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.

Kansas school spending

New data for spending in Kansas schools is available.

Through its Data Central section, Kansas State Department of Education has made spending figures available for the school year ending in spring 2017, or the fiscal 2017 school year.

These are amounts per pupil, adjusted for inflation to 2016 dollars, showing change from 2016 to 2017.

State aid: $8,613 to $8,714
Federal aid: $1,058 to $1,082
Local: $3,460 to 3,441
Total: $13,144 to $13,326

In 2015 there was a shift in the way state and local figures are allocated, so it’s important to look at state and local spending as a sum. This figure increased from $12,073 to $12,155.

In the charts below, state and local total spending, per pupil, adjusted for inflation, has been remarkably level since 2013. At the same time, schools are telling us spending has been slashed.

Click charts for larger versions.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Matt Kibbe of Free the People

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Matt Kibbe of Free the People joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to discuss FreeThePeople.org and our relationship with government. Mr. Kibbe’s appearance was made possible by the Wichita Chapter of the Bastiat Society. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 171, broadcast November 4, 2017.

Shownotes

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita school board member Joy Eakins

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita school board member Joy Eakins joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to discuss important issues facing the school district. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 170, broadcast October 28, 2017.

Shownotes

Living in downtown Wichita

Wichita economic development officials use a circuitous method of estimating the population of downtown Wichita, producing a number much higher than Census Bureau estimates.

Recently the Wichita Business Journal reported:

Getting more people to live in the core was clearly one of the most important tasks for the city. Back in 2010, the report said downtown Wichita was ripe for an additional 1,000 housing units.

That goal seems to have been met. According to a recent report from the group Downtown Wichita, 835 residential units have been completed since 2010. An additional 742 units are in development downtown, where about 2,100 people live today. 1

The report referred to is the 2017 State of Downtown Report. 2 While this report highlights the number of people living in downtown Wichita, it no longer reports the number of people working in downtown. 3

How does Downtown Wichita arrive at the number of residents in downtown? An endnote from the report gives the details:

The 2010 U.S. Census states the population in the 67202 area code is 1,393. Per Downtown Wichita records, 702 units rental units have opened in the Downtown SSMID district since 2010 when the Census was taken. Per data provided directly from the Downtown residential rental properties, the absorption rates of the market rate units has an average of 85%. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, the average size of renter-occupied units is 1.25 persons. Therefore, an estimate for the current population is 2,138. 4

What DW has done is to take a reliable figure (the 2010 decennial census) and extrapolate forward to 2016. (Presumably 2016, as the report doesn’t say.)

But there are a few issues, as follows:

First, the calculation includes 702 rental units that have opened since 2010. Have any rental units closed since then? That would be good to know. Curious is that the report prominently mentions “835 units completed since 2010.” There have been condominiums that have opened since 2010. Why would DW use only rental units in its calculation?

Second, the DW calculation makes use of two estimates, absorption rate 5 and size of renter-occupied units. (What about size of owner-occupied units?) Each of these is an estimate that has its own error probabilities, and those errors compound when multiplied.

Third, there is no need to go through this roundabout calculation, as the Census Bureau has provided an estimate for the population of downtown in 2015. Data from the American Community Survey 6 estimates that the population in downtown Wichita for 2015 was 1,438, with a 90 percent confidence interval of plus or minus 242. 7 This means the Census Bureau is confident the population of downtown Wichita in 2015 was in the range of 1,196 to 1,680, that confidence factor being 90 percent.

But DW says the population of downtown is 2,138, which is far — really far — outside the range the Census Bureau gives for the 2015 population. While DW’s population estimate is probably for 2016, it still lies far outside the range of probability, based on Census Bureau estimates.

It’s really curious that DW doesn’t use the Census Bureau estimate of population. That population estimate comes directly from the Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for 2011 to 2015. DW didn’t use that number, but it relied on the same body of data to get “average size of renter-occupied units” for 2015.

Why would DW use the Census Bureau for one datum but not another, especially when the Census Bureau data reports the statistic DW is trying on its own to estimate in a roundabout manner?

It’s simple. DW’s calculations produce 2,138 people living in downtown. The Census Bureau estimate is a much smaller number: 1,438.

By the way, DW’s calculations start with the 2010 Census Bureau population for downtown. Of the downtown population of 1,393 that year, 253 were men living in institutions like the Kansas Department of Corrections Wichita Work Release facility at Emporia and Waterman Streets. It has a capacity of 250. 8


Notes

  1. Horwath, Brian. Wichita making good on downtown master plan. Wichita Business Journal, October 26, 2017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/10/26/wichita-making-good-on-downtown-master-plan.html.
  2. Downtown Wichita. 2017 State of Downtown Report. Available at https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2017-state-of-downtown-report-download.pdf.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita report omits formerly prominent data. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-report-omits-formerly-prominent-data/.
  4. 2017 State of Downtown Report, page 42.
  5. “Absorption is the amount of space or units leased within a market or submarket over a given period of time (usually one year). Absorption considers both construction of new space and demolition or removal from the market of existing space.” Institute of Real Estate Management. Calculating Absorption. Available at https://www.irem.org/education/learning-toolbox/calculating-absorption.
  6. U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
  7. U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey Accuracy of the Data (2015). Available at https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/tech_docs/accuracy/ACS_Accuracy_of_Data_2015.pdf.
  8. See https://www.doc.ks.gov/facilities/wwrf.

Downtown Wichita report omits formerly prominent data

The new State of Downtown Wichita report for 2017 is missing something. What is it, and why is it missing?

Recently the Wichita Business Journal reported:

When you’re Jeff Fluhr, you don’t spend much time in park — it’s usually full speed ahead.

It was no different when a couple of members of the Wichita Business Journal’s newsroom visited with the president of Downtown Wichita and the Greater Wichita Partnership in early October.

On this day, Fluhr was excited to pass out copies of the 42-page 2017 “State of Downtown” report, which had just been released. 1

The new report is something better than before. 2 Actually, it’s what is left out that marks a step forward for Downtown Wichita, which is the new name for the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation.

Downtown Wichita brochure.
Previous versions of the report prominently mentioned the number of daytime workers in downtown Wichita. 3The number most often given was 26,000. But that number is missing from this year’s report. Unless I overlooked it, there is no mention of the number of workers in downtown Wichita.

Why was this number omitted from this year’s report? Earlier this year I found out that the U.S. Census Bureau data series which was the source of this statistic is not a valid measure of the number of people working downtown. That’s because the series counts all the employees of the Wichita public school district as downtown workers solely because the district’s headquarters building is downtown. 4 This means the statistic is not valid and meaningful, because most school workers don’t work at the downtown building. Instead, they’re working in schools and other facilities dispersed throughout the district. A similar anomaly exists for Wichita city workers: All are counted as though they work in the city hall building. 5

When I asked Jeff Fluhr, the president of Downtown Wichita, about this he referred my question to Jeremy Hill, the Director of Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. This was — seemingly — reasonable as CEDBR supplied the number to Fluhr’s organization. Hill’s response was unsatisfactory in resolving the issue. In conclusion, Hill wrote to me: “Although the center systematically questions all data sources (federal, state, private, and nonprofit) for reasonableness, limited resources (e.g. time and costs) prevent us from validating and/or cross checking every statistic. In this situation, the center used the appropriate source for the research question and the total number of people estimated to work downtown was within reason.”

The Census Bureau OnTheMap application for downtown Wichita, zip code 67202. Click for larger.
LODES data for census block 201730043001036, showing 7,740 workers.
Here’s what concerns me. This data comes from a Census Bureau application called “OnTheMap.” When using the OnTheMap application for downtown Wichita, which is zip code 67202, there are two large bright blue dots that stand out from all others. These represent the two highest concentrations of workers in downtown Wichita. One is Census block 201730043001036, which has 7,740 employees. This is a one square block area from First to Second Streets, and Wichita to Water Streets. That block, for the year of this data, held the Wichita school district headquarters building.

7,740 employees is a lot. It’s about one-fourth of the total downtown employee count claimed by Downtown Wichita and CEDBR. It’s more employees than McConnell Air Force Base has, and about twice as many that work at Koch Industries in Wichita.

Importantly, this number is eleven times the number that work at Cargill, a company which Wichita is granting many millions of dollars in incentives just to retain the company in Wichita.

Promotional material on the former Henry’s building. Click for larger.
We just have to wonder: Didn’t anyone look at this data in a serious and critical manner? A quick glance at the data by CEDBR, much less “systematically” checking for “reasonableness” should have led to questions. A quick look by Downtown Wichita staff should have spurred these inquiries: Who do all these people work for in that one block? This is a wonderful success story! How can we replicate this great accomplishment in other blocks in downtown Wichita?

And didn’t anyone at the City of Wichita — council members and bureaucrats alike — wonder about these numbers?

That didn’t happen. Or maybe it did, and someone in authority nonetheless decided to proceed to use a statistic that doesn’t mean what city leaders say it means.

That’s why I wrote it was seemingly reasonable for Fluhr to refer me to CEDBR with my questions about the data. In retrospect, it is clear this is a multi-year episode of incompetence, ineptitude, or dishonesty.

But at least this statistic is no longer used.

I asked Cindy Claycomb, who is Chair of the Executive Committee of Downtown Wichita, about this. She replied that all data sources are listed in the report, and that the board relies on the expertise of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation staff to decide what is presented in each year’s report. She said Jeff Fluhr was the best person to address my concerns. He, as we saw, demurred to CEDBR at WSU.

(By the way, Claycomb is nearly certain to be elected to the Wichita City Council in November. Jeff Fluhr is now, besides president of Downtown Wichita, also president of Greater Wichita Partnership, the new organization regional governments rely on for economic development.)

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
So: How many jobs are in downtown Wichita? There is another series of census data that is better, but not perfect, as it counts private-sector employees only. That data shows 13,581 workers in downtown Wichita for 2015. 6 But what’s remarkable — and disappointing — about this data series is its trend: It’s going down. The recent peak was 16,658 workers in 2008. By 2015 that number was down by 18 percent. (Again, these are private sector workers only.)


Notes

  1. Horwath, Brian. Downtown positioned for growth, despite area’s labor issues. Wichita Business Journal, October 12, 2017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/10/12/downtown-positioned-for-growth-despite-areas-labor.html.
  2. Downtown Wichita. 2017 State of Downtown Report. Available at https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2017-state-of-downtown-report-download.pdf.
  3. See, for example, the second page of the 2016 report at https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2016_State_of_Downtown_Report_2.pdf.
  4. In summer 2017 the district moved its headquarters away from downtown to the former Southeast High School. It will be a few years before this is reflected in Census Bureau data.
  5. Weeks, Bob. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.

We need NOTA, now

“None of the Above” voting has issues to resolve, but the current system has many problems.

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.”

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.

But 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? In this case, the “None of the Above” vote is reduced to an advisory, indicating widespread dissatisfaction with the candidates.

Or, would the election be declared to have no winner? Then, would a new election with different (or same) candidates ordered? This would be disruptive and have the cost of holding a new election. But this is better than electing someone who can’t garner more votes than “None of the Above.”

There is an organization promoting “None of the Above” as a choice for voters. As part of its argument, it states:

“None of the above” voters often decide to stay home instead of voting on election day. Others encourage this and suggest that it’s the way you show political disapproval in our country. This is both misguided and politically offensive. Non-voting happens for many reasons — political apathy, for example. But dissatisfaction is NOT apathy. It may in fact be the exact opposite. To suggest that dissatisfied voters should stay home and not vote hides the voice of protest. It is also tantamount to disenfranchisement.

Finally, adding a NOTA option to ballots can fill an important role in maintaining a peaceful political order. At the moment, dissatisfaction is forced out of the regular political process. It hides in the shadows, uncounted and unrecognized, masquerading as non-voting or as a vote for a “lesser of two evils” candidate. Or maybe it doesn’t hide at all. Instead it boils up in protest and the potential for violence. Providing a NOTA option can’t cure unrest, but it can provide official recognition for dissatisfaction. And when dissent has been made visible, the political establishment will be unable to deny its existence.

Voice of protest. That’s important. Often I’ve refrained from voting for any listed candidates because I felt none were worthy to hold office. It’s my own little way of protesting. In election lingo this is called an “undervote” and 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 upcoming race for Wichita school board, there is 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. Instead of conceding their votes to the listed candidates, voters have a meaningful choice.

On the same day Wichitans will select three city council members. There are two candidates in each district. In one district, only one candidate is actively campaigning. In the other two, there are large imbalances in fundraising. “None of the above” works in these cases, too.

Too much on the consent agenda in Wichita city hall

The Wichita city council will consider an item that, I believe, is of sufficient interest and controversial enough that it should appear on a regular agenda, not a consent agenda.

Update: at Tuesday’s meeting, the council passed the consent agenda without discussion of this agenda item.

Meetings of governmental bodies like the Wichita City Council may contain a consent agenda. That’s a collection of agenda items that are voted on in bulk, with one single vote, unless a council member requests an item be “pulled” for discussion and possibly a separate vote. Generally, items on consent agendas are not controversial, and it may hold two dozen or more items. If no council member asks to pull an item, there is no discussion.

Tomorrow the Wichita city council will consider an item that, I believe, is of sufficient interest and possibly controversial enough that it should appear on a regular agenda, not a consent agenda. It involves the hiring of a consultant to help the city find a baseball team. 1

Tomorrow’s meeting, being on the fourth Tuesday of a month, is traditionally for consent agenda items only, plus workshops. But the council has, a few times, declared this meeting to be a “regular” meeting in order to conduct business other than consent agenda items.

The Wichita city council has a history of placing controversial items on the consent agenda. It has, at least once, removed an item from the consent agenda to place it on a regular agenda. 2 There are some things the council doesn’t want to talk about.

In addition, Current Mayor Jeff Longwell has wondered if the city holds too many public hearings. 3 Some things, the mayor feels, don’t need public input.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. A consultant to help Wichita’s confidence factor. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/consultant-help-wichita-confidence-factor/.
  2. See, for example, For Wichita City Council, discussion is not wanted at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/for-wichita-city-council-discussion-is-not-wanted/, Wichita, again, fails at government transparency at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-fails-government-transparency/, and Wichita open records issue buried at https://wichitaliberty.org/open-records/wichita-open-records-issue-buried/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. For Wichita’s mayor, too many public hearings. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-mayor-too-many-public-hearings/.

Wichita public school district transparency

Transparency issues surrounding the Wichita public school district are in the news. There are steps that are easy to make, but the district resists.

It’s difficult to view a meeting of the Wichita school board.

If you — perhaps a taxpayer to USD 259 — would like to watch a meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, your options are few. You can attend the meetings in person. Or, if you subscribe to certain cable television systems, you can view delayed repeats of the meetings. But that’s it.

Live and archived video of governmental meetings is commonplace, except for the Wichita public schools. Citizens must either attend USD 259 meetings or view delayed broadcasts on cable TV, if they subscribe.

There’s a simple way to fix this. It’s called YouTube.

When the Sedgwick County Commission was faced with an aging web infrastructure for its archived broadcasts, it did the sensible thing. It created a YouTube channel and uploaded video of its meetings. Now citizens can view commission meetings at any time on desktop PCs, tablets, and smartphones. This was an improvement over the old system, which was difficult to use and required special browser plug-ins.

Sometimes citizens have taken it upon themselves to post Wichita school board video on YouTube so that citizens and taxpayers may view meetings. Click for an example.
The Wichita school district could do the same. In fact, the district already has a YouTube channel. Recently, it has started posting video excerpts of some meetings.

So the district has demonstrated it has the technical capability and resources to post video of meetings to YouTube. Now, in addition to the excerpts, it should post video of all meetings in their entirety.

Yes, it takes a long time to upload two or three hours of video to YouTube, but once started the process runs in the background without intervention. No one has to sit and watch the process.

I have asked the district why it does not make video of its meetings available online. The district responded that it “has a long-standing commitment to the USD 259 community of showing unabridged recordings of regular Board of Education meetings on Cox Cable Channel 20 and more recently AT&T U-verse Channel 99.”

Showing meetings delayed on cable TV is okay. It was innovative at one time — a long time ago. Okay. But why aren’t meetings shown live? What if you can’t watch the meeting before it disappears from the broadcast schedule after a week? What if you don’t subscribe to cable TV? (This is becoming more common as more people “cut the cord” and rely on services like YouTube for television.) What if you want to watch meetings on your computer, tablet, or smartphone?

I don’t think the fact that meetings are on cable TV means they can’t also be on YouTube. But that seems like what the school district believes.

Sometimes increasing transparency is so easy. We must wonder why governmental agencies resist.

A consultant to help Wichita’s confidence factor

Wichita considers hiring a consultant to help find a baseball team.

In August the Wichita Eagle reported:

Wichitans can hope for an announcement on a new affiliated baseball team coming to Wichita by the end of 2017, Mayor Jeff Longwell says.

“By the end of this calendar year, we feel confident that we will be able to announce a team, who the team is, all of the above,” Longwell told The Eagle Tuesday afternoon. “We hope that we can complete all of those conversations by the end of this year and be able to announce a contract in place.” 1

Evidently the mayor and the city are feeling less confident. Next week’s city council agenda includes a proposal to hire a consulting firm to help the city. The contract the council will consider states: “Wichita desires to retain Beacon Sports as its advisor and exclusive representative for the Assignment, and perform such other advisory services as are mutually agreed upon between the two parties.” 2

The city’s analysis advises: “Based on the encouraging findings, City staff have reached the conclusion that, due to Minor League Baseball (MiLB) rules and protocols, it is necessary to formally contract with a specialized baseball consultant.”

The contract has a cap of $50,000. For this, the contract states, “Beacon Sports will use its best efforts and endeavor to assist Wichita in obtaining and having present to it qualified offers on terms that are acceptable to Wichita, but makes no representation regarding the successful outcome of this Assignment.”

Of note, this item appears on the consent agenda. That’s a collection of agenda items that are voted on in bulk, with one single vote, unless a council member requests an item be “pulled” for discussion and possibly a separate vote. Generally, items on consent agendas are not controversial, and it may hold two dozen or more items.


Notes

  1. Salazar, Daniel. Expect affiliated baseball team announcement by end of 2017, Wichita mayor says. Wichita Eagle, August 29, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article170095417.html.
  2. “MiLB Baseball Consultant Contract,” Wichita City Council Agenda packet for October 24, 2017. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/10-24-2017%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.

Kansas school fund balances

Kansas school fund balances rose this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.

As Kansans debate school funding, as the Kansas Supreme Court orders more school spending, and as schools insist that spending has been slashed, a fact remains: Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given. Unspent fund balances grow in many years, and grew this year.

Fund balances are necessary for cash flow management. They buffer the flows of receipts and expenditures. The issue is what levels of balances are necessary, and, more importantly, how the balances change over years.

In Kansas, school districts report fund balances on July 1 of each year. Looking at fund balances on that date over time gives insight into how districts are managing receipts and expenditures. If a fund balance falls from July 1 of one year to July 1 of the next year, it means that the district spent more money from the fund than it put in the fund. The opposite is also true: If a balance rises, it means less was spent than was put in.

Based on recent data from the Kansas State Department of Education, fund balances rose rapidly after 2008, remained largely level from 2011 through 2015, and rose for 2016 and 2017.

For the school year ending in 2017, total fund balances were $2,016,863,070. (This value does not include non-school funds like museums and recreation center funds.) For 2016, the figure was $1,871,026,493. This is an increase of $145,836,577, or 7.8 percent.

Around half of these fund balances are in bond and capital funds, which are different from operating funds. Without these capital funds, balances rose from $935,116,567 to $970,188,922. This is an increase of $35,072,355, or 3.8 percent.

When fund balances rise, it is because schools did not spend all their revenue. If schools say that cuts had to be made, and at the same time fund balances are rising, Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these idle fund balances.

I’ve gathered data about unspent Kansas school funds from Kansas State Department of Education and present it as an interactive visualization in a variety of tables and charts. Data is available for each district since 2008. You may explore the data yourself by using the visualization. Click here to open it in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education in current dollars (not adjusted for inflation). Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Top chart: Fund balances in all funds except non-school funds. Bottom: Without bond and capital funds. Click for larger.

WichitaLiberty:TV: Wichita economy, Kansas schools

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks discuss some statistics regarding downtown Wichita and then the Kansas school finance court decision. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 169, broadcast October 14, 2017.

Now, WichitaLiberty.TV has new broadcast times. The regular Sunday broadcasts on KGPT TV channel 26.1 (AT&T U-Verse 49) at 8:30 am, repeated at 4:30 pm, are unchanged. Here is the full broadcast schedule:

Saturdays on KGPT channel 26.9 (Newsmax TV)
10:00 am: The new episode
10:30 am: Repeat of last week’s episode
5:00 pm: Repeat of new episode
5:30 pm: Repeat of last week’s episode

Sundays on KGPT channel 26.1/AT&T channel 49 (Cozi TV)
8:30 am: Repeat of the new episode
4:00 pm: Repeat of the new episode
4:30 pm: Repeat of last week’s episode

Shownotes

  • Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice.
  • The Kansas Supreme Court decision in Gannon v. State.
  • Wichita Eagle coverage of USD 259 internet contract: Wichita district pays more in hopes of preventing internet service disruptions, Wichita school district leaving out the details, and Spending was response to cyber attacks, Wichita board president says.
  • The Rose Standards for Kansas students, as codified in K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 72-1127:
    (1) Sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;
    (2) sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices;
    (3) sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;
    (4) sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;
    (5) sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;
    (6) sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and
    (7) sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.

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

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