Why Wichita may not have the workforce

If Wichita-area companies can’t fill jobs, the declining labor force may be the reason. Who is responsible?

The Chung Report has a recent article noting the low unemployment rate in Wichita. That may make it difficult to fill jobs: “Wichita also has a low unemployment rate, which has seen steep decline in the past five years and now sets at 3.9 percent, below the national average of 4.1 percent. So even if companies are dead set on hiring, do we have the available workforce?” 1

It’s a useful article. But where it could be better, especially when discussing how Wichita companies will find workers to fill anticipated new jobs, is to note the shrinking Wichita labor force.

Here is a table of data for the Wichita MSA from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. 2 It is part of the Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a “monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” 3

I chose the year ending January 2011 as a comparison point, as it is near the low point of the great recession. Since then, the unemployment rate has fallen greatly, and is just half the rate of 2010.

But that isn’t the total story. It isn’t even the most important part of the story. Since the unemployment rate is a ratio, it has two moving parts, specifically the number of unemployed people and the number of people in the labor force. (The labor force, broadly, is the number of persons working plus those actively looking for work.)

It is possible that the unemployment rate falls while the number of people employed falls or rises slowly. This is the general trend in Wichita for the past seven years or so. The nearby table illustrates this. The labor force has fallen, and by a lot, while employment growth has been modest.

In fact, of the changes, we can say that 35.2 percent of the change in the unemployment rate is due to new jobs, while 67.8 percent of the change is due to a smaller labor force.

So when Wichita leaders ask “Do we have the workforce?” the answer might be no. The next question ought to be “Why not?”

Our leaders are quick and eager to take credit for economic development gains. But what about the shrinking labor force caused by the many of the same leaders and their policies?

As the proverb says, “Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.”


Notes

  1. The Chung Report. Predicting Future Jobs. Available at https://thechungreport.com/where-are-all-the-new-jobs/.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. Available at https://www.bls.gov/lau/.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey. Available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/.

Kansas and national jobs, March 2018

Over the past year, Kansas job growth trailed the nation, except in government.

Click for larger.
On April 20 the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment figures through March 2018. 1

The nearby table shows Kansas and national figures in various categories, for March 2018 and one year before.

Overall, Kansas jobs grew at a rate about half that of the nation. A notable exception is government jobs, where Kansas grew by 0.51 percent compared to the nation at 0.26 percent.


Notes

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. State Employment and Unemployment Summary. Available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/laus.nr0.htm.

Wichita State University thinking innovatively, says ad

A full-page advertisement defending the leadership of Wichita State University, from “Friends of the University,” appearing in the Wichita Eagle, Sunday April 22, 2018. For the advertisement as it appeared in the newspaper, click here. For the advertisement from the week before, which criticized the university leadership, click on Wichita State University degraded, says ad.

INNOVATIVE THINKING FOR TODAY’S REALITIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION

The playing field of higher education is rapidly changing. The models of the 1970s, or even 1990s, are no longer applicable. With state public funding now paying only about 35% of total educational costs, roughly half of the amount covered less than 20 years ago, universities must seek new avenues of revenue and partnerships, enabling delivery of high quality education across their campuses.

Wichita State University, under President John Bardo, is on the leading edge of this forward-thinking concept. The WSU innovation campus, creation of WSU Tech, and a number of other initiatives recently launched will provide the pathway to ongoing success, not merely for the University but all of Wichita and South Central Kansas, for decades to come.

For the record, we support Doctor Bardo and his colleagues who are bringing highly favorable national recognition to our community, while assuring Wichita State’s ability to continue to prepare students with knowledge and skills for successful careers in all academic areas.

Loyal Shockers in Support of our University and its Leadership
Al Higdon, treasurer, 1513 Foliage Court, Wichita, Ks. 316-650-8665

We the undersigned endorse and have paid for this message, in the best interest of Wichita State University, its students, faculty and staff, as well as for the prosperity of our greater community.

There followed a list of signatories. Also:
Paid political advertisement

NAEP results for 2017 available in interactive visualizations

When properly considered, Kansas often underperforms the nation in the most recent assessment of “The Nation’s Report Card.”

The results for the 2017 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, were recently released. I’ve prepared interactive visualizations of some of the results. To access the visualizations, click on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

When considering NAEP results, it’s important to consider subgroups, such as race/ethnicity and school lunch status, which is a proxy for poverty. It’s important because states vary widely in the composition of subgroups.

For example, consider an accompanying example from the visualization. We see that when considering all students, Kansas does better than the national average in percent of students performing as basic or better. This is true in all four combinations of grade and subject.

Looking at black students alone, however, we see that Kansas underperforms the nation, except in one instance where there is a tie.

For Hispanic students alone, Kansas does better in all instances except for one tie.

For white students alone, Kansas underperforms the nation in three instances, and outperforms in one.

This statistical anomaly is known as Simpson’s Paradox. It may appear when comparing subgroups to aggregated data when the proportional composition of subgroups varies between populations, in this case the states. For grade 4 reading, 64 percent of students in Kansas were white. For the nation, it was 49 percent. This is a difference in composition that must not be ignored.

The relatively low proportion of minority students is why Kansas appears to perform better than the nation. The apparent superior performance of Kansas melts away when looking at subgroups.

Kansas and the nation, percent at basic or better. Click for larger.
Kansas and the nation, percent at proficient or better. Click for larger.

WichitaLiberty.TV: United States Senator Dr. Tom Coburn

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: United States Senator Dr. Tom Coburn wrote the foreword to the book “What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan –- The Undoing of a Good Idea.” He’s here to tell us what went wrong, and what we need to do. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 193, broadcast April 21, 2018.

Shownotes

Wichita State University degraded, says ad

A full-page advertisement critical of the leadership of Wichita State University, from “Friends of the University,” appearing in the Wichita Eagle, Sunday April 15, 2018. For the advertisement as it appeared in the newspaper, click here.

WHOSE UNIVERSITY IS IT ANYWAY?

As Kansans and taxpayers, we protest the degradation of our public democratic institution, Wichita State University. The current university leaders have eroded the bedrock policies and values upon which the university was founded.

Some examples:

  • With their intimidations and threats to underfund The Sunflower, the student newspaper, they have assaulted freedom of the press
  • With the creation of the WSU Innovation Alliance, they have sublet public university land to private developers, thereby evading the requirements of the Kansas Open Records and Open Meetings Acts
  • With their refusal to fund faculty positions in certain disciplines, they have undermined the liberal arts and sciences, an insult to the university’s original purpose
  • With their use of student fees to support the Innovation Campus, they have saddled present and future students with millions in future debt obligations
  • With their decisions to build a multi-million-dollar housing complex, and to divert 5 percent of scholarship money to non-academic purposes, they have evaded accountability to the university’s owners, the people of Kansas
  • With their use of non-credit and non-academic courses to inflate student enrollment numbers, they have undermined public confidence in their integrity — and their stewardship
  • With their allocation of a public building to a private school, they have flouted the principle that public resources be used to the public’s benefit

As Kansans, we beseech the Kansas Board of Regents to redress these abuses of the public trust, and to protect students, faculty members and community residents from further such abuses.

There followed a list of signatories, plus an indication there are some who wanted anonymity. Also:

This ad was paid for by Friends of the University.
Anne Woods — Treasurer | P.O. Box 8714 | Wichita, KS 67208 | 316-688-1889
Paid political advertisement

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, joins Bob and Karl to update us on happenings in the Kansas Legislature. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 192, broadcast April 14, 2018.

Shownotes

  • Senator Ty Masterson at Kansas Legislature
  • Ty Masterson campaign website
  • SB 424: AN ACT concerning education; establishing the office of education inspector general within the office of the state treasurer; providing the duties and functions thereof.
  • SB 393: Legislative committees; all votes of each legislator on motions or other action recorded in minutes.
  • SCR 1611: Making application to the U.S. congress to call a convention of the states.
  • HB 2753: Review of tax credits, tax exemptions and economic development programs.

Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2017 is $4,222,182

As in years past, a truthful accounting of the finances of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita shows a large loss.

The true state of the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita are not often a subject of public discussion. Arena boosters cite a revenue-sharing arrangement between the county and the arena operator, referring to this as profit or loss. But this arrangement is not an accurate and complete accounting, and it hides the true economics of the arena. What’s missing is depreciation expense.

There are at least two ways of looking at the finance of the arena. Nearly all attention is given to the “profit” (or loss) earned by the arena for the county according to an operating agreement between the county and SMG, a company that operates the arena. 1

This agreement specifies a revenue sharing mechanism between the county and SMG. For 2107, the accounting method used in this agreement produced a profit, or “net building income,” of $1,000,829 to be split (not equally) between SMG and the county. The county’s share was $300,414. 2

While described as “profit” by many, this payment does not represent any sort of “profit” or “earnings” in the usual sense. In fact, the introductory letter that accompanies these calculations warns readers that these are “not intended to be a complete presentation of INTRUST Bank Arena’s financial position and results of operations in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.” 3

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

A much better reckoning of the economics of the Intrust Bank Arena can be found in the 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Sedgwick County. 4 This document holds additional information about the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena. The CAFR, as described by the county, “… is a review of what occurred financially last year. In that respect, it is a report card of our ability to manage our financial resources.”

Regarding the arena, the CAFR states:

The Arena Fund represents the activity of the INTRUST Bank Arena. The facility is operated by a private company; the County incurs expenses only for certain capital improvements or major repairs and depreciation, and receives as revenue only a share of profits earned by the operator, if any, and naming rights fees. The Arena Fund had an operating loss of $4.3 million. The loss can be attributed to $4.5 million in depreciation expense.

Financial statements in the same document show that $4,522,596 was charged for depreciation in 2017.

Trends of events and attendance at Intrust Bank Arena. Click for larger.
If we subtract SMG payment of $300,414 from depreciation expense, we learn that the Intrust Bank Arena lost $4,222,182 in 2016.

Depreciation expense is not something that is paid out in cash. That is, Sedgwick County did not write a check for $4,522,596 to pay depreciation expense. Instead, depreciation accounting provides a way to recognize and account for the cost of long-lived assets over their lifespan. It provides a way to recognize opportunity costs, that is, what could be done with our resources if not spent on the arena.

But not many of our civic leaders recognize this, at least publicly. We — frequently — observe our governmental and civic leaders telling us that we must “run government like a business.” The county’s financial report makes mention of this: “Sedgwick County has one business-type activity, the Arena fund. Net position for fiscal year 2017 decreased by $4.3 million to $156.3 million. Of that $156.3 million, $146.0 million is invested in capital assets. The decrease can be attributed to depreciation, which was $4.5 million.5 (emphasis added)

At the same time, these leaders avoid frank and realistic discussion of economic facts. As an example, in years past Commissioner Dave Unruh made remarks that illustrate the severe misunderstanding under which he and almost everyone labor regarding the nature of spending on the arena: “I want to underscore the fact that the citizens of Sedgwick County voted to pay for this facility in advance. And so not having debt service on it is just a huge benefit to our government and to the citizens, so we can go forward without having to having to worry about making those payments and still show positive cash flow. So it’s still a great benefit to our community and I’m still pleased with this report.”

The contention — witting or not — is that the capital investment of $183,625,241 (not including an operating and maintenance reserve) in the arena is merely a historical artifact, something that happened in the past, something that has no bearing today. There is no opportunity cost, according to this view. This attitude, however, disrespects the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to raise those funds. Since Kansas is one of the few states that adds sales tax to food, low-income households paid extra sales tax on their groceries to pay for the arena — an arena where they may not be able to afford tickets.

Any honest accounting or reckoning of the performance of Intrust Bank Arena must take depreciation into account. While Unruh is correct that depreciation expense is not a cash expense that affects cash flow, it is an economic reality that can’t be ignored — except by politicians, apparently. The Wichita Eagle and Wichita Business Journal aid in promoting this deception.

The upshot: We’re evaluating government and making decisions based on incomplete and false information, just to gratify the egos of self-serving politicians and bureaucrats.

Reporting on Intrust Bank Arena financial data

In February 2015 the Wichita Eagle reported: “The arena’s net income for 2014 came in at $122,853, all of which will go to SMG, the company that operates the facility under contract with the county, Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said Wednesday.” A reading of the minutes for the February 11 meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission finds Holt mentioning depreciation expense not a single time. Neither did the Eagle article.

In December 2014, in a look at the first five years of the arena, its manager told the Wichita Eagle this: “‘We know from a financial standpoint, the building has been successful. Every year, it’s always been in the black, and there are a lot of buildings that don’t have that, so it’s a great achievement,’ said A.J. Boleski, the arena’s general manager.”

The Wichita Eagle opinion page hasn’t been helpful, with Rhonda Holman opining with thoughts like this: “Though great news for taxpayers, that oversize check for $255,678 presented to Sedgwick County last week reflected Intrust Bank Arena’s past, specifically the county’s share of 2013 profits.” (For some years, the county paid to create a large “check” for publicity purposes.)

That followed her op-ed from a year before, when she wrote: “And, of course, Intrust Bank Arena has the uncommon advantage among public facilities of having already been paid for, via a 30-month, 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2004 that actually went away as scheduled.” That thinking, of course, ignores the economic reality of depreciation.

Even our city’s business press — which ought to know better — writes headlines like Intrust Bank Arena tops $1.1M in net income for 2015 without mentioning depreciation expense or explaining the non-conforming accounting methods used to derive this number.

All of these examples are deficient in an important way: They contribute confusion to the search for truthful accounting of the arena’s finances. Recognizing depreciation expense is vital to understanding profit or loss, we’re not doing that.


Notes

  1. Management Agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG. August 1, 2007. Available here.
  2. Minutes of the Sedgwick County Commission, February 14, 2018.
  3. Management Agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG.
  4. Sedgwick County. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the County of Sedgwick, Kansas for the Year ended December 31, 2017. Available at https://www.sedgwickcounty.org/media/39501/2017-cafr.pdf.
  5. Ibid.

Project Wichita, remember Visioneering Wichita

As Project Wichita gets ready to gather information and set goals, let’s be aware that we’ve done this before, and not long ago.

Project Wichita is a new initiative to do something about the future of Wichita. I hope it works. But we’ve been down this road before, and I don’t know of anything created that has been of lasting value.

That past effort was Visioneering Wichita. I’d supply a link to its website, but the site went stale from lack of updates. Eventually it was abandoned, although its remnants may be found at archive.org. (Visioneering Wichita does have a Facebook page, although it hasn’t been updated for eight years.)

Here’s one of the goals that Visioneering Wichita created for the city:

Income Growth: The Wichita MSA must increase its focus on those non-manufacturing job sectors that generate higher pay. Since 2002, the Wichita per capita income as a percent of the United States per capita income has slowly increased, and in 2006 and 2007, the value exceeded 100%, for the first time since 1987.16 In spite of the recent uptick in Wichita’s per capita income as a percentage of the United States, it is expected that it will continue the longer term decline c until: a) the decline in manufacturing jobs stops b) the gap between the United States and Wichita in non-manufacturing earnings per job begins to decrease and c) the gap in minority income is decreased. 1

Charts from Visioneering Wichita, May 2009. Click for larger.

Per Capita Personal Income, Wichita and Visioneering Peers. Click for larger.
I’ve gathered data on per capita personal income through 2016, the latest year for a full year of data, and prepared charts similar to those Visioneering used. Wichita per capita personal income continues to be lower than the cities identified as Visioneering peers, except for Oklahoma City. In fact, Wichita per capita personal income was lower in 2016 than in 2014.

Wichita and United States Per Capita Personal Income. Click for larger.
Comparing Wichita to the nation, we see that Wichita took a downturn the past few years.

Personal Income, Wichita and Visioneering Peers. Click for larger.
Per capita measures, while useful, are not without caveats that need to be understood and considered. For example, if half the people of Wichita moved to other cities, the per capita income would not change if the income of those who left was evenly distributed compared to the original distribution.

Staff of the Visioneering Wichita project used to provide updates on these statistics from time to time. The last update provided to officials that I can recall was in 2013.

Wichita civilian labor force through January 2018. Click for larger.
Speaking of moving from Wichita, one of the things our region needs to address is the shrinking labor force. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the Wichita labor force is on the decline, while it is rising for the nation.

Of the declining labor force, Wichita government and civic leaders use this in two different, and conflicting, ways. First, the declining labor force means that even though job growth is very low, the unemployment rate has dropped, and by a lot. This improved unemployment rate is trumpeted by politicians and bureaucrats. Second, we see concern that Wichita may not have the workers necessary to fill jobs in expanding companies like Spirit Aerosystems. This is used to promote increasing spending on incentives and training infrastructure.

Wichita manufacturing jobs, through January 2018. Click for larger.
By the way, the Visioneering report mentioned the decline in manufacturing jobs. The data shows that since the end of the Great Recession, the number of manufacturing jobs in the Wichita area is slowly declining, while rising for the nation at the same time.

Perhaps the best thing Project Wichita could do is to reveal the truth about the Wichita economy and the economic development infrastructure we’ve built. The Chung Report has done a bit of this. But I don’t think our civic leaders act as through they know and understand. It is against their self-interest to admit that what they’ve done hasn’t been working.


Notes

  1. Visioneering Wichita Revised Vision Document, May 2009.

NAEP 2017 for Kansas, first look

A look at National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores for Kansas and the nation, grade 4 reading.

Today the National Center for Education Statistics released the main NAEP scores for 2017. NAEP — National Assessment of Educational Progress — is known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” 1 It is a test that is the same in all states, and is the primary means of comparing states. 2

The main NAEP tests two subjects, math and reading, in two grades, fourth and eighth. For grade 4 reading, the average score for students in Kansas in 2017 was 223. NCES says this is not significantly different from the state’s average score in 2015 (221) and in 1998 (221). 3

Looking at the scores using achievement levels for fourth grade reading, we see that 30 percent were at the “below basic” level of achievement. 70 percent were at “basic” or better, 37 percent at “proficient” or better, and 8 percent at “advanced.” All of these numbers are within two percentage points of the 2015 levels and are not significantly different, according to NCES. 4 (Clicking or tapping on charts may produce larger versions.)

Comparing Kansas schools with the nation, we see that Kansas has an edge — sometimes — over the nation. For example, 70 percent of Kansas students are at basic or better, compared to 68 percent for the nation.

Looking at Kansas and national schools broken down by eligibility for the school lunch program, we see that Kansas does better than the nation with students eligible for the lunch program. (Students who are eligible for the lunch program are those from low-income households.) But for students who are not eligible, national schools do better.

Considering test scores by race/ethnicity, there is good news and bad news. (Again, these results are for grade 4 reading.) First, Kansas does better than the nation with Hispanic students at all achievement levels.

For Black students, Kansas does worse than the nation at all achievement levels.

For White students, Kansas also underperforms the nation at all achievement levels.

This is a look at reading for grade 4 only.


Notes

  1. United States Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Available at https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/.
  2. NAEP Overview Available at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.
  3. 2017 Reading State Snapshot Report, Kansas, Grade 4, Public Schools. Available at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2017/pdf/2018039KS4.pdf.
  4. Ibid.

Sorting and polarizing in America

American cities are changing with domestic migration. Kansas data excerpted.

A new study looks at the characteristics of migrants in America — that is, individuals and families moving one city to another. 1 (“City” in this context means a consolidated statistical area, metropolitan statistical area, or micropolitan statistical area.)

The author explains: “Domestic migration across U.S. metropolitan areas is selective: in-migrants to expensive metros tend to have higher incomes and educational attainment than out-migrants, while the opposite is true in the least expensive metros. This pattern contributes to the process of polarization across U.S. metros.”

The data is fascinating. Consider the household income of in-migrants and out-migrants. For the Wichita CSA, the median household income of in-migrants is $36,998, and for out-migrants, $38,814. The difference is -$1,186. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Wichita is becoming poorer, as this data is only for households migrating to and from Wichita. (The figures are the average values for the years 2005 to 2016.)

This result is not surprising, as the study notes a correlation between housing prices and a positive difference in migrant income. As Wichita has relatively low housing prices, a negative difference in migrant income is natural, according to the study data.

The study supplies data for all areas in the nation. I’ve isolated data for Kansas and present it here. Where is Lawrence? It’s part of the Kansas City-Overland Park-Kansas City, MO-KS CSA.

Click for pdf version.


Notes

  1. Romem, Issi. Characteristics of Domestic Cross-Metropolitan Migrants. Available at https://www.buildzoom.com/blog/characteristics-of-domestic-cross-metropolitan-migrants.

Free standing emergency department about to open in Wichita

A project in Wichita received substantial subsidy from taxpayers. How have public policy issues been reported?

Free standing emergency rooms are a recent trend in medical care. This is a facility that has equipment, personnel, and capability like a traditional hospital emergency room, but is not connected to a hospital. The first in Wichita is nearly ready to open, on Twenty-first Street east of Webb Road.

Regarding the Wichita facility, the Wichita Business Journal quoted Malik Idbeis, chief information officer for Kansas Medical Center: “We see a lot of patients from the northeast side of Wichita. We thought it’d be nice to bring our style of care closer to them. There are a lot of neighborhoods and families in that area.” 1

Here, the spokesman is promoting that facility is located convenient to (affluent) families in northeast Wichita. That wasn’t the argument made to the Wichita City Council last year when the facility applied for tax relief through the Industrial Revenue Bonds program. At that time, the facility was pitched as an attraction that would serve many out-of-town customers. City documents reported: “The current Economic Development Policy requires medical facilities to attract at least 30% of patients from outside the Wichita MSA. Kansas Medical Center reviewed the location of patients utilizing the emergency room in Andover, which revealed that 37% come from outside the Wichita MSA.” 2

It seems a stretch to assume that the demographic characteristics of a hospital in Andover would also apply to an emergency room in Wichita, but the city council accepted this reasoning.

Aside from this, the Wichita Business Journal article contains problems in its reporting of public policy issues. The reporter wrote: “Last summer, the Wichita City Council authorized issuing industrial revenue bonds for the project to help finance land and construction costs. With IRBs, the city serves as a pass-through entity for developers to obtain a lower interest rate on projects. IRBs require no taxpayer commitment.” (For background on IRBs in Kansas, see Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas.)

It’s not likely the facility will save on interest costs with IRBs. It might save if the bonds were non-taxable, but these bonds are taxable, according to the agenda packet for this item. The article is correct in that IRBs require no taxpayer commitment — at least superficially. Here, I believe the reporter is letting readers know that the city makes no guarantee as to the bond repayment. If the city guaranteed repayment, that would help the borrower obtain a lower interest rate. But there is no guarantee.

Instead, the benefit of the IRB program is lower taxes. The city estimates the first-year property tax savings to be $61,882, allocated this way: City of Wichita: $17,226. State of Kansas: $792. Sedgwick County: $5,520. USD 259 (Wichita public school district): $28,345. Savings like this would be realized for five years, plus another five years if employment commitments are met.

This property tax forgiveness is, in many ways, a “taxpayer commitment.” If we don’t recognize that, then we must reconsider the foundation of local tax policy.

In Wichita, as in most cities, the largest consumers of property tax dollars are the city, county, and school district. All justify their tax collections by citing the services they provide: Law enforcement, fire protection, education, etc. It is for providing these services that we pay local taxes.

But through the Industrial Revenue Bond program, properties don’t pay property tax. (In the case of this facility, the property tax abatement is limited to 88 percent of the full tax burden.)

Yet, this new facility will undoubtedly demand and consume the services local government provides — law enforcement, fire protection, and education. But it won’t be paying property tax to support these services (except for the 12 percent not abated). Others will have to pay this cost.

We’re left with an uncomfortable and awkward circumstance. City officials tell us that we must pay property tax so the city can provide services. (In fact, last year the Wichita city manager recommended increasing property taxes to pay for more police officers.)

At the same time, however, the city creates special classes of people who use services but don’t pay for them.

Often the justification for economic development incentives is economic necessity, that is, the project could not be built without the incentive. That argument was not made for this project.

Free standing emergency rooms

Free standing emergency departments are controversial. The notes to this article hold references to news articles and academic studies looking at the costs and usage of these facilities. 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Researchers note that the emergency rooms are much more expensive than traditional doctor offices or urgent care facilities, yet many of the diagnoses made at the ERs are the same as made at non-emergency facilities.


Notes

  1. Heck, Josh. Medical group sets opening date for free-standing ER. Wichita Business Journal. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/04/06/medical-group-sets-opening-date-for-free-standing.html.
  2. City of Wichita. Request for Letter of Intent for Industrial Revenue Bonds (E Wichita Properties, LLC/Kansas Medical Center, LLC). City Council agenda packet for June 6, 2017.
  3. NBC News. You Thought It Was An Urgent Care Center, Until You Got the Bill. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-care/you-thought-it-was-urgent-care-center-until-you-got-n750906.
  4. Carolyn Y. Johnson. Free-standing ERs offer care without the wait. But patients can still pay $6,800 to treat a cut. Washington Post, May 7, 2017. Available at http://wapo.st/2pUCskD?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.21bb76a447aa.
  5. Rice, Sabriya.Texans overpaid for some medical services by thousands, study says. Dallas Morning News. Available at https://www.dallasnews.com/business/health-care/2017/03/23/texans-overpaid-medical-services-thousands-study-said.
  6. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. Rice U. Study: Freestanding Emergency Departments In Texas Deliver Costly Care, ‘Sticker Shock’. Available at https://www.bcbstx.com/company-info/news/news?lid=j0s5sm9d.
  7. Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc. Dissecting the Cost of a Freestanding Emergency Department Visit. Available at https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/ucaoa.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/Alan_Ayers_Blog/UCAOA_Ayers_Blog_FSED_Pricin.pdf.
  8. Michael L. Callaham. Editor in Chief Overview: A Controversy About Freestanding Emergency Departments. Annals of Emergency Medicine, Volume 70, Issue 6, 2017, pp. 843-845. Available at http://www.annemergmed.com/article/S0196-0644(17)31505-6/fulltext.
  9. Ho, Vivian et al. Comparing Utilization and Costs of Care in Freestanding Emergency Departments, Hospital Emergency Departments, and Urgent Care Centers. Annals of Emergency Medicine, Volume 70 , Issue 6 , 846 – 857.e3. Available at http://www.annemergmed.com/article/S0196-0644(16)31522-0/fulltext.
  10. Jeremiah D. Schuur, Donald M. Yealy, Michael L. Callaham. Comparing Freestanding Emergency Departments, Hospital-Based Emergency Departments, and Urgent Care in Texas: Apples, Oranges, or Lemons? Annals of Emergency Medicine, Volume 70, Issue 6, 2017, pp. 858-861. Available at http://www.annemergmed.com/article/S0196-0644(17)30473-0/fulltext.

Wichita baseball consulting contract extension may have no discussion

The City of Wichita proposes to extend a baseball consulting contract without public explanation or discussion.

Wichita city leaders want a better baseball team, not to mention a new stadium. To help find a minor league baseball team, the city engaged a consultant last October. 1 That contract called for a spending limit of $50,000. 2

You may have noticed that there has not been an announcement of a team. It also appears that the $50,000 spending cap of the October contract has been reached (or nearly so). So next Tuesday the city council will consider spending (up to) another $50,000 with the same consultant. 3

Why the need for a contract extension? City documents explain: “Over the course of the past six months, Beacon has made successful inroads into the affiliated baseball community presenting the opportunities for MiLB and its teams. Due to the success in attracting the interest of affiliated baseball, staff believes it is imperative to further pursue affiliated baseball discussions with the assistance and expertise of Beacon Sports Capital Partners, LLC.”

I’m afraid I just don’t understand. The consultant’s effort has been successful, says the city, but yet there is no team. It’s really puzzling because last August Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell was confident there would be an announcement before the end of 2017:

“By the end of this calendar year, we feel confident that we will be able to announce a team, who the team is, all of the above,” Longwell told The Eagle Tuesday afternoon. “We hope that we can complete all of those conversations by the end of this year and be able to announce a contract in place.” 4

That confidence was expressed before the engagement of the consultant in October.

Consent agenda, again

The city council will deal with this matter on its consent agenda. A consent agenda is a group of items — perhaps as many as two dozen or so — that are voted on in bulk with a single vote. An item on a consent agenda will be explained and discussed only if a council member requests the item to be “pulled.” If that is done, there will be discussion. Then the item might be withdrawn, delayed, voted on by itself, or folded back into the consent agenda with the other items.

“Pulling” an item is uncommon, as items on consent agendas are not controversial, at least according to the city’s reasoning. I suppose that applies to this item, as the first contract with this consultant was also handled on the consent agenda. And on March 27 the council authorized the spending of over $7 million on a consent agenda item. 5


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. A consultant to help Wichita’s confidence factor. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/consultant-help-wichita-confidence-factor/.
  2. “MiLB Baseball Consultant Contract.” Wichita City Council Agenda packet for October 24, 2017. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/10-24-2017%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  3. “MiLB Baseball Consultant Contract Amendment.” Wichita City Council Agenda packet for April 10, 2018. Agenda Report No. II-15. Available at <a href=”http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/04-10-2018%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  4. Salazar, Daniel. Expect affiliated baseball team announcement by end of 2017, Wichita mayor says. Wichita Eagle, August 29, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article170095417.html.
  5. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, spending semi-secret. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-spending-semi-secret/.

Project Wichita right to look ahead at city’s future

We can understand self-serving politicians and bureaucrats. It’s what they do. But a city’s newspaper editorial board ought to be concerned with the truth.

In February the Wichita Eagle editorialized about Project Wichita, a ramping-up effort to do something about the future of Wichita. 1 It’s worthwhile to take a look at the op-ed, if only to learn something about the quality of Wichita Eagle editorial writing.

I understand civic boosterism; the desire to paint a positive image of the future. But this rosy outlook has to be based, at least loosely, on facts. Following, a look at a few claims made in the editorial.

“Our downtown is becoming more of a destination and place to live.”
The problem is this: Wichita economic development officials use a circuitous method of estimating the population of downtown Wichita, producing a number much higher than Census Bureau estimates. Downtown Wichita, the city’s economic development agency responsible for downtown, says the population of downtown is 2,138, which is far — really far — outside the range the Census Bureau gives. For more about this, see Living in downtown Wichita.

As far as a destination for business, the U.S. Census Bureau tracks business trends by zip code. For zip code 67202, which is downtown Wichita, results since 2007 show fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In all cases, the trend is lower. For more about this, see Downtown Wichita business trends.

Further, Wichita leaders have exaggerated the number of people working in downtown. For years our leaders told us there were 26,000 daytime workers in downtown Wichita. But this claim is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. In fact, this figure is now omitted from the state of downtown reports. No one will accept responsibility for this mistake. See Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of and Downtown Wichita report omits formerly prominent data.

“But Wichita feels pretty good about itself, which suggests the community is at the perfect time to think about its future.”
I have to say, we’ve been hoodwinked, and by our top leaders. Recently both the mayor of Wichita and chair of the county commission penned upbeat editorials praising our economy. See Mayor Longwell’s pep talk and Sedgwick County’s David Dennis on economic development.

But the reality is quite different. See:

Given this, why do the mayor, county commission chair, and our newspaper’s editorial board say what they do? The first two are politicians, but we ought to ask that our newspaper seek the truth, not personal political gain.

“It will get more serious in March, when students and volunteers from Wichita State University’s Public Policy and Management Center …”
This is the same organization on which the city relies for many services, including the gathering of public input in past campaigns like the 2014 sales tax election. The city seemed sure that tax would pass, but voters rejected it by a wide margin. 2

“Public Policy director Misty Bruckner and her group will deliver feedback and conclusions to Project Wichita’s four co-chairs.”
A few years ago Bruckner co-authored a paper titled “Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities.” 3 My reporting on it was titled Wichita needs more, and willing, taxpayers. An excerpt: “Increasingly, citizens are retreating from their responsibilities to community and demanding more from government than they are willing to pay for. But changes in local government behavior can be instrumental in reversing this trend, by strengthening citizens’ commitment to the well-being of their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are more willing to accept responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens and are also more likely to join with government and other parties to improve their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are also more willing taxpayers — that is, when government demonstrates that it can be trusted to invest public resources in ways that strengthen the community. The central thrust of this model is getting citizens and governments to work together, but realistically, many communities will require new revenue — including additional tax dollars — if they are to assemble the critical mass of resources necessary for meaningful change. Accordingly, citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes are an important component of building sustainable communities.” (emphasis added)

Please don’t fault me for being cynical when I suspect that this entire operation is designed to prepare Wichitans (or the region) for a tax increase.

“Community input will be as wide as the city limits.”
Wait a moment. I thought we were supposed to think regionally.

“Project Wichita seems similar to Visioneering Wichita …”
I wonder if anyone remembers anything positive that resulted from Visioneering Wichita. After a few years, the organization’s website went stale, and staff discontinued making presentation to the city council and county commission See Visioneering asks for money. Let’s ask these questions.

“Unlike Visioneering, Project Wichita isn’t headed by city or county government.”
Visioneering Wichita was led by the Chamber of Commerce, not government. Local governments made financial contributions to Visioneering, just as they are also contributing to Project Wichita. 4


Notes

  1. Wichita Eagle Editorial Board. Project Wichita right to look ahead at city’s future. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article198178899.html.
  2. Ryan, Kelsey. Voters soundly defeat Wichita sales tax proposal. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article3567045.html.
  3. See http://www.gfoa.org/sites/default/files/GFR_OCT_10_24.pdf.
  4. Wichita Business Journal. Sedgwick County Commission approves Visioneering Wichita funding. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/blog/2012/12/sedgwick-county-commission-approves.html.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Larry Reed, Foundation for Economic Education

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Lawrence W. Reed, President of Foundation for Economic Education, joins Bob and Karl to discuss the connection between liberty and character, our economic future, and I, Pencil. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 191, broadcast April 7, 2018.

Shownotes

Wichita employment down, year-over-year

At a time Wichita leaders promote forward momentum in the Wichita economy, year-over-year employment has fallen.

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment statistics through February 2018. 1

One of the tables released is “Over-the-year change in total nonfarm employment for metropolitan areas, not seasonally adjusted,” which shows changes in jobs from February 2017 to February 2018. 2 For this time period for the Wichita metropolitan area, the number of nonfarm jobs fell from 294.7 thousand to 292.3 thousand, a decline of 2,400 jobs or 0.8 percent.

In February, 313 metropolitan areas had over-the-year increases in nonfarm payroll employment, 69 had decreases, and 6 had no change.

Over the same period, the unemployment rate in the Wichita MSA fell from 4.6 percent to 4.1 percent. The labor force fell from 309,336 to 304,886.


Notes

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment Summary. Available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/metro.nr0.htm.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over-the-year change in total nonfarm employment for metropolitan areas, not seasonally adjusted. Available at https://www.bls.gov/web/metro/metro_oty_change.htm.

Wichita property tax rate: Down

The City of Wichita property tax mill levy declined for the second year in a row.

Wichita mill levy rates. This table holds only the taxes levied by the City of Wichita and not any overlapping jurisdictions.
In 1994 the City of Wichita mill levy rate — the rate at which property is taxed — was 31.290. In 2017 it was 32.667, based on the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and the Sedgwick County Clerk. That’s an increase of 1.377 mills, or 4.40 percent, since 1994. (These are for taxes levied by the City of Wichita only, and do not include any overlapping jurisdictions.)

In 2016 the mill levy was 32.685, so the mill levy dropped by .018 for 2017. That’s a drop of 0.06 percent, and while small, it’s a refreshing change. It’s also the second year in a row for a decrease in the mill levy.

Wichita mill levy rates. Click for larger version.
The Wichita City Council does not take explicit action to set the mill levy 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. As can be seen in the chart of changes in the mill levy, the city usually decides to spend more than the previous year’s mill levy generates in taxes. Therefore, tax rates usually rise.

Change in Wichita mill levy rates, year-to-year and cumulative. Click for larger version.
It’s more common for the mill levy to rise rather than to fall. In those years, the council does not take responsibility to the rise. It will be interesting to see if council members take credit for the falling mill levy this year.

An increase of 4.40 percent over two decades may not seem like much of an increase. But this is an increase in a rate of taxation, not tax revenue. As property values rise, property tax bills rise, even if the mill levy rate is unchanged.

The total amount of property tax levied is the mill levy rate multiplied by the assessed value of taxable property. This amount has risen, due to these factors:

  • Appreciation in the value of property
  • An increase in the amount of property
  • Spending decisions made by the Wichita City Council

Application of tax revenue has shifted

Wichita mill levy, percent dedicated to debt service. Click for larger version.
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 2017 it was 8.511. That’s a reduction of 1.511 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 2017 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.

In Wichita, spending semi-secret

The Wichita City Council authorized the spending of a lot of money without discussion.

At its March 27, 2018 meeting, the Wichita City Council passed a resolution authorizing the spending of funds for the River Vista development on the west bank of the Arkansas River in downtown.

The agenda packet for the meeting gave the details: “The overall project budget is $7,862,999 with STAR Bonds financing $4,750,000 of the costs and the City financing $1,050,000. The balance of the project costs will be assessed against the Improvement District.”

(STAR bonds are a mechanism whereby future sales tax revenue is routed to the project developer, rather than paying for the cost of state and Sedgwick County government. The “Improvement District” is the development itself, and the “City” is, of course, the taxpayers of Wichita.)

All this was approved by the city council at its meeting on July 21, 2015, under the item “Amendment to Amended and Restated Development Agreement – River Vista, L.L.C. (West Bank Apartments) and issuance of Sales Tax Special Obligation Revenue (STAR) Bonds (District VI).” It appeared on the March 27, 2018 agenda so that a resolution formalizing the arrangement could be passed.

Was the council’s action of public business and interest? The city council didn’t think so. The item was passed as part of the meeting’s consent agenda. This is a bundle of agenda items that are voted on in bulk, with one single vote, unless a council member requests an item be “pulled” for discussion and possibly a separate vote. If no council member asks to pull an item, there is no discussion.

No one asked to “pull” this agenda item for a discussion and vote.

Generally, items on consent agendas are not controversial, at least according to the city’s reasoning. I suppose that applies to this item, as the spending was approved in the past.

It might have been useful, however, to remind Wichitans of the taxpayer-supplied subsidy going to this project. Just so we’re reminded now and then of where our money is going.

But: The principals of the apartment project are frequent seekers of taxpayer subsidy, and likely plan to ask for more — much more — in the future. Some are also big funders of campaigns, in particular that of Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell. We call this cronyism.

So the consent agenda provides a handy place to pass laws without discussing them, hoping that no one will notice. Semi-secret.

As it turns out, the Wichita Business Journal noticed this item and wrote the article West bank Arkansas River upgrades on City Council agenda. The article starts with “Wichita’s City Council on Tuesday is scheduled to discuss …” But because of the consent agenda and no council member believing the spending deserved attention, that discussion never happened.

Kansas highways set to crumble, foresees former budget director

Duane Goossen, former high Kansas government official, says the state’s highways are in trouble. What is his evidence?

In a recent op-ed, Duane Goossen laments the lack of spending on Kansas roads and highways. 1 His focus is his claimed lack spending on maintenance, which, he says, will lead to much larger repair bills in the future.

“But now the Kansas road system is truly threatened.” He raises the common “Bank of KDOT” criticism, writing “The highway fund became a convenient source of cash.”

KDOT transfers from sales tax . Click for larger.
It’s true, as Goossen writes, that a lot of money has been transferred from the highway fund to the general fund. At the same time, the amount of sales tax dollars transferred from the general fund to the transportation fund has risen, and by a factor of five over one decade.

But it isn’t true that Kansas highways are crumbling from lack of spending on maintenance.

Kansas Highway Conditions, through 2017. Click for larger.
Here’s a chart of the conditions of Kansas roads and highways. 2 It shows that, for interstate highways, the percent of the system in good condition has been pretty level since 2001. For non-interstate highways, the percent in good condition fell starting in 2004, but has rebounded.

Based on these charts, there’s no factual basis to claim that Kansas roads and highways are deteriorating.

KDOT spending, major road programs. Click for larger.
KDOT spending, total road programs. Click for larger.
KDOT transfers. Click for larger.
KDOT funding sources, partial. Click for larger.
But Goossen looks to the future, claiming that a lack of spending now will lead to big bills later. Now, it’s important to know that while money has been transferred from the highway fund, that alone doesn’t tell us about the level of spending on maintenance. Looking at actual spending instead of transfers to and from, we find that for fiscal year 2017, spending on three categories (Maintenance, Preservation, and Modernization) was nearly unchanged from the year before, while spending on the category Expansion and Enhancement fell by 31 percent.

For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2017 totaled $738.798 million. That’s down 14 percent from $857.133 million the year before, and up from a low of $698.770 million in fiscal 2010. 3

And adjusted for inflation, spending on maintenance programs has declined somewhat, including in the years when Goossen held high office. These declines, however, are far short of setting up Goossen’s prediction of calamity.

Then, there’s this, which is really incredible. Goossen criticizes some of the bonds issued by KDOT in recent years, and he is on the mark: “And a portion of that debt has ‘interest only’ payments in the first years, with the principal payments still to come.”

However: The state also issued “interest only” bonds in 2004 and 2010. 4 Who was budget director during these years, as well as Secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration? Duane Goossen. 5 But now Goossen criticizes as irresponsible the same action the state took when he was in high office.

Given the insufficient factual basis for Goossen’s claims — not to mention the blatant hypocrisy — we have to wonder if this article is politically motivated. Perhaps it is, as we see Goossen making the maximum allowed contribution to Kansas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Laura Kelly.

Either that, or Goossen is auditioning for another government job.


Notes

  1. Goossen, Duane. Trouble coming for Kansas highways. Garden City Telegram, March 30, 2018. Available at http://www.gctelegram.com/opinion/20180330/trouble-coming-for-kansas-highways.
  2. Kansas Department of Transportation. 2017 Kansas NOS Condition Survey Report. Available at https://www.ksdot.org/Assets/wwwksdotorg/bureaus/matResLab/pmis/2017/CSR2017_SW.pdf.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Kansas highway spending. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-highway-spending-2017/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-transportation-bonds-economics-worse-than-told/.
  5. Goossen, Duane. Kansas Budget blog. Available at http://www.kansasbudget.com/.

Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas

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