Spirit expands in Wichita

It’s good news that Spirit AeroSystems is expanding in Wichita. Let’s look at the cost.

While it is good news that Spirit AeroSystems is expanding its Wichita operations, it is not without cost to several governmental agencies. Here’s a summary of what is publicly available so far.

First, a new “entity” will be formed in order to facilitate the construction and ownership of a new building on the Spirit campus. 1

This entity will be funded with $7 million in cash from Sedgwick County and $3 million cash from the City of Wichita. Further, the city will forgive Spirit’s debt of $3.5 million associated with a water project. 2

Second, through the mechanism of Industrial Revenue Bonds,3 Spirit receives a property tax exemption of one hundred percent for five years, with renewal for another five years if goals are met. Despite the use of the term “bond,” no governmental entity is lending money to Spirit, and no one except Spirit is liable for bond repayment.

Third: The bonds confer another benefit to Spirit: According to city documents, “IRBs will, pursuant to STATE law, provide for a sales tax exemption on materials and labor subject to sales tax necessary to construct and equip FACILITY.” 4 City documents give no dollar amount is given for the sales tax exemption. But in the analysis conducted by Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University these figures are used for the amount of sales tax exemption: City of Wichita: $279,445. Sedgwick County: $137,354. State of Kansas: $5,370,270. Total: $5,787,069. 5

Fourth, this project will undoubtedly quality for PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. This is a State of Kansas program that allows companies to keep the state income taxes their employees pay through paycheck withholding, less a small fee. 6 It isn’t possible to know in advance how much PEAK benefit the company will receive, because the individual circumstances of each employee determine the income tax withheld. The following calculation, however, gives an indication of the magnitude of the amount of PEAK benefits Spirit can expect:

$56,000 annual salary / 26 pay periods = $2,154 per bi-weekly pay period. For a married worker with two children, withholding tables show $55 to be withheld each pay period, or $55 * 26 = $1,430 per year. For 1,000 employees, the PEAK benefit is $1,430,000 per year. 7

There may be other programs that this project qualifies for.

Are these incentives necessary?

Taxpayers might be wondering if these incentives are necessary for Spirit to be able to expand its operations, and for it to select Wichita as the site. Spirit says it has received generous offers from other locations. If so, Spirit could do itself a favor by revealing these offers. So too, could other Wichita companies that have claimed intense courtship by other cities. But the economic development industry operates in darkness.

One thing that would also increase the credibility of economic development efforts is for Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell (and others) to stop making claims of “no more cash incentives.” The city explicitly offers cash in this proposal. The city also offers to cancel a debt, which is just like cash. Forgiveness of future taxes is as good as cash, too.

For years we’ve been told that Wichita needs to diversify its economy, meaning that it relies too heavily on the aircraft industry. This expansion by Spirit will undoubtedly heighten that concentration. We should not turn down this expansion of our local economy. But the incentives that are offered have a cost, and that cost is paid — partly — by other business firms in other industries that are trying to grow in Wichita.

Many will undoubtedly cheer the Spirit announcement as an economic development win on a large scale. It will add many jobs. But the Wichita-area economy is so far behind it will take much more growth than this to catch up with the rest of the nation. In fact, the Wichita-area economy shrank last year. 8 And while many cheer our low unemployment rate, sole reliance on that number hides a shrinking labor force. 9

Also, let’s be appropriately humble when boasting about this expansion. A region’s largest employer deciding to expand in the same city: This is the minimum level of competence we ought to expect from our economic development machinery.

Further, economists caution us to look beyond any single project, no matter how large, and consider the entirety of the local economy. As economist Art Hall has noted, large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. “The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.” 10

That’s assuming that the incentives even work as advertised in the first place. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, in their paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives published in Journal of the American Planning Association, wrote on the effects of incentives. A few quotes from the study, with emphasis added:

Given the weak effects of incentives on the location choices of businesses at the interstate level, state governments and their local governments in the aggregate probably lose far more revenue, by cutting taxes to firms that would have located in that state anyway than they gain from the few firms induced to change location.

On the three major questions — Do economic development incentives create new jobs? Are those jobs taken by targeted populations in targeted places? Are incentives, at worst, only moderately revenue negative? — traditional economic development incentives do not fare well. It is possible that incentives do induce significant new growth, that the beneficiaries of that growth are mainly those who have greatest difficulty in the labor market, and that both states and local governments benefit fiscally from that growth. But after decades of policy experimentation and literally hundreds of scholarly studies, none of these claims is clearly substantiated. Indeed, as we have argued in this article, there is a good chance that all of these claims are false.

The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state or local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering their expectations about their ability to micromanage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing the foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.


Notes

  1. “The CITY, COUNTY and COMPANY would each take action to establish a new legal entity separate and apart from the CITY, COUNTY and COMPANY for development of the PROJECT (the “ENTITY”) which will take such form as the PARTIES may approve.” Memorandum of Understanding for Project Eclipse, Section I.A. Contained within agenda packet for Wichita City Council meeting for December 13, 2017.
  2. “The COUNTY participation of $7 million US is anticipated to be available cash; the CITY participation would consist of cash in the amount of $3 million US, forgiveness of $3.5 million US in future COMPANY payments associated with the CAPITAL COMPONENT and an agreement to make additional capital improvements relating to the WATER AGREEMENT in an approximate cost of $1 million US.” Memorandum of Understanding for Project Eclipse, Section I.B
  3. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  4. Memorandum of Understanding for Project Eclipse, Section I.3.E
  5. Project Eclipse – ROI calcs plus author’s calculation. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uGaxTgrctYpBjkG7PR6bP81SxgFjpzjo/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/peak-promoting-employment-across-kansas/.
  7. Kansas Department of Revenue Withholding tables. Available at https://www.ksrevenue.org/pdf/whtables2017.pdf.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.
  9. “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.” Weeks, Bob. Wichita employment up. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-employment-up/.
  10. William F. Fox and Matthew N. Murray, “Do Economic Effects Justify the Use of Fiscal Incentives?” Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 71, No. 1, 2004, p. 79. A

Wichita school student/teacher ratios

During years of purported budget cuts, what has been the trend of student/teacher ratios in the Wichita public school district?

When discussing school funding, there is controversy over how spending should be measured. What funds are included? Is KPERS included? Should we adjust for enrollment and inflation? What about bond and interest funds and capital outlay?

The largest expenditures of schools — some 80 percent nationwide — is personnel costs. In Kansas, and Wichita in particular, we’re told that budget cuts are causing school class sizes to increase.

When we look at numbers, we see that the USD 259, the Wichita public school district has been able to reduce its student/teacher ratios over the last ten years. (Student/teacher ratio is not the same statistic as class size.) There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but for all three levels of schools, student/teacher ratios are lower than they were ten years ago. (For middle schools, the trend over the past nine years is rising, although the ratio is lower than elementary and high schools.)

So however spending is categorized in funds, whether KPERS contributions are included or not, whether the funding comes from state or local sources, whether or not spending is adjusted for inflation, the Wichita school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios over the past ten years.

Data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for various years.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Senator Jim DeMint and Convention of States

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Former United States Senator Jim DeMint joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to talk about the Convention of States. David Schneider, regional director for Citizens for Self-Governance also appears. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 175, broadcast December 9, 2017.

Shownotes

Wichita school revenue

Revenue for the Wichita public school district continues its familiar trend.

Wichita school revenue. Click for larger.
Now that USD 259, the Wichita public school district, has finally published its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the year ending June 30, 2017, we can start to look at some figures.

The nearby chart shows data from the CAFR along with my calculations. I took two data series, total revenue and the sum of state and local revenue, divided by FTE enrollment, and adjusted for inflation. I plot the sum of state and local revenue because in 2015 there was a change in the way some taxes were allocated. Plotting the sum of the two removes the effect of the change.

As can be seen in the chart, the trend for both series is generally rising, with a few dips along the way.

Briefs

Another Wichita Eagle publisher

Wichita Business Journal: “McClatchy Co. spokeswoman Jeanne Segal told the Wichita Business Journal on Wednesday that Kelly Mirt has resigned and will rejoin his family in North Carolina. … Mirt was announced as the Eagle’s publisher and vice president of advertising in July. … Mirt came to Wichita after the of former Eagle publisher Roy Heatherly in May. Mirt was the newspaper’s sixth publisher since 2007.” See Wichita Eagle publisher resigns, McClatchy says.

The system is rigged against you

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, December 6, 2017: “Reading the article about Southeast High School has hardened my resolve even more that my kids will never attend public school.” Dear writer: I’m sorry to inform you, but there is an entire industry in Kansas that works to make sure that public schools are the only viable option for most Kansas families.

Will we ever know the cost?

Wichita Eagle headline: Spirit plans ‘mega project’ with $1 billion investment, 1,000 more jobs in Wichita. This is good news. I wonder, however, if we will ever know all the news, specifically how much it cost to make this happen. Also: Will Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell’s pledge to forego cash incentives apply to this project?

DeMint in Wichita this week

At the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Former Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. DeMint served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005, representing the fourth district of South Carolina. From 2005 to 2013 he served in the United States Senate, again representing South Carolina. From 2013 to 2017 he was president of the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation’s leading conservative think tanks. Now he serves as senior advisor to Citizens for Self-Governance, a group which is seeking to call a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution in order to reduce federal government spending and power. See here for details.

Briefs

Reminds me of the Wichita flag

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, December 5, 2017: “So Wichita wants to put its flag on license plates. I hope not. Every time I see it, it reminds me of how much it looks like the KKK emblem.” I’ve noticed this too. Have you? Here is the center of the Wichita flag along with the blood cross used by the Ku Klux Klan.

Wichita hotel resurgence?

At the meeting of the Wichita City Council today, there was self-congratulation on the success of the city and its convention and tourism bureau in generating business for Wichita hotels. But: Looking at hotel guest tax receipts, which are a surrogate for total hotel room revenue, we observe that of the largest markets in Kansas, Wichita has experienced the least growth in hotel guest tax collections since 2010. While Wichita is the largest city in Kansas, Overland Park collects the most hotel guest tax. See Kansas hotel tax collections.

Guest tax collections in largest hotel markets in Kansas, indexed change. Click for larger.

Customer-focused vs government

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, December 5, 2017: “Why did the mailbox get taken down at the corner of Pershing and Douglas? No outcry from those who use it. Citizens arise! Demand the mailbox be returned. It was an ill-conceived action and should be corrected.” Writer, welcome to the world of government bureaucracy. Wouldn’t it be great if mail could be delivered by organizations that actually want your business? Although, I have to say that the new Informed Delivery service from USPS is pretty good. It’s the rare exception, however, that confirms the usual.

All this for one weekend?

Writing about the plans to transform Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita, the Wichita Eagle opined, “The plan seemed to come out of nowhere and with a goal of looking good for the NCAAs — an awful lot to ask for one weekend of tourists.” (What we learned in six busy months of Naftzger Park design project. Wichita Eagle editorial, November 22, 2017.) This is a rare admission from the Wichita elite, that the upcoming NCAA mens basketball tournament is just one weekend of activity. Yet, the tournament was cited as a justification for building the downtown arena and for the remodeling of an entrance. We were told that having the NCAA tournament would transform Wichita. We’d be famous!

Kansas tax receipts

News about Kansas tax receipts for November 2017, along with an interactive visualization.

Following is a press release from the Kansas Department of Revenue regarding November 2017 tax receipts. For an interactive visualization of this data, see Visualization: Kansas tax receipts.


December 1, 2017
Tax receipts show promise of improved economy

TOPEKA–The state has collected $258.75 million over last fiscal year at this time, totaling over 11 percent growth in collections according to data from the latest revenue report released Friday.

So far this fiscal year that started in July, the state has collected $1.09 billion in total individual income tax, which amounts to $176.74 million over last year. In the same time, sales tax collections total $985.71 million, putting it $41.64 million over last year or over 4 percent growth. Corporate income tax continues the multi month trend of outperforming the previous year, hitting a value of $30.51 million over last year’s cumulative collections.

“Sales tax receipts have reached what appears to be stable growth above last year’s collections,” Revenue Secretary Sam Williams said. “Individual income tax collections are also above last year by a wide margin, but it’s difficult to distinguish the impact of the recent tax increase versus economic growth, and we won’t be able to discern that until April.

November tax receipts totaled $463.50 million, which is $62.23 million over November last year. Individual income tax collections totaled $207.62 million for the month, while sales tax revenue came in at $192.63 million. Corporate income tax totaled $379,518.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

Briefs

He didn’t participate

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, November 24, 2017: “The kindest word that can be ascribed to State Senator Susan Wagle, when she criticizes the Kansas Supreme Court? Disingenuous. She never mentions Brownback appointee, Justice Caleb Stegall; he has repeatedly agreed with his colleagues on school finance.”

The likely reason Senator Wagle doesn’t mention Justice Stegall when criticizing the Court on school finance matters is that he, along with another judge, hasn’t participated. The recent opinions are signed “BEIER and STEGALL, JJ., not participating. MICHAEL J. MALONE and DAVID L. STUTZMAN, Senior Judges, assigned.” Why? “Justices Carol Beier and Caleb Stegall have both recused themselves from the Gannon case — Stegall because he served as Brownback’s chief counsel before he was appointed to the Kansas Court of Appeals in 2014; Beier did not provide a reason for her recusal.” See Kansas Supreme Court rejects lawmakers’ school finance changes, threatens in new ruling to close schools.

Quality of life, or a boatload of cash

Ron Sylvester in The Hutchinson News: “It’s all about quality of life. [Wichita Mayor Jeff] Longwell said Wichita drew Cargill and its $60 million investment downtown by investing in its arts community, parks, trails and a new library. Businesses move to town, not because of tax breaks and cash incentives, Longwell said, but because the people who work for those companies want to live there.”

First, Wichita didn’t draw Cargill downtown. It was already located in downtown Wichita. Wichita merely retained Cargill. No new jobs are anticipated.

As to the role of quality of life: Possibly that was a factor. More likely? The millions in subsidy Cargill will receive. Cargill tapped pretty much every economic development incentive program it could, along with a few innovative additions, such as renting its parking garage to the city during the times Cargill doesn’t need it.vSee More Cargill incentives from Wichita detailed.

Let’s ask the mayor this question: If tax breaks and cash incentives were not needed, why did the city (and the state) award so much in incentives?

Who oversaw Wichita schools when this happened?

Teachers ‘fearful’ about escalating violence at Southeast High (Wichita Eagle, December 1, 2017): Some employees at Southeast High School in Wichita say they have ‘grave concerns’ about escalating violence and unruly behavior at the school, and they’re urging leaders to take ‘decisive and strong actions’ to combat it.” This continues a theme from this summer, as further reported in Behavior is getting worse in Wichita classrooms, data shows. (Wichita Eagle, June 16, 2017): “Discipline problems have increased substantially in Wichita schools over the past four years, particularly among the district’s youngest students, according to data obtained by The Eagle. The situation is frustrating teachers, prompting some of them to leave the profession, and has inspired a new program aimed at teaching elementary school students how to pay attention, follow directions and control their emotions.”

I was surprised to learn of these problems that have been developing in the Wichita Public Schools. That’s because John Allison, the immediate past superintendent, was universally praised by the school board and district administration. Allison left at the end of June after serving eight years to become superintendent in Olathe. Hopefully that district will not experience the erosion in discipline that Allison presided over in Wichita.

Amtrak affordable for whom?

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, December 3, 2017: “How I long for affordable rail service connecting Wichita to major cities. Traveling to family for the holiday reminds me of how sad it is to live in such a remote, isolated, inaccessible place as Wichita.” Inaccessible? We were told that subsidies to discount airlines and a new airport terminal would fix that. Then, the only reason Amtrak is affordable is that taxpayers pay a lot to keep Amtrak running. (That’s if Amtrak prices are really affordable. I just compared a few Amtrak trips with airline trips, and airfares aren’t much more, and offer many more options as to time. And if you value your time, there is no better way to waste it than on a train.) Other forms of travel receive subsidy too, but peanuts compared to Amtrak. From Randal O’Toole, Stopping the Runaway Train: The Case for Privatizing Amtrak:

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, after adjusting for inflation to 2011 dollars, subsidies to domestic air travel averaged about $14 billion a year between 1995 and 2007. Considering that the airlines carried an average of more than 500 billion passenger miles a year during those years, average subsidies work out to about 2.8 cents per passenger mile (see Figure 2).

Using Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ numbers, highway subsidies over the same time period averaged about $48 billion a year. Highways carried about 4.1 trillion passenger miles per year, for an average subsidy of 1.1 cents per passenger mile. While 95 percent of the airline subsidies came from the federal government, all of the highway subsidies came from state and local governments.

By comparison, federal Amtrak subsidies over the same time period averaged 25 cents per passenger mile. State subsidies averaged another 2.8 cents. Per-passenger-mile subsidies to Amtrak were nearly 9 times subsidies to air travel and nearly 22 times subsidies to highway travel.

Airline, Highway, and Amtrak Subsidies per Passenger Mile, Cato Institute, 2012

NOTA a needed voting reform

“None of the Above” voting lets voters cast a meaningful vote, and that can start changing things.

As a voter, would you like to express your displeasure with the choices on your ballot? Are you tired of voting for the lesser of two evils? Would you like to have a reason to go to the polls even though it seems the contests are already settled?

If so, then NOTA, or “None of the Above,” may appeal to you. In this system, candidates for offices are listed on your ballot. Then, an additional choice is added: “None of the Above.” (Sometimes the language is like “None of these candidates.”)

Politicians don’t like “None of the Above.” Appearing on WichitaLiberty.TV recently, John Fund told of how a politician worried that he might lose to an empty chair, meaning that “None of the Above” received more votes. Fund retorted that would be true only if the chair was better.

What would we do if “None of the Above” won the election, having received more votes than any other candidate?

Would the second-place candidate be declared the winner and take office? This is the case in Nevada. In this case, the “None of the Above” vote’s role is advisory, indicating widespread dissatisfaction with the candidates. But that’s a powerful message.

Or, would the election be declared to have no winner? Then, would a new election be held? Could the same candidates run again, or would they be eliminated? This would be disruptive and have the cost of holding a new election. But this is better than electing someone who can’t earn more votes than “None of the Above.”

Why is voter turnout so low? One common reason given is that some people don’t like any of the candidates, so they don’t vote. But if a person doesn’t vote, what message do they send? What statement do they make? Apathy? Disgust? Adding a NOTA choice to ballots lets these dissatisfied voters cast a vote, and a meaningful vote. There is no confusion. It says to the parties: “I don’t like the choices you’ve given me. Try again.”

Other people regularly vote. Perhaps a person votes because they really like one or more candidates. These people are able to make satisfying votes. Or if they really dislike a candidate, they can cast a satisfying vote against that person. But: What if the other candidate (or candidates) are no better, or have other problems? Must a person vote for the “lesser of two evils” in order to make a statement? What statement is that? In election results, a vote for candidate A from someone who really likes him is indistinguishable from a vote for candidate A solely because the other candidates are worse.

On the choices we had in the 2016 presidential election, Zach Ruby wrote in The Federalist:

Our government’s legitimacy is based on the consent of the governed. But our elections are structured so that the only way to withhold consent is not to vote. Low turnout may signal our disinterest or disapproval, but one of the unqualified candidates will still become president. We need a way to withhold consent through voting. That means we need None of the Above (NOTA) to be on the ballot.

With “None of the Above,” voters can take a positive step that says, “we do not consent to these choices.”

(Ruby noted that there were candidates besides Hillary Clinton and Donald trump on most ballots. But votes for third-party candidates often feel like “wasted” votes. Ranked preference voting can help in this regard.)

A vote of protest is important. Often I’ve refrained from voting for any listed candidates because I felt none were worthy to hold office. Sometimes I’ve felt that there should not be an office (Insurance Commissioner comes to mind), so I did not cast a vote for that office. It’s my own little way of protesting. In election lingo this is called an “undervote.” It has little meaning, because people undervote for many reasons. But voting for “None of the Above” gives voters a meaningful choice in instances like this.

Voting for the lesser of two evils is a choice we often face as voters. In the recent Wichita school board election, there was one contest between a thoroughly despicable incumbent and a challenger whose ideology is distinctly Marxist. Who to vote for in this instance? “None of the Above” would be a satisfying — and correct — choice. Voting for “None of the Above” sends a message that neither candidate is acceptable.

Voters who really need a “None of the Above” choice are those in Alabama. Do you want to send a liberal Democrat to the United States Senate? If your answer is no, then your only choice — if you want to vote — is to vote for a candidate facing credible charges of child molestation. That’s a choice we shouldn’t have to make. “None of the Above” voting lets voters cast a meaningful vote that says “I do not consent to these choices,” and that can start changing things.

WichitaLiberty:TV: Ron and Susan Estes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: United States Representative Ron Estes joins Bob Weeks to talk about the tax bill, his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, and Susan Estes tells us what Mrs. Smith does when Mr. Smith goes to Washington. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 174, broadcast November 25, 2017.

Shownotes

PEAK benefits across Kansas

The use of PEAK, a Kansas economic development incentive program, varies widely among counties.

An economic development incentive program in Kansas is PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. This program allows companies to retain 95 percent of the payroll withholding tax of employees. 1

Data is available for fiscal years 2010 through 2015. For this period, we can see that the application or use of PEAK varies widely among counties. Here is data for the two largest counties in Kansas:

Johnson County: 135 projects, 17,643 new or retained jobs, $36,085,527 cumulative annual benefits.
Sedgwick County: 8 projects, 1,113 new or retained jobs, $1,858,516 cumulative annual benefits.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau American Fact Finder, the 2016 population of Sedgwick County was 511,995. Johnson County population was 584,451. So Johnson County has 1.14 times the population of Sedgwick County, but it receives some 16 to 19 times the PEAK benefits as Sedgwick County.

Of note, this data is available on Kanview, the state’s data download portal. The data is from a spreadsheet compiled in August 2015. It contains data through fiscal year 2015, which ended on June 30, 2015. Upon my inquiry, it appears no similar data compilations were created in August 2016 or August 2017. I have asked for the data and it is taking some time to prepare it, which leads us to wonder how diligently the state collects data regarding economic development programs.

You can access an interactive visualization of PEAK data here.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/peak-promoting-employment-across-kansas/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Representative John Whitmer

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Representative John Whitmer joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to discuss current issues in state government, and why he supports Wink Hartman for governor. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 173, broadcast November 18, 2017.

Shownotes

PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas

PEAK, a Kansas economic development incentive program, redirects employee income taxes back to the employing company.

An economic development incentive program in Kansas is PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. This program allows companies to retain 95 percent of the payroll withholding tax of employees.

Flow of tax dollars under normal circumstances, and under PEAK.
Flow of tax dollars under normal circumstances, and under PEAK.
PEAK incentive payments can be a substantial sum. Tables available at the Kansas Department of Revenue indicate that for a single person with no exemptions who earns $40,000 annually, the withholding would be $27 per week (for weekly payroll), or $1,404 annually. For a married person with two children earning the same salary, withholding would be $676 annually. Under PEAK, the company retains 95 percent of these values. (These illustrations are based on 2016 tax rates.)

There are requirements regarding the minimum number of jobs to be created or retained. Also, companies must pay wages greater than or equal to the median county wage. 1

Then, the Secretary of Commerce has “discretion to approve applications of qualified companies and determine the benefit period.”

Legislators and public officials like programs like PEAK partly because they can promote these programs as self-financing. That is, the state isn’t subsidizing a company. Instead, the company is paying its own way with its own taxes (actually, its employees’ taxes). PEAK supporters say the state is not sending money to the company. Instead, the company is just holding on to 95 percent of its employees’ withholding taxes instead of sending the funds to the state.

Schemes like PEAK call into question one of the fundamental principles of taxation: That tax funds be used to fund the operations of government, not to enrich one particular person or company. But continually, states and local government use programs like PEAK — and others like tax increment financing (TIF) districts, Community Improvement Districts (CIDs), Industrial Revenue Bonds, and others — that turn over a public function to private interests.

Illustration of a shortfall under PEAK
Illustration of a shortfall under PEAK
Here’s another consideration regarding the PEAK program. The amount of money withheld from a worker’s paycheck is not the same as the amount of tax the worker actually owes the state. Withholding is only an approximation, and one that is biased in favor of the state. Many Kansas workers receive an income tax refund from the state. This is in recognition that the sum of the withholding taxes paid by a worker is larger than the actual tax liability. Therefore, the state is returning money that the state was not entitled to.

Now, what about workers who are employed at a company that is in the PEAK program and who receive a state income tax refund? Their withholding taxes — 95 percent, anyway — have already been given back to their employer.

So: What is the source of the money used to pay these refunds? How much money is paid in refunds to employees working at PEAK-participating companies?

We should note that the funds don’t come from the PEAK company’s employees, as the employees receive credit for all their withholding taxes, even though 95 percent never contributed to the state treasury.

Inquiry to the Department of Revenue revealed that there are no statistics on actual income tax liability of PEAK employees vs. the amount of withholding tax credited to that employee that was retained or refunded to the PEAK employer. The Department of Commerce referred inquiries to the Department of Revenue.

If we wanted to know how much money was paid in refunds to PEAK-company employees, I believe we would need to examine the account of each affected employee. I’m sure it’s not possible to come up with an answer by making assumptions, because the circumstances of each taxpayer vary widely.

Whatever the amount, it represents state tax revenue being used to fund an economic development incentive program that is pitched as being self-funded.


Notes

  1. “PEAK requires the qualified company to commit to creating five new jobs in non-metropolitan counties or ten (10) new jobs in the metropolitan counties of Shawnee, Douglas, Wyandotte, Johnson, Leavenworth and Sedgwick over a two-year period. The qualified company must also pay wages to the PEAK jobs/employees, that when aggregated, meet or exceed the county median wage or North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) average wage for their industry.” Kansas Department of Commerce. Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) Program. Available at http://kansascommerce.gov/141/Promoting-Employment-Across-Kansas-Progr.

Wichita personal income up, a little

For 2016, personal income in Wichita rose, but is still below 2014 levels.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, has released personal income figures for metropolitan areas through 2016. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2016 rose slightly from 2015 level, but is still below the 2014 level. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, personal income fell in 2016.

Click for larger.

The trend in personal income mirrors that of the Wichita-area GDP, which is the value of goods and services produced. That fell in 2016. 1

To access an interactive visualization of personal income for all metropolitan areas, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.

Wichita employment up

Employment in the Wichita metropolitan area is on an upward tick.

Wichita MSA employment. Click for larger.
Using seasonally-adjusted figures, employment in the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area 1 was 294,800 in January 2017. For September, it is 302,700, an increase of 7,900, or 2.7 percent. This data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor. 2

Wichita MSA employment. since 2010 Click for larger.
The employment data comes from the BLS Current Employment Statistics program, which surveys employers. 3

BLS also collects data regarding employment and unemployment through the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. 4 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.” 5 This data is collected from a survey of households, and the monthly data is not adjusted for seasonality. This is the data series that produces the oft-cited unemployment rate.

It’s important to understand the nature of the unemployment rate. Being 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. Because the values in this data series are not adjusted for seasonality, I use the average of the proceeding 12 months.

In the first example, the unemployment rate fell by nearly half for the time period chosen. (2010 was the first full year after the most recent recession ended.) That improvement was produced by a small increase in the number of employed people and a large decline in the labor force. Is our area better off for this? Local politicians and bureaucrats seem to think so, as the low unemployment rate is widely cited as a measure of their success in managing the local economy.

The second example uses as its starting point 2008, which was the high mark for employment in the Wichita MSA. The unemployment rate then is nearly the same as today. But both the labor force and the number of employed persons is down.

If we consider only the unemployment rate, it looks like the Wichita area is prospering. But the unemployment rate hides bad news.

In the nearby chart you can see these effects. The unemployment rate has been declining, although it has recently increased slightly. The labor force has been declining. The number of employed persons has increased, although it has also recently declined.

Wichita MSA employment and labor force. Click for larger.
Wichita MSA unemployment rate. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Butler, Harvey, Sedgwick, Sumner, and Kingman counties. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wichita,_KS_Metropolitan_Statistical_Area.
  2. The labor force, specifically the civilian labor force, are those people working, plus those people actively searching for work, minus people under 16 years of age, minus people living in institutions (for example, correctional facilities, long-term care hospitals, and nursing homes), minus people on active duty in the Armed Forces.
    BLS defines unemployed people as: “Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.”
    The unemployment rate is “the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.”
    Bureau of Labor Statistics. *Glossary.* Available at https://www.bls.gov/bls/glossary.htm.
  3. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: The Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey.
    Both surveys are needed for a complete picture of the labor market.
    The payroll survey (CES) is designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings in the nonfarm sector, with industry and geographic detail. The survey is best known for providing a highly reliable gauge of monthly change in nonfarm payroll employment. A representative sample of businesses in the U.S. provides the data for the payroll survey.
    The household survey (CPS) is designed to measure the labor force status of the civilian noninstitutional population with demographic detail. The national unemployment rate is the best-known statistic produced from the household survey. The survey also provides a measure of employed people, one that includes agricultural workers and the self-employed. A representative sample of U.S. households provides the information for the household survey.
    National employment estimates from both the household and payroll surveys are published in the Employment Situation news release each month. The estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comparing employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys. Available at https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/ces_cps_trends.htm.
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. Available at https://www.bls.gov/lau/.
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey. Available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to discuss Sedgwick County government issues, including allegations of misconduct by a commission member and the possibility of a Tyson chicken plant. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 172, broadcast November 11, 2017.

Shownotes

In Wichita, the surveillance state expands again — and again

In Wichita, we see another example of how once government starts a surveillance program, the urge to expand it is irresistible.

Earlier this year the City of Wichita installed 70 cameras in Old Town for the purpose of enhancing public safety. 1

Now we’ve learned two things, according to Wichita Eagle reporting: The cameras aided in making one arrest for a serious crime, and the role of the cameras has expanded to include traffic enforcement. 2

When the city council approved the cameras in February, city documents didn’t specify how many video cameras would be installed as part of the $618,261 program (for one-time installation costs only), except that it may be “as many as 100.” The city also asked council members to pass an ordinance with bonding authority of up to $750,000 to pay for this project. In other words, the city borrowed to pay for this system.3

These expansions of camera surveillance are additional examples of the expansion of police powers in Wichita at the loss of civil liberties.4 It started with a small program of a few cameras owned by private property owners. Then in 2014 the city designated Old Town an “entertainment district,” giving the city increased powers to attempt to control crime.5 Critics are concerned that the extra enforcement measures granted to entertainment districts are discriminatory to certain minority groups.6

Now we have dozens of city-owned and monitored cameras, used first for public safety, and now for traffic enforcement.

This proposed expansion of cameras is not likely to be the last. Wichita’s police chief is seeking to add more surveillance and cameras.7

Across the county, those concerned with the loss of civil liberties and privacy are concerned about the expansion of the surveillance state. Adding irony to this debate are the remarks of Wichita City Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita). She called the addition of the new cameras “huge” and “exciting,” adding that she is “very, very happy” at their addition.8 The irony is that she would insist that she is a protector of civil rights.

Civil rights are important

Why are civil rights important in this matter? Discussing this matter on Facebook, one local political activist wondered, “How long before someone is being blackmailed with footage from a police surveillance cam, for stumbling down the road, or some other harmless but embarrassing scenario?”

In response, I added, “Or blackmailed for marital infidelity, or entering a gay bar, a marijuana dispensary, a church, a soup kitchen, an STD clinic, an abortion doctor’s office, or maybe being spotted dropping off an anonymous tip to the Wichita Eagle.” (Well, we don’t have marijuana dispensaries, but we do have stores that sell complementary products.)

We also have to wonder whether the cameras work as advertised. The website You Are Being Watched, a project of the American Civil Liberties Union, comes to this conclusion: “An increasing number of American cities and towns are investing millions of taxpayer dollars in surveillance camera systems. But few are closely examining the costs and benefits of those investments, or creating mechanisms for measuring those costs and benefits over time. There is extensive academic literature on the subject — studies carried out over many years — and that research demonstrates that video surveillance has no statistically significant effect on crime rates. Several studies on video surveillance have been conducted in the UK, where surveillance cameras are pervasive. The two main meta-analyses conducted for the British Home Office (equivalent to the US departments of Justice and Homeland Security) show that video surveillance has no impact on crime whatsoever. If it did, then there would be little crime in London, a city estimated to have about 500,000 cameras.”

An irony is that law enforcement likes recording citizens, but not the other way around. As John Stossel has noted, police don’t like to be recorded. In some states its a crime to tape a police officer making an arrest. A video excerpt from Stossel’s television shows the attitudes of police towards being recorded. At Reason Radley Balko details the problem, writing “As citizens increase their scrutiny of law enforcement officials through technologies such as cell phones, miniature cameras, and devices that wirelessly connect to video-sharing sites such as YouTube and LiveLeak, the cops are increasingly fighting back with force and even jail time—and not just in Illinois. Police across the country are using decades-old wiretapping statutes that did not anticipate iPhones or Droids, combined with broadly written laws against obstructing or interfering with law enforcement, to arrest people who point microphones or video cameras at them. Even in the wake of gross injustices, state legislatures have largely neglected the issue.”

Writing for Cato Institute, Julian Sanchez noted:

It is also unlikely that cameras will be especially helpful in deterring such attacks. Even when it comes to ordinary crime — where the perpetrators are generally motivated by the desire to make a quick buck without getting caught — studies have been mixed and inconclusive about the value of CCTV cameras as a crime deterrent.

Some show significant declines in crime in some regions of cities with camera networks, which may be attributable to the cameras — but many show no discernible effect at all.

Of note, one country with a government that really likes surveillance cameras is China.


Notes

  1. Leflier, Dion. If you think someone’s watching you in Old Town — they are. Wichita Eagle, June 22, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article157654759.html.
  2. Manna, Nicole. Officers are using Old Town cameras to pull over drivers. Wichita Eagle, November 3, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article182478176.html.
  3. Wichita City Council agenda for February 14, 2017.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Surveillance state arrives in Wichita. https://wichitaliberty.org/liberty/surveillance-state-arrives-in-wichita/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Wichita seeks to form entertainment district. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-seeks-form-entertainment-district/.
  6. Class-action lawsuit alleges racial discrimination at Power & Light. Kansas City Star, March 10, 2014. http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article341880/Class-action-lawsuit-alleges-racial-discrimination-at-Power–Light.html.
  7. Finger, Stan. Police seek answers, reversal as aggravated assaults surge. Wichita Eagle, February 10, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article132071799.html.
  8. Lefler, Dion. Wichita working to bring Old Town under camera surveillance. Wichita Eagle, February 10, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article131952109.html.

Wichita to look outside for management of engagement

Wichita decides to have someone else conduct public engagement.

At the November 7, 2017 meeting of the Wichita City Council, the council will be asked to approve a request for proposal (RFP) document relating to Century II.

The RFP is a document that spells out what the city wants done relating to public engagement regarding the future of Century II. Specifically, interested parties are invited to “design and implement a transparent public engagement process that involves a broad cross-section of Wichita residents in a discussion of interests related to the future of Century II as a performing arts center.”

A “Screening and Selection Panel” selected by the Wichita city manager will evaluate the proposals based on several criteria and select a winner.

The introduction to the RFP states: “The primary purpose of this engagement is to identify the community’s interests and recommendations related to Century II as a performing arts center, to include the option of its removal and replacement, as well as its relationship to the convention center, both in function and spatial proximity.” No cost ceiling is given by the city.

Of note, the schedule in the RFP gives November 3 as the due date for proposals. But it is four days after that, on November 7, that the city council will be asked to, according to city documents, “approve the scope of services and amendment for the Request for Proposals.”

While some may criticize the city for relying on an outside consultant to conduct public engagement, the reason given is a recommendation by the city manager that the process be “be led by an independent third party to ensure neutral framing of the issues.”

That makes a lot of sense, as Wichita doesn’t have a good track record in this regard. For example, in even-numbered years the city has surveyed residents asking them to rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.” The results are shown in the nearby chart created from data found in versions of the Wichita Performance Measure Report. The numbers are the percent of respondents giving “excellent” or “good” as their response to the question.

The report says this performance is “much below” a benchmark set by the National Research Center National Citizen Survey, the group that conducted the survey for the city.

There’s also the 2014 city sales tax election, where the city was proud of its engagement with citizens, convincing them of the need for the tax. On election day, 62 percent voted against the tax.

Before that there was Activate Wichita, a system for gathering citizen feedback. But when rating ideas, there was no voting option for expressing disagreement or disapproval with an idea. “Neutral” is as much dissent as Wichitans were allowed to express in this system. This system fell into disuse and became an embarrassment for the city.

Cost per visitor to Wichita cultural attractions

Wichitans might be surprised to learn the cost of cultural attractions.

The price of adult admission to the Wichita Art Museum is $7.00, or free on Saturdays thanks to the generosity of Colby Sandlian, a Wichita businessman.

But the cost of admission is much higher. For 2016, Wichita city documents report a cost per visitor of $54.71. That was down from the previous year’s cost of $55.37.

The cost per visitor figures the city reports each year are presented in a nearby table. For each year the city reports the cost per visitor along with a target for the next years. In the nearby chart, the target values are represented by dotted lines of the same color as the actual cost.

Cost per visitor, Wichita cultural attractions. Click for larger.

We should note that for these attractions much of their costs are fixed, meaning they do not vary with the number of visitors. An example is the employment cost of a museum director. As the number of visitors rises or falls, the salary stays the same. This means that if attendance increased, the cost per visitor would fall, and fall dramatically. (Of course, if attendance really boomed, the museum might need more directors. But that’s a long term decision.)

The source of this data is Wichita city budgets and performance reports. All are available on the city’s website at wichita.gov.

Cost per visitor, Wichita cultural attractions. Click for larger.

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

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