Kansas general fund

Data and charts regarding the Kansas general fund.

“The State General Fund receives the most attention in the budget because it is the largest source of the uncommitted revenue available to the state. It is also the fund to which most general tax receipts are credited. The Legislature may spend State General Fund dollars for any governmental purpose.”1

There is a requirement that the general fund have an ending balance of at least 7.5 percent. “Legislation was enacted by the 1990 Legislature to establish minimum ending balances to ensure financial solvency and fiscal responsibility. The legislation requires an ending balance of at least 7.5 percent of total expenditures and demand transfers and requires that the Governor’s budget recommendations and the legislative-approved budget for the coming year adhere to this standard. Often the Legislature suspends this requirement and allows for lower ending balances.”2

“The budget is based on an estimate of annual receipts and the Governor’s recommendation for total expenditures over the course of a fiscal year. However, within any fiscal year, the amount of receipts to the State General Fund varies widely from month to month, and an agency may spend any or all of its appropriation at any time during the fiscal year. In particular, the state must make large expenditures early in the fiscal year for school districts, while meeting the demands for periodic Medicaid reimbursements to providers, as well as making payroll. This makes for an imbalance when compared to when much of the state’s tax revenues are received, such as income tax, mostly recorded in the final quarter of the fiscal year.”3

“Estimates for the State General Fund are developed using a consensus process that involves the Division of the Budget, the Legislative Research Department, the Department of Revenue, and consulting economists from state universities.”4

The sources of data for the following charts and tables are Kansas Budget Reports and Comparison Reports for various years. Figures for fiscal years greater than 2016 are estimates from the Kansas Division of the Budget. Click charts for larger versions.

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Notes

  1. Kansas Division of the Budget. The Governor’s Budget Report Volume 1, Fiscal Year 2018. http://budget.ks.gov/.
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.
  4. ibid.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas conventions, taxing and spending, and Wichita economic development

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Co-host Karl Peterjohn joins Bob Weeks to discuss the Kansas congressional nominating conventions, taxing and spending in Topeka, and Wichita economic development and promotion. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 139, broadcast February 19, 2017.

Shownotes

Kansas teachers union versus students

There’s no surprise that a labor union would support its members over all other considerations, even Kansas schoolchildren.

Kansas National Education Association, the Kansas teachers union, wants to restore due process rights to teachers.

The union believes that without due process, also called tenure, teachers are subject to arbitrary dismissal. A common story is that a school board member whose child isn’t made — say, quarterback on the football team or head cheerleader — could pressure school administrators to take action against the responsible coach or teacher. Pressure could even be brought to change grades.

That could happen. It probably happens. But this is not a reason to saddle schoolchildren with bad teachers, which is what due process does. In a recent survey, teachers said five percent of their colleagues are failures, earning the grade of F.1

Given that teacher quality is the most important factor success factor that schools can control,2 3 4 why are these five percent still working in schools as teachers?

Due process laws are the answer. This is the system the Kansas teachers union wants to restore. If successful, the winners are the union and bad teachers. The losers are Kansas schoolchildren.


Notes

  1. “If we use the traditional definition of a C grade as ‘satisfactory,’ then the public, on average, thinks about one-fifth of teachers in the local schools are unsatisfactory (13% D and 9% F). … Even teachers say 5% of their colleagues in local schools are failures deserving an F, with another 8% performing at no better than the D level.” No Common Opinion on the Common Core. http://educationnext.org/2014-ednext-poll-no-common-opinion-on-the-common-core/.
  2. Center for Public Education. Teacher quality and student achievement: Research review. http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Staffingstudents/Teacher-quality-and-student-achievement-At-a-glance/Teacher-quality-and-student-achievement-Research-review.html.
  3. RAND Corporation. Teachers Matter: Understanding Teachers’ Impact on Student Achievement. http://www.rand.org/education/projects/measuring-teacher-effectiveness/teachers-matter.html.
  4. Hanushek, Eric. Teacher Quality. http://hanushek.stanford.edu/publications/teacher-quality.

In Wichita, the surveillance state expands again

In Wichita, we see another example of how once government starts a surveillance program, it probably won’t produce the promised results, yet will be expanded.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider adding more surveillance cameras to Old Town. City documents don’t specify how many video cameras will 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 is also asking council members to pass an ordinance with bonding authority of up to $750,000 to pay for this project. In other words, the city is borrowing to pay for this system.1

This proposed expansion of camera surveillance is another expansion of police powers in Wichita at the loss of civil liberties.2 In 2014 the city designated Old Town an “entertainment district,” giving the city increased powers to attempt to control crime.3 Critics are concerned that the extra enforcement measures granted to entertainment districts are discriminatory to certain minority groups.4

This proposed expansion of cameras is not likely to be the last. Wichita’s police chief is seeking to add more surveillance and cameras.5

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.6 The irony is that she would insist that she is a protector of civil rights.

What 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, an STD clinic, an abortion doctor’s office, or maybe being spotted dropping off an anonymous tip to the newspaper.” (Well, we don’t have marijuana dispensaries, but we do have complimentary stores.) (There are two newspapers in Old Town. Well, one is across the street from Old Town, but is moving into Old Town.)

We 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. Wichita City Council agenda for February 14, 2017.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Surveillance state arrives in Wichita. https://wichitaliberty.org/liberty/surveillance-state-arrives-in-wichita/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita seeks to form entertainment district. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-seeks-form-entertainment-district/.
  4. 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.
  5. Finger, stan. Police seek answers, reversal as aggravated assaults surge. Wichita Eagle, February 10, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article132071799.html.
  6. 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.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Immunizations, spending and taxing in Kansas, and getting data from Wichita

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Should Sedgwick County be in competition with the private sector? What are attitudes towards taxation and spending in Kansas? Finally, what is it like to request data from the City of Wichita? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 138, broadcast February 12, 2017.

Shownotes

Expanding Medicaid in Kansas

Expanding Medicaid in Kansas would be costly, undoubtedly more costly than estimated, has an uncertain future, and doesn’t provide very good results for those it covers.

Providing testimony to the Kansas House Committee on Health and Social Services, Michael Tanner advised legislators, “Medicaid expansion, however, is a risky gamble, that is almost certain to cost more than you are currently budgeting, while providing surprisingly little to the poor in terms of improved access to health care.”

Tanner is Senior Fellow at Cato Institute. The bill in question is HB 2064, titled “Establishing the KanCare bridge to a healthy Kansas program.” It would expand Medicaid eligibility to more people in Kansas. These quoted remarks are from Tanner’s written testimony, which may be read at Should Kansas Expand Its Medicaid Coverage.

As to the cost of Medicaid expansion, Tanner wrote: “Second, while such estimates are concerning enough in themselves, and would almost certainly require a substantial tax hike to finance, there is ample reason to believe that they understate the actual cost. For example, actual enrollments following expansion have exceeded estimates in every state that has expanded Medicaid under the ACA, in most cases by double digits and in some cases by more than 100 percent. In neighboring Colorado, the maximum projected enrollment was 187,000 and as of October of last year enrollment had exceeded 446,000. … In addition, the per enrollee cost has risen faster than predicted.”

Then, there’s the woodwork effect, which costs are covered only at the regular Medicaid reimbursement rate, not the 94 percent citizens might be tempted to believe: “Third, while it may be tempting to focus on the 94 percent FMAP [Federal Medical Assistance Percentage] for newly eligible adults, you should keep in mind that many of those who enroll under expansion will not fall into this category. Rather, they will be previously eligible individuals or families that are lured into the system through the publicity and outreach efforts surrounding expansion. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute have dubbed this the ‘woodwork effect.’ Woodwork enrollees are not eligible for the enhanced FMAP. Instead, Kansas will have to pay 43.79 percent. In states that have expanded Medicaid under ACA, as much as half or more of those who signed up have fallen into this woodwork category.”

Tanner also noted the uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, under the Trump Administration, warning legislators, “You may well be locking yourselves into future spending based on hopes for federal dollars that may never materialize.”

He also noted the studies that have found that being on Medicaid does not result in very good health outcomes, most notable in the Oregon study.

Kansans say no to more taxes

A statewide poll finds little support for raising taxes as a way to balance the Kansas budget.

Kansas Policy Institute has commissioned another public opinion poll gauging the preferences of Kansans. The poll released this week asked questions about how to balance the budget in the current year and next year, raising the gasoline tax, schools, paying for Medicaid, and voting on local tax increases.

In a press release announcing poll results, KPI president Dave Trabert noted, “Once again, scientific public opinion surveys show that special interests pushing for enormous, record-setting tax increases are completely out of step with the general public. Kansans expect government and school districts to make efficient use of their tax dollars. They don’t want their income taxes or gasoline taxes increased. The question is whether legislators will listen to citizens or special interests that want higher taxes for more spending.”

The poll with the text of all questions, results, and methodology may be viewed at Results of SurveyUSA Mkt Research Study #23415.

Some may recognize a discrepancy between the results of this poll with last year’s elections for the Kansas House and Senate. Those elections have been widely interpreted as a referendum against an unpopular governor and his policies. This poll, however, finds little support for raising the taxes that the governor and legislature cut.

A possible explanation is that in elections for office, voters are selecting people to serve in office. Voters must choose candidate A or candidate B (or maybe C or D). Voters must take the entire package of positions associated with a candidate. It isn’t possible to select some positions from candidate A, and others from candidate B.

But in a poll with specific and narrow questions, voters can express their preferences with more precision.

There’s a difference between voting for politicians and voting for — or expressing preference for — specific policies and issues. When given a chance, Wichitans have often voted contrary to the wishes of the city council, city hall bureaucrats, and Wichita’s political class. Whether a special tax giveaway to a hotel, a general sales tax increase, reduction of penalties for marijuana possession, or fluoridation of water: Wichitans voted in opposition to the policies that were supported by the people they voted to place in office.

Public education factbook for 2017

The fifth edition of data on public schools in Kansas is available.

Kansas Policy Institute has released a new edition of its Public Education Fact Book. KPI describes this book:

KPI’s fifth annual Public Education Fact Book is a one-stop shop for data on public school information from The Sunflower State. Numerous scientific surveys show that citizens are grossly misinformed on many pertinent facts of public education in Kansas. Aid and spending per-pupil are much higher than many Kansans believe, and student achievement is lower than understood. This fact book series aims to rectify this situation.

This document is available to read online here, or contact KPI for a printed copy.

The Wichita Eagle on Kansas sales tax exemptions

The Wichita Eagle editorial board writes an editorial that gives false hope to advocates of more taxation and more spending.

Advocates of eliminating sales tax exemptions in Kansas point to the great amount of revenue that could be raised if Kansas eliminated these exemptions, given at about $6 billion per year, according to a recent Wichita Eagle editorial.1

Analysis of the nature of the exemptions and the amounts of money involved, however, leads us to realize that the additional tax revenue that could be raised is much less than spending advocates claim, unless Kansas was to adopt a severely uncompetitive, and in some cases, unproductive and harshly regressive tax policy.

The unsigned editorial notes this: “And sales tax exemptions are costing the state a fortune — about $6 billion a year.” For context, general fund spending in Kansas is about the same amount. That’s a lot of money. Further, the tone of the sentence calls for more taxation so that government can spend more. In a previous op-ed on this topic Phillip Brownlee, opinion page editor for the Eagle, wrote ” And with each added exemption, the state is losing out on more revenue — $5.9 billion this fiscal year, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue. That’s money the state could be using to cover its budget shortfalls, increase funding to public schools or further reduce its income-tax rates.” At least he mentioned reducing other tax rates. Usually advocates of closing sales tax exemptions simply want more tax money to spend.

In 2015 I looked at the nature of Kansas sales tax exemptions, using data from 2014. The numbers would be a different if I repeated the analysis today. But not different by much, and the same conclusions apply.

Kansas sales tax exemptions, simplified. Click for larger version.
Kansas sales tax exemptions, simplified. Click for larger version.
We need to look at the nature of these exemptions. I’ve prepared a simplified table based on data from the Kansas Department of Revenue.2 I simplified because there are many deductions that probably should be eliminated, but they represent relatively small amounts of money.

Some sales tax exemptions are for categories of business activity that shouldn’t be taxed, at least if we want to constrain the state to a retail sales tax only. An example is exemption 79-3606 (m), described as “Property which becomes an ingredient or component part of property or services produced or manufactured for ultimate sale at retail.” The tax that could be collected, should the state eliminate this exemption, is given as $3,083.24 million ($3,083,240,000).

But this exemption isn’t really an “exemption,” at least if the sales tax is a retail sales tax designed to be levied as the final tax on consumption. That’s because these goods aren’t being sold at retail. They’re sold to manufacturers who use them as inputs to products that, when finished, will be sold at retail. Most states don’t tax this type of sales. If Kansas decided to tax these transactions, it would place our state’s manufacturers at a severe disadvantage compared to almost all other states.

There are two other exemptions that fall in this category of inputs to production processes, totaling an estimated $632 million in lost revenue. Another similar exemption is “Machinery and equipment used directly and primarily in the manufacture, assemblage, processing, finishing, storing, warehousing or distributing of property for resale by the plant or facility.” Its value is nearly $159 million.

Together, these exemptions account for $3,874 million of the $5,900 million in total exemptions.

It’s curious that the Eagle editorial did not mention these sales tax exemptions and the disadvantage that taxing these transactions would create. The authors — Brownlee, likely — did mention how other sales taxes would affect Kansas: “For example, eliminating the exemption on legal and accounting services could put Kansas at a competitive disadvantage, as other states don’t tax those services.”

Another big-dollar exemption is “items already taxed” such as motor fuel. This is an estimated $318.90 million loss in revenue. Other exemptions are purchases made by government, or purchase made by contractors on behalf of government. These exemptions account for an estimated $624.90 million in lost revenue. If these two exemptions were eliminated, the government would be taxing itself, with no net gain.

Not taxing prescription drugs means lost revenue estimated at $96.49 million. If the state started taxing residential and agricultural use utilities, it could gain an estimated $169.98 million. These taxes, like the sales tax on food and the motor fuel tax, fall hardest on low-income families. As Kansas is one of the few states to tax food, do we want to make life even more difficult for low-income households?

Adding these exemptions comes to about $5,084 million. There are other exemptions for which we could make similar arguments for their retention. What’s left over — the exemptions that really should not exist — isn’t much at all. The entire category of “Exemptions to Charitable Organizations by Name.” amounts to $3.05 million in exempted sales tax. These represent the organizations where a lawmaker has crafted an exemption like “Property and services purchased by Jazz in the Woods and sales made by or on behalf of such organization.”

So when the Eagle editorial board writes “As is, favored groups are saving billions of dollars a year, worsening the tax burden for everybody else,” It must be including broad categories of business like “all Kansas manufacturing companies” as a “favored group.” Or maybe he means prescription drug users are a “favored group.” Or families struggling to pay utility bills.

But there are more problems. The Eagle editorial board writes these sales tax exemptions are “costing the state a fortune.” The only way this makes sense is if one thinks that our property (our money) first belongs to the state, and that in order to spend it, we have to give the state its cut. That’s an opinion that you may agree with, or you may oppose. What’s remarkable — shocking, really — is that in his previous career Brownlee — the opinion page editor — was a Certified Public Accountant. He ought to understand the nature of sales taxes meant to be applied to retail sales, not components of manufactured goods.


Notes

  1. Eagle Editorial Board. Reduce sales-tax exemptions. Wichita Eagle, February 3, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article130438759.html.
  2. Kansas Department of Revenue. Annual Reports. http://www.ksrevenue.org/annualreport.html.

Greater Wichita Partnership

Greater Wichita Partnership features untruthful information on its website, which casts doubt on the reliability of the organization and the City of Wichita.

Greater Wichita Partnership uses the url of its predecessor, the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, or GWEDC. GWP is in charge of efforts to develop the economy in the greater Wichita area. It describes itself as “a driving force in building a remarkable city and region.”1

Greater Wichita Partnership website, featuring unreliable information. Click for larger.
But there is a problem. Based on the information GWP makes available on the front page of its website, I don’t have much confidence in the organization’s efforts. And that’s too bad.

In the past I’ve observed how GWEDC — that’s the predecessor to GWP — was derelict in keeping its information current. In 2014, I noticed that GWEDC credited itself with recruiting a company named InfoNXX to Wichita.2 But GWEDC did not update its website to reflect current conditions. When I looked at GWEDC’s website in October 2013, I found this on a page titled Office Operations:

Wichita hosts over a dozen customer service and processing centers — including a USPS Remote Encoding Center (985 employees), InfoNXX (950), T-Mobile (900), Royal Caribbean (700), Convergys (600), Protection One (540), Bank of America (315) and Cox Communications (230.)

The problem was this: At the time I looked at the GWEDC website in October 2013, InfoNXX had closed its Wichita operations in 2012.3 Still, the official Wichita-area economic development agency touted the existence of a company that no longer existed in Wichita, and claimed a job count that the company never achieved. (Also, at that time the USPS facility was in the process of closing and eliminating all Wichita jobs.)

Now, the Greater Wichita Partnership website trumpets — on its front page — the expansion of a company that has actually contracted its operations in Wichita.

The company is NetApp, a maker of computer server storage systems. It’s the type of high tech company all cities are recruiting, and for which cities and states will open the economic development incentives pocketbook. Locally, Wichita and the State of Kansas announced expansion plans for NetApp operations in Wichita in 2012. But by the end of 2015, NetApp was not meeting its job goals in Wichita, according to information from Sedgwick County. Since then, NetApp announced two rounds of job cuts, with the cuts in Wichita unspecified.4 5

NetApp has not met the lofty expectations Wichita and Kansas officials promoted. That’s unfortunate, and perhaps the situation will improve and NetApp will grow.

Relevant to public policy is that NetApp was slated to receive a lot of incentives from many levels of government, up to $35 million.6 It is likely impossible to determine how much of these incentives were actually paid to NetApp. We do know that both the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County stopped paying incentives to NetApp, as these incentives were predicated on achieving certain levels of job counts, and NetApp has not met them.

But the lesson to learn today is that the Greater Wichita Partnership, the agency in charge of economic development in the area, still advertises NetApp as a success.

The problem is not only the blatant lie that GWP promotes prominently: “NetApp doubles its Wichita footprint.” It’s a serious problem that GWP has not updated its website to reflect reality. What if a company considering Wichita for expansion or location checks the NetApp story? How would such a company reconcile reality with what GWP promotes? What does this say about the reputation and reliability of GWP?

I don’t expect GWP to highlight its failures. But we ought to expect GWP to care enough about the truth to remove false information from such a prominent presentation.

Wichita’s history

Presentation by James Chung. Click for larger.
Presentation by James Chung. Click for larger.
Presentation by James Chung. Click for larger. See text for problems with this presentation.
In September 2015 James Chung delivered several lectures on the Wichita-area economy and its outlook.7 In the event I attended, Chung showed examples of web pages from the Des Moines and Omaha chambers, and contrasted them to a similar page from the Wichita chamber. Chung got it wrong, as the page he showed to illustrate the Wichita chamber was a print version of the page, which — intentionally — is a simplified version of the page designed for viewing in a web browser.8 The print version of the page, however, is what appears in Google, and most people will not investigate beyond that.

Still, the Wichita chamber page was stale compared to the others. And Chung’s point was, and is, relevant: First impressions matter.

The Wichita chamber’s site is better now. But someone at the Greater Wichita Partnership didn’t get the message. Content — reliable content — counts.

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Notes

  1. Greater Wichita Partnership. About us. http://www.gwedc.org/about_us/about_us.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economic development not being managed. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-economic-development-managed/.
  3. Siebenmark, Jerry. KGB to close Wichita call center by end of January. Wichita Eagle. Decenber 7, 2011. http://www.kansas.com/news/business/article1081923.html.
  4. Horwath, Bryan. NetApp cuts employees in Wichita. Wichita Eagle. March 2, 2016. http://www.kansas.com/news/business/article63559417.html.
  5. Rengers, Carrie. NetApp restructures, announces layoffs. Wichita Eagle. November 3, 2016. http://www.kansas.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/carrie-rengers/article112339362.html.
  6. Weeks, Bob. NetApp economic development incentives: all of them. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/netapp-economic-development-incentives-all-of-them/.
  7. Wenzl, Roy. Analyst presents sobering view of Wichita economy, community. Wichita Eagle, September 22, 2015. http://www.kansas.com/news/business/article36236142.html.
  8. For a view of the page as it looked on April 5, 2015, see http://web.archive.org/web/20150405131957/http://wichitachamber.org/news_room-wichita_accolades.php.

Sedgwick County economic freedom accountability index

A new initiative to provide residents of Sedgwick County with more information about their elected county commissioners.

Indexes of voting behavior are common at the national and state levels. These indexes let voters examine how elected representatives have actually voted, rather than having to rely on their rhetoric and campaign promises. Indexes also provide a useful institutional memory.

Based on my experience on producing the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for several years — a service now provided by Kansas Policy Institute — Sedgwick County will have such an index.

It’s a timely launch, as this week Sedgwick County commissioners will consider a matter that merits inclusion in this index. The item, if passed, will restart the Sedgwick County Health Department’s travel immunizations program. More information from the county commission is available here.

Some of the criteria to be considered in building the index include these, in draft form:

  • Increasing or reducing the overall tax burden.
  • Expanding or contracting agencies, programs, or functions of government.
  • Expanding or reducing government’s power to regulate free market activity.
  • Expanding or reducing government’s role in health care.
  • Improving or harming the environment for economic growth and job creation.
  • Expanding or reducing individual property rights.
  • Protecting the integrity of elections.
  • Rewarding or harming specific individuals, business firms, industries, organizations, or special interest groups.
  • Creating or eliminating functions that can be performed by the private sector.
  • Increasing or decreasing long-term debt.
  • Increasing or decreasing government transparency and open records.
  • Using government funds for political purposes.
  • Encouraging or discouraging citizen participation in government and decision-making.

Why is economic freedom important? Here’s what Milton Friedman had to say in the opening chapter of his monumental work Capitalism and Freedom:

The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom

It is widely believed that politics and economics are separate and largely unconnected; that individual freedom is a political problem and material welfare an economic problem; and that any kind of political arrangements can be combined with any kind of economic arrangements. The chief contemporary manifestation of this idea is the advocacy of “democratic socialism” by many who condemn out of hand the restrictions on individual freedom imposed by “totalitarian socialism” in Russia, and who are persuaded that it is possible for a country to adopt the essential features of Russian economic arrangements and yet to ensure individual freedom through political arrangements. The thesis of this chapter is that such a view is a delusion, that there is an intimate connection between economics and politics, that only certain arrangements are possible and that, in particular, a society which is socialist cannot also be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom.

Economic arrangements play a dual role in the promotion of a free society. On the one hand, freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself. In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom.

GDP by state and industry

An interactive visualization of GDP for each state, by industry.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis is an agency of the United States Department of Commerce. BEA describes its role as “Along with the Census Bureau, BEA is part of the Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration. BEA produces economic accounts statistics that enable government and business decision-makers, researchers, and the American public to follow and understand the performance of the Nation’s economy. To do this, BEA collects source data, conducts research and analysis, develops and implements estimation methodologies, and disseminates statistics to the public.”

One series BEA produces is gross domestic product (GDP) by state for 21 industry sectors on a quarterly basis. BEA defines GDP as “the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production.” It is the value of the final goods and services produced.

In describing this data, BEA says “These new data provide timely information on how specific industries contribute to accelerations, decelerations, and turning points in economic growth at the state level, including key information about the impact of differences in industry composition across states.” This data series starts in 2005. An announcement of the most recent release of this data is at Gross Domestic Product by State: Third Quarter 2016.

I’ve gathered the data for this series for all states and regions and present it in an interactive visualization using Tableau Public. The data is presented in real dollars, meaning that BEA adjusted the numbers to account for changes in the price level, or inflation.

In the visualization you may use several different presentations of the data and filter for specific states, industries, and time intervals. Besides a table of values, the series are presented as percentage change over time since the first values, so that growth, rather than magnitude, of GDP is shown.

Click here to open the visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

From Pachyderm: Congressional candidates

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: A forum for Republican candidates vying to fill the vacant position of former Congressman Mike Pompeo, who is now Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Ths program was moderated by Kelly Arnold, who is Chairman of the Kansas Republican Party.

Candidates appearing were, in order of initial appearance:

  • Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner
  • Kansas Treasurer Ron Estes
  • Former Congressman Todd Tiahrt
  • Donald Trump adviser Alan Cobb
  • Attorney George Bruce
  • Aerospace engineer and radio host Joseph Ashby

This program was recorded February 3, 2017. Republican delegates will meet to select their candidate on February 8. The election is April 11.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Blight, guns, testimony, and KPERS

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Co-host Karl Peterjohn joins Bob Weeks to discuss the fight on blight and property rights, guns on campus, availability of testimony in the Kansas Legislature, and KPERS, our state’s retirement system. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 137, broadcast February 5, 2017.

Shownotes

Analysis of proposed tax changes in Kansas

Proposed changes in the Kansas motor fuel tax and sales tax on groceries affects households in different ways.

As part of a revision to the tax regime in Kansas, a bill proposes to raise the motor fuel tax and reduce the sales tax on most types of groceries. (Restaurant meals would not be affected.) The bill is HB 2237.1 It implements most or all of the elements of a plan called “The Path Forward.”2

Excise taxes (the motor fuel tax) and sales taxes are usually regressive, meaning that their impact is felt most severely by lower-income households.3 Data shows that as income rises, so too does spending on motor fuel and food at home. But the rise in spending is not proportional to income. For example, data from BLS (see below for references) tells us that households in the lowest quintile of income spent an average of $939 per year on motor fuel and oil in 2015. For the highest quintile of households, spending was $3,226.

But when we look at this spending as a percent of household income after taxes, for the lowest quintile spending on motor fuel and oil represents 8.2 percent of income. For the highest quintile, it is 2.3 percent. A similar pattern holds for purchases of food for home consumption.

Because of this relationship, taxes on the sale of gasoline and food affect lower-income households proportionally more. What I have done is to estimate the additional cost, as a percent of after-tax income, of the proposed motor fuel tax. As can be seen in the nearby chart, the additional cost ranges from 0.39 percent of income for the lowest-income households to 0.11 percent for upper-income households. This difference, a factor of 3.5, illustrates the regressive nature of sales taxes, and the gasoline tax is just that — a sales tax.

HB 2237 Additional Tax Cost as Percent of Income After Taxes. Click for larger.
The bill proposing the increase in gasoline tax also proposes a reduction in the food sales tax rate from 6.5 percent to five percent. That tax is also regressive. In 2014, as Wichita was considering adding one cent per dollar to the sales tax already paid, my analysis of spending found this: “The lowest income class of families experience an increase nearly four times the magnitude as do the highest income families, as a percentage of after-tax income. This is the regressive nature of sales taxes illustrated in numbers.”4

HB 2237 Sales Tax Savings as Percent of Income After Taxes. Click for larger.
A nearby chart shows that the savings from the proposed lower food sales tax ranges from 0.07 percent for high-income households to 0.33 percent for low-income households. This is consistent with the regressive nature of sales taxes: They affect low-income households greatest — when raised, and also when lowered.

HB 2237 Net Cost as Percent of Income After Taxes. Click for larger.
Another chart shows the summative effect of the higher fuel tax and lower food sales tax. Of interest, the net effect is highest for the middle 20 percent of households. Note that considering these two taxes, the effect of the proposed bill is to raise taxes for everyone.

Show the math

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a unit of the U.S. Department of Labor,5 has data for household expenditures on gasoline and oil. This data is available for five intervals, or quintiles, of income.6

Then the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy,7 has gasoline prices. It doesn’t have them for Kansas, but it does for the Midwest.8

From these two values, we can calculate the number of gallons of gasoline purchased for each income level. Here, we lose a bit of validity, as the BLS data is for purchases of gasoline and oil. But it’s the data we have, and purchases of gasoline surely dominate purchases of motor oil.

Once we have the number of gallons of gasoline purchased, we multiply by the proposed eleven cents per gallon additional tax. This produces the extra gasoline sales tax cost per household. This is a static calculation and assumes no change in the number of gallons purchased due to the higher cost from the tax, or from any change in gasoline prices for any reason.

Then, the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey also holds income after taxes for the five income levels. Simple division gives us the percent of household income that the additional tax represents.

The BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey also holds data for spending on food at home for the five income levels. From that, we can multiply by 1.5 percent to estimate the amount saved if sales tax on food falls to five percent from 6.5 percent. As with purchases of gasoline, this is a static calculation and assumes no change in behavior from reduced sales tax on groceries. Simple division gives us the percent of household income that the tax savings represents.

Then, we can subtract the food sales tax savings from the additional gasoline tax costs to produce a net calculation.


Notes

  1. Kansas House of Representatives, Committee on Taxation. HB 2237, Concerning taxation; relating to income tax, rates, determination of income, tax credits; motor fuels tax, rates, trip permits, distribution; sales and compensating use tax, food and food ingredients. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/hb2237/.
  2. Riseupkansas.org. *The Path Forward.” http://riseupkansas.org/the-path-forward/.
  3. “A regressive tax is a tax imposed in such a manner that the tax rate decreases as the amount subject to taxation increases.” Wikipedia. Regressive tax. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regressive_tax.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Wichita sales tax hike would hit low income families hardest. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-sales-tax-hike-hit-low-income-families-hardest/.
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About BLS. https://www.bls.gov/bls/infohome.htm.
  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Expenditure Survey. https://www.bls.gov/cex/.
  7. Energy Information Administration. Mission and Overview. http://www.eia.gov/about/mission_overview.php.
  8. Energy Information Administration. Midwest Regular All Formulations Retail Gasoline Prices (Dollars per Gallon). http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=EMM_EPMR_PTE_R20_DPG&f=A.

Fake news, meet fake research

Do you think we have a problem with fake news? Let me introduce you to fake research.

Think of the term “peer-reviewed research.” What comes to my mind is the academic or scientific researcher, wearing a white lab coat, dispassionately and impartially following the data and experiments down whatever path they lead.

But it isn’t always that way. Retraction Watch tracks research papers that have been retracted. There are a variety of reasons for retractions. Honest mistakes are made, yes. But striking is how much outright and blatant fraud exists in the academic publishing world. Here is a sampling of some articles from Retraction Watch:

“A physicist formerly based at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for faking data.” (U.S. gov’t physicist sentenced to 18 months in prison for fraud)

“Do you know the difference between a group of researchers in the same field who cite each other’s related work, and a group of authors who purposefully cite each other in order to boost their own profiles?” (How to spot a “citation cartel”)

“In October, the Journal of Biological Chemistry retracted 19 papers coauthored by cancer biologist Jin Cheng, formerly at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. That’s something you don’t see every day.” Also: “It’s every researcher’s worst nightmare: a manuscript gets rejected during peer review, then shows up later — published by one of the reviewers.” (Top 10 Retractions of 2016)

“When it comes to detecting image manipulation, the more tools you have at your disposal, the better. In a recent issue of Science and Engineering Ethics, Lars Koppers at TU Dortmund University in Germany and his colleagues present a new way to scan images. Specifically, they created an open-source software that compares pixels within or between images, looking for similarities, which can signify portions of an image has been duplicated or deleted.” (Sleuthing out scientific fraud, pixel by pixel)

“The situation should sound familiar to readers who follow such “sting” operations: Spears submitted a fake paper to the so-called “predatory” journal, it was accepted one month later with no changes, and published.” (Surprise! Paper retracted after author tells journal it’s a “pile of dung”)

And, to top it off:

And today, we bring you news of an effort by John Bohannon, of Science magazine, to publish fake papers in more than 300 open access journals. Bohannon, writing as “Ocorrafoo Cobange” of the “Wassee Institute of Medicine” — neither of which exist, of course — explains his process:

The goal was to create a credible but mundane scientific paper, one with such grave errors that a competent peer reviewer should easily identify it as flawed and unpublishable. Submitting identical papers to hundreds of journals would be asking for trouble. But the papers had to be similar enough that the outcomes between journals could be comparable. So I created a scientific version of Mad Libs.

The paper took this form: Molecule X from lichen species Y inhibits the growth of cancer cell Z. To substitute for those variables, I created a database of molecules, lichens, and cancer cell lines and wrote a computer program to generate hundreds of unique papers. Other than those differences, the scientific content of each paper is identical.

The result? 157 journals accepted the paper and 98 rejected it. (Science reporter spoofs hundreds of open access journals with fake papers)

Retraction Watch has a blog. You can subscribe to email updates. Also, you can keep informed on Facebook and Twitter. An upcoming project is completing a database for tracking retractions.

Availability of testimony in the Kansas Legislature

It is easy to provide Kansans with written testimony from the Kansas Legislature. At least I think so.

On the Kansas Legislature website, each committee has its own page. On these committee pages there are links for “Committee Agenda,” “Committee Minutes,” and “Testimony.” When I looked at these pages two years ago, I found that in most cases there is no data behind these links.1 I do not know what the statistics would be if I repeated the analysis for this year.

But the written testimony and informational presentations provided to committees are of interest and value to citizens. Most committees — perhaps all — require conferees to supply a pdf or Microsoft Word version of their testimony in advance of the hearing. These electronic documents could be placed online before the committee hearing. Then, anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone could have these documents available to them.

As an illustration, a bill from last week, SB31, was of interest to many in Kansas.2 But the page for the committee that heard this bill holds no testimony, for this bill or any other.

I’ve gathered the written testimony on SB31 and present it as a single pdf file for ease of handling. I combined the files and formed an index using PDF Split and Merge Basic, which is free and open source. I shared the file using Google Drive, a free service, or very inexpensive if additional storage is required. I can’t tell you how much time it took to accomplish this task, as I was interrupted several times during the process. If pressed, I’d estimate no more than ten or fifteen minutes.

You may access this document here. I can’t tell you how much time it took to accomplish this task, as I was interrupted several times during the process. If pressed, I’d estimate no more than ten minutes.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Availability of testimony in the Kansas Legislature. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/availability-testimony-kansas-legislature/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. In Kansas, the war on blight continues. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-war-blight-continues/.

Activate Wichita, an embarrassment

A communications initiative of the City of Wichita brings embarrassment to our city.

At one time Activate Wichita was touted by Wichita city officials as an “online conversation about the future of the Greater Wichita metropolitan area.”

It’s described on its companion Facebook page as: “Activate Wichita is an innovative new way to be heard on the issues you’re passionate about. Whether your passion is local arts, the environment, or employment creation, you can log on and voice your opinion and local leaders will respond. Together communities come up with solutions and vote on the best course.”

For a system designed to be an interactive conversation, there aren’t many people talking. And maybe I didn’t look diligently enough, but I didn’t see local leaders responding.

At one time Activate Wichita had some activity. Then it changed. There was a different design. All the old content was gone. There was very little new content.

In December 2015 I inquired to the city and was told that My Sidewalk, the company that provides the software that runs Activate Wichita, made changes to improve the system. I was also told: “While the City has not used Activate Wichita as extensively in 2015 as in previous years, our staff has been working with the My Sidewalk support team to learn how to best make effective use of the new design as part of City engagement initiatives. The Library has a series of engagement conversations in planning for 2016. We expect increased use from several other departments as well.”

Whatever plans the city had for Activate Wichita in 2016, it doesn’t look like they materialized. As of today, there is only one active item on Activate Wichita, from March 2016. Or it could be March 2015; it doesn’t say. The companion Facebook page for Activate Wichita has only three posts since the middle of 2016, with the most recent from August.

The harm of Activate Wichita

This lack of attention to these communication initiatives might not be very important except that the city prominently features Activate Wichita. An inviting graphic appears prominently on nearly every page at wichita.gov, the city’s website.

The banner on almost all City of Wichita web pages, showing activate Wichita link.
If someone using the wichita.gov city website happens to click on the Activate Wichita logo, they would see something that can be described — charitably — as pathetic. Think of someone considering moving to Wichita, or a company planning to locate or expand in Wichita. Think of people already in Wichita. Is Activate Wichita the impression the city wants to make?

Remember, Activate Wichita is prominent on the city’s website. The city devotes precious web space to promoting it. I can understand that reviving Activate Wichita into something useful is time-consuming.

But minimizing the damage should be a snap. Just remove the Activate Wichita link from the city’s website. When Activate Wichita is revived, restore the link.

By the way, did you know the city increased the size of its communication staff by hiring a Strategic Communications Director? He’s been at work almost two years.

Wichita check register

A records request to the City of Wichita results in data as well as insight into the city’s attitude towards empowering citizens with data.

As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization.

Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor named “Go Wichita,” which changed its name to “Visit Wichita.”

Similarly, there are payments made to both “Westar Energy” and “Westar Energy — EDI.” These are the same entities, just as “Visit Wichita” and “Go Wichita” are the same entity. To the city’s credit, the matching pairs have the same vendor number, which is good. But resolving this requires a different level of analysis.

There are interesting entries. For example, the city had been spending a few hundred dollars per month to the Kansas Turnpike Authority. Then in July 2015, the city paid $3.7 million to KTA. A quick search of city council agenda packets didn’t reveal any reason for this.

Of note, it looks like there were 1,475 checks issued in amounts $20 or less over a period of nearly two years. Bank of America has estimated that the total cost of sending a business check ranges from $4 to $20.

The records request

Wichita spending data from 2013.
Wichita spending data from 2013.
The city supplied this data in an Excel spreadsheet, in an arrangement that can easily be analyzed in Excel or loaded into other programs. This is a step forward. Three years ago, Wichita could supply data of limited utility. What was supplied to me was data in pdf form, and as images, not text. It would be difficult to translate the image data into machine-readable text, and even more difficult to reorganize it to a useful arrangement or format for analysis.

Denver open checkbook.
Denver open checkbook.
In 2015 had to pay $24.00 to the city for this data. That’s a problem. It is by now routine for governmental agencies to post spending data like this, but not at the City of Wichita. Upon inquiry, city officials told me that the present financial management system “does not include many modern system features such as an ‘open checkbook.’” An “open checkbook” refers to a modern web interface where citizens can query for specific data and perhaps perform other analysis. An example is Denver’s open checkbook.

While the next-generation Wichita financial system will probably have such a feature, there’s no reason why citizens can’t experience some of the benefits now. The spreadsheet of spending data like that I paid for could easily be posted on the city’s website on a monthly basis. People like myself will take that data and make it more useful, as I did. There is no reason why this should not be happening.

Fees

When I learned of the fee for these records in 2015, I asked for a waiver, sending this to the city’s records official:

I’d like to ask for a waiver of the requested fee. I ask this because check register data is an example of records that many governmental agencies make freely available on their websites. The Wichita Public School District and Sedgwick County are two local examples.

I’d like to also call attention to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, which allows for fee waivers in some circumstances: “…fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.”

I suggest that the records I am requesting will indeed “contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government,” and that it is in the public interest of the people of Wichita that these records be freely available.

I received an answer:

Mr. Weeks,

Your request for waiver of fees is denied. KORA allows fees to be collected prior to finding and producing the document you seek. KSA 45-218(f). The extensive statute setting out how fees are to be determined, KSA 45-219, does not contain any provision for waiver in the manner you suggest.

The City will provide the document to you upon payment as invoiced.

Sincerely,
Jay C. Hinkel,
Deputy City Attorney

Mr. Hinkel is absolutely correct. Governmental agencies in Kansas have the right to charge for records, and the Kansas statutes do not mention the waiving of fees as do the federal statutes. But the Kansas Open Records Act does not require cities to charge for providing records, especially for records that the city should already be providing. Especially when citizens are willing to take that data and make it better, at no charge to the city.

(For the most recent records request, the city waived its intended fee of $24.00, noting this waiver is for the current request only. The city acknowledges that it temporarily misplaced my request, and as a result, was late in responding. I believe that is the reason for the fee waiver.)

Wichita’s attitutude, from top down

Hinkel provided a lawyer’s answer. Here, however, is the public policy the city promotes, from a Wichita city news release from 2013:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”

The importance of transparency. The city wants to empower and engage citizens by providing information. Well. I offered to “contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government,” but had to pay to do so.

When I asked city officials for clarification of why I had to pay to receive these records, communications staff told me: “I should note that the City has won multiple awards for openness and citizen participation, but City leaders recognize this work is never done. They strive each and every day to become more open and transparent and will continue to do so.”

I must disagree. This is not “open and transparent.” This is not how to “empower and engage” the people of Wichita. Not even close.

The city lags far behind comparable agencies in providing access to data. It’s been almost two years since the city expanded its staff by adding a Strategic Communications Director. It doesn’t seem that this has helped to provide information to citizens.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas politics, school choice, and asset forfeiture

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Co-host Karl Peterjohn joins Bob Weeks to discuss a few big developments in Kansas politics, school choice, and civil asset forfeiture. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 136, broadcast January 29, 2017.

Shownotes

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