In a free society with a limited government, taxation should be restricted to being a way for government to raise funds to pay for services that all people benefit from. But in the city of Wichita, taxation for private gain is overtaking our city.
The Ambassador Hotel, part of a project known as Douglas Place, makes use of several of these private tax policy strategies. By private tax policy, I mean that the proceeds of a tax are used for the exclusive benefit of one person (or business firm), instead of used for the benefit of all. In one example related to this hotel, the Wichita City Council is allowing private parties to determine the city’s tax policy at their discretion, not the city’s.
The tax in question is Wichita’s hotel guest tax. According to a description of the Tourism and Convention Fund in the city’s budget document, the goal of the guest tax is to “support tourism and convention, infrastructure, and promotion of the City.” Its priorities are to be “Fund priorities are: 1) debt service for tourism and convention facilities, 2) operational deficit subsidies and 3) care and maintenance of Century II.”
But in the case of the Ambassador Hotel project, the city passed a charter ordinance that would route 75 percent of this tax directly back to the hotel owners for their own use. That’s not the proclaimed purpose of the guest tax.
Instead, this is public taxation for private enrichment.
But when taxes you must pay are routed back to you for your own exclusive use, what else can you call it except capture of a public function for your own personal use?
Failure of Wichita city leadership
If you need further evidence that Wichita is turning over taxation to private hands, consider this: The charter ordinance is subject to a protest petition. In the normal case, if sufficient signatures are gathered, the city council would have to either a) overturn the ordinance, or b) hold an election to let voters decide whether the ordinance takes effect. An effort that I have been involved with expects to turn in enough signatures this week to force this decision.
Now, if this tax policy regarding the Ambassador Hotel is truly in the public interest, we would expect that the city council would decide whether to hold such an election and bear its costs itself. But that’s not the case. In the agreement between the city and the Douglas Place developers, we see this: “If Developer requests a special election solely for the purpose of passing the charter ordinance in the event a sufficient protest petition is submitted, Developer shall reimburse the City for the actual out of pocket costs and expenses of conducting such election.”
In other words, the city is turning over to private interests the decision as to whether to have such an election, and also the responsibility for paying for it. This is a failure of Wichita city leadership to do the things that government, not private interests, should do.
Private taxation funds political entrepreneurship
In Wichita, especially in downtown, we see the rise of private tax policy, that is, the taxing power of government being used for private purposes. The above example is just one example. This private tax policy is pushed by Wichita’s political entrepreneurs. These are the people who would rather compete in the realm of politics rather than in the market.
Competing in the political arena is easier than competing in the market. To win in the political arena, you only have to convince a majority of the legislative body that controls your situation. Once you’ve convinced them the power of government takes over, and the people at large are forced to transfer money to the political entrepreneurs. In other words, they must engage in transactions they would not elect to perform, if left to their own free will.
In the free marketplace, however, entrepreneurs have to compete by offering products or services that people are willing to buy, free of coercion. That’s hard to do. But it’s the only way to gauge whether people really want what the entrepreneurs are selling. It’s also the way that wealth and prosperity are created. Government spending on business does not have this effect.
One of the ways that political entrepreneurs compete is by making campaign contributions, and the developers of Douglas Place have mastered this technique. Key Construction principles contributed $13,500 to Mayor Carl Brewer and four city council members during their most recent campaigns. Council Member Jeff Longwell alone received $4,000 of that sum, and he also accepted another $2,000 from managing member David Burk and his wife.
All told, Burk and his wife contributed at least $7,500 to city council candidates who will be voting whether to give Burk money. Burk and others routinely make the maximum contribution to all — or nearly all — candidates, even those with widely varying political stances. How can someone explain Burk’s (and his wife’s) contributions to liberals like Miller and Williams, and also to conservatives like Longwell, Meitzner, and former council member Sue Schlapp?
The answer is: Burk will be asking these people for money.
Wichitans need to rise against these political entrepreneurs and their usurpation of a public function — taxation — for their own benefit. The politicians and bureaucrats who enable this should realize they should be serving the public interest, not the narrow and private enrichment of the few at the cost of many.