Pupil-teacher ratios in the states

Kansas ranks near the top of the states in having a low pupil-teacher ratio.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states for 2015. Click for larger.
Data from National Center for Education Statistics, ELSI Elementary and Secondary Information System, shows that Kansas is near the top of the states in pupil-teacher ratio, meaning that Kansas has many teachers compared to the number of students. NCES is a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

A common complaint in Kansas is that class sizes have been rising. While pupil-teacher ratio is not the same measure as class size, the question is this: If Kansas has a low pupil-teacher ratio, but class sizes are (purportedly) large and rising, what are these teachers doing?

In the chart of pupil-teacher ratios over time, we see that while the ratio in Kansas rose for the 2015 school year, the trend over time is down, meaning that the number of teachers has increased faster than enrollment. The ratio for 2015 is the same as for 2008, and lower than the years before then.

Also, note the position of Kansas compared to other states. The pupil-teacher ratio in Kansas is lower than in most states.

This data is available in an interactive visualization. You may select different views of the data, and filter for specific states and time frames. Click here to access the visualization.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states, with Kansas highlighted. Click for larger.

Kansas legislative resources

Those who want to be informed of the happenings of the Kansas Legislature have these resources available.

Legislative documents
The Legislature’s site at kslegislature.org has rosters of members, lists of committees, lists of bills, journals (the daily record of proceedings in each chamber), calendars (the plan for the day, along with topics for upcoming committee meetings).

A useful feature is the “Current Happenings” link for both the House and Senate. This has a link to the bills that have seen movement in some way each day. The page for each bill is generally useful, too, with the steps in the bill’s history, along with links to the bill text, fiscal and supplemental notes, and other material. Fiscal notes — prepared by the Division of Budget — estimate the financial impact of a bill, while the supplemental notes — prepared by Kansas Legislative Research Department — contain background and explanatory information. When attempting to understand legislation, the fiscal and supplemental notes are very useful.

New this year is the menu item “Committee Bill Hearings” on the “Committees” tab.

Of note, the Legislature’s site has for several years held an icon promising an RSS feed. But nothing is behind the link. Also, there is still an icon representing a link, but it does nothing.

Audio and video
Both the House and Senate broadcast audio of their proceedings. But you must listen live, as the broadcasts are not made available to the public in any other way. It would be exceedingly simple to make these past broadcasts available to the public, as explained here. But the legislature does not retain audio recordings of sessions.

As of this writing, the Kansas Legislature does not make available video of its proceedings.

Documents
Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) has many documents that are useful in understanding state government and the legislature. This agency’s home page is www.kslegresearch.org. Of particular interest:

Kansas Legislative Briefing Book. This book’s audience is legislators, but anyone can benefit. The book has a chapter for major areas of state policy and legislation, giving history, background, and explanations of law. In some years the entire collection of material has been made available as a single pdf file, but not so this year. Contact information for the legislative analysts is made available in each chapter. The most recent version can be found on the Reports and Publications page. The version for 2017 is available here.

Of note, versions of the briefing book from years past are useful. KLRD doesn’t provide links to these old documents, but they are available. The search feature of the page (top right corner) will find these documents. It forms a Google site-specific search which looks like this: “site:www.kslegresearch.org summary of legislation.” The same works for old versions of other KLRD documents.

Kansas Fiscal Facts. This book, in 124 pages, provides “basic budgetary facts” to those without budgetary experience. It provides an overview of the budget, and then more information for each of the six branches of Kansas state government. There is a glossary and contact information for the fiscal analysts responsible for different areas of the budget. This document is updated each year. The most recent version can be found on the Publications page.

Legislative Procedure in Kansas. This book of 236 pages holds the rules and explanations of how the Kansas Legislature works. It was last revised in November 2006, but the subject that is the content of this book changes slowly over the years. The direct link is Legislative Procedure in Kansas, November 2006.

How a Bill Becomes Law. This is a one-page diagram of the legislative steps involved in passing laws. The direct link is How a Bill Becomes Law.

Summary of Legislation. This document is created each year, and is invaluable in remembering what laws were passed each year. From its introduction: “This publication includes summaries of the legislation enacted by the 2016 Legislature. Not summarized are bills of a limited, local, technical, clarifying, or repealing nature, and bills that were vetoed (sustained).” The most recent version can be found on the Publications page. For 2016, this document also summarizes the special session.

Legislative Highlights. This is a more compact version of the Summary of Legislation, providing the essentials of the legislative session. The most recent version can be found on the Publications page.

Kansas Tax Facts. This book provides information on state and local taxes in Kansas. The most recent version can be found on the Publications page.

Kansas Statutes. The laws of our state. The current statutes can be found at the Revisor of Statutes page.

Kansas Register. From the Kansas Secretary of State: “The Kansas Register is the official state newspaper. This publication provides a wide range of information such as proposed and adopted administrative regulations, new state laws, bond sales and redemptions, notice of open meetings, state contracts offered for bid, attorney general opinions, and many other public notices.” The Register is published each week, and may be found at Kansas Register.

Employment by MSA and industry

An interactive visualization of employment in metropolitan areas.

Employment data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, is available for all metropolitan areas and major industries. I present this data in an interactive visualization using Tableau Public. In this visualization you may access several different presentations of the data. You may filter for specific areas, industries, and time periods. The data is available in a table of employment numbers, or in series presented as the percentage change since the first value. This illustrates relative growth, rather than magnitude, of employment. This is annual data from BEA table CA25N1 through 2015, the last year available at this time.

In the nearby example from the visualization we can see that Wichita has performed poorly compared to some peers of interest.

You may use the visualization yourself by clicking here.

Of note, the definitions of MSAs change from time to time.2

Employment by MSA and Industry example. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Regional Economic Accounts. https://www.bea.gov/regional/.
  2. Broomfield County, CO, was created from parts of Adams, Boulder, Jefferson, and Weld counties effective November 15, 2001. Estimates for Broomfield county begin with 2002.
    Estimates from 2008 forward separate Skagway-Hoonah-Angoon Census Area into Skagway Municipality and Hoonah-Angoon Census Area. Estimates from 2009 forward separate Wrangell-Petersburg Census Area into Petersburg Census Area and Wrangell City and Borough. In addition, a part of the Prince of Wales-Outer Ketchikan Census Area was annexed by Ketchikan Gateway Borough and part (Meyers Chuck Area) was included in the new Wrangell City and Borough. The remainder of the Prince of Wales-Outer Ketchikan Census Area was renamed Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area. Petersburg Borough was created from part of former Petersburg Census Area and part of Hoonah-Angoon Census Area for 2013 forward. Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area added part of the former Petersburg Census Area beginning in 2013. For years 2009-2012, Petersburg Borough reflects the geographic boundaries of the former Petersburg Census Area. Wade Hampton Census Area was renamed Kusilvak Census Area on July 1, 2015.
    Virginia combination areas consist of one or two independent cities with 1980 populations of less than 100,000 combined with an adjacent county. The county name appears first, followed by the city name(s). Separate estimates for the jurisdictions making up the combination area are not available. Bedford County, VA includes the independent city of Bedford for all years.
    Shannon County, SD was renamed to Oglala Lakota County, SD on May 1, 2015.
    Nonmetropolitan portion includes micropolitan counties.

Spending on roads in Kansas

A look at actual spending on Kansas highways, apart from transfers.

Spending on major road programs in Kansas. Click for larger.
When we look at actual spending on Kansas roads and highways, we see something different from what is commonly portrayed. Kansas Department of Transportation publishes a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report that details spending in four categories. These figures represent actual spending on roads and highways, independent of transfers to or from the highway fund.

  • Spending on “Preservation” has been rising, but fell last year.
  • Spending on “Expansion and Enhancement” has been rising.
  • Spending on “Maintenance” has been level, with a small decline.
  • Spending on “Modernization” has declined, then rose.

Total spending on major road programs in Kansas. Click for larger.
For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2016 totaled $857.133 million. That’s down from $932.666 million the year before, and up from a low of $698.770 million in fiscal 2010.

Again, these are dollars actually spent on highway programs. A common characterization of the way Kansas government is funded is called “robbing the bank of KDOT.” To the extent that characterization is accurate, there is a separate line item titled “Distributions to other state funds” that holds these values. It appears in the nearby table.

Sales tax revenue to the highway fund

Transfers from sales tax to Kansas highway fund. Click for larger.
Kansas law specifies how much sales tax revenue is transferred to the highway fund. Here are recent rates of transfer and dates they became effective:1

July 1, 2010: 11.427%
July 1, 2011: 11.26%
July 1, 2012: 11.233%
July 1, 2013: 17.073%
July 1, 2015: 16.226%
July 1, 2016 and thereafter: 16.154%

A nearby chart shows the dollar amounts transferred to the highway fund from sales tax revenue. In 2006 the transfer was $98.914 million, and by 2016 it had grown to $517.698 million.

Kansas Department of Transportation Spending. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Kansas Statutes Annotated 79-3620.

Obama’s stimulus, in retrospect

A positive effect of the 2009 Obama stimulus appeared only long after its forecasted date.

Many people remember that President Barack Obama warned that the unemployment rate would rise to a high level without a stimulus program. In January 2009 two Obama administration officials, including Christina Romer (who would become chair of the Council of Economic Advisers) wrote a paper estimating what the national unemployment rate would be with, and without, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, commonly known as the stimulus.1 That plan passed.

Stimulus projections from the Obama Administration. Click for larger.
That paper included a table projecting what employment levels the country would experience with, and without the stimulus. For the fourth quarter of 2010, the authors estimated payroll employment would be 133,876,000 without the stimulus, and 137,550,000 with the stimulus. That’s a gain of 3,673,000 jobs due to the stimulus, estimated the authors.

What was the actual experience in jobs? First, for a look at the projections regarding the unemployment rate, see Holding politicians to their boasts and promises. The promoters of the stimulus also projected employment levels, that is, the number of jobs.

To examine the effect on jobs, I gathered data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and compared the results to projections. I used seasonally adjusted data, which is only slightly different from the non-adjusted data.2

Actual employment with lines showing forecasts of employment with and without stimulus. Click for larger.
Employment exceeded the forecasted level with the stimulus in January 2014, when seasonally adjusted employment reached 137,574,000. (Employment exceeded the forecasted level for the economy without the stimulus in May 2012, when seasonally adjusted employment reached 133,951,000.)

What was projected (or promised) for the fourth quarter of 2010 wasn’t achieved until January 2014. That’s three years late.

The lesson, I believe, is that the power of government to affect the economy in a positive way is weak and limited, especially when using the Keynesian tools of attempting to manage aggregate demand.3 It’s even more true at a state level, as the tools state governments can use are weaker than the federal government’s.


Notes

  1. Romer, Christine, and Bernstein, Jared. The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment plan. https://www.economy.com/mark-zandi/documents/The_Job_Impact_of_the_American_Recovery_and_Reinvestment_Plan.pdf.
  2. The BLS data series are:
    CES0000000001, series title All employees, thousands, total nonfarm, seasonally adjusted
    CEU0000000001, series title All employees, thousands, total nonfarm, not seasonally adjusted
  3. For criticims of Keynesian economics from free market perspectives, see
    Mitchell, Daniel J. Keynes Was Wrong on Stimulus, but the Keynesians Are Wrong on Just about Everything. https://www.cato.org/blog/keynes-was-wrong-stimulus-keynesians-are-wrong-just-about-everything.
    Gerald P. O’Driscoll Jr. Keynes vs. Hayek: The Great Debate Continues. https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/keynes-vs-hayek-great-debate-continues.
    Richard B. McKenzie. John Maynard Keynes, R.I.P. https://fee.org/articles/john-maynard-keynes-rip/.
    Hans-Hermann Hoppe. The Misesian Case against Keynes. https://mises.org/library/misesian-case-against-keynes.

WichitaLiberty.TV: A new season, with co-host Karl Peterjohn

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Co-host Karl Peterjohn joins Bob Weeks to discuss Karl’s service as county commissioner, the new session of the Kansas Legislature, and choosing a successor to Congressman Mike Pompeo. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 134, broadcast January 15, 2017.

Again, KPERS shows why public pension reform is essential

Proposals in the Kansas budget for fiscal year 2018 are more evidence of why defined-benefit pension plans are incompatible with the public sector.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has proposed delays in funding KPERS, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The delays are in both directions. The state intends to break a past promise to pay, and also to skip some future payments.

A memo from KPERS summarizes recent history and the proposed changes: “Last fiscal year, the State delayed its fourth quarter payment for School employer contributions with a promise to pay it in Fiscal Year 2018 with interest. The Governor is recommending the State not pay this contribution and skip one quarterly payment each year through FY19. In addition, the Governor recommends extending the time to pay down KPERS’ existing unfunded actuarial liability by 10 years.”1

Many will criticize the proposed reduction in funding KPERS as stealing from KPERS. That really isn’t true. KPERS has plenty of money to pay current retirees their promised benefits. The above memo also says that those near retirement won’t be affected.

But what about younger employees who may not retire for 20 or 30 years? Will they receive their promised benefits?

The answer is yes, almost certainly. Their retirement benefits are in the form of a contract, and it is very unlikely that the state will break those contracts.

So: Is KPERS being robbed? Stolen from?

No. It’s future Kansas taxpayers who will be mugged. They will have to pay the unfunded liabilities accumulated by not only the current governor and legislature, but by past governors and legislatures too. I explain in more detail in my recent article No one is stealing* from KPERS. (The asterisk notes that there is stealing in a way, but from future taxpayers.)

Further: It is entirely foreseeable that this is happening. In 2015 the state issued $1 billion in bonds to address a portion of the KPERS unfunded liability. This made the unfunded liability ratio look better, and the governor and Republicans continually boast of this. But debt has simply been shifted from one balance sheet to another. The same taxpayers that will eventually pay.

This is one of the reasons why government should not offer defined-benefit pension plans. Because of the long time horizons involved, it’s easy to delay and postpone dealing with problems. Or, legislators are prone to make risky investment decisions as Kansas did in 2015 by $1 billion in bonds and transferring the proceeds to KPERS. This was — is — a risky maneuver, and it has led to undesirable behavior that was entirely predictable.

The plan was that the state would borrow $1 billion, and invest it. If the state earned more in investment returns than the interest cost on the bonds, the state wins. Barry Poulson, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor at the University of Colorado — Boulder has written on the danger of borrowing to shore up state pension funds, as Kansas has done. He explained there is the “lack of nexus between the investment of the bond proceeds and payments for unfunded liabilities in the plan.” This means that the borrowed funds may be used for current spending rather than for correcting the KPERS unfunded liability.2

Paulson explains: “If legislators see that additional funds are available to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan they may choose to allocate less general fund money to meet these pension obligations.” What Poulson warned of happened in Kansas in 2016. Now, the governor proposes even more: Pushing off KPERS contributions to the future so that more money is available for spending on other stuff now.

In a way, it’s surprising that groups who advocate for public employees are upset with this. (See, for example, here from KNEA.) Instead, they should be grateful. KPERS benefits are unlikely to be cut for any retirees. But underfunding KPERS today means there is more money available for public employees and the agencies that employ them. In reality, these groups simply want higher taxes now.


Notes

  1. Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Governor’s Budget Proposal & KPERS Shortfall. https://www.kpers.org/pdf/govbudgetproposalmember_statement.pdf.
  2. Weeks, Bob. This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/we-must-eliminate-defined-benefit-public-pensions/.

Understanding job growth and the Kansas tax reforms

Commissioned by Kansas Policy Institute and written by researchers from Arizona State University, a new report looks at the Kansas economy after the tax reforms passed in 2012.

The full report is available to read at A thousand flowers blooming: Understanding job growth and the Kansas tax reforms. Following, material from its executive summary:

Much of the discussion over economic growth following the 2012 Kansas tax reforms were enacted is misguided, hobbled by a misunderstanding of what the tax cuts were trying to accomplish and reliance on incomplete data. Additionally, it fails to take into account the fact that most job growth in Kansas has been — and will continue to be — from pass-through businesses (i.e., sole proprietorships, S-corporations, limited liability corporations, and joint partnerships). In fact, the 36,135 jobs created by pass-through entities in Kansas represent 82 percent of all private sector jobs created in 2013 and 2014, the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, and the growth is more than three times as great after tax reform than before.

Using this Census data and other appropriate private sector data our analysis indicates that the impact of the tax reforms has been positive. Kansas comes out on top or at least shows strong growth in almost every relevant state comparison of the most comprehensive private sector job growth metrics. Kansas also matches up with other states well even when the less-comprehensive data often used to make comparisons is adjusted for the size of the state.

It is also important to consider the source of job creation data, the structure of a state’s economic make-up, and a state’s population when comparing job numbers. In short, just as it would not be appropriate to compare student achievement for the Kansas City and Blue Valley school districts for obvious demographic differences, it is not appropriate to compare certain states just because of geographic proximity. The monthly employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) use a different methodology to count employment than does a more comprehensive, but less frequent, analysis from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). For instance, the BLS data estimates that in 2015, Kansas had an employed private-sector workforce of nearly 1.4 million, while the BEA data puts it at 1.9 million. So while the BLS data warrants monthly media coverage this paper puts more emphasis on the BEA analysis as it better captures those employed by proprietorships and in farm employment.

This study also uses new data from the Kansas Department of Revenue (KDOR) to clearly demonstrate that tax evasion or strategic corporate tax planning has not been widespread. KDOR records also make clear that the total value of the Kansas tax reforms from 2012 was primarily driven by lowering the income tax burden on individual wage earners. This is yet another overlooked aspect of the tax cut, as 71 percent of the overall tax relief went to individual taxpayers and 29 percent went to pass-through businesses through the income tax exemption. A final data point from KDOR also makes clear who is benefitting from the pass-through exemption. Median family income in Kansas is around $52,000 and 88 percent of the filers in 2014 with business income had Kansas adjusted gross income that year of less than $50,000.

While there is still more analysis to be done and more data to be released over the coming years, we believe the preliminary signs indicate that the Kansas tax reforms have had and, more importantly, will continue to have a positive impact on state job growth.

Image credit: Flazingo.com.

In Wichita: ‘The Future of News in Our Digital Age’

Soon in Wichita: A panel discussion with audience interaction on the topic “The Future of News in Our Digital Age.”

New Symposium is a group of Wichitans who hold regular meetings of public interest. New Symposium describes its goal is to “engage in the kind of thoughtful and respectful dialogue that is so seldom experienced in our modern world of political propaganda and social media sound-bites … but which still characterizes men and women of good will when they take the time to step back and logically think things through together.” It also uses the motto “New Symposium: Rescuing Discourse from the Political Parties.”

New Symposium’s next event is on January 31, and I will be a symposiast. This event is a public forum on the topic “The Future of News in Our Digital Age.” It is a panel discussion with audience interaction.

This event will be held on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm. The location is Social Networking Technologies, Inc., located in the High Touch Building at 110 S. Main in downtown Wichita, Kansas. (Link to Google map.)

There is no cost to attend this event.

Panelists are

  • W. Davis (Buzz) Merritt, Former Senior Vice President and Senior Editor of The Wichita Eagle; Adjunct professor of journalism at University of Kansas
  • Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute and Board Member of The Sentinel, a new online news service
  • Mike Marlett, Former owner of local, weekly newspaper F-5; current manager of website content at Wichita State University
  • Mark McCormick, Former professional journalist and current Executive Director of The Kansas African American Museum
  • Bob Weeks, Publisher of the Voice for Liberty at wichitaliberty.org

For updates and dialogue on the symposium, see
newsymposium.blogspot.com. Much more information may be found there. In particular, questions for consideration at this event include:

  • What are the motives and incentives that shape the “news” produced by the different forms of media (some more centralized, traditional, or corporate than others)? What should they be?
  • Given the internet’s enormous potential for misinformation, how can one find “just the facts”? When everyman’s a journalist, what happens to accountability for telling the truth?
  • Has the centralized, legacy media been caught up in the hyper-polarization of American politics? If so, is there a remedy? Can we have tough, independent investigative journalism that does not start with presupposition and prejudice?
  • What is the future of explanatory journalism that emphasizes nuance and context in a digital age in which speed and headlines are prized? How could Twitter and Snapchat ever properly inform?
  • Are digital media/communications making us all attention-deficit? Are we too easily “informed”?

Benefits of tax cuts without raising debt

Benefits of Tax Cuts Without Raising Debt
President-elect Donald Trump should learn from Kansas’s mistake on income-tax reduction — don’t reduce revenue and increase spending.

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute

President-elect Donald Trump should learn from Kansas’s mistake on income-tax reduction: Don’t reduce revenue and increase spending. That’s the real problem with the Kansas budget (“Brownback Sees Kansas Tax Plan as Model for Nation,” U.S. News, Dec 24). There was never an expectation that spending wouldn’t have to be adjusted to accommodate revenue reductions, but Democrats and many Republicans refused to make government more efficient so spending and taxes were increased in 2013 and again in 2015. Kansas spent 27% more per resident in 2015 than the states without an income tax.

The income-tax exemption on pass-through income for proprietorships, partnerships, Sub-S corporations and LLCs is paying real dividends. U.S. Census data show that pass-through businesses actually created the majority of new jobs in 2013 and 2014 (the most recent data for employment by legal organization). And while Kansas continues its decades-long tradition of trailing the national average on job growth, Kansas is performing closer to the average since taxes were reduced.

Census data also show employment for pass-through entities is almost at parity with C corporations in the U.S., and cutting the corporate income tax affects only about half of the business employment base. Pass-through business profits are taxable to the individual owners, so individual rates must also be reduced to really help the economy.

Dave Trabert
President
Kansas Policy Institute
Overland Park, Kan.

(Originally published in the Wall Street Journal at http://www.wsj.com/articles/benefits-of-tax-cuts-without-raising-debt-1484002119.)

Holding politicians to their boasts and promises

There are useful lessons we can learn from the criticism of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, including how easy it is to ignore inconvenient lessons of history.

Tax cuts in Kansas were promised by Governor Brownback to be a “shot in the arm” for the Kansas economy. Opponents of the governor and tax cuts take great delight in reporting the generally anemic growth of the Kansas economy since then. Month after month, the tax cuts are condemned by Kansas newspaper editorial writers and the governor’s detractors.

I don’t think it’s a particularly strong form of argument to defend someone by showing how someone else is equally as bad — or worse. Similarly, criticizing someone for their fixation on A while they ignore the equally bad B: We need to know why they ignore B. Have they forgotten B? Do they not have time to write about B? Or do they ignore B because the fact of B is inconvenient to their ideology or their criticism of A? But I see that not everyone shares these ideals, and even so, perhaps we can learn something.

Many people remember that President Barack Obama warned that the unemployment rate would rise to a high level without a stimulus program. I can’t find that he mentioned a specific number that the unemployment rate would rise above. But in January 2009 two Obama administration officials, including Christina Romer (who would become chair of the Council of Economic Advisers) wrote a paper estimating what the national unemployment rate would be with, and without, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, commonly known as the stimulus.1 That plan passed.

The Romer paper included a graph of projected unemployment rates. The nearby chart from e21 took the Romer chart and added
actual unemployment rates. (The accompanying article is Revisiting unemployment projections. That chart and article were created in 2011. I’ve updated the chart to show the actual unemployment rate since then, as black dots. The data shows that the actual unemployment rate was above the Obama administration projections — with or without the stimulus plan — for the entire period of projections.

The purpose of this is not to defend Brownback by showing how Obama is even worse. (Disclosure: Although I am a Republican, I didn’t vote for Brownback for governor.) Instead, we ought to take away two lessons: First, let’s learn to place an appropriately low value on the promises and boasts made by politicians.

Then, let’s recognize the weak power government has to manage the economy for positive effect. Indeed, the lesson of the Obama stimulus is that it made the unemployment rate worse than if there had been no stimulus — at least according to the administration projections.

And, there is one more lesson to learn about our state’s newspaper reporters and editorial writers, but I think you’ve discovered that already.

Unemployment with and without stimulus through 2014-01


Notes

  1. Romer, Christine, and Bernstein, Jared. The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment plan. https://www.economy.com/mark-zandi/documents/The_Job_Impact_of_the_American_Recovery_and_Reinvestment_Plan.pdf.

A Wichita school official talks about KPERS

A board member of the largest school district in Kansas repeated an untruth that has unfortunate consequences for Kansas schoolchildren.

At a recent meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club Wichita school board member Sheril Logan participated in a panel discussion on local government legislative agenda. (The entire program may be accessed here.)

She told the audience, “Truly, data can be maneuvered to make it look like what you want. We all know that. So can funding streams.”

She went on to explain that what happened in the “last couple of years” was, for example, KPERS funds being counted differently.

What Mrs. Logan told the Wichita Pachyderm Club is a standard argument of Kansas public school spending advocates, which is that because of a change in the way teacher retirement funds (KPERS contributions) are handled, it looks like the state is spending more on schools, when in fact it is not. According to her, this happened in the “last couple of years.”

The story about KPERS reporting being changed in an underhanded way is told so often by the public school spending establishment that it is difficult to criticize Mrs. Logan for being wrong. Board members and others are told this so often, from sources they believe as authoritative, that they believe it. They want to believe it.

Kansas Policy Institute asked the Kansas State Department of Education about this matter. It found this: “According to Dale Dennis, KPERS funding was last sent directly to KPERS in 2004; it has since been sent directly to school districts included in reported school funding totals.”1

Here, Dale Dennis contradicts what a board member of the state’s largest school district told the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Dennis is Deputy Commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education and head of Fiscal and Administrative Services, widely cited as the leading authority on Kansas school finance..2

Wichita Public Schools, State Revenue by Source, KPERS Contributions. Click for larger.
Even though Dennis is the state’s top education finance official, we don’t have to rely solely on him to illustrate the error of believing the KPERS spending reporting has undergone recent changes. Information from the Wichita public school district3 shows the same. Here I’ve plotted the funding sent by the state of Kansas to USD 259 for KPERS contributions. As Dennis indicated, in 2005 the Wichita school district started receiving money from the state for KPERS. Prior to that year it received none.

We might note that when this change in KPERS reporting started, Kathleen Sebelius was governor. If the change in KPERS reporting is, in fact, deceitful, we ought to ask why it happened under her watch.

Does it matter?

Does it really matter that there is this confusion about KPERS reporting? Yes. It matters a lot, and for two reasons.

First, what the Kansas public school spending establishment says is incorrect. We should value the truth above all.

Second: If we believe that Kansas public schools are underfunded, there is a ready-made excuse for anything and everything. If anyone points out that Kansas schools have problems, the excuse is that there’s isn’t enough money. This lets Kansas public school officials off the hook, and needed reforms are squashed. Even reforms that will save money.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. State school board member should practice what he preaches. Available at kansaspolicy.org/state-school-board-member-practice-preaches/.
  2. Kansas State Department of Education. Fiscal & Administrative Services. http://www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services.
  3. USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds, and USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2007, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds.

From Pachyderm: Legislative Agendas for 2017

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Representatives of local governments presented issues important to them in the upcoming session of the Kansas Legislature. Presenters were:

  • Sheril Logan, board member for Wichita Public Schools. The material she presented to the audience is here.
  • James Clendenin, Wichita City Council. His presentation is here.
  • Jim Howell, Sedgwick County Commission. A link to the county’s legislative agenda is here.

This is an audio presentation recorded on January 6, 2017.

Kansas schools, right in the middle

A national report shows Kansas schools close to the middle of the states in many areas.

Education Week, a widely-read publication focusing on schools, has published the latest edition of the long-running series Quality Counts. The headline for the Kansas summary reads “Kansas Earns a C on State Report Card, Ranks 27th in Nation.”

In the overview for Kansas, the report concludes “This year, Kansas finishes 27th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with an overall score of 72.8 out of 100 points.”

In more detail, the report computes a “Chance-for-Success Index,” said to measure the “role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes across an individual’s lifetime.” In this index, Kansas ranks 19th in early foundations, 22nd in school years, and 19th in adult outcomes.

In school finance spending indicators, Kansas ranks 29th. In school finance equity, 21st.

For school achievement, the report looks at three areas. In current performance, Kansas ranks 28th in the nation. In improvement over time, Kansas posts a D-minus and ranks 50th. In equity, Kansas ranks 36th.

No one is stealing* from KPERS

No one is stealing from KPERS, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. But there are related problems.

You don’t have to look for long on Facebook before you’ll find comments like these regarding KPERS, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System:

“This is BS. Stupid Brownback robbed our pension plan; we have no real confidence that it will ever be paid back. Why don’t we have some kind of safety measure in place to prevent governors like him from stealing from us?”

“If the governor would keep his greedy hands off of the KPERS money that is there, we might not be having this problem. It was not set up as a lending bank when the Governor’s policies proved to be unworkable. Leave my money alone!!!!!”

These comments — and many similar posted all over Facebook — accuse Kansas state government, specifically the current governor, of stealing from KPERS. But that is not happening, according to Alan Conroy, KPERS Executive Director. By email, he answered this question posed by Kansas Policy Institute: “Can you please confirm that the Legislature or the Governor cannot and have not borrowed money from funds deposited with KPERS?

Conroy’s response, in part, was “Once funds are placed in the KPERS Trust Fund they cannot be withdrawn or ‘loaned-out’ to another entity or group. The only way funds come out of the Trust Fund is to pay the promised benefits to the members.”

That ought to settle the question of whether money is being “robbed” or “stolen” from KPERS.

But you’ll notice that the title of this article contains an asterisk. That’s because KPERS does have many problems. The most important is its underfunded status, which is a chronic problem. This is because the state has not made the actuarially required contributions. This is “stealing,” in a roundabout way. Who is suffering the loss? Not future KPERS retirees, as it is almost certain they will receive their promised benefits. Instead, it is future Kansas taxpayers who will have to make extra contributions to KPERS to make up for the current and past legislatures not making sufficient contributions.

This is one of the reasons why government should not offer defined-benefit pension plans. Because of the long time horizons involved, it’s easy to delay and postpone a solution to the future. Or, legislators are prone to make risky investment decisions as Kansas did in 2015. The state’s action simply replaced KPERS debt with debt the general fund is responsible for. This, of course, is the state selling $1 billion in bonds and transferring the proceeds to KPERS. It makes the KPERS unfunded ratio look better, as the governor and Republican legislative leaders continually boast. But it’s a risky maneuver, and it has led to undesirable behavior that was entirely predictable.

The plan was that the state would borrow $1 billion, and invest it. If the state earned more in investment returns than in interest cost on the bonds, the state wins. Barry Poulson, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor at the University of Colorado — Boulder has written on the danger of borrowing to shore up state pension funds, as Kansas has done. He explained there is the “lack of nexus between the investment of the bond proceeds and payments for unfunded liabilities in the plan.” This means that the borrowed funds may be used for current spending rather than for correcting the KPERS unfunded liability.1 What Poulson warned of happened in Kansas.

There’s another way that KPERS is stealing from future taxpayers. When performing projections, a key variable is the discount rate, which is to say, the rate that KPERS expects to achieve on its investments, over the long term. Small changes in the discount rate have large impacts. The nearby illustration from the KPERS annual report for 2015 shows that using a discount rate of 8.00 percent, the KPERS unfunded liability is slightly less than $9 billion. Change the discount rate to 7.00 percent, and the unfunded liability rises to almost $12 billion.

Some authorities believe that state pension funds should use a realistic discount rate, maybe four percent or so. That would cause the unfunded liability to explode. To its credit, KPERS recently adopted a discount rate of 7.75 percent, but that adjustment is not nearly enough.

Who will have to pay to make up the deficiencies caused by using an unrealistic discount rate? Future Kansas taxpayers, not KPERS retirees.

There was a time when money was really and truly stolen from KPERS, in a way. Under the leadership of former Kansas Governor John Carlin, it was decided that KPERS would make targeted, or direct, investments in Kansas companies. A scandal erupted, and KPERS lost many millions.2

Another source described the aftermath as this: “In total KPERS faced losses of at least $138 million from its direct investment program. Moreover more than seven hundred Kansas residents lost their jobs as a result of these failures — a striking contradiction to the stimulus purpose of the Kansas investment program. In hindsight the lack of professional oversight by KPERS of its private investments program was blamed for the failure of the direct investment program.”3 The chair of the KPERS Board of Trustees pleaded no contest to one felony count of aiding and abetting securities fraud regarding a KPERS investment.4

This sounds like stealing from KPERS. Despite this happening at the urging of Carlin, he now portrays himself as a leader, a senior statesman to whom we should listen.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/we-must-eliminate-defined-benefit-public-pensions/.
  2. “It started as a way to use the state pension fund to boost the Kansas economy, making loans or investing in healthy businesses. But it has mushroomed into the biggest scandal in state history. Although the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System remains financially sound, with a value of about $4.4 billion, known losses exceed $230 million. Experts say total losses could double or triple.” Curran, Tim. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore: state pension scandal a nightmare. Associated Press. Oct. 7, 1991. http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1991/Toto-We-re-Not-in-Kansas-Anymore-State-Pension-Scandal-A-Nightmare/id-fe758e81f6b6a821076c829764cb6399.
  3. Cumming, Douglas ed. The Oxford Handbook of Private Equity. Oxford University Press.
  4. Press, A 1992, ‘Former KPERS Chief Sentenced To Probation For Securities Fraud’, Wichita Eagle, The (KS), 25 Jun, p. 4D, (online NewsBank).

Won’t anyone develop in downtown Wichita without incentives?

Action the Wichita City Council will consider next week makes one wonder: If downtown Wichita is so great, why does the city have to give away so much?

Next week the Wichita City Council will consider a package of incentives for the developer of a large downtown building, the Finney State Office Center.

The building has an appraised value of $7,902,570, per the Sedgwick County Treasurer. The city will sell it for $100,000. That’s a mere 1.3 cents per dollar, if the county’s valuation is reasonable.

(But, the $100,000 is non-refundable, should the purchaser decide not to close on the building.)

Finney State Office Building environs. Click for larger.
The project is also asking for the city to issue Industrial Revenue Bonds. Despite the use of the term “bond,” the city is not lending money to anyone. Someone else will purchase the bonds. Instead, the IRBs are a vehicle for conveying property tax abatements and sales tax exemptions.

In this case, the developer requests a sales tax exemption for purchases during the renovation. City documents don’t give a value for the sales tax that might be exempted. But the developer has requested IRBs for an amount up to $35,000,000. So a sales tax exemption might be worth up to $2,625,000, depending on how much taxable products and services are purchased.

IRBs also carry the possibility of a property tax abatement. Granting of the abatement is routine in most areas of the city. But, this property is located within a tax increment financing (TIF) district. That means, according to Kansas law, that a property tax abatement may not be awarded. That is, unless the property is removed from the TIF district, which is what the city proposes.

What is the value of the tax abatement? City documents don’t say. But if the developer spends $35 million on the project, it ought to carry something near that appraised value when complete. So its annual property tax bill would be ($35,000,000 * 25 percent assessment rate for commercial property = $8,750,000 assessed value * 124.341 mill rate) $1,087,984.

There’s another exception the city will probably make for this project. According to the city’s economic development incentives policy, the city must receive a payoff of at least 1.3 times its investment. That benchmark isn’t met in this case, with Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research reporting a benefit-cost ratio of 1.04 to the city. Nonetheless, city staff recommends the city approve the incentives, citing several loopholes to the policy.

There’s also a parking agreement to consider. Given the city’s past practice, the city will lease parking stalls at rates below market rate or the city’s cost to provide.

No cash incentives

The city, in particular Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, have prominently and proudly touted the end of cash incentives. But, this project is receiving benefits better than cash: An $8 million building for a song, no sales tax, and no property tax for ten years. Let’s ask the city to be honest and give us dollar values for these incentives.

Why?

A second question is this: Why is it necessary to provide all these incentives in order to induce someone to develop in downtown Wichita? The cost of these incentives increases the cost of government for everyone else — that is, everyone else except all the other incentive-receivers.

Year in Review: 2016

Here are highlights from Voice for Liberty for 2016. Was it a good year for the principles of individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas?

Also be sure to view the programs on WichitaLiberty.TV for guests like journalist, novelist, and blogger Bud Norman; Radio talk show host Joseph Ashby; David Bobb, President of Bill of Rights Institute; Heritage Foundation trade expert Bryan Riley; Radio talk show host Andy Hooser; Keen Umbehr; John Chisholm on entrepreneurship; James Rosebush, author of “True Reagan,” Jonathan Williams of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); Gidget Southway, or Danedri Herbert; Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education; and Congressman Mike Pompeo.

January

Kansas legislative resources. Citizens who want to be informed of the happenings of the Kansas Legislature have these resources available.

School choice in Kansas: The haves and have-nots. Kansas non-profit executives work to deny low-income families the school choice opportunities that executive salaries can afford.

Kansas efficiency study released. An interim version of a report presents possibilities of saving the state $2 billion over five years.

Wichita Eagle Publisher Roy Heatherly. Wichita Eagle Publisher Roy Heatherly spoke to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on January 15, 2016. This is an audio presentation.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states. Kansas ranks near the top of the states in having a low pupil-teacher ratio.

Kansas highway conditions. Has continually “robbing the bank of KDOT” harmed Kansas highways?

Property rights in Wichita: Your roof. The Wichita City Council will attempt to settle a dispute concerning whether a new roof should be allowed to have a vertical appearance rather than the horizontal appearance of the old.

Must it be public schools? A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association exposes the attitudes of the Kansas public school establishment.

Kansas schools and other states. A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association makes claims about Kansas public schools that aren’t factual.

After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. In a refreshing change, Kansas schools have adopted realistic standards for students, but only after many years of evaluating students using low standards.

Brownback and Obama stimulus plans. There are useful lessons we can learn from the criticism of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, including how easy it is to ignore inconvenient lessons of history.

February

Spending and taxing in Kansas. Difficulty balancing the Kansas budget is different from, and has not caused, widespread spending cuts.

In Sedgwick County, choosing your own benchmarks. The Sedgwick County Commission makes a bid for accountability with an economic development agency, but will likely fall short of anything meaningful.

This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. Actions considered by the Kansas Legislature demonstrate — again — that governments are not capable of managing defined-benefit pension plans.

Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. The economic details of a semi-secret sale of bonds by the State of Kansas are worse than what’s been reported.

Massage business regulations likely to be ineffective, but will be onerous. 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.

Inspector General evaluates Obamacare website. The HHS Inspector General has released an evaluation of the Obamacare website HealthCare.gov, shedding light on the performance of former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

Kansas highway spending. An op-ed by an advocate for more highway spending in Kansas needs context and correction.

Brookings Metro Monitor and Wichita. A research project by The Brookings Institution illustrates the poor performance of the Wichita-area economy.

March

Wichita: A conversation for a positive community and city agenda. Wichita City Manager Robert Layton held a discussion titled “What are Wichita’s Strengths and Weaknesses: A Conversation for a Positive Community and City Agenda” at the February 26, 2016 luncheon of the Wichita Pachyderm Club.

In Kansas, teachers unions should stand for retention. A bill requiring teachers unions to stand for retention elections each year would be good for teachers, students, and taxpayers.

In Kansas, doctors may “learn” just by doing their jobs. A proposed bill in Kansas should make us question the rationale of continuing medical education requirements for physicians.

Power of Kansas cities to take property may be expanded. A bill working its way through the Kansas Legislature will give cities additional means to seize property.

Wichita TIF district disbands; taxpayers on the hook. A real estate development in College Hill was not successful. What does this mean for city taxpayers?

Kansas and Colorado, compared. News that a Wichita-based company is moving to Colorado sparked a round of Kansas-bashing, most not based on facts.

In Wichita, the phased approach to water supply can save a bundle. 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.

Wichita Eagle, where are you? 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.

April

Wichita on verge of new regulatory regime. 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.

Wichita economic development and capacity. An expansion fueled by incentives is welcome, but illustrates a larger problem with Wichita-area economic development.

Rich States, Poor States, 2106 edition. In Rich States, Poor States, Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance, and fell sharply in the forward-looking forecast.

In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights. Reaction to the veto of a bill in Kansas reveals the instincts of many government officials, which is to grab more power whenever possible.

‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ … oops! An event in Wichita that made national headlines has so far turned out to be not the story news media enthusiastically promoted.

Wichita doesn’t have this. A small Kansas city provides an example of what Wichita should do.

Kansas continues to snub school choice reform that helps the most vulnerable schoolchildren. Charter schools benefit minority and poor children, yet Kansas does not leverage their benefits, despite having a pressing need to boost the prospects of these children.

Wichita property tax rate: Up again. 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.

AFP Foundation wins a battle for free speech for everyone. Americans for Prosperity Foundation achieves a victory for free speech and free association.

Kansas Center for Economic Growth. Kansas Center for Economic Growth, often cited as an authority by Kansas news media and politicians, is not the independent and unbiased source it claims to be.

Under Goossen, Left’s favorite expert, Kansas was admonished by Securities and Exchange Commission. The State of Kansas was ordered to take remedial action to correct material omissions in the state’s financial statements prepared under the leadership of Duane Goossen.

May

Spirit Aerosystems tax relief. 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.

Wichita mayor’s counterfactual op-ed. Wichita’s mayor pens an op-ed that is counter to facts that he knows, or should know.

Electioneering in Kansas?. An op-ed written under the banner of a non-profit organization appears to violate the ban on electioneering.

Wichita city council campaign finance reform. 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.

In Wichita, more sales tax hypocrisy. Another Wichita company that paid to persuade you to vote for higher taxes now seeks to avoid paying those taxes.

Wichita student/teacher ratios. Despite years of purported budget cuts, the Wichita public school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.

June

KPERS payments and Kansas schools. There is a claim that a recent change in the handling of KPERS payments falsely inflates school spending. The Kansas State Department of Education says otherwise.

Regulation in Wichita, a ‘labyrinth of city processes’. Wichita offers special regulatory treatment for special circumstances, widening the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

They really are government schools. What’s wrong with the term “government schools?”

July

Kansas City Star as critic, or apologist. An editorial in the Kansas City Star criticizes a Kansas free-market think tank.

State and local government employee and payroll. Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.

Kansas government ‘hollowed-out’. Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.

In Wichita, Meitzner, Clendenin sow seeds of distrust. Comments by two Wichita city council members give citizens more reasons to be cynical and distrusting of politicians.

David Dennis, gleeful regulatory revisionist. David Dennis, candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, rewrites his history of service on the Kansas State Board of Education.

Say no to Kansas taxpayer-funded campaigning. Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.

Roger Marshall campaign setting new standards. Attacks on Tim Huelskamp reveal the worst in political campaigning.

Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce on the campaign trail. We want to believe that The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and its PAC are a force for good. Why does the PAC need to be deceptive and untruthful?

August

Which Kansas Governor made these proposals?. Cutting spending for higher education, holding K through 12 public school spending steady, sweeping highway money to the general fund, reducing aid to local governments, spending down state reserves, and a huge projected budget gap. Who and when is the following newspaper report referencing?

Wichita Business Journal editorial missed the news on the Wichita economy. A Wichita business newspaper’s editorial ignores the history of our local economy. Even the history that it reported in its own pages.

Sedgwick County Health Department: Services provided. Sedgwick County government trimmed spending on health. What has been the result so far?

School staffing and students. Trends for the nation and each state in teachers, administrators, and students, presented in an interactive visualization.

Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2015 is $4.1 million. The depreciation expense of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita recognizes and accounts for the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to pay for the arena.

School spending in the states. School spending in the states, presented in an interactive visualization.

September

Kansas construction employment. Tip to the Wichita Eagle editorial board: When a lobbying group feeds you statistics, try to learn what they really mean.

Wichita has no city sales tax, except for these. There is no Wichita city retail sales tax, but the city collects tax revenue from citizens when they buy utilities, just like a sales tax.

CID and other incentives approved in downtown Wichita. The Wichita City Council approves economic development incentives, but citizens should not be proud of the discussion and deliberation.

Cost per visitor to Wichita cultural attractions. Wichitans might be surprised to learn the cost of cultural attractions.

GetTheFactsKansas launched. From Kansas Policy Institute and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, a new website with facts about the Kansas budget, economy, and schools.

The nation’s report card and charter schools.
* An interactive table of NAEP scores for the states and races, broken down by charter school and traditional public school.
* Some states have few or no charter schools.
* In many states, minority students perform better on the NAEP test when in charter schools.

School choice and funding. Opponents of school choice programs argue the programs harm traditional public schools, both financially and in their ability to serve their remaining students. Evidence does not support this position.

October

Public school experts. Do only those within the Kansas public schooling community have a say?

Kansas and Arizona schools. Arizona shows that Kansas is missing out on an opportunity to provide better education at lower cost.

Video in the Kansas Senate. A plan to increase visibility of the Kansas Senate is a good start, and needs to go just one or two steps farther.

Kansas, a frugal state?. Is Kansas a frugal state, compared to others?

Topeka Capital-Journal falls for a story. The editorial boards of two large Kansas newspapers have shown how little effort goes into forming the opinions they foist upon our state.

Kansas revenue estimates. Kansas revenue estimates are frequently in the news and have become a political issue. Here’s a look at them over the past decades.

Kansas school fund balances.
* Kansas school fund balances rose significantly this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.
* Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.
* The interactive visualization holds data for each district since 2008.

In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud. A downtown Wichita project receives a small benefit from the city, with no mention of the really big money.

Wichita, give back the Hyatt proceeds. Instead of spending the proceeds of the Hyatt hotel sale, the city should honor those who paid for the hotel — the city’s taxpayers.

Kansas Democrats: They don’t add it up — or they don’t tell us. Kansas Democrats (and some Republicans) are campaigning on some very expensive programs, and they’re aren’t adding it up for us.

November

How would higher Kansas taxes help?. Candidates in Kansas who promise more spending ought to explain just how higher taxes will — purportedly — help the Kansas economy.

Decoding the Kansas teachers union. Explaining to Kansans what the teachers union really means in its public communications.

Kansas school spending: Visualization. An interactive visualization of revenue and spending data for Kansas school districts.

Decoding Duane Goossen. The writing of Duane Goossen, a former Kansas budget director, requires decoding and explanation. This time, his vehicle is “Rise Up, Kansas.”

Decoding the Kansas teachers union. Decoding and deconstructing communications from KNEA, the Kansas teachers union, lets us discover the true purpose of the union.

Government schools’ entitlement mentality. If the Kansas personal income grows, should school spending also rise?

December

Wichita bridges, well memorialized. Drivers on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita are happy that the work on a small bridge is complete, but may not be pleased with one aspect of the project.

Gary Sherrer and Kansas Policy Institute. A former Kansas government official criticizes Kansas Policy Institute.

Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief. Several large employers in Wichita ask to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.

Economic development incentives at the margin. The evaluation of economic development incentives in Wichita and Kansas requires thinking at the margin, not the entirety.

The Wichita economy, according to Milken Institute. The performance of the Wichita-area economy, compared to other large cities, is on a downward trend.

State pension cronyism. A new report details the way state pension funds harm workers and taxpayers through cronyism.

In Wichita, converting a hotel into street repairs. In Wichita, it turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets.

In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent. Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens’ right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week.

In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent

Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens’ right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider approval of a contract with Visit Wichita, the city’s convention and visitor bureau. Once again, citizens will be left out of knowing how the city’s tax money is spent.

In the past, I’ve asked that Visit Wichita (formerly Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau) make its spending records available. It’s the same type of information that the city will send you about its own spending. But for Go Wichita, spending must — apparently — be kept secret.

It’s not a small amount of money that will be spent in secret. This year the city will send Go Wichita almost $2.5 million.1

But that’s not all. Since the implementation of the “City Tourism Fee” Visit Wichita collects 2.75 percent of hotel bills. (Welcome to Wichita! Here’s the bill for your tourism fee!) That’s estimated to generate $3 million in 2017.2

That is a lot of tax money, and also a high proportion of the agency’s total funding. We don’t have IRS filings from Visit Wichita since the city tourism fee started, so it’s difficult to say what portion of its funding is tax money. But it’s a lot, at least 90 percent.

Despite being nearly totally funded by taxes, Visit Wichita refuses to supply spending records. Many believe that the Kansas Open Records Act requires that it comply with such requests. If the same money was being spent directly by the city, the records undoubtedly would be supplied.

I’ve appeared before the council several times to ask that Visit Wichita and similar organizations comply with the Kansas Open Records Act. See Go Wichita gets budget approved amid controversy over public accountability, City of Wichita Spends $2 million, Rebuffs Citizen’s Transparency Request, and articles at Open Records in Kansas.

The lack of transparency at Visit Wichita is more problematic than this. Visit Wichita refused to provide to me its contract with a California firm retained to help with the re-branding of Wichita. When the Wichita Eagle later asked for the contract, it too was refused. If the city had entered into such a contract, it would be a public record. Contracts like this are published each week in the agenda packet for city council meetings. But Visit Wichita feels it does not have to comply with simple transparency principles.

The City of Wichita could easily place conditions on the money it gives to these groups, requiring them to show taxpayers how their tax dollars are being spent. But the City does not do this. This is not transparency.

In the past I’ve argued that Visit Wichita is a public agency as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But the city disagreed. And astonishingly, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agreed with the city’s interpretation of the law.

So let’s talk about good public policy. Let’s recognize that even it is the case that the Kansas Open Records Act does not require Visit Wichita, WDDC, and GWEDC to disclose records, the law does not prohibit or prevent them from fulfilling requests for the types of records I’ve asked for. Even if the Sedgwick County District Attorney says that Visit Wichita is not required to release documents, the law does not prevent the release of these records.

Once we understand this, we’re left with these questions:

Why does Visit Wichita want to keep secret how it spends taxpayer money, as much as $5.5 million next year?

Why is this city council satisfied with this lack of disclosure of how taxpayer funds are spent? Many council members have spoken of how transparency is important. One said: “We must continue to be responsive to you. Building on our belief that government at all levels belongs to the people. We must continue our efforts that expand citizen engagement. … And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” That was Mayor Brewer speaking in his 2011 State of the City address.

The city’s official page for the current mayor holds this: “Mayor Longwell has championed many issues related to improving the community including government accountability, accessibility and transparency …”

During the recent mayoral campaign, Longwell told the Wichita Eagle that he wants taxpayers to know where their money goes: “The city needs to continue to improve providing information online and use other sources that will enable the taxpayers to understand where their money is going.”

In a column in the Wichita Business Journal, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell wrote: “First off, we want City Hall to be open and transparent to everyone in the community.”

Now is the chance to fulfill these promises. All the city needs to do is add to its contract with Visit Wichita that the agency agree that it is a public agency spending public dollars, and that it will comply with the Kansas Open Records Act.

It would be a simple matter for the council to declare that the city and its taxpayer-funded partner agencies believe in open government. All the city has to have is the will to do this. It takes nothing more. It costs the city and its agencies nothing, because the open records law lets government charge for filling records requests. I would ask, however, that in the spirit of open transparent government, in respect for citizens’ right to know how tax funds are spent, and as a way to atone for past misdeeds, that Visit Wichita fulfill records requests at no charge.


Notes

  1. “The 2017 Adopted Budget includes funding for Visit Wichita’s annual allocation in the amount of $2,476,166, which is to be paid from the Convention & Tourism Fund.” City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016.
  2. “For 2017 the tax is budgeted to generate $3 million.” City of Wichita. Agenda for April 19, 2016.

In Wichita, converting a hotel into street repairs

In Wichita, it turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets.

Update: The Council approved these projects.

In September the Wichita City Council decided to sell the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Wichita for $20 million. Now the council will consider two proposals for spending this money.

One proposal is to spend $10 million on street repair, called “one-time pavement maintenance projects” in city documents.1

A second proposal is to spend $4 million on transit over the next four years. This is pitched as sort of a “bridge to sustainability.” That is, if the Wichita transit system can make it through the next four years, it can — somehow — become sustainable. The plan contains idea like this: “Extensive public education will be used to build ridership. Transit information will be available to a wider audience. Potential users will be engaged in more one-on-one manner.”2

Whatever the merits of these spending programs, Wichita is taking a capital asset and using it to fund current spending. In particular, street maintenance needs to be performed continuously. Here, the city has not been taking care of streets that taxpayers paid for and entrusted to the city for care. It turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets. But street maintenance is something that needs to be performed — and paid for — every year. We shouldn’t have to rely on a sale of a capital asset to fund daily needs.

Following, from October, what the city should do with the Hyatt proceeds.

Wichita, give back the Hyatt proceeds

Instead of spending the proceeds of the Hyatt hotel sale, the city should honor those who paid for the hotel — the city’s taxpayers.

The City of Wichita has sold the Hyatt Regency Hotel for $20 million. Now, what should the city do with these funds? In a workshop this week, the city manager and council recognized that these funds should not be used for operating purposes. This is important. The Hyatt Hotel was paid for with long-term debt, which the city says has been retired. The proceeds from this sale should be used in a similar way: For long-term capital investment, not day-to-day operating expenses. But the council heard two proposals that are decidedly more like operating expenses rather than capital investment.

One proposal, presented by Public Works Director Alan King, is to spend $10 million on street repair over two years. Part of that expense is to purchase a new truck, which is a capital, not operating, expense. But King later revealed that the truck could be purchased out of the existing capital budget.

Street maintenance, however, is an operating expense.

A second proposal, from the Wichita Transit System, would use about $4 million to sustain and improve current bus service. It was presented to the council as a “bridge to a long term solution.”

This, too, is an operating expense.

As these proposals were presented in a workshop, no decision was made.

These two proposed uses of the $20 million Hyatt sales proceeds are contrary to the goal of not using the funds for operating purposes. If the city decides to use the sales proceeds in this way, a capital investment will have been sold in order to pay for day-to-day expenses.

Instead of spending on these two projects, the city should simply return the money to those who paid for the Hyatt in the first place. Those people are, of course, the taxpayers of Wichita. It would be difficult to give back the funds to individual taxpayers in proportion to the amount they supplied. So what the city should do is retire $20 million of the city’s long-term debt.

If not that, then the city should use the Hyatt proceeds to pay for another long-lived asset, perhaps the new downtown library. Either of these alternatives respects the principles of sound financial practice, and also respects the taxpayers.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016. Agenda Item No. IV-2.
  2. City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016. Agenda Item No. IV-3.

State pension cronyism

A new report details the way state pension funds harm workers and taxpayers through cronyism.

Updated to accurately reflect the time period of the targeted investments.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has released a report detailing the various ways state employee pension funds are harmed by cronyism. The report may be read at Keeping the Promise: Getting Politics Out of Pensions.

The problem, ALEC reports, is: “Unfortunately, many lawmakers and pension plan officials have other priorities besides doing what is best for workers. They see the billions of pension fund dollars they manage as an opportunity to advance their own agendas. Rather than investing to earn the best return for workers, they use pension funds in a misguided attempt to boost their local economies, provide kickbacks to their political supporters, reward industries they like, punish those they don’t and bully corporations into silence and behaving as they see fit.”

One form of pension fund cronyism is Economically Targeted Investments (ETIs). These are local investments “that have been selected for their economic or social benefits in addition to the investment return to the employee benefit plan.” Kansas has its own experience with this type of cronyism. During the first half of the 1980s KPERS, the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, made numerous targeted investments that led to large losses. One newspaper article reported: 1

It all seemed so easy to many economic development planners.

In an era of hard-to-get money for business start-ups and small business expansion, why not tap into the state’s healthy $3 billion-plus retirement funds as a source for seed capital?

After all, it is there. And much of the profits earned by the Kansas Public Employees Retirement Systems have come from out-of-state investments.

For many Kansas legislators, the lure of using KPERS money for economic development was tempting. So KPERS, under considerable legislative pressure, agreed to target nearly 10 percent of its fund for business expansions in Kansas.

But three years after that decision, it is clear that KPERS money is not a panacea for economic development.

Here is one particularly egregious example of how KPERS did business.2 In this case, the chair of KPERS benefited personally from KPERS investment decisions, and in a brazen manner:

Take, for example, the $7.8 million investment in Emblem Graphic Systems, a company based in Kansas City and Denver that manufactured specialty package labels. According to court documents:

KPERS Chairman Mike Russell was on the Emblem board of directors and had personally guaranteed $200,000 in loans to the company.

Shortly before KPERS invested $5.3 million in Emblem in 1985, Russell resigned from his Emblem seat. The KPERS loan, however, was used to relieve Russell of his obligation to cover the earlier loans totaling $200,000.

KPERS continued to invest in the company until 1988, At one point, KPERS even paid $273,305 to itself to pay back the money it had lent Emblem when the company was sold. KPERS got back only $1.76 million of the $7.8 million it had lent the company.

Russell, however, was able to make a profit on his 3,000 shares in Emblem when the company bought him out for $48,330 — using KPERS money.

KPERS is suing, among others, Russell, the lawyers who approved the transactions, and Kenneth Koger, who managed the Emblem investment and about 70 percent of the investments in question.

Russell was not available for comment.

In 1992, Russell pleaded no contest to one felony count of aiding and abetting securities fraud regarding a different KPERS investment.3

In September 1991 the loss to KPERS was given as $92 million. 4 Lawsuits continued until 2003.

The governor of Kansas during the time of the targeted KPERS investments was John Carlin (1979 to 1987).


Notes

  1. S. Gossett/The Wichita Eagle, F 1989, ‘Disappointing returns the percentage of the KPERS fund given over to new business ventures has been reduced in light of big losses’, Wichita Eagle, The (KS), 16 Oct, p. 7D, (online NewsBank).
  2. Hobson, G 1996, ‘Full Accountability’, Wichita Eagle, The (KS), 22 Sep, p. 1A, (online NewsBank).
  3. Press, A 1992, ‘Former KPERS Chief Sentenced To Probation For Securities Fraud’, Wichita Eagle, The (KS), 25 Jun, p. 4D, (online NewsBank).}
  4. “After six years of investing in small- and medium-sized companies in Kansas, the state pension fund has 87 investments that are worth $231 million less than the fund paid for them, analysts told the fund’s trustees Friday. Considering that KPERS has collected about $139 million from those companies, however, the fund has lost $92 million in cash on its so-called ‘direct placement’ program, according to estimates by the staff of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.” Cross/The Wichita Eagle, J 1991, ‘Kpers Losses Put At $92 Million Lawyer Predicts ‘Monumental’ Suit’, Wichita Eagle, The (KS), 14 Sep, p. 2D, (online NewsBank).

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