A survey created for the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan has numerous problems and seems designed to satisfy the goals of government officials and planners instead of citizens.
The process, titled “Community Investments Plan … a Framework for the Future” is the result of an initiative of Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer made during his “State of the City” address in January. 500 randomly selected people in Sedgwick County have been invited to attend, at least to start, a series of four meetings held evenings. The first meeting was last night. Twelve of the invited participants attended.
As part of the process, participants will help develop a survey that will be administered to 25,000 residents in January. A draft of the survey may be viewed at Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan Survey.
There are a number of problems with the survey. For many of the questions, the only possible responses are “Strongly Disagree,” “Disagree,” “Agree,” and “Strongly Agree.” There is no possibility for answering “Don’t know,” “Need more information,” or something like that.
The introduction to the section of questions titled “Global Economy and the Strength of Community” reads “We must make some difficult choices about how best to invest limited resources to strengthen the local economy and to improve quality of life today and for future generations. The outlook for the future depends in part on the willingness of the community to pull together and respond to global challenges.”
Who does the opening “We” refer to? Individuals, corporations, small business firms, churches, or government? Each operates from a different investment perspective, I think we can agree.
Then, there’s the statement that the “community” must “pull together.” Again, the term “community” is so vague as to be nearly meaningless. And “pull together”: Does that mean people voluntarily forming business firms, charities, or mutual aid societies? Or does it mean government?
Another question: “Local government, the school district, community organizations and the business community should work together to create an investment climate that is attractive to business.”
The meaning of an attractive investment climate means different things to different people. Some people want an investment climate where property rights are respected, where government refrains from meddling in the economy and transferring one person’s property to another. An environment free from cronyism, in other words. But the Wichita way is, unfortunately, cronyism, where government takes an active role in managing economic development. We in Wichita never know when our local government will take from us to give to politically-favored cronies, or when city hall will set up and subsidize a competitor.
Another statement that survey respondents are asked to agree or disagree with: “The growing divide between citizens is one of the most important threats to the well-being of our community and nation.”
Is there, in fact, a “growing divide?” And if there is, what is the cause? The growth of government leads directly to the destruction of civil society, that being where people cooperate voluntarily to solve problems and create beneficial institutions. Civil society is being replaced with the political society, where someone else makes decisions for you, notwithstanding efforts like this survey.
When we see the city council awarding no-bid contracts to their campaign contributors — contracts that, when put to competitive bid, come in at lower cost: This is what creates a divide in our community.
When we see a council member receive thousands in campaign contributions from an out-of-state company right as he is about to make a controversial vote that means millions to that company: This destroys civil society and creates divides.
There is an entire section of statements that start with “Local government should use public resources …” Instead of the euphemism “public resources,” why not call it what it is: Taxpayer money. Your money.
There are three questions relating to the subsidy program at the Wichita airport. An example is “I’m willing to pay increased taxes or fees to support investment … that uses public dollars to reduce the cost and increase the number of commercial flights at Mid-Continent Airport.”
This is an example of a question where the premise is false. Since the subsidy programs have been in place, the number of flights from the Wichita airport has declined, not increased. See Wichita flight options decrease, despite subsidies and Wichita airfare subsidy: The negative effects.
At least the final section of questions is prefaced with whether people are willing to pay more taxes or fees in order to support spending. But for most of the survey, situations are presented without regard for cost. An example is “The community should improve public transportation by making bus travel faster and more convenient including evening and weekend service.” How could anyone be against that, especially when senior citizens are mentioned, as in one question?
But if survey respondents were told that most bus systems, including Wichita’s, receive only about 20 percent of their revenue through the farebox, and that taxpayers pay the rest, how might they respond then? And how many people are aware of the massive taxpayer subsidies — excuse me, “public resources” — that are required?
Overall, the survey appears to be designed to bring people to conclusions the survey sponsors want, or provide answers that can be interpreted in they way they want. Not defining terms like “community” and an “investment climate that is attractive to business” allow the survey sponsor to create their own interpretation of the results.
And who is the survey sponsor? A collaboration between local government and the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University. This academic unit exists to produce future generations of government planners, and they’ll all want jobs. City hall and the county building are full of politicians and bureaucrats that, with few exceptions, seek to expand their influence, budgets, and power.
When we put professional planners and bureaucrats in charge of a survey designed to gauge attitudes towards the desirability of planning — is the answer not predetermined? It’s not that the planners are dishonest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.
Perhaps a program like this would better be administered by a market research firm, whose goal and interest would be to find the truth, regardless of the wishes of the client.
But really, there is a very simple way for government to get the answers it is seeking. Joseph Ashby said it well on his radio program: If government wants to know how people want their money spent, it should let them spend their own money.