In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: New outlets for news, and criticism of the existing. Is Kansas government “hollowed out?” Ideology and pragmatism. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 124, broadcast July 17, 2016.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: New outlets for news, and criticism of the existing. Is Kansas government “hollowed out?” Ideology and pragmatism. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 124, broadcast July 17, 2016.
Comments by two Wichita city council members give citizens more reasons to be cynical and distrusting of politicians.
In a recent Facebook post that someone sent to me, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) wrote: “Hmmmm…..of note; Wichita is the only sizable city in Kansas that does not ADD any sales tax on top of the State and Sedgwick County sales tax rate.”
It is astonishing that council member Meitzner would brag of this — that Wichita has no city sales tax. That’s because Meitzner, along with all council members but one, voted to place the sales tax measure on the November 2014 ballot. Wichita voters rejected that sales tax, with 62 percent of voters voting “No.”1
Meitzner is not the only council member to brag of no city sales tax in Wichita. Just a month after the November 2014 election in which Wichita voters rejected the sales tax, Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) said, in a council meeting, “thanks to a vote we just had, [Wichita] has zero municipal sales tax.”2
I wonder: If the Wichita city sales tax had passed, would Meitzner and Clendenin feel the same way?
The answer is “No.” If the sales tax had passed, I believe Wichita city council members Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin would be congratulating themselves on the wisdom and foresight that led them to allow Wichitans to vote on the tax. They would be boasting of their ability to gauge the sentiment of public opinion. They would be proud of the investment they are making in Wichita’s future.
That’s important to remember. The city council, at its initiative, decided to place the sales tax on the ballot. Why would the council do this if it did not believe the tax was a good thing for the city?
Because if the tax would not be good for Wichita, then we have to wonder: Why did the Wichita City Council — including Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin — decide that the people of Wichita should vote on a sales tax? Was it a whim? A flight of fancy? Just a poll to gauge public opinion, without binding meaning?
Anyone can conduct a poll of public opinion. But when the Wichita city council places a measure on the ballot asking whether there should be a sales tax, the results have meaning. The results are binding. There will be a new tax, if a majority of voters agree.
Say, what should we ask the city council to let us vote on this November?
We have to ask: Why would Wichita city council members allow Wichitans to vote on a tax they didn’t — personally — believe in? There is no good answer to this question. So when we see city council members boasting of no city sales tax in Wichita, remember this was not their preference. This is especially important because the city told us we needed to spend $250 million of the tax on a new water supply. Now we know that we can satisfy our future needs by spending much less, at least $100 million less.3
Lily Tomlin once said “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” Here we have two Wichita city council members illustrating and reinforcing the truth of Tomlin’s observation.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Citizen activists were concerned about unleashing a corrupting influence in Wichita City Hall, but they didn’t know it’s already there. Then, the regulatory landscape in Wichita. Finally, what can a pencil teach us about how the world works? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 121, broadcast June 12, 2016.
Wichita offers special regulatory treatment for special circumstances, widening the gulf between the haves and have-nots.
The Wichita Eagle reports that part of what the City of Wichita is offering to Cargill as an inducement to stay in Wichita is regulatory relief.1 In particular:
The city has offered smaller incentives to Cargill as well, including an ombudsman.
[Wichita assistant city manager and director of development Scot] Rigby called the ombudsman something of a project manager.
“They’ll just call one person,” Rigby said of Cargill’s dealings with the city. “It’s a way to eliminate … a business trying to figure out, how do I get through the labyrinth of city processes?”
Rigby said the city has done this with other companies, such as Spirit AeroSystems and JR Custom Metal Products, and would do it for any company with an expansion or project that needs streamlining.
He said the city also is committed to work with the state and the Greater Wichita Partnership to create a talent recruitment position that could help Cargill and other companies recruit employees at all levels.
The city has said it would offer a 15-day turnaround instead of the customary 30 days for plan review and permits, along with a 50 percent reduction in plan review, utility and building permit fees.
Let me repeat the highlights:
labyrinth of city processes
15-day turnaround instead of the customary 30 days
50 percent reduction in … fees
All of this is an explicit admission that City of Wichita regulations are burdensome. If not, why would the city devote time and expense to helping Cargill obtain relief from these regulations?
Further: Why do we have these regulations? If the purpose of the regulations is to protect people from harm, how can we relax or streamline them for the benefit of a few companies? Wouldn’t that expose people to the harm the regulations purportedly prevent?
What’s even worse is this: Cargill is a large company with — presumably — fleets of bureaucrats and lawyers trained to deal with burdensome government regulation. These costs can be spread across a large company. Meaning that Cargill can afford to overcome burdensome regulations.
What about the small companies that don’t have fleets of bureaucrats and lawyers? That can’t spread the costs of burdensome regulation across a large volume of business? What will the city do for these companies? This is especially important because the spirit of entrepreneurship the city wants to cultivate is most commonly found in small, young, companies. The type without fleets of bureaucrats and lawyers.
Well, the city says it would do for any company what it is doing for Cargill.
Except: How are companies supposed to know to ask for regulatory relief, streamlining, and a discount on fees?
And is it equitable to offer special companies special regulatory relief when it is not readily available for all?
Last year Kansas Policy Institute, in collaboration with the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University produced a report titled “Business Perceptions of the Economic Impact of State and Local Government Regulations.”2 On the city’s offer of special treatment to one company, KPI Vice President and Policy Director James Franko commented:
This bears out one of the key findings from a paper we did with WSU’s Hugo Wall School: Companies want transparency and simplicity in the local regulatory environment. Businesses are not as concerned about the regulation themselves as they are in navigating what the city admits is a “labyrinth” of regulations and processes.
The regulatory process should be simplified for all businesses, not just a few. Hopefully there is a realization that an “ombudsman,” or better yet a transparent, straightforward regulatory regime, should be available to anyone wanting to start or grow a business in Wichita.
Instead of the city offering regulatory relief on an as-needed, as-requested basis, why not simplify and streamline regulation for everyone? That seems to make a lot of sense. But if you were a city politician or bureaucrat, this isn’t in your best interest. If regulations are burdensome, and you — as a bureaucrat or officeholder — can offer relief, then you have power. You become important. You have the ability to grant favors and make people feel special.
But if regulations were streamlined and reformed for everyone as the city will do for Cargill, then bureaucrats and politicians would not be so powerful and important. But the people would be more free and prosperous. Think about that trade off.
An interview with James Franko of Kansas Policy Institute on the topic of regulation is on WichitaLiberty.TV here.
The Wichita ASR water project produced little water during the first four months of 2016. There were many days when river flow was adequate.
An important part of Wichita’s water supply infrastructure is the Aquifer Storage and Recovery program, or ASR. This is a program whereby water is taken from the Little Arkansas River, treated, and injected in the Equus Beds aquifer.1 2 That water is then available in the future as is other Equus Beds water.
With a cost so far of $247 million, the city believes that ASR is a proven technology that will provide water and drought protection for many years. In 2014 the city recommended that voters approve $250 million for its expansion, to be paid for by a sales tax.3 Voters rejected the tax in the November 2014 election.
For the months of January through March 2016, the ASR project recharged no water. (Click charts for larger versions.)
In April 2016, the ASR project recharged 22,226,150 gallons of water.4 The design capacity for ASR is 30,000,000 gallons per day, so production for the entire month of April is less than one day’s design capacity.
The ASR project is able to draw from the Little Arkansas River when the flow is above 30 cfs. As can be seen in the chart of the flow of the river, the flow was above this level every day. In April, there was adequate river flow for ASR to operate every day of the month, counting only those days when the flow was above 30 cfs for the entire day. There were many days in January, February, and March with adequate river flow, but no water was recharged during these months.5
According to city documents, the original capacity of the ASR phase II project to process water and pump it into the ground (the “recharge” process) was given as “Expected volume: 30 MGD for 120 days.” That translates to 3,600,000,000 (3.6 billion or 3,600 million) gallons per year. ASR phase II was completed in 2011.
At a city council workshop in April 2014, Director of Public Works and Utilities Alan King briefed the council on the history of ASR, mentioning the original belief that ASR would recharge 11,000 acre feet of water per year. But he gave a new estimate for production, telling the council that “What we’re finding is, we’re thinking we’re going to actually get 5,800 acre feet. Somewhere close to half of the original estimates.” The new estimate translates to 1,889,935,800 (1.9 billion) gallons per year.6
Based on experience, the city has produced a revised estimate of ASR production capability. What has been the actual experience of ASR? The U.S. Geological Survey has ASR figures available here. I’ve gathered the data and performed an analysis. (Click charts for larger versions.)
I’ve produced a chart of the cumulative production of the Wichita ASR project compared with the original projections and the lower revised projections. The lines for projections rise smoothly, although it is expected that actual production is not smooth. The second phase of ASR was completed sometime in 2011, but no water was produced and recharged that year. Further, 2013 was a drought year, so to present ASR in the best possible light, I’ve prepared a chart starting in July 2013. That was when it started raining heavily, and data from USGS shows that the flow in the Little Arkansas River was much greater. Still, the ASR project is not keeping up with projections, even after goals were lowered.
On the chart of monthly production, the horizontal line represents the revised annual production projection expressed as a constant amount each month. This even rate of production is not likely, as river flow varies. In the three years that ASR phase II has been in production, that monthly target been exceeded in three months.
Two nearby charts give an idea of the efficiency of operation of the ASR project. (Click charts for larger versions.) For each month, I counted how many days had a river flow above 30 cfs at every measurement for the day. (The flow is measured several dozen times a day.) If a day had all measurements above 30 cfs, I counted that as a day of adequate river flow. I then calculated the number of days of work actually accomplished using the water produced each month, the number of days of adequate river flow for the month, and the ASR design capacity.
As can be seen in the charts, the ASR project is operating far below its design goal.
Another Wichita company that paid to persuade you to vote for higher taxes now seeks to avoid paying those taxes.
Next week the Wichita City Council will consider issuing industrial revenue bonds to benefit a local company. In Kansas, IRBs are not a loan of money from government. Instead, the bonds are a vehicle for conveying property tax abatements, and often sales tax exemptions. 1 The applicant company is Hijos, LLC/JR Custom Metal Products, Inc.
City documents give the value of abated taxes at $44,900 for the first year. Following years will probably be similar.
Besides property tax breaks, industrial revenue bonds can convey an exemption from paying sales taxes on purchases. City documents don’t state the amount of sales tax the company might avoid paying. But documents state the bonds will be used to fund capital equipment in the amount of $2,686,000. Sales tax on that is $201,450.
City documents also state this expansion will add 13 new jobs over the next five years at an average wage of $41,995.
Like several other companies that have received an exemption on paying sales tax on their purchases, 2 3 4 5 JR Custom Metals advocated for you to pay more sales tax. During the campaign for the one cent per dollar Wichita sales tax in 2014, this company contributed $1,000 to persuade voters to approve the tax.
But now it seeks to avoid paying all sales tax on these purchases. It has done this several times in the recent past.
The jobs are welcome. But this incident and many others like it reveal a capacity problem, which is this: We need to be creating nine jobs every day in order to make any significant progress in economic growth. 6 If it takes this much effort and the forgiveness of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes to create 13 jobs over five years, how much effort and subsidy will it take to create the many thousands of jobs we need to create every year?
Some citizen activists and Wichita city council members believe that a single $500 campaign contribution from a corporation has a corrupting influence. But stacking dozens of the same $500 contributions from executives and spouses of the same corporation? Not a problem.
On December 1, 2015 the Wichita City Council considered an ordinance regarding campaign finance for city elections. A Wichita Eagle article on the topic started with: “A proposed change in city ordinance would allow corporations, labor unions and political action committees to have a greater influence on Wichita politics. For years, city elections have remained insulated from the power of those groups, unlike national and state elections, because Wichita ordinance specifically forbids them from contributing to local campaigns.” 1
The city believed the proposed action was necessary to comply with recent court rulings. Under the proposed ordinance — which was passed by the council — corporations, labor unions, and political action committees would be able to make a single campaign contribution per election cycle of up to $500, the same limit as for individuals.
During the council meeting, citizens testified as to the terrible consequences should the council pass this ordinance. Here are a few excerpts taken from the minutes of the meeting:
“Stated corruption and conflicts of interest have become institutionalized and what City legal counsel suggests will sell the Council and the City of Wichita to the highest bidder.”
“Stated according to a lengthy report last week, by the Pew Research Center, across party lines people are distrustful and concerned about big money in politics.”
“Stated big money does not donate, it invests and buys democracy. Stated she is asking the City Council to keep big money out of the City Council elections.”
“Allowing big money into City elections is a concern.”
“Stated the City has been independent and has a freedom from influence that the state and the nation do not enjoy. Stated you will then be under the thumb of people who want to control you. which is scary to those of them who are highly opposed to this situation and hopes that the Council will think of them and how this vote will benefit them.”
“Stated the League [of Women Voters] has studied campaign finance over the years at all three levels. Stated they are currently involved in the study of money and politics and their position currently reads that they want to improve the methods of financing political campaigns in order to ensure the public’s right to know and combat corruption and undue influence, which is their biggest concern.”
In its reporting after the meeting, the Eagle reported more concern: 2
But those who oppose the measure said they were concerned about opening up local elections to party-affiliated groups like PACs and about transparency since PACs do not have to report their individual donors.
“Individuals should decide elections, not corporations,” Frye said.
Several members of the public spoke against the changes.
“People in the shadows are going to be pulling your strings,” said Russ Pataki.
“It’s very worrisome what big money has done to state and national politics. The city has been independent (of that),” said Lynn Stephan to the council before the vote. “You have a freedom from influence the state and nation don’t enjoy.”
So, people are concerned about the corrupting influence of political campaign donations from corporations and political action committees. Citizens — and the Wichita Eagle — believe that currently the city council is free from this influence.
But the reality of city council campaign financing is different.
In my testimony at the December 1 meeting, I explained that there are a few corporations that stack campaign contributions in a way that circumvents prohibitions. Although I did not mention it at the meeting, sometimes campaign finance reporting laws allowed this to happen without disclosure until after relevant action had happened. To illustrate, here is a timeline of events involving just one company and its campaign contributions.
2008 and 2009
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make six contributions to the Lavonta Williams campaign, totaling $3,000.
2010 and 2011
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Carl Brewer campaign, totaling $4,000. Brewer was Wichita mayor running for re-election in 2011.
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Jeff Longwell campaign, totaling $4,000.
The City of Wichita is preparing to build a new airport terminal with a cost of around $100 million. Key Construction and Dondlinger and Sons Construction are two bidders. The contract is controversial. Dondlinger submitted a lower bid than Key, but it was alleged that Dondlinger’s bid did not meet certain requirements.
January 24, 2012
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make six contributions to the James Clendenin campaign, totaling $3,000.
April 2, 2012
On this day and the next, executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Jeff Longwell campaign for Sedgwick County Commission, totaling $4,000. At the time, Longwell was a Wichita city council member.
April 17, 2012
On this day and the next, executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Lavonta Williams campaign, totaling $4,000.
July 16, 2012
An executive of a Michigan construction company and his wife contribute $1,000 to Longwell’s campaign for county commission. The company, Walbridge, is partnering with Wichita-based Key Construction to bid on the Wichita airport terminal contract.3
July 17, 2012
The Wichita city council votes in favor of Key Construction and Walbridge on a dispute over the airport terminal contract, adding over $2 million to its cost. Brewer, Longwell, Williams, and Clendenin participated in the meeting and voted. City documents state the job of the council this day was to determine whether the staff who made the decision in favor of Key Construction “abused their discretion or improperly applied the law.”4
July 20, 2012
An additional $2,250 in contributions from Walbridge executives to the Jeff Longwell campaign for Sedgwick County Commission campaign is reported.
Williams and Clendenin file campaign finance reports for the calendar year 2012. This is the first opportunity to learn of the campaign contributions from Key Construction executives and their spouses during 2012. For Williams, the Key Construction-related contributions were the only contributions received for the year. Clendenin received contributions from Key Construction-related individuals and parties associated with one other company during the year.
Is there a pattern? Yes. Key Construction uses its executives and their spouses to stack individual contributions, thereby bypassing the prohibition on campaign contributions from corporations. This has been going on for some time. It is exactly the type of corrupting influence that citizens are worried about. It has been taking place right under their eyes, if they knew how or cared to look. And Key Construction is not the only company to engage in this practice.
Just to summarize: The Wichita city council was charged to decide whether city officials had “abused their discretion or improperly applied the law.” That sounds almost like a judicial responsibility. How much confidence should we have in the justice of a decision if a majority of the judges have taken multiple campaign contributions from executives (and their spouses) of one of the parties?
In some ways, it is understandable that citizens might not be aware of this campaign contribution stacking. The campaign finance reports that council members file don’t contain the name of contributors’ employers. It takes a bit of investigation to uncover the linkage between contributors and the corporations that employ them. For citizens, that might be considered beyond the call of duty. But we should expect better from organizations like the League of Women Voters.
Certainly there is no excuse for the Wichita Eagle to miss or avoid things like this. Even worse, it is disgraceful that the Eagle would deny the problem, as it did in its November 23 article quoted above.
In summary, some citizen activists — most council members, too — believe that a single $500 campaign contribution from a corporation has a corrupting influence. But stacking dozens of the same $500 contributions from executives and spouses of the same corporation? Not a problem.
Political campaign contributions are a form of speech and should not be regulated. What we need are so-called pay-to-play laws, which regulate the linkage between campaign contributions and council member participation in matters that benefit donors.5
Either that, or we need council members with sufficient character to recognize when they should refrain from voting on a matter.
Wichita’s mayor pens an op-ed that is counter to facts that he knows, or should know.
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.
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?
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.
Additionally, Wichita relies on targeted investment in our future. Our elected officials and bureaucrats believe they have the ability to select which companies are worthy of public investment, and which are not. But as we’ve seen in the unfortunate news emanating from several local companies, this is not the case. (See Kansas economic growth policy should embrace dynamism and How to grow the Kansas economy.)
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
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:
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.
With all Wichita has done, it may not be enough.
Within a month, these two headlines appeared in the opinion pages of the Wichita Eagle:
Investment in downtown Wichita is impressive 1
State and local leaders need to help meet Cargill’s needs 2
The second headline was in response to the news story “Cargill plans to move its Wichita headquarters — but where?” 3 In this story, Carrie Rengers reports “Cargill is looking to move its Wichita headquarters, but whether that’s within downtown, where it already is, or outside of it or even outside of Kansas is unclear. … City and state officials are working in full gear to make sure Wichita — downtown specifically — is the option Cargill selects.”
Rengers reports that Wichita city officials say no specific incentives have been offered to Cargill, but “any incentives likely would involve infrastructure help, such as with parking, or assistance with easing the process for a new building, such as with permitting.” Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell says “cash incentive won’t be an option,” according to Rengers.
A Cargill official says that the company needs to attract millennials and younger people, who are not attracted to “traditional office space and office-type buildings.”
Now, consider the first opinion headline: “Investment in downtown Wichita is impressive.” In this op-ed, Phillip Brownlee writes “It’s encouraging that investment in downtown Wichita is continuing — and that it is mostly privately funded. A vibrant downtown is important to the city’s image and to attracting and retaining young adults. More than $1 billion in private and public investment has occurred downtown in the past decade. About $675 million of that investment has been privately funded, and $411 million has been public projects, according to Wichita Downtown Development Corp.”
Brownlee goes on to note other investments, such as 800 new apartment units “in the works.”
On the importance of downtown, Brownlee writes “City leaders have long recognized the value of a healthy downtown. Besides the symbolic importance of not having a lot of empty buildings, many young adults prefer an urban environment. That makes downtown important even for businesses not located there, because it can help or hurt their ability to recruit and retain young professionals.”
I see a discontinuity. Our city’s leaders — opinion, elected, and bureaucratic — brag about all the investment in downtown Wichita, public and private, yet it doesn’t seem to be enough to retain a major Wichita employer in downtown.
At least editorialist Rhonda Holman recognizes the problem in her column: “It’s concerning that Cargill’s stated intentions to relocate and consolidate have not included a commitment to remain downtown or even in Wichita or Kansas.” What is her solution? “Elected and business leaders need to be creative and assertive in helping Cargill meet its needs.”
I share Holman’s concern. It’s very troubling that with $411 million in private investment over the past decade, downtown Wichita still isn’t attractive enough to retain Cargill, if the company’s intent to move is real and genuine. And advising the same group of people who have been in power during the decline of the Wichita economy to be “creative and assertive” is a solution?
What’s even more disconcerting is that the person who has overseen much of this downtown spending has been promoted. Now Jeff Fluhr of Wichita Downtown Development Corporation is president of Greater Wichita Partnership, with responsibility “to grow the regional economy.”
Forgive me if I’m underwhelmed.
One of the things that may be offered to Cargill, according to Rengers, is “assistance with easing the process for a new building, such as with permitting.” This is a big red flag on a very tall flagpole. If the city has regulations so onerous that they are a consideration as to whether to locate in Wichita, this is something that must be fixed immediately. But the instinct of the Wichita City Council and city bureaucrats is to create more regulations covering everything from the striping of parking lots to the personal hygiene of taxi drivers.
Mayor Longwell says there will be no cash incentives offered to Cargill. Instead, something like help with parking may be offered. This might take the form of building a parking garage for Cargill. We should ask: What is the difference between giving cash to Cargill and building a parking garage for Cargill’s use? There really isn’t a meaningful difference, except for Cargill. That’s because cash incentives are taxable income. Free use of a parking garage isn’t taxable. 4 5
Further, Cargill may qualify for PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas.6 This program allows companies to retain 95 percent of the payroll withholding tax of employees. The original intent of this program was to lure companies to locate in Kansas, but in recent years the program has been expanded to include incentivizing companies to remain in Kansas. While this is a state program and not a city program under the mayor’s control, PEAK benefits are more valuable than cash.
Reaction to the veto of a bill in Kansas reveals the instincts of many government officials, which is to grab more power whenever possible.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill that gives cities additional means to take blighted property has produced reaction from local officials in Wichita. The bill is Senate Bill 338.
As has been noted in numerous sources, cities in Kansas have many tools available to address blight. 1 What is the purported need for additional power?
In remarks from the bench, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said there is no intent to be “aggressive in taking people’s property.” 2 But expanding the power of government — aggression, in other words — is what the bill does. Otherwise, why the need for the bill with its new methods and powers of taking property?
And once government is granted new powers, government nearly always finds ways to expand the power and put it to new uses. Even if we believe Meitzner — and we should not — he will not always be in office. Others will follow him who may not claim to be so wise and restrained in the use of government power.
In particular, government finds new ways to expand its powers through enabling concepts like blight. Did you know the entire suburban town of Andover is blighted? 3 Across the country, when governments find they can take property with novel and creative interpretations of blight, they do so. 4
It’s easy to sense the frustration of government officials like Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell. In his remarks, he asked opponents of SB 338 “what they would do” when confronted with blight. That is a weak argument, but is often advanced nonetheless. Everyone has the right — the duty — to oppose bad legislation even if they do not have an alternate solution. Just because someone doesn’t have a solution, that doesn’t mean their criticism is not valid. This is especially true in this matter, as cities already have many tools to deal with blight.
Proponents of SB 338 also make unfounded accusations about the motivation of opponents of the law. Because someone opposes this law, it doesn’t mean they are in favor of more blight. Those who fight for freedom and liberty are used to this. Advocating for the right to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that one is in favor of actually doing it.
Much of the discussion this issue concerns the rights of people who live near blighted property. People do have certain rights, but rights have limits. Regarding property, Roger Pilon writes: “Thus, uses that injure a neighbor through various forms of pollution (e.g., by particulate matter, noises, odors, vibrations, etc.) or through exposure to excessive risk count as classic common-law nuisances because they violate the neighbor’s rights. They can be prohibited, with no compensation owing to those who are thus restricted.” 5
Note that Pilon mentions “excessive risk” as something that injures a neighbor. Some of the activities the city wants to control are things like drug dealing, drug usage, and prostitution that may take place on blighted property. And, I suppose it is a risk to have gangs dealing drugs out of the house across the street, blighted or not. But these activities are illegal everywhere, and there are many laws the city can use to control these problems. There is no need for new laws.
It is important to draw a bright line as to where property rights end. Pilon: “By contrast, uses that ‘injure’ one’s neighbor through economic competition, say, or by blocking ‘his’ view (which runs over your property) or offending his aesthetic sensibilities are not nuisances because they violate no rights the neighbor can claim. Nor will it do to simply declare, through positive law, that such goods are ‘rights.'” 6
In today’s world, however, where new rights are seemingly created from thin air, people want to exercise their purported right to control how their neighbor’s property looks. But we have no such right, writes Pilon: “The principle, in fact, is just this: People may use their property in any way they wish, provided only that in the process they do not take what belongs free and clear to others. My neighbor’s view that runs over my property does not belong free and clear to him.” 7
When the Kansas House of Representatives and Senate voted on this bill, several House members submitted explanations of their vote. In the Senate, David Haley filed a protest and message explaining his opposition to the bill. These statements follow.
MR. SPEAKER: I VOTE NO ON SB 338. KANSAS ALREADY HAS SUFFICIENT TOOLS IN PLACE TO ADDRESS BLIGHT. SB 338 circumvents our current eminent domain statutes by redefining “abandoned property” and by allowing our local governments to expeditiously confiscate, seize or destroy law abiding citizens’ private property without compensation, adequate notice, and a legal property title. This is an egregious overreach that deprives some citizens of their private property rights without sufficient due process and it will cause irreparable harm to our most vulnerable citizens that do not have the resources to protect their property.
— GAIL FINNEY, BRODERICK HENDERSON, RODERICK HOUSTON, BEN SCOTT, VALDENIA WINN, JOHN CARMICHAEL, KASHA KELLEY, BILL SUTTON, JERRY LUNN, CHARLES MACHEERS
February 23, 2016
In Accordance with Article 2, Section 10 of the Constitution of Kansas, I, David Haley, a duly elected Senator representing the Fourth District of Kansas, herein PROTEST the action of this Legislature in the promulgation and passage of Senate Bill 338: An Act pertaining to Cities.
In my 23 years as a Kansas Legislator and as but one of only three attorneys in the Senate, this is the first PROTEST I have ever lodged on any measure of the thousands I have considered.
This Chamber now further denigrates real property rights to which every Kansan should be heir.
SB 338 which purports to grant authority to cities and nonprofit organizations to petition courts to possess vacant property for rehabilitation purposes will, simply, but legalize grand theft.
The Senate Commerce committee as is its charge (and not the Senate Local Government committee where, justifiably, similar language as SB 338 had over many years failed time and time again) recognizes and advances business and financial opportunities for our State.
First, the question of a city, redefining definitions of “abandonment” and “blight” as these terms apply to real property, land and or improvements, is the expertise of deliberations of a committee membership dedicated to the auspices of municipalities not the principles of profit.
The principles of real property ownership should always inure to the rights of the citizen not to a developer’s bottom line or even a desire to enhance appraised valuations for tax purposes.
Diabolical in its spawning, methodical and tenacious in its steady lurch forward, SB 338 adheres to two tiered definitions of “abandoned property;” both ingenuous and neither accurate. One definition of “abandoned property”: vacant for 365 days and having a “blighting influence” on surrounding properties; the other definition vacant for 90 days and 2 years tax delinquent.
There are numerous every day scenarios whereby a real property owner has in no way “abandoned” their property though that same property may be vacant for 90 to 365 days, be tax delinquent for 2 years or may have need of rehabilitation to conform to a local standard, real or perceived. But SB 338 alleges “abandonment” and triggers governmental intrusion, harassment and potentially leads to a taking of real property by the government for the benefit of an organization which profits from the taking and kick back higher taxes to the city.
“Commerce,” yes, but a shameful way to run a citizen responsive “Local Government.”
The specious argument in favor of this legislation portends neighborhood beautification, tax viability and repopulation of or demolition and rebuilding of older houses. By eradicating “blight,” the entire community, even the city, is greatly enhanced.
With that premise, I, David Haley, could not agree more.
Today, with no need for warping and putting into statute time-honored definitions of “blight” and “abandonment” or presupposes new postulates for passages of time periods to correlate to real property owners’ interests or genuine concern with their legally owned land(s), there are tools already available to every municipality to address blight. “Code enforcement” departments can post notice and bring to environmental and district court negligent property owners. Subsequent to insufficient response, steep fines and even jail time can be issued now. Today in current statute, a property with two or more years of delinquent property taxes may be sold by the Sheriff of each Kansas County in a “Delinquent Property Tax Sale” also known as a “Sheriff’s” sale or as property “sold on the Courthouse steps.” Again, these are current tools available to curb or cure blight and to put real property into fiscally responsive ownership.
The property rights of legal property owners should not be infringed upon by this Legislature.
Marginal or fragile property owners (traditionally average income or poor property owners attempting to hold on to inherited property or an entrepreneurial hope structure as often found in inner cities) will be set upon by keen-eyed, out of county based developers sheltered by an industrious “not-for-profit” which uses the city and district court as the leverage to harass and ultimately take the land, all in the name of “civic pride” or “community betterment.” Theft.
The late Kansas City, Missouri civil rights leader Bernard Powell (1947-1979) envisioned and warned of the transfer of inner city property back into the same hands of those who fled the same a half century or more ago to the sanctity of the suburbs. Bernard Powell predicted the day would come when government, and the tools they elect and hire, will work hand-in-hand with “robber barons” to turn those out; those who have despaired in neglected, under represented, often high crime, poorly educated neighborhoods, those who have weathered poverty, hard times, civic and civil harassment but yet held a real property interest, a “piece of the pie” … to force them out. Bernard Powell spoke of prosperity returning to the inner city and nothing being tendered to the people who had paid the price for the most sought after of land.
He called it government assisting the turning of the “ghetto into a goldmine.” How prophetic.
Here I sit, practically alone in my opposition to this expansion of eminent domain targeted at poorer property owners ill equipped to “fight City Hall,” in this Kansas Senate and watch this unfold. Again, SB 338 came out of the Commerce committee as well it should.
Government has redefined terms before to shape shift often dastardly need to justify ill deeds.
I remember efforts to redefine “blight” for economic purposes in another eminent domain taking for use in building the Kansas Speedway and Legends in Wyandotte County. Succinctly, the new definition of “blight” was the ability for exponentially more taxes to be levied against the future use of the land than that which the owner who it was being taken from could be expected to pay in its current use. Remnants of that economically fascist philosophy resonate in SB 338. As more people flee the “golden ghettos” of suburbia, the inner city “ghettos” will be repopulated and turned into “goldmines” at the expense I fear, once again, of the poor and unsuspecting. Ironically, we celebrated and honored some of our Korean and Vietnam War heroes today in the Senate Chamber. Was the freedom to own real property without fear of unwarranted government intrusion something for which they fought?
I protest the passage of Senate Bill 338 as is my Constitutional right as a Kansas State Senator under Article Two, Section 10 of the Kansas Constitution for reasons, beliefs afore-listed as well as others not so and hereby vow to continue to assist unnecessarily embattled real property owners in my home District as we together will face the challenges that this bill, when signed into law, will undoubtedly bring.
Wichita City Council members speak in opposition to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s veto of Senate Bill 338, which would have given cities additional power to take property. April 12, 2016. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. For more on this issue, see Governor Brownback, please veto this harmful bill.
An expansion fueled by incentives is welcome, but illustrates a larger problem with Wichita-area economic development.
Last week a Wichita company received economic development incentives in conjunction with an expansion. This is the third incentive the company has received in four years. The incentives are forgiven property taxes and sales taxes. 1 Simply, the company is allowed to skip paying many of the same taxes that everyone else must pay, including low-income households paying sales tax on groceries.
While the expansion of this company is welcome news, the hoopla surrounding it shows how we can’t rely on government intervention to pull Wichita out of its slump. Here are some figures.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wichita metropolitan area employment is 14,500 less than its peak in 2008. Manufacturing jobs are down by 23,600 from the peak in 1998, or down by 15,400 from 2008. 2
So if everything goes as planned, 5 three economic development incentives programs will boost a company’s employment from 110 to 188. That’s an increase of 78 jobs over nine years, or about nine jobs per year.
If we look at these jobs in the larger context, we see that these jobs represent 0.5 percent of the jobs lost in the Wichita area since 2008. If we are relying on these jobs to spur a renaissance of manufacturing in Wichita, they represent 0.3 percent of manufacturing jobs lost since its peak.
This company and these three economic development incentives are not the only efforts the city has made. Other incentives to other companies have created jobs. But this company is considered a significant and major success. The awarding of this inventive was evidently such an uncommon event that it merited a large article in the Wichita Eagle. In his remarks, according to meeting minutes, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said “this is how we move Wichita forward” and “this is how we grow our businesses here in Wichita and help them be successful.”
The jobs are welcome. But this incident and many others like it reveal a capacity problem, which is this: We need to be creating nine jobs every day in order to make any significant progress in economic growth. If it takes this much effort to create 78 jobs over nine years, how much effort will it take to create the many thousands of jobs we need to create every year?
A related problem is that we don’t know how many jobs are created by the city’s economic development efforts. As part of a campaign for a city sales tax in 2014, the city promised a web site to track the progress of jobs created. The sales tax didn’t pass, but the city still engages in economic development, and still does not track results. At least not publicly, and when I’ve asked, the results provided have been sketchy and incomplete.
On top of this, we don’t know if the incentives were necessary to enable the company to expand. Usually city documents state that incentives are necessary to make economic activity “viable.” No such claim was made in the documents supporting this incentive.
The large amount of bureaucratic effort and cost spent to obtain a relatively small number of jobs lets us know that we need to do something else in order to grow our local economy. We need to create a dynamic economy, focusing our efforts on creating an environment where growth can occur organically without management by government. Dr. Art Hall’s paper
Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy provides much more information on the need for this.
Another thing we can do to help organically grow our economy and jobs is to reform our local regulatory regime. Recently Kansas Policy Institute released a study of regulation and its impact at the state and local level. This is different from most investigations of regulation, as they usually focus on regulation at the federal level.
The study is titled “Business Perceptions of the Economic Impact of State and Local Government Regulation.” It was conducted by the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University. Click here to view the entire document.
Our civic leaders say that our economic development efforts must be reformed. Will the path forward be a dynamic economy and reformed regulation? Or will it be more bureaucracy, handfuls of jobs at a time?
The Wichita City Council is likely to create a new regulatory regime for massage businesses in response to a problem that is already addressed by strict laws.
During a presentation to the Wichita City Council on February 23, 2016, police officials reported on a number of investigations and arrests. In 2015, there were 22 arrests for human trafficking and other violations. The presentation did not include what comprised “other violations,” nor did it contain any information about the disposition of these cases.
If the city is concerned about prostitution and child trafficking, the latter being a serious crime, we already have strong laws concerning this. As far as the two crimes being related: Prostitutes and pimps are already criminals, according to the law. Committing more crimes like child trafficking is just another step down the path they’ve already chosen.
A solution is to bring prostitution out of the shadows. Stop making consensual behavior between adults a crime. Then police can focus on actual and serious crime, like child trafficking.
But the zeal of the Wichita City Council for creating new regulatory regime is likely to overwhelm any rational thought about the problem. Now Wichita massage business owners and therapists are likely to be saddled with onerous licensing requirements. To become a newly-licensed therapist, you must possess one of several educational credentials, one of which is 500 hours of training. Existing therapists must meet similar requirements.
City officials note that the existing local massage industry requested this regulation. That’s not surprising. The purpose of nearly all occupational licensure laws is to restrict entry to the industry so that existing practitioners can charge higher rates. That is a scam, especially against low-income people that need a masseuse or a plumber. It is also a burden to people who want to become plumbers, barbers, massage therapists, or one of the many other licensed occupations.
It is both shocking and disappointing to realize that Wichita city bureaucrats and council members do not realize these economic realities. Another economic reality is that when licensing requirements are strict, the quality of service that many people receive declines. When investigating the demand for licensed plumbers, researchers found this:1
This proxy assumes that the more stringent are the barriers the higher will be the cost of licensed service and the smaller will be its quantity. These two effects increase the motivation of consumers to substitute their own services for those of trained professionals. This substitution process should show up in rising retail sales of plumbing supplies in more tightly restrictive states since licensed plumbers will generally purchase supplies wholesale. The implicit assumption is this causal chain is that self-service is on the average of lower quality than could be obtained from even a marginally trained journeyman plumber.
In other words, when strict licensure requirements make plumbers expensive, more people do their plumbing work themselves, and this work is likely to be of lower quality. It’s quite a stretch (literally and figuratively) to apply this reasoning to do-it-yourself massage, but here’s another economic reality: The more difficult it is to achieve a credential, the greater is the incentive to cheat. You don’t have to search very far before you find vendors advertising their services like this:
We are one of the oldest and most trusted seller of fake diplomas on the web. We use real diploma paper, the same paper that most major universities and high schools use. We also use professional security paper for our fake transcripts. We have more than 12 years experience in printing fake diplomas. You can rest assured that your fake diploma or fake transcript will look very authentic. We offer many different types of fake diplomas and fake certificates such as, FAKE GEDs, fake college diploma, fake university degree, fake high school diploma, fake college degree, or fake high school transcripts and fake skill certificate.
How diligently will Wichita’s bureaucratic machinery investigate when presented with a fake diploma certificate and transcript? The city’s record is not good. After the city passed new taxicab regulations, somehow the regulation that prohibited convicted sex offenders from receiving licenses was not implemented effectively. The city granted a taxi driver license to a man who was on the state sex offender registry. He raped a passenger.
The city council should reject these regulations and devote the city’s resources to protecting people from actual crime.
The Wichita City Council is concerned about human trafficking for the purposes of prostitution. That’s good. But the response the council is considering — which is licensing massage therapists — is not needed. We have strict laws already on the books that make human trafficking a serious criminal offense, which it is. The proposed Wichita regulations will simply make it more difficult for honest people to become massage therapists. Criminals will operate illegally. They are criminals, after all. Or, they will easily obtain false credentials.
Kansas already has many burdensome occupational licensure requirements that limit economic opportunity and protect entrenched interests. Nearby is a chart of the number of days training or experience required to obtain a license to work in various fields, according to Institute for Justice in 2012. 2 I’ve added the proposed Wichita massage therapist requirements. As you can see, it will require more than twice as much education to become a massage therapist as is required to become an emergency medical technician. How does that make sense?
Comparing the proposed Wichita requirements to the nation, we find that the Wichita standard is quite lax. 39 states license massage therapists, with the average education or training requirement being 139 days, with the range being from 117 days to 327 days3. Wichita is proposing 83 days, which might inspire one to ask this question: If the Wichita City Council is truly concerned about protecting Wichitans from getting a bad massage, why is it proposing such minimal requirements, compared to other states?
In reality, the high barriers to becoming a massage therapist in many states is testimony to the massage industry’s success in erecting barriers to entry. By making it difficult to become a massage therapist, the supply is lower than it could be, and prices are higher. Consumers lose. Upward economic opportunity is lost.
The purpose of nearly all occupational licensure laws is to restrict entry to the industry so that existing practitioners can charge higher rates. That is a scam, especially against low-income people that need a masseuse or a plumber. It is also a burden to people who want to become plumbers, barbers, massage therapists, or one of the many other licensed occupations.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: There are a few things that make Bob wonder. Then, a troubling episode for Wichita government and news media. Finally, the harm of teachers unions. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 114, broadcast March 27, 2016.
The state’s largest newspaper has no good reason to avoid reporting and editorializing on an important issue. But that’s what the Wichita Eagle has done.
In November 2014 Wichita voters rejected a proposed Wichita city sales tax. The largest portion of that tax, $250 million, would have gone towards expanding the capacity of the Aquifer Storage and Recharge, or ASR, project.
The Wichita Eagle editorial board urged voters to approve the tax. It told readers that spending $250 million on ASR would “assure a future for Wichita with enough water.” “The needs are clear,” the editors wrote, adding “Investing in the aquifer project seems the best thing to do to anticipate and meet Wichita’s water needs.” The Eagle warned of “much higher water rates” if the sales tax is not passed.
Since voters rejected the tax to support that spending, the cost of providing adequate water has dropped, and dropped a lot. But you wouldn’t know that by reading the Wichita Eagle or by relying on our city’s other mainstream news media.
If you viewed a Wichita City Council workshop on December 1, however, you’d have learned that the city can provide adequate water for much less than $250 million. The rise in water bills will also be much less than what the Eagle and the city used to frighten voters into approving the sales tax.
So why hasn’t the Wichita Eagle reported on the December 1, 2015 workshop, in which Director of Public Works and Utilities Alan King presented the new plans — plans which will cost much less? Why have there been no editorials celebrating that we can provide adequate water at much less expense?
I can understand the editorial writers not wanting to admit they had been duped. That’s human nature. But for the news division of the Eagle: Why no reporting on this?
As it happens, the newsroom of the Eagle was also a cheerleader for the sales tax and ASR project. As an example, the Eagle printed a fact check article that disputed claims made by opponents of the tax. When asked why there was not a similar fact check article on the proponents, the reporter said there were no errors to be found. Nothing. That was incredulous — unbelievable — at the time. There were many questionable claims made by sales tax proponents. In hindsight, we are even more certain of that.
The Eagle has plenty of reporting capacity, barrels of ink, and lots of online bandwith to report and editorialize on issues like who gets free parking at the Wichita airport. That’s important, perhaps, but trivial in terms of financial impact. But on this issue involving over $100 million in savings, there is silence.
The state’s largest newspaper has no good reason to avoid reporting and editorializing on an important issue. But that’s what the Wichita Eagle has done. We wonder why.
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?
A real estate development in College Hill was not successful. What does this mean for city taxpayers?
Seeking to promote the redevelopment of land northeast of Douglas and Hillside, the City of Wichita entered into agreements with Loveland Properties, LLC, College Hill Urban Village LLC, and CHUV Inc. The original plans were grand: A Northeast Brownstone Complex located at the northeast corner of Victor and Rutan, a Condominium Tower and Brownstone Complex, a West Brownstone Complex, and the South Retail/Residential Complex. A city analysis in 2007 projected that by 2010 the value of these projects would be $61,817,932.
Unfortunately, this project did not proceed as planned. The Northeast Brownstone Complex was built, and nothing else. Those brownstone condominiums proved difficult to sell. The project held great promise, but for whatever reasons things did not work as planned, and the city has lost an opportunity for progress.
The questions now are: What is the impact on taxpayers? Is there anything to learn as the city moves forward with other public-private partnerships?
City documents tell the story of this project, if you know how to read between the lines. 1
City document says: “The City financed $3,685,000 in TIF bonds in 2014.”
What it means to you: Tax increment financing, or TIF, is a method of economic development financing whereby additional property taxes (the “increment”) are redirected back to a real estate development. In this case, the city sold these bonds and gave the proceeds to the developer. Then — according to plan — as property values rose, the correspondingly higher property taxes generated by the development would pay off the bonds. Except, property values did not rise. So who pays? According to the bond documents, 2 “The full faith, credit and resources of the Issuer are hereby pledged for the payment of the principal of and interest on this Bond.” The Issuer is the City of Wichita, and the resources the city has to pledge are taxes it collects from its taxpayers.
City document says: “An additional amount of tax exempt expenses related to the project, totaling $1,785,000, were paid off by the Finance Department using cash from the Debt Service Fund.”
What it means to you: These costs were to be paid by the developer, but the developer did not pay. So, the city’s Debt Service Fund was used. The Debt Service Fund gets its money from taxpayers, and this money is being used to pay off a debt owed by a private person. This is necessary because the debt payment is guaranteed by the city, which in turns means it is guaranteed by the taxpayers. If not spent to satisfy the debt for this project, this money might have been used to pay off other city debt, reduce taxes, pay for more police and firemen, fix streets, and satisfy other needs.
City document says: “The City will be responsible for maintenance and property taxes for the property until the property can be sold.”
What it means to you: More expense for city taxpayers.
City document says: “Any tax increment generated from existing and future development will be used to repay TIF bonds. Staff does not expect remaining TIF revenue to be sufficient to repay the outstanding debt.”
What it means to you: As explained above, taxpayers are on the hook for these bonds.
The original agreement with the developer says: “In addition to all the terms, conditions and procedures for fulfilling these obligations, the Development Agreement also provides for a Tax Increment Shortfall Guaranty in which the developer and other private entities with ownership interest in the project are required to pay the City any shortfall in TIF revenue available to pay debt service on TIF bonds.”
What it means to you: Nothing. It should mean something. The city tells us its participation in these ventures is free of risk to citizens. That’s because recipients of incentives like TIF pledge to hold the city harmless if things don’t work out as planned. In this case, if the TIF district revenue is not enough to pay the TIF district bonds, the developer has pledged to pay the difference. But it is unlikely that the city will be able to collect on the promise made by this developer.
But there may be good news: The first phase of the project, the brownstones, is now owned by Legacy Bank. Hopefully, the city will be able to collect the TIF shortfall from this new owner so that taxpayers don’t have to pay.
The project plan formulated by the city says: “Net tax increment revenue is available to pay debt service on outstanding general obligation bonds issued to finance eligible project costs.” This statement is true if everything works as planned. But real estate development is risky. Things may not work out as planned. City documents don’t tell taxpayers this. Instead, city leaders present these projects as though everything will work out as planned.
There is some undeveloped land that was to be used in future phases of the project. But even empty land is harmful to city taxpayers, as city documents state: “The developer has not paid property taxes on the parcels from 2010 to 2015, resulting in $400,080 in current and delinquent taxes owed. The City will now be responsible for the taxes.”
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Looking back at the Kansas presidential caucus and should it matter who becomes president. A new regulatory regime in Wichita probably won’t help its stated purpose, but will be harmful. Then, more about regulation. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 113, broadcast March 13, 2016.