxation, not actual tax revenue. As property values rise, and as the mill levy rises, property tax bills rise rapidly.
The total amount of property tax levied is the mill levy rate multiplied by the assessed value of taxable property. This amount has risen, due to these factors:
Appreciation in the value of property
An increase in the amount of property
Spending decisions made by the Wichita City Council
Application of tax revenue has shifted
The allocation of city property tax revenue has shifted over the years. According to the 2010 City Manager’s Policy Message, page CM-2, “One mill of property tax revenue will be shifted from the Debt Service Fund to the General Fund. In 2011 and 2012, one mill of property tax will be shifted to the General Fund to provide supplemental financing. The shift will last two years, and in 2013, one mill will be shifted back to the Debt Service Fund. The additional millage will provide a combined $5 million for economic development opportunities.”
In 2005 the mill levy dedicated to debt service was 10.022. In 2015 it was 8.509. That’s a reduction of 1.513 mills (15.1 percent) of property tax revenue dedicated for paying off debt. Another interpretation of this is that in 2005, 31.4 percent of Wichita property tax revenue was dedicated to debt service. In 2015 it was 26.0 percent.
This shift has not caused the city to delay paying off debt. This city is making its scheduled payments. But we should recognize that property tax revenue that could have been used to retire debt has instead been shifted to support current spending. Instead of spending this money on current consumption — including economic development spending that has produced little result — we could have, for example, used that money to purchase some of our outstanding bonds.
Despite the data that is readily available in the city’s comprehensive annual financial reports, some choose to remain misinformed and/or uninformed. The following video from 2012 provides insight into the level of knowledge of some former elected officials and city staff. Based on recent discussions with city officials, things have not improved regarding present staff.
In Rich States, Poor States, Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance, and fell sharply in the forward-looking forecast.
In the 2016 edition of Rich States, Poor States, Utah continues its streak at the top of Economic Outlook Ranking, meaning that the state is poised for growth and prosperity. Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance rankings, and fell sharply in the forward-looking forecast.
Rich States, Poor States is produced by American Legislative Exchange Council. The authors are economist Dr. Arthur B. Laffer, Stephen Moore, who is Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Project for Economic Growth at The Heritage Foundation, and Jonathan Williams, who is vice president for the Center for State Fiscal Reform at ALEC.
Rich States, Poor States computes two measures for each state. The first is the Economic Performance Ranking, described as “a backward-looking measure based on a state’s performance on three important variables: State Gross Domestic Product, Absolute Domestic Migration, and Non-Farm Payroll Employment — all of which are highly influenced by state policy.” The process looks at the past ten years.
Looking forward, there is the Economic Outlook Ranking, “a forecast based on a state’s current standing in 15 state policy variables. Each of these factors is influenced directly by state lawmakers through the legislative process. Generally speaking, states that spend less — especially on income transfer programs, and states that tax less — particularly on productive activities such as working or investing — experience higher growth rates than states that tax and spend more.”
For economic performance, Kansas is twenty-seventh. That’s up from twenty-eighth last year.
In this year’s compilation for economic outlook, Kansas ranks twenty-seventh, down from eighteenth last year and fifteenth the year before. In 2008, the first year for this measure, Kansas was twenty-ninth.
Kansas compared to other states
A nearby chart shows the Economic Outlook Ranking for Kansas and some nearby states, shown as a trend over time since 2008. The peak of Kansas in 2013 is evident, as is the decline since then.
Why Kansas fell
Kansas fell in the Economic Outlook Ranking from 2013 to 2016. To investigate why, I gathered data for Kansas from 2008 to 2016. The nearby table shows the results for 2016 and the rank among the states, with the trend since 2008 shown. A rank of one is the best ranking, so for the trend lines, an upward slope means a decline in ranking, meaning the state is performing worse.
There are several areas that may account for the difference.
The most notable change is in the measure “Recently Legislated Tax Changes (per $1,000 of personal income)” Kansas fell four positions in rank. By this measure, Kansas added $2.67 in taxes per $1,000 of personal income, which ranked forty-seventh among the states. This is a large change in a negative direction, as Kansas had ranked seventh the year before.
In “Property Tax Burden (per $1,000 of personal income)” Kansas improved one position in the rankings, despite the tax burden rising.
In “Sales Tax Burden (per $1,000 of personal income)” Kansas fell one spot in rank. The burden is calculated proportional to personal income. The sales tax burden, as measured this way, fell slightly in Kansas, but the ranking fell in comparison to other states. (Although the Kansas sales tax rate rose in 2015, this report uses data from 2013, which is the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s likely that the 2015 sales tax hike will increase this burden, but whether the ranking changes depends on actions in other states.)
Kansas improved six rank positions for “Debt Service as a Share of Tax Revenue.”
Kansas remains one of the states with the most public employees, with 672 full-time equivalent employees per 10,000 population. This ranks forty-eighth among the states.
Kansas has no tax and spending limits, which is a disadvantage compared to other states. These limitations could be in the form of an expenditure limit, laws requiring voter approval of tax increases, or supermajority requirements in the legislature to pass tax increases.
How valuable is the ranking?
After the 2012 rankings were computed, ALEC looked retrospectively at rankings compared to actual performance. The nearby chart shows the correlation of ALEC-Laffer state policy ranks and state economic performance. In its discussion, ALEC concluded:
There is a distinctly positive relationship between the Rich States, Poor States’ economic outlook rankings and current and subsequent state economic health.
The formal correlation is not perfect (i.e., it is not equal to 100 percent) because there are other factors that affect a state’s economic prospects. All economists would concede this obvious point. However, the ALEC-Laffer rankings alone have a 25 to 40 percent correlation with state performance rankings. This is a very high percentage for a single variable considering the multiplicity of idiosyncratic factors that affect growth in each state — resource endowments, access to transportation, ports and other marketplaces, etc.
First, Dunphy refers to Sam Brownback as the “Tea Party” governor of Kansas. As far as I know, the tea party favors reducing not only taxation, but spending too. Given the choice, Brownback preferred raising taxes rather than cutting spending. Not very tea party-like.
Dunphy: “Moderate Republicans who voiced objections to such extremist politics were targeted by the Tea Party and voted out of office in 2012. With the legislature now dominated by True Believers, Brownback was able to pass the largest tax cut in Kansas history.” I’ll leave it to others to judge whether the legislators voted into office in 2012 classify as “True Believers.” (My opinion is that True Believers are scarce in the Kansas Legislature.) But I do know this: The tax cuts were passed during the 2012 legislative session, which ended months before the 2012 primary elections. There seems to be a timing issue here.
Dunphy: “With such drastically-reduced revenue, Kansas had to cut social services.” Except Kansas spending has continued to climb, although there have been a few cuts here and there.
Dunphy: “Rather than admit that slashing taxes created a disaster …” Tax cuts allow people to keep more of what is rightfully theirs. That is not a disaster. That is good.
Dunphy: “Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Although most Republicans choose to ignore it, George H.W. Bush said as much while campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination in 1980.” Contrary to this assertion (made during a political campaign, and we know how much those are worth), the administration and policies of Ronald Reagan ushered in the The Great Moderation, a period of sustained economic growth.
An interactive visualization of tax collections by state governments.
Each year the United States Census Bureau collects data from the states regarding tax collections in various categories. I present this data starting in 1993, in an interactive visualization.
The values are for tax collections by the state only, not local governmental entities like cities, counties, townships, improvement districts, cemetery districts, library districts, drainage districts, watershed districts, and school districts.
Of particular interest is the “State Total” tab. Here you can select a number of states and compare their tax burdens. (Probably three or four states at a time is the practical limit.)
In 2014 the City of Wichita recommended voters spend $250 million on a new water supply. But since voters rejected the tax to support that spending, the cost of providing adequate water has dropped, and dropped a lot.
The events surrounding the need for a new water supply is a troubling episode in the history of Wichita government. During the prelude to the November 2014 election, citizens were presented with a gloomy scenario that could be fixed only with a sales tax and the spending of $250 million. After voters said no to that, new plans emerged that are much less expensive. Lily Tomlin once said “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” This episode shows Wichita city leaders — both in and out of government — reinforcing the truth of Tomlin’s observation.
On December 1, 2015, the Wichita City Council held a workshop on the topic “Phased Approach for New Water Supply.”1 Alan King, Director of Public Works and Utilities, was the presenter. King emphasized that the impetus for a new water supply was for drought protection: “We presently have enough water with our current water resources to last us through our planning period of 2060, without drought.”
He continued: “When we come and talk to you about additional water resources, it is really only for one purpose, and that is drought protection. If there was no drought, we have no need. The water resources that we come in and are talking to you about, the only value they have for us is in drought protection.”
But a city document leading up to the sales tax election presented a different scenario. It threatened a lack of water for even residential use: “Building a new supply, along with conservation efforts, is the lowest cost option for providing sufficient water through 2060. Significant conservation will be needed if the current supplies are the sole sources of water for the coming decades; sever [sic] conservation requirements could be harmful to local businesses and quality of life. Adding a new water supply would provide enough water for future growth for the community’s residential, commercial, and industrial base.”2
This is an important point. We have sufficient water except for a period of extended drought. Even in that case, there is sufficient water for residential, commercial, and industrial use. The purpose of a new water supply is to avoid restrictions on outdoor watering, and in the most extreme drought, a savings of 15 percent of indoor water usage.
In his December presentation to the council, King presented several phases that the city can take. The first three have no cost, and King said these are underway.
After that, the city can spend $23 million for new wells and rehabilitation of existing wells at the ASR site.
After that, there is the possibility of “operational credits,” which involve a change to state regulations. If the state approves, the city can receive credits for sending ASR water directly to Wichita instead of recharging it in the Equus Beds. If not approved, the city could spend $47.2 million for new recharge wells in 2022. If these wells are built, the cost rises to $70.2 million. (On January 22 King made a presentation to the Equus-Walnut Regional Advisory Committee on this topic.3)
There is also the matter of the parallel pipeline. The existing pipeline from the Equus Beds and ASR to the city’s downtown water plant is old and won’t support higher rates of water transmission. The proposed parallel pipeline provides not only redundancy of a major part of our water infrastructure, but also increased capacity. The cost of this, estimated in 2014 at $86 million, was included in the $250 million price tag for ASR expansion. If the parallel pipeline cost is added to the previous phase costs, the cost rises to either $109 million or $156.2 million, depending on the fate of the operational credits regulation reform.
Either way, the cost is much less than the $250 million the city asked voters to consider in November 2014. And I think I’m being charitable of motives when I say “consider.” The clear and revealed preference of the city council and the city’s political class was passage of the sales tax, meaning the city would spend $250 million to achieve something the city now says can be provided for $109 million or $156.2 million. (Well, everyone except then-city council member and now-mayor Jeff Longwell, but his vote against placing the sales tax on the ballot was a naked political calculation.)
In information the city presented to voters in the run up to the November 2014 election, the city promised large water bill increases if the sales tax vote failed, writing: “If a new water supply is funded only through water rate increases, the capital cost portion of the rate will increase an estimated 24%. This is in addition to anticipated annual rate increases.”4
King’s 2015 presentation to the council showed increases of nine percent for residential, commercial, and industrial customers.5
Citizens ought to wonder what lessons may be learned from this. Furthermore, I don’t believe there has been any coverage of this in the city’s mainstream news media. That is a problem, too. For more on this problem, see Wichita Eagle, where are you?
The effect of a proposed bill to end transfer of Kansas sales tax revenue to the highway fund is distorted by promoters of taxation and spending.
The bill is SB 463. The bill’s fiscal note tells how this bill, if passed, would affect the highway fund: “Beginning in FY 2018, the percentage of state sales tax and compensating use tax distributed to the [State Highway Fund] would be eliminated.” The fiscal note goes on to estimate that the highway fund would receive $553.4 million less sales tax revenue than it would otherwise in fiscal year 2018. (This bill proposed changes to other funds, but here I consider only highways.)
In an email to supporters, Economic Lifelines wrote: “SB 463 would redirect 35% of T-WORKS funding beginning in July of 2017. Passage of this legislation would be a devastating blow to the future of the T-WORKS program.” (Economics Lifelines is a group that lobbies for more spending on highways. Its members are primarily local chambers of commerce, labor unions, construction equipment dealers, and construction material suppliers. In other words, those who benefit from more highway spending, without regard to whether it is needed and wise.)
Former Kansas budget director Duane Goossen was more emphatic, writing: “Watch out! A very dangerous financial bill just surfaced in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, but it was promoted with language that hid the ultimate purpose and effect. Senate Bill 463 permanently transfers more than $500 million annually from the highway fund to the general fund.”1
Goossen has it backwards, however. The proposed bill would transfer nothing from the highway fund to the general fund. It would, however, stop transfers from the general fund to the highway fund.
There’s a difference, and it’s important. The highway fund has no claim on sales tax revenue other than what the legislature decides to send it. That amount has changed over the years. Kansas law specifies how much sales tax revenue is transferred to the highway fund. Here are some recent rates of transfer and dates they became effective:2
July 1, 2010: 11.427%
July 1, 2011: 11.26%
July 1, 2012: 11.233%
July 1, 2013: 17.073%
July 1, 2015: 16.226%
July 1, 2016 and thereafter: 16.154%
(If SB 463 passes as it stands now, on July 1, 2017 the rate would become 0 percent.)
Nearby is a chart showing how many sales tax dollars were transferred to the highway fund. In 2006 the transfer was $98,914 million, and by 2015 it had grown to $511,586 million, an increase of 417 percent. Inflation rose by 18 percent over the same period.3
(It’s important to note that in some years money has been transferred from the highway fund back to the general fund. Worse, in some years KDOT has borrowed money for the highway fund, but it was transferred to the general fund.4)
You’d think that Goossen, a former state budget director, would understand the difference between stopping a flow of funds versus reversing the flow. He claims the latter, and it isn’t surprising to see this mistake. A few sentences in the article let us know Goossen’s ideology, which is that Kansans should be taxed more so that government can continue to spend: “This maneuver does not fix the problem caused by unaffordable income tax cuts, it just makes highways and children pay for it.” First, tax cuts are never unaffordable. It is government that is unaffordable. Tax cuts let people keep more of what is rightly theirs. That is, unless you believe that government has a legitimate claim to your income and assets, as Goossen does. Second, he complains that “recurring revenue does not begin to cover expenses.” That is true. But the proper remedy is to reform and cut spending. Goossen prefers raising taxes.
Economic Lifelines makes the same mistake. We can understand — but not condone — this organization’s motive. It exists for the sole purpose of drumming up support for spending that benefits its members. If its director, who wrote the email cited above, said that Kansas is spending enough or too much on highways, he undoubtedly would be fired.
But what is Duane Goossen’s motivation for twisting the meaning of a bill? That’s a mystery.
To top it off, spending on highways has increased — notwithstanding the transfers from the highway fund — when we look at actual spending on roads. KDOT’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows spending in the categories “Preservation” and “Expansion and Enhancement” has grown rapidly over the past five years. Spending in the category “Maintenance” has been level, while spending on “Modernization” has declined. For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2015 totaled $932,666 million, up from a low of $698,770 in fiscal 2010.
News that a Wichita-based company is moving to Colorado sparked a round of Kansas-bashing, most not based on facts.
When a Kansas company announced moving its headquarters to Denver, comments left to a newspaper article made several statements that deserve closer examination.1
One reader wrote “Yup another example that the tax relief for businesses is working in Kansas.” Another wrote “The biggest takeaway here is that then didn’t bother to mention the benefits of lower taxes meaning the tax policy Kansas touts really has no bearing on company decisions.” Another wrote “Just low taxes is not a magnet for business or people wanting to move here.” Let’s look at a few statistics regarding Kansas and Colorado business taxation.
In the 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index from the Tax Foundation, Colorado ranked 18 overall, while Kansas ranked 22.2 According to this measure, Colorado has a better tax environment for business, even after Kansas tax reform.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2014 shows that Colorado collects $2,195 in taxes from each of its citizens. Kansas collects $2,526.3 That’s after the Kansas tax cuts took effect. Kansas would have to cut taxes much more before it reaches the low level of taxation in Colorado.
The takeaway: Even after Kansas tax reform, Colorado has lower taxes.
Another commenter stated “People want to live and businesses want to be located … where education is important and supported.” The writer didn’t elaborate, but generally when people say “support” education, they mean “spend” a lot on public schools. Another commenter wrote “Public schools are treated as an afterthought by our Governor and Legislature.” So let’s look at spending.
Regarding school spending, the National Education Association collects statistics from a variety of sources and uses some of its own transformations.4 A collection of statistics from that source is nearby. Note that Colorado teacher salaries are higher, while revenue per pupil is lower. Colorado spends more per student when considering current expenditures. Colorado has a higher student-teacher ratio than Kansas.
The U.S. Census Bureau has different figures on spending. In a table titled “Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2013” we see Colorado spending $8,647, and Kansas $9,828.5 This tabulation has Kansas spending 13.7 percent more than Colorado.
Looking at scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — a test that is the same in all states — we see that when considering all students, Kansas and Colorado scores are very close, when measuring the percent of students scoring proficient or better. White students in Colorado, however, generally score higher than in Kansas.
For NAEP scores by eligibility for free or reduced lunches, we see that Kansas and Colorado are similar, except that Colorado has made progress with eligible students in math, catching up with Kansas. (Eligible students are students from low-income households.)
For what it’s worth, in Colorado 10.4 percent of students who attend public schools attend public charter schools. In Kansas the figure is 0.6 percent, due to Kansas law being specifically designed to limit charter school formation and survival.6
A writer expressed this in his comment: “Colorado also presents a more stable political environment as well.” While this is something that probably can’t be quantified, a recent New York Times article disagrees, quoting a former governor:7
“Colorado is subjected to extremes,” said Roy Romer, a former governor. “It’s not just blue and red. It’s also urban and rural. We have a history to this.”
Of note, Colorado has initiative and referendum. Citizens may, by petition, propose new laws and veto laws the legislature passed.8 Kansas does not have initiative and referendum at the state level. This is one way that Kansas has a more stable political environment than Colorado: Citizens have less political power in Kansas. For example, the law that made marijuana legal in Colorado was passed through citizen initiative. I think it’s safe to say that it will be a long time — if ever — before Kansas has medical marijuana, much less full legalization.
Further, Colorado has TABOR, or Taxpayer Bill of Rights. This is a measure designed to limit the growth of taxation and spending. Whether one likes the idea or not, it has had a tumultuous history in Colorado, according to a Colorado progressive public policy institute.9 And if you thought Kansas was the only state that — purportedly — underfunds education, welcome to Colorado. The same report holds: “As 2016 approached, the [Colorado] General Fund remained nearly $900 million short of what it needed to fully fund K-12 education and well below what it needed to restore postsecondary education and other programs to historic levels.” This is in line with the amount Kansas school spending advocates say Kansas needs to spend, adjusted for population.
Colorado also has term limits on its state legislature and elected members of the state executive department (governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer.)10 Kansas has term limits on its governor, but on no other offices. This argues in favor of Colorado having a more dynamic and less stable government.
A proposed constitutional amendment would reduce, then eliminate, the sales tax on food in Kansas.
A severe and harsh problem in Kansas is our high sales tax on food. Only 14 states apply sales tax to food purchased at grocery stores for home consumption. Of those states that tax food, Kansas has either the highest rate, or the second-highest rate, depending on a few factors. Now, a resolution introduced in the Kansas Senate would reduce the food sales tax rate in two steps, and then eliminate the tax.
The measure is SCR 1612, titled “Constitutional amendment providing for phase out and complete exemption from sales and use taxation of food and food ingredients.”
The essence of the resolution is that on July 1, 2017, the sales tax on food would fall to four percent. On July 1, 2018 it would fall to two percent. On July 1, 2019 the rate would become zero.
This is a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution. To advance it requires passage in both the House and Senate with a two-thirds margin. If that happens, the amendment would appear on a statewide election ballot. If a majority of Kansas voters approve, the constitution then has a new amendment. The governor has no role in the processing of amending the constitution except for expressing approval or opposition and lobbying legislators and voters.
The resolution is sponsored by 12 senators. It requires 27 senators to pass with the required two-thirds margin.
Estimates that reducing the food sales tax rate from the present 6.5 percent to four percent might reduce revenue from $120 million to $150 million.
It’s true that in Kansas there is the possibility of receiving a food sales tax credit of $125. But this is something that must be applied for when filing an income tax return. Also, the credit is nonrefundable, meaning that applicants must have income tax liability of at least $125 to receive the full credit. Low-income households generally don’t have an income tax liability, meaning the tax credit is not available to them.
When proposing tax cuts, the question usually asked is “how do we pay for the tax cut.” That’s the wrong question. Tax cuts do not have a cost. It’s government that has a cost. Tax cuts simply let people keep more of what is rightfully theirs in the first place. So the proper question is “how will the state trim spending so people keep more of their money, especially low-income families.”
But if the legislature wanted to compensate for the lost revenue of cutting sales taxes on food, here’s something to consider.
The Kansas Department of Transportation receives part of the sales tax revenue. Prior to 2013, 11.2 percent of sales tax revenue was transferred to KDOT. Since then, the figure is 17.1 percent. If we simply changed the allocation back to the pre-2013 level, that would mean an additional 180 million dollars for the state general fund, according to estimates from Kansas Policy Institute. That’s enough to pay for the first round of food sales tax cuts in the proposed amendment.
From Michael Smith, Chair of Department of Social Sciences at Emporia State University: “Video is now available for the debated hosted by Murad Gündüz Jalilov on behalf of Up to Us and the Public Administration Club: Should the U.S. implement austerity measures due to the size of the national debt? Featuring Dr. Max Skidmore of UMKC and Mr. Bob Weeks of wichitaliberty.org.”
View below, or click here to view at YouTube. The video was recorded in a challenging acoustical environment. An audio recording that I captured and processed for clarity is available at Debate: The National Debt.
Kansas City Star editorialist Steve Rose visits with Kansas State Senator Jim Denning.
It’s helpful for Kansans to have commentary and factual injection accompany a Steve Rose editorial in the Kansas City Star. In this case let’s look at a column based on his interview with Kansas State Senator Jim Denning.
Steve Rose: “The numbers can be sliced and diced to make a positive or negative picture, but it is undeniable that Kansas government itself is virtually bankrupt, and Brownback’s tax policies are responsible.”
A government can balance a budget by taxing more or spending less. We see the clear preference of Rose here: There is not enough taxation. We now have an efficiency study that shows some ways to save money. The question is why didn’t the legislature commission this study in 2012, the year in which it cut taxes?
“[State Sen. Jim Denning of Overland Park] Denning said: ‘The governor rolled the dice on the most aggressive tax cut policy in history, and things just did not turn out the way he expected.'”
It’s a shame to see Republicans — or anyone, for that matter — referring to tax cuts as “rolling the dice.” Cutting taxes simply means that people are allowed to keep more of what is rightfully theirs in the first place — which is a good thing. There is legitimate concern that the 2012 tax cuts were distributed in an unfair or unwise way. The way to fix that is to cut taxes for those who didn’t receive the purportedly unfair cuts.
As far as the results of the tax cuts, the governor should not have bragged as he did. The ability of government to manage the economy is limited, especially at the state level. Consider the Obama stimulus. The nation’s unemployment rate was always above the rate the administration predicted if there were no stimulus. See Brownback and Obama stimulus plans.
Further, what is the role of taxation in Kansas? Is it taxation or government spending that is purportedly good for the Kansas economy? Is it to support spending? If so, the tax cuts have not have an effect on spending. While some programs have been trimmed, overall state spending continues on a largely upward trend (for all funds spending) or remains mostly flat (for general fund spending). See Spending and taxing in Kansas.
Denning: “If we would have closed the [LLC] loophole, we would have brought in an additional $200 million, and the governor would have been a hero.”
The LLC loophole Denning refers to is the zero income tax on pass-through business income. Eliminating it and recapturing the $200 million would not have balanced the Kansas budget. In fiscal years 2014 and 2015 the state spent $340 million and $308 million more than it took in as revenue. Spending restraint is necessary.
Denning: “The Legislature has controlled spending to the lowest levels on record. … Our constituents wanted us to reduce spending, and we did.”
This is an audio recording of a debate on the theme “Should the U.S. implement austerity measures due to the national debt?” The event was sponsored by Up To Us, a nationwide campus competition in which students create thought-provoking, fun campaigns to raise awareness about a critical issue affecting their future — the long-term national debt. This event took place at Emporia State University on February 15, 2016. Participants were Bob Weeks of Voice for Liberty at wichitaliberty.org and Professor Max Skidmore of University of Missouri, Kansas City. Michael Smith of ESU was the faculty coordinator, and Rob Catlett of ESU was the moderator.
Partners in Up To Us include:
Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase public awareness of the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America’s future and to accelerate action on them.
Clinton Global Initiative University. Building on the successful model of the Clinton Global Initiative, which brings together world leaders to take action on global challenges, the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) was launched to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world.
Net Impact. Net Impact is the leading nonprofit that inspires a new generation to work within and beyond business for a sustainable future. Net Impact empowers student and professional leaders to act locally through a vibrant chapter network and connect globally online and through Net Impact’s flagship conference.