Category Archives: Sedgwick county government

Karl Peterjohn Files for Sedgwick County Commission

On June 5, 2008, Karl Peterjohn officially filed to become a Republican candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission in district 3. I and some other local news media interviewed him afterwards.

Peterjohn believes taxes are an important issue in Sedgwick county. “Taxpayers need additional protection in Sedgwick County. The most effective position for taxpayers is a requirement that any and all county tax hikes must be approved by voters.” “People are concerned about the growing tax problem in Sedgwick County.”

Peterjohn said he intends to provide voters with the information they need so that they may make informed decisions about the candiates: “As I campaign in this district I find that voters need and want additional information about the positions of all of the candidates running.”

Finally, Peterjohn believes in private property rights: “Voters are disappointed to find out the county’s position on having strong eminent domain powers at the expense of homeowners, farmers, and businesses in our community. The negative impact of government authority over property instead of having the people control their land, their homes, their businesses is an indicator of how power is shifting to the central authority of the state instead of the people. If I am elected county commissioner, this is one county policy I will change and we will expand protection of property for the people.”

The campaign’s website is karlpeterjohn.com.

Sedgwick County trash franchising: on the road to economic perdition

I received this letter to Sedgwick County (Kansas) Commissioner David Unruh “over the transom” and I thought it merited reading by the general public. The author speaks of the “road to economic perdition.” I had to use the dictionary to refresh my memory of the exact meaning of the word “perdition.” While that term seems at first to be a little strong, I believe that trash franchising, like a ban on smoking, is just the first step in the plans of our local government officials. If politicians and newspaper editorialists can convince us that we require the force of government to take care of something as simple as picking up the trash — something that works very well already – it’s an easy jump to the next level of control. So perdition seems appropriate.

The May 21 Wichita Eagle reported that you and a number of other commissioners want to impose some sort of franchise on trash collection by cities operating in the area where Sedgwick County is responsible for trash disposal with state authorities. The Eagle quotes you as supporting a government franchise monopoly by haulers in specific areas as well as uniform terms for collection of residential refuse.

Before joining the commission I know that you were a businessman in the car repair business. Since government monopolies and uniformity in service is apparently preferable to free markets and open competition I hope that you will want to extend government into providing uniform monopoly in car repair as well as other private sector businesses. If the county’s goal is ending duplication of services and allegedly “wasteful” competition what basis do you have for only limiting franchising to trash hauling?

It is very clear to even the most casual consumer that there is significant variations in pricing among the folks repairing automobiles just like there are in the trash hauling business. There is a lack of uniformity in people getting their cars repaired too.

I must also note that an Unruh repair shop near 13th St. W. and Maize Rd. is only a short distance away from Westlink Auto Service. Having two firms competing for customers is obviously as duplicative and excessive as multiple trash firms going down the same street to collect refuse.

We have a similar situation nearby where two instances of two separate firms selling groceries are located on adjacent corners at 21st W and Maize Rd. (Walmart and Dillons) as well as Maize Rd. and W. Central (Aldi and Dillons).

Government monopolies have also a proven track record of performance. There is a name for this when university students study 20th century governments where these types of restrictions are commonplace.

Look how Wichita water and sewer rates have performed in the last few years and how it now appears likely that the city will be once again raising these rates significantly soon. Municipal power plants that dot many small Kansas towns also have a similar track record of costly performance for the citizens who have to pay the rates.

The City of Wichita got out of the trash hauling business in the late 1970’s for a reason. Establishing private/public franchise monopolies is a power that should be exercised very cautiously and carefully and has failed in the past. However, if you are going to expand local government’s roles in establishing ways of eliminating duplication of services and wasteful competition, you should fully understand where this road to economic perdition leads.

Trash Franchising in Wichita and Sedgwick County

Currently both Sedgwick County and Wichita are considering trash franchising.

On the surface, “franchising” sounds like a good thing. It sounds like someone’s opening a new Subway sandwich shop.

But what trash franchising does is to grant a monopoly to one (or sometimes a few) service providers for specific geographic areas. Under franchising, people living in an area will have either no choice, or perhaps limited choice, in choosing who picks up their trash. Rates will also be set by government.

The effect of this is that the profit motive for trash haulers is dramatically modified. Under franchising, trash companies have guaranteed customers paying mandated rates. What is the likely effect of this? I refer to Walter E. Williams, who said this: “Here’s Williams’ law: Whenever the profit incentive is missing, the probability that people’s wants can be safely ignored is the greatest.”

The use of the term “franchising” glosses over the consequences of a government mandate of who customers may choose to do business with. Citizens need a better term that accurately describes what our government is considering. Unfortunately, I am having trouble coming up with such a term, so I am asking you for help.

So far I have these terms: “mandatory service provider selection,” “choice elimination,” “enforced selection,” and “trash service reduction program.”

As you see, none of these terms are very artful. So please help me. You may email your suggestions to bob.weeks@gmail.com, or leave them as a comment to this article. Comments may be anonymous.

No Recycling Mandates in Sedgwick County, Please

Remarks delivered at a public hearing for the Sedgwick County solid waste management plan, April 24, 2008. Sedgwick County, Kansas, home to the City of Wichita, is considering a mandatory household recycling program. Or, perhaps people won’t be forced to recycle, but they will be required to pay for the cost burden that recycling places on communities.

You may listen to this article in audio form by clicking here.

The economist Frederich Hayek tells us that the price system communicates all the information we need to know about the relative value of things. The price system allows people who don’t know each other to coordinate their activities in the most effective and efficient way possible. The price system is truly a miracle.

If you want to see what happens when the price system is not allowed to work, usually because a government attempts to manage prices, just look at the former Soviet Union and other planned economies. The economist Thomas Sowell relates this story:

The last premiere of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, is said to have asked British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: How do you see to it that people get food? The answer was that she didn’t. Prices did that. And the British people were better fed than those in the Soviet Union, even though the British have never grown enough food to feed themselves in more than a century. Prices bring them food from other countries.

The price system can do its work only when free people trade with each other freely under a system where property rights are respected. Any attempt by governments to manage prices leads to inefficiencies that manifest themselves as shortages, waiting lines, surpluses, and black markets. The emergence of these problems lead to calls for even more government interventionism to fix the very problem the government caused by interfering with the price system. It can be a never-ending cycle.

How does this apply to recycling in Sedgwick County?

In some cases the price system tells us that recycling is a beneficial use of resources. About 75% of automobiles are recycled, and used cardboard is often recycled in commercial settings. That’s because the price paid for these recycled items is high enough that, in these contexts, recycling can be profitable. That’s the price system at work. It tells us that the best use of an old car is to recycle it, and the same goes for cardboard boxes at the grocery store.

A household setting is different. Households usually have to pay to engage in recycling. The prices that recyclers can get for these recycled goods doesn’t cover the cost of collecting them from households, as evidenced by the fact that in Wichita households must pay someone to pick up recyclables. That’s the price system at work again. Its sober assessment is that in the context of households, recycling is a waste of resources. That waste can be tremendous. Orange County, Florida, for example, spends roughly $3 million per year to collect recyclable goods from households, but sells them for only $56,000.

What about running out of landfill space? If landfill space were truly scarce, the price system would tell us so, because landfill operators — if there is a free market for landfills — could charge high prices for accepting trash. But evidently, they can’t.

So the price system tells us sometimes recycling is a good use of resources, and sometimes it isn’t.

A mandatory recycling program or one where people have to pay fees even if they don’t actually recycle their household goods amounts to the government attempting to override the price system. It is attempting to manage the price system through government interventionism. These policies, should Sedgwick County implement them, will cause citizens to suffer the same inefficiencies that all planned economies have demonstrated, if on a smaller scale.

Downtown Wichita (Intrust) arena groundbreaking

On Tuesday December 4, 2007, Sedgwick County hosted the formal groundbreaking ceremony for the downtown Wichita arena. While local government leaders and news media hailed the event as a transforming event in the history of Wichita, this writer does not share their enthusiasm.

The building of this arena is government interventionism at its worst. Stakeholders in the arena, such as Bob Hanson of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, demonstrate the harm of rent seeking, as they seek to obtain, at taxpayer expense, a large and expensive playhouse for their pleasure. Supporters dressed their arguments for the arena in the language of public goods and economic development. But Henry Hazlitt and others have explained that the money spent on the arena is money that wasn’t spent somewhere else, with the attendant loss of jobs and economic activity somewhere else. (See my review of Economics in One Lesson and Prepare for Sales Tax-Induced Job Effects Now, also printed in The Wichita Eagle.) As local governments consider an expensive plan for development of the surrounding area, that money — just like the money collected through the sales tax — is money that citizens won’t be spending somewhere else of their own choosing.

Even the most basic economic arguments given for the arena were flawed. I found out that the estimated operating budget for the arena was defective, as officials were not aware of, or did not care to disclose, the proper government accounting standards the arena would be required to use. (See Arenas’ Financial Statements Not Complete and WSU Study on Downtown Wichita Arena Not Complete.)

Government, too, is not qualified to build and own assets like this arena. Consider the status of the Kansas Coliseum, which having opened in 1978 is only 29 years old. Yet three years ago we were told that it required extensive renovation for continued use, that poor condition being the stick used to promote the downtown arena. (Century II, not much older, is often described in the same terms.) So can you spot the irony in Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh’s statement at the groundbreaking? “I think probably most everyone here…will have a story they can tell their children and grandchildren on how they had a part in changing the profile and character of our community.” If this new arena suffers the same fate as the Coliseum, one generation from now we’ll be building another.

Further, government and its officials are not allowed to campaign for the arena as they did. Kansas Attorney General Opinion 93-125 states: “…public funds may not be used to promote or advocate the position of a governing body on a matter which is before the electorate.” If you examine news media accounts of the debate before the election in November 2004, you will see that our local government officials and their quasi-governmental surrogates were working in full force for the passage of the arena and its tax, in direct violation of this regulation. See Government Funds Promoting Downtown Wichita Arena.

Finally, by building a government arena, we lose the opportunity to have a privately-owned arena. A private arena, you say? Wouldn’t it have to be owned by greedy capitalists, only seeking to exploit our town just to earn a profit? But in the absence of government coercion or intervention, a business can earn a profit only by meeting customers’ needs, and doing that efficiently. Governments and their bureaucrats do not have this powerful motivating factor. The absence of the computation of profit and loss means that we will never know whether the resources spent on the arena were spent wisely. See A Public or Private Downtown Wichita Arena, Which is Desirable?.

More taxes for Wichitans

More Taxes For Wichitans
By Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network

Expanding gambling in Sedgwick County will lower taxes and provide “…tax relief…,” according to casino advocates’ campaign flyer. This claim is preposterous in light of the soaring property tax hikes and spending expansion plans being generated by local government in our community.

Historically it is also ridiculous when taxes in general and property taxes in particular rose following the passage of the state lottery in the 1980s. Gambling proponents campaign does raise some key questions for this community’s tax status and overall fiscal climate.

In 2006 Sedgwick County commissioners unanimously raised their mill levy 2.55 mills despite a public outcry and uproar opposing this hike. Two commissioners were then removed from office in the 2006 elections because of the county’s property tax hike. This mill levy increase was on top of soaring property tax appraisals that provide additional taxes for the county’s proposed $386.5 million budget a 5.8 percent hike.

The City of Wichita’s 2008 proposed budget is $495.62 million and this is an increase of over $100 million from the 2006’s $390.1 million. City spending is soaring with a two-year increase of 27 percent and an increase over last year’s revised budget of slightly less than 15 percent. There are a large number of new spending proposals pending at city hall too including $24.5 million for the county’s arena project and $290 million to remodel Century II in a few years.

The Wichita public schools are now proposing a two mill property tax hike (many other Wichita area public school districts are also seeking more property taxes too). This is on top of the $24.6 million increase in state tax funds for USD 259. USD 259 plans to hire 163 new employees for a school district with a gradually declining enrollment.

Despite having an opportunity to place this issue before voters August 7, none of the districts decided to let voters have a say in deciding the fate of school tax hikes. Once again, Wichita area voters were disenfranchised. I don’t recall hearing any of the school board or Wichita municipal candidates running in last April’s election campaigning on a platform of raising property taxes in particular or backing tax hikes in general at our public forums.

Wichita public schools had massive spending growth over the last few years. The district’s first budget over $300 million was in 2000-01. The first $400 million budget was in 2005-06. The first official $1/2 billion school budget is this year (but if all tax funds were included this actually took place two years ago).

If additional tax funds from Washington and pension tax funds from Topeka are added these figures are much larger. The official USD 259 proposed budget is just under $516 million but if the “off budget” tax dollars are included this figure grows to $577 million.

If all tax funds are included and enrollment remains the same as last year, spending will be close to $13,000 per FTE pupil annually. If only the “official” spending figures are used the spending will be over $11,600 per FTE pupil annually in Wichita.

In our community government growth is on tax steroids while the private sector struggles with the same growing energy, health insurance, and utility costs that are the justifications being used to raise taxes. Big government in Wichita puts us at a competitive disadvantage compared to similar sized communities in our neighboring states where voters decide the fate of tax increases. This increases the risk and uncertainty for Wichita firms, while it limits economic growth in our community.

Testimony supporting an arena re-vote

From Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network

We need to correct the flawed downtown arena proposal’s mistakes. Since the legislature authorized the county sales tax for the downtown arena it has become abundantly clear that the case against proceeding with the flawed arena project has been made. Enclosed with this testimony is a copy of the 2004 flyer used in that election campaign that shows that the critics of this proposal were correct on the key points in this project.

Here are key points why there should be a revote:

1) The 2004 cost estimates for the downtown arena project at $184.528 million were inaccurate (see county’s Sept. 1, 2004 arena document). The county now projects $201 million and that is likely to grow. In addition, new reports indicate that there is an effort to have the city fund $108 million in additional infrastructure changes for the arena and the area around it.

If the 1 cent sales tax was used entirely for property tax relief, the county’s mill levy could be dropped by roughly 20 mills or roughly 65 percent of the current mill levy.

If you divided the total county and city costs ($201 M + $108 M), that’s almost $700 per person or over $2,700 for a family of four. That’s excessive.

2) There is no anchor tenant for this facility. The Kansas Coliseum rarely sells out. With the same shows and sports franchises, why build a larger facility?

3) There is inadequate parking for this facility. Adding necessary parking will drive the cost of this project even higher.

4) Downtown arena advocates threatened voters with higher property taxes if they did not vote for the sales tax. Sadly, the county property tax mill levy was raised roughly six percent last year and two incumbent commissioners were defeated in their reelection bids as a result.

5) A privately owned and funded arena in Park City is likely to be built and opened well before the downtown arena project is completed. One of the current users of the coliseum will move to this new private facility.

In 1993, Wichita city voters rejected a proposed downtown arena project by better than a 2-to-1 margin. In 2004 voters narrowly, by a 52-to-48 percent margin, approved the downtown arena at $184.5 million. Since then, more realistic cost data about the increased price for a downtown arena has become available.

Let the people vote again on the following four point proposal:

The county will not proceed with the flawed downtown arena project. The roughly $200 million in sales tax revenue that has been raised will be put to the following uses: 1) The Britt Brown Arena will be remodeled with roughly ¼ of the funds generated by the current 1 cent arena sales tax; 2) The current costs that have been incurred in land acquisition, designs, and other contractual costs will be paid with these funds; 3) The remaining sales tax revenue balances will be used to pay down the county’s mill levy (that should be well over ½ of the entire amount raised so far). In addition, the county will seek state authorization to continue the existing 1 cent countywide sales tax with the proviso that it be used entirely to reduce county property taxes. That would provide a reduction of about 65% of the county’s property tax mill levy; 4) All future county mill levy increases must be submitted to voters and approved at a referendum election in the same way that local sales tax increases are approved.

Eliminating this large a portion of the county’s mill levy will provide Sedgwick County businesses, taxpayers, and citizens with a significant comparative advantage over other Kansas counties by reducing this tax on assets as well as reducing the uncertainty concerning future property tax hikes. This will take us one step towards becoming more competitive with progressive states where all tax hikes have to receive voter approval: Colorado, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Recycling in Wichita: Be Careful What You Wish For

The Wichita Eagle editorial board, particularly Randy Scholfield, has been pressing for mandatory recycling. Here’s an example of the type of legislation we might see if reason fails us:

AN ACT concerning newspapers, and the recycling thereof, in observance of our state’s relationship to Nature, and general lack of trees within this State.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Kansas:

Definitions.
Sec. 1. As used is this act:
(a) “Newspaper” means a publication printed primarily on newsprint, usually daily.
(b) “Recyclable newspaper” means a newspaper upon which a deposit of at least 10 cents has been paid, or is required to be paid upon the removal of the newspaper from the sale or reading area.
(c) “Dealer” means a person who sells or offers for sale to consumers within this state a newspaper, including an operator of a vending machine containing a newspaper, and including a person operating a delivery route.
(d) “Distributor” means a person who sells newspaper to a dealer within this state, and includes a manufacturer who engages in such sales.
(e) “Manufacturer” means a person who prints newspapers for sale to distributors, dealers, or consumers, with a daily circulation of 75,000 or more.
(f) “Sale or consumption area” means the premises within the property of the dealer where the sale is made, within which newspapers may be read without payment of a deposit, and, upon removing a newspaper from which, the customer is required by the dealer to pay the deposit.

Sec. 2.
(1) A dealer shall not, within this state, sell, offer for sale, or give to consumers a nonrecyclable newspaper.
(2) A dealer who regularly sells newspapers for reading off the dealer’s premises shall provide on the premises, or within 100 yards of the premises on which the dealer sells or offers for sale a returnable newspaper, a convenient means whereby the newspaper of any kind, size, and brand sold or offered for sale by the dealer may be returned by, and the deposit refunded in cash to, a person whether or not the person is the original customer of that dealer, and whether or not the newspaper was sold by that dealer.
(3) A dealer shall not refuse to accept from a person a read recyclable newspaper of any kind, size, and brand sold by that dealer, nor refuse to pay to the person its full refund value in cash.
(4) A dealer who does not require a deposit on a recyclable newspaper when the contents are read in the dealer’s sale or reading area shall not be required to pay a refund for accepting that read newspaper.
(5) A distributor shall not refuse to accept from a dealer a read recyclable newspaper of any kind, size, and brand sold by that distributor, nor refuse to pay to the dealer its full refund value in cash.
(6) Every newspaper sold or offered for sale by a dealer within this state shall clearly indicate by embossing or by a stamp, a label, or other method securely affixed to the front page, the refund value of the newspaper and the name of this state. A dealer or distributor may, but is not required to, refuse to accept from a person a read recyclable newspaper which does not state on the front page the refund value of the newspaper and the name of this state.
(7) A dealer within this state shall not sell, offer for sale, or give to consumers a plastic newspaper wrapper, any part of which becomes detached when the newspaper is removed.

Government funds promoting downtown Wichita arena

… it is our opinion that public funds may not be used to promote or advocate the position of a governing body on a matter which is before the electorate. However, this does not mean that public funds may not be expended to educate and inform the electorate.

That’s the opinion of the Kansas Attorney General Robert Stephan from 1993. In this opinion, the Attorney General cited this court opinion:

It would be establishing a dangerous and untenable precedent to permit the government or any agency thereof, to use public funds to disseminate propaganda in favor of or against any issue or candidate. This may be done by totalitarian, dictatorial, or autocratic governments but it cannot be tolerated, directly or indirectly, in these democratic United States of America. This is true even if the position advocated is believed to be in the best interest of our country. To educate, inform, to advocate or promote voting on any issue may be undertaken, provided it is not to persuade nor to convey favoritism, partisanship, partiality, approval or disapproval . . . of any issue, worthy as it may be.

Now, look back at the actions of our elected government leaders in the months leading up to the November 2004 election.

Were they presenting educational material about the benefits of a new arena? Were they promoting an open and honest debate of a new arena’s merits?

Or were they cheerleading and advocating for the arena, using their offices and government resources?

I submit that our local governments, our elected officials, and their quasi-governmental surrogates were working in full force for the passage of the arena and its tax.

That’s not just my opinion. Others noticed it too.

An editorial by Phillip Brownlee, published in the Wichita Eagle on September 5, 2004, read in part: “If the plan is to pass, city and county elected officials — supported by business leaders — must continue their strong leadership and high-profile support for the arena.”

After the election, another Wichita Eagle editorial by Rhonda Holman published on November 4, 2004 stated in part: “What made the difference this time, in addition to the effective marketing campaign and all those pennant yard signs, was the unified show of political will on the part of Wichita and Sedgwick County officials. Their willingness to declare the need for such a facility, then argue for raising taxes to meet that need, helped attract necessary support from the businesses that backed the campaign, and finally from voters asked to pay for the arena with a 30-month, 1-percent sales-tax increase.”

The Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, led by its president Ed Wolverton, was a prominent booster for the arena. Do you know where this organization receives its funds? It is funded through property taxes and its contract with the City of Wichita. Other taxpayer funded institutions, such as the Greater Wichita Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, the Hyatt Regency Wichita, and even the Kansas Turnpike Authority contributed money or in-kind resources to the pro-arena Vote Yea campaign, and most of these institutions campaigned for the arena, too.

In a television story about Wichita city manager George Kolb, the reporter said: “Some things Kolb says he filled the council in on were … helping get the downtown arena passed.” The clear meaning of this is that city manager Kolb was proud of how he and the Wichita city council worked to help pass the downtown arena tax. Now if Mr. Kolb had talked about how he helped educate the electorate on the issues surrounding the arena tax ballot measure, that would be acceptable. Instead, he and other government leaders are proud of how they worked to ensure passage of the arena tax. That behavior is contrary to how the Kansas Attorney General said they should act.

I asked our District Attorney to look into this issue of government advocacy for the arena. That office decided, even in light of all this and more evidence, that there was no wrongdoing by our leaders.

Does this seem a correct conclusion by the district attorney, in light of these facts about the behavior of our local government officials?

Were local government officials, especially the Sedgwick County Commission, presenting educational material, or were they campaigning for the arena?

I believe the only conclusion we can make is that they were all campaigning — and campaigning vigorously — for the arena, in spite of what Kansas Attorney General Opinion 93-125 says is acceptable behavior for government officials and the expenditure of public funds.

Government vs. private investment and the downtown Wichita arena

A Wichita businessman proposes building an arena that, while not as large as the downtown Wichita arena being built by Sedgwick County, would provide some competition to the government-owned arena.

Normally, private investment is welcomed. If you believe in limited government as I do, it is vastly preferred to government spending. But if you’re a Sedgwick County Commissioner getting ready to spend some $200 million in sales tax collections on a government arena, it seems that competition from the private sector isn’t welcome. As reported in The Wichita Eagle:

Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh said he would prefer Hartman [the Wichita businessman] not go “head to head” with the county. “I am definitely (in favor) of free enterprise and allowing folks to do whatever they think they can do to improve their own financial stature,” Unruh said. “This, however, I think would present some competitive challenges to the downtown arena, and I prefer he not do it.”

The absurdity in Commissioner Unruh’s statement is eye-catching and revealing of his arrogance. He says, and I believe I am accurate in my interpretation, that free enterprise is good, unless it happens to provide a challenge to a government project!

Assistant Sedgwick County Manager Ron Holt is a little gentler in his criticism of the proposed private arena, remarking that “overall, it would not be in the best interest of the community.”

Wichita and Kansas need private investment. When government officials make remarks like these, it a wonder that anyone would choose to invest here. Yet, people do invest here, and the results show the failures of government projects and government-subsidized partnerships. Consider, for example, the government-subsidized Waterwalk vs. the privately developed Waterfront. Consider that the government-owned Kansas Coliseum is not yet 30 years old, but, by most accounts, not suitable for continued use.

It’s even worse when government is investing in projects of dubious value to the community at large, but is requiring everyone to pay for it. It is telling that in an article about the downtown arena, The Wichita Eagle looks to Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission president and chief executive Bob Hanson for a reaction. It tells how the downtown arena is a gift to special interests, Mr. Hanson being an especially vocal member of this special interest group that will benefit from a taxpayer-supplied arena.

Wichita downtown arena project’s failing finances

Arena Project’s Failing Finances
Critics And Tax Hike Opponents Were Right

From Kansas Taxpayers Network

“The arena critics are being proven right,” said Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, the oldest taxpayer organization in Kansas. “As the leading opponent of the 2004 downtown arena project in Wichita, it is becoming increasingly clear that this project is in major trouble.”

“In 2004 KTN’s Vote NO flyer warned, ‘Key details about the arena such as location, parking, and design, are not known’,” Peterjohn said. “Our vote NO flyer also warned, ‘With a $184.5 million price tag and no guarantee of events, the arena is a huge gamble with taxpayers money. Half of the events at the Kansas Coliseum (12,000 seats) have less than 3,000 people attend’.” Now the “guaranteed $184.5 million price tag,” is history and the total cost for this deeply flawed project continues to grow and critical details remain up in the air.

“In our final item urging county voters to reject the sales tax hike to fund the arena, KTN’s flyer warned, ‘The build it and they will come syndrome sounds good but the money spent would be better utilized in YOUR pocket’,” Peterjohn said. “If the county’s sales tax for the arena was used to lower the county’s property tax, we could reduce the county’s mill levy by over 60 percent or roughly 20 mills for the duration of this tax.”

The arena tax hike was narrowly approved by just over 50 percent of voters in November, 2004. “If the voters had another chance at the arena issue at the ballot box, and taking the tax money that has already been collected and not yet spent, to be used to lower county property taxes and refunded to taxpayers, the downtown arena project would be terminated by the people,” Peterjohn said.

Arena tax hike advocates succeeded in forcing voters to approve this sales tax increase with the not-so-veiled threat that a property tax hike would otherwise occur. Sedgwick County commissioners unanimously approved a large property tax hike, in August 2006, funding higher county spending in addition to the arena sales tax hike.

Two of the three incumbent county commissioners seeking reelection in 2006 lost their seats in large part due to their support for raising property taxes in particular and all county taxes in general. The two incumbents, commissioners Burtnett and Sciortino, were defeated by challengers, Parks and Welshimer, who signed KTN’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising not to raise county taxes.

A public or private downtown Wichita arena, which is desirable?

(From October, 2004)

Image what our town could be like if the Wichita downtown arena vote fails and Sedgwick County Commissioners put aside for a moment their plans for the renovation of the Kansas Coliseum.

Suppose, instead, that arena supporters, along with those who would vote yes for the sales tax and anyone else who wants to, formed a corporation to build and own an arena.

Instead of having paid taxes to government, arena supporters would be investors. They would own something: their shares in the arena. They would have the pride and responsibility that comes with ownership. They would have a financial stake in its success. Even taxpayer-funded arena opponents might see merit in investing in a local business rather than paying taxes.

Instead of politicians and bureaucrats deciding what the people of our town want and need, a privately owned arena would be subject to the guidance and discipline of markets. It would either provide a valuable service to its customers and stay in business, or it would fail to do that and it would go out of business. Governments do not have such a powerful incentive to meet the needs of their constituents.

Instead of the bitter feelings dividing this town over the issue of a taxpayer-funded arena and other perceived governmental missteps, the arena corporation would act in the best interests of its shareholders and customers. Even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be the public’s business, because after all, the corporation is formed of private individuals investing their own money.

When individuals invest in an arena they are nurturing the virtues of investment, thrift, industry, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship, Wichita having an especially proud tradition of the last. There is nothing noble about politicians spending someone else’s money on projects like a downtown arena, or a renovated Kansas Coliseum for that matter.

At this time in our town we have a chance to let private initiative and free markets work, or we can allow government to continue to provide for us in ways that few seem truly satisfied with. Writing about a public utility in England that was transferred to private enterprise, economist John Blundell observed:

When it was “public” it was very private. Indeed, it was totally captured by a small band of bureaucrats. Even members of Parliament struggled to find out what was going on. No proper accounts were produced, and with a complete lack of market signals, managers were clueless as to the correct course to take. The greatest casualty was a lack of long-term capital investment.

Now it is “private” and very public. Not just public in the sense of open, but also in the sense of accountable directly to its shareholders and customers. Copious reports and accounts are available and questioning citizens will find their concerns taken very seriously indeed.

If we allow the government instead of private enterprise to build a new arena or to renovate the Kansas Coliseum, this is the opportunity we lose.

Sedgwick County surrenders key tax advantage

Sedgwick County Surrenders Key Tax Advantage
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director, Kansas Taxpayers Network

Spirit Aerosystems CEO Jeff Turner defended the massive spending hike that was used as the primary justification for the county’s 8.8 percent property tax hike in his editorial August 9, 2006. Turner’s support for this increased government spending ignored some important ramifications behind this economically destructive vote.

Sedgwick County has an important fiscal advantage over 19 other Kansas counties. Sedgwick County has no community college and hence no community college property tax. That property tax is a major reason why this levy makes the total tax burden higher in Butler, Cowley, and Reno counties. The Wichita Area Technical College is becoming this community’s community college. This will mean increasing pressure to raise property taxes. This would be in addition to the current 1.5 mills left over from the old Wichita University days that the county charges.

Sadly, the Sedgwick County commission seems intent on creating another tax dependent entity here in this community. If Jeff Turner, Spirit Aerosystems and Turner’s former company Boeing want to promote property tax hikes, that is certainly their prerogative.

It is a public record that Boeing tied as the largest donor for the 2000 Wichita school bond issue with a five figure donation and Raytheon was the largest corporate donor in support of the Local Option Budget property tax hike for Wichita during that 1997 property tax referendum. Cessna’s CEO Jack Pelton spoke out in support of the county’s spending plans that required this property tax hike August 9.

On the other hand, when the news cameras are generally gone, these aircraft companies return to the city or the county and seek sizable, often 100 percent property tax abatements. So a small or medium sized business gets to pay a much higher proportion of say $100,000 worth of their commercial property than the largest public businesses in this community. This is not fair.

This distorts the overhead costs shifting the fiscal burden from the taxpayer subsidized onto the businesses without the tax breaks. It also shifts this burden onto homeowners and other taxpayers. Special tax breaks provides the subsidized firms with lower overhead costs so they can afford pay more for employees too. That places small and medium sized firms that lack the political clout and leverage, at a hiring disadvantage as well. If the non tax abated firms have out-of-state competitors their extra overhead costs hurts their ability to compete. However, tax abatements are a big help in cyclical industries that are in perpetual “hiring and firing” cycles and need to pay more because of this employment instability.

There is certainly a need for qualified workers for many Wichita area businesses. This $40 million county spending hike, that is well above per foot construction costs, ignores a bigger question. How much spending in the government school establishment is enough? Property tax hike advocates are ignoring the fact that well over $3/4 billion in taxes are going to be spent on the 10 public school districts in this county in 2006-07. This figure is growing rapidly in the age of judicial edicts and Montoy.

2004 Census data indicates that Kansas has the 14th highest property taxes in all 50 states as well as the highest property taxes per capita in our five state region. Soaring appraisals have been the primary cause of this situation but the county’s rising mill levy without getting voter approval is an insult to every county voter. In 1997 almost 90 percent of county voters wanted to retain the property tax lid on local government. County officials helped kill the property tax lid in 1999 and now will not let voters decide this property tax hike at the ballot box. Creating a new level of local government in Sedgwick County with higher property taxes will hurt and hinder overall economic growth here.

Government Charity in Sedgwick County

At the July 25, 2006 Sedgwick County Commission meeting, during the public hearing on the proposed 2007 Sedgwick County budget, a speaker said this in support of funding for mental health services: “I agree with the previous presenter and I’d be willing to forego a few cheeseburgers this year so that if I need to pay more taxes to help provide services, I’m willing to do that.”

It hardly seems necessary to remind this speaker that she may give whatever she wants of her time and money to any organization she wants. She doesn’t need the Sedgwick County Commission to do it for her.

This speaker may be thinking that if she agrees to pay a little more in taxes to support her cause, then everyone else will have to pay more, too. In this way, her small additional sacrifice is leveraged by the additional taxes everyone else must pay.

In fact, many people think this way. Everyone has their own ideas of what the government should do, and if by paying just a little more in taxes myself I can get the government to tax everyone else, why, that’s quite a good deal for me and my pet project!

The problem is that this government activity is wrong. The economist Walter E. Williams makes the case succinctly:

Can a moral case be made for taking the rightful property of one American and giving it to another to whom it does not belong? I think not. That’s why socialism is evil. It uses evil means (coercion) to achieve what are seen as good ends (helping people). We might also note that an act that is inherently evil does not become moral simply because there’s a majority consensus.

It doesn’t matter how noble the cause. To take from one and give to another is wrong, even if it is to provide food or medical services to truly needy people.

Furthermore, this government “charity” deprives us of our ability to give true charity ourselves, and in the process, makes us less happy than we could be. Arthur C. Brooks, associate professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs, in a commentary in the December 8, 2005 Wall Street Journal titled “Money Buys Happiness” tells us this:

In fact there is another explanation for unchanging happiness levels over time which is rather less supportive of income redistribution. As incomes rise, so generally do levels of government revenues and spending, and there is evidence that these forces work against personal income on the overall level of happiness. For example, a $1,000 increase in per capita income is associated with a one-point decrease in the percentage of Americans saying they are “not too happy.” At the same time, a $1,000 increase in government revenues per capita is associated with a two-point rise in the percentage of Americans saying they are not too happy. In other words, not only can money buy happiness, but it may be that the government can tax it away as well.

Mr. Brooks also tells us that donating money and time — that is, the giving of charity — illustrates the link between money and happiness: “Givers of charity earn substantial mental and physical health rewards, even more than do the recipients of charity — empirical evidence that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.”

The operative idea is “to give.” When government takes by taxation, it is not giving.

Let profits save (or sink) Exploration Place

What must a business do to make a profit? It must deliver something that people want at a price they are willing to pay. It must deliver that product or service with costs lower than revenues, if it is to survive beyond the short-term.

If a business fails to do this it will become immediately aware, as it will be generating losses instead of profits. Since losses can’t be continued for very long before the business goes bankrupt, management has a very powerful motive to make corrections.

There are some who believe that making a profit is evil or immoral, that to make a profit you must be ripping off the customer. But profits are a signal that the business is doing something right. It must be satisfying customers’ desires, and doing it efficiently.

Governments, bureaucrats, and politicians, on the other hand, don’t have such a powerful motivating factor. They have, at least in their minds, a deep well of public money to spend. Through their power to tax they have the ability to keep money-losing institutions in place, no matter how inefficiently the institution operates, or how little demand there is for its product.

The simple fact is, and there is really no way to sugarcoat this, the people of Sedgwick County do not value the product that Exploration Place offers enough to pay what it costs to produce it.

Now if Exploration Place was privately owned, its owners would have the right to keep it in business and operating at a loss as long as they wanted or could afford to. But Exploration Place is asking the government to pay for its losses and keep it operating. That means that you and I — probably the very same people who thought Exploration Place didn’t provide a product we were willing to pay for — are asked to keep it in business.

Examine the incentives in place. Exploration Place operates at a loss. Instead of confronting the urgent and undeniable need to change, they receive a handout from the government. Considering the recent history of our local governments and other money-losing institutions, this is likely the first of a series of payments to be made.

Yes, I am aware that consultants are being dispatched to figure out how Exploration Place can change to avoid future losses, but I don’t have a lot of confidence that the right changes will be made. That’s because after changes are made — whatever they may be — Exploration Place will still undoubtedly lack the feedback mechanism of market signals that guide business managers to provide products and services that people actually value enough to buy.

Government leaders and newspaper editorial writers tell us that we cannot afford to lose such a wonderful place. But if it’s so wonderful, why won’t its customers pay what it really costs?

Thank You, Sedgwick County Commissioners

In an article in the May 12, 2005 Wichita Eagle titled “County plans no tax rate increase” we learn that “Sedgwick County’s property tax rates will stay the same next year and the county will be able to avoid layoffs and drastic cuts in programs, officials predicted Wednesday.”

Spending in next year’s budget will not contain “significant increases in spending.”

Before I go too overboard with thanks, I will remind readers that it was this commission that pushed for the sales tax increase for the downtown Wichita arena.

Sedgwick County Arena Sales Tax Ready to Pass

Following is a message from Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network, regarding the debate over SB 58, allowing Sedgwick County to raise its sales tax to pay for the downtown Wichita arena. I listened to the (as Karl rightly characterises it) “debate.” Karl’s reporting of the legislative action and the effects the sales tax will have is accurate. (Someone called the sales tax the “Western Butler County Improvement Act.”)


After a relatively brief and lackluster debate, the 1 cent sales tax hike for the downtown arena in Wichita received preliminary approval in the Kansas house March 21 on a voice vote. SB 58 will be voted upon for final action tomorrow in the Kansas House of Representatives. This odious bill should have been amended but a bipartisan group of Wichita legislators worked hard and were successful in keeping it “clean” so there weren’t any amendments. An amendment would have required a conference committee and a delay in enacting this tax. SB 58 will be passed easily and signed by the governor within the next couple of weeks.

The closest amendment to getting added to this bill was a “prevailing wage,” amendment offered by Democrat Minority Leader McKinney that failed on a division vote (no roll call) with over 40 yes votes. Prevailing wage would require union wages for the construction of this project but even the Democrats did not press this very hard since they did not even bother forcing a roll call vote on this amendment.

After some desultory comments by proponents, Rep. Huebert offered an amendment to address the uniformity issue but then withdrew it following Rep. Wilk’s opposition and promise that the tax committee that Wilk chairs would take up this issue shortly.

Your tax dollars were hard at work lobbying. Two tax funded lobbyists from Sedgwick County along with Sen. Carolyn McGinn were there to follow the vote. Wichita had its contract lobbyist as well as city employee Jeanne Goodvin was there. Other tax funded organizations like Ed Wolverton from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Bob Hanson from the Sports Commission, and another sports commission board member Joe Johnston had lobbied the house members as they entered the chamber. A number of other business and labor lobbyists supporting the arena were also monitoring the desultory debate.

Huebert was the only member to oppose the bill during this “debate.” Steve spoke about his district’s opposition (2-to-1) and how this vote, where the county segment was opposed while the Wichita area was supportive (both voted 54-46 on their respective sides last November) might relate to a consolidation of government bill in Shawnee County’s vote on their city-county consolidation issue. The retroactive tax authorization WAS NOT EVEN MENTIONED in the debate.

Steve Brunk, who serves on the tax committee, “carried” the bill on the floor. Mario Goico, Brenda Landwehr, Jo Ann Pottorff, and Nile Dillmore all praised this measure in a form of Sedgwick County bipartisanship. Goico liked the eco-devo aspect while Pottorff praised the downtown revitalization with the waterwalk boondoggle for economic growth.

I have been told privately that there has been commitments for vote trading on this issue and other issues coming before the house that are of concern to non-Sedgwick County legislators. While there will certainly be a number of no votes cast on final action tomorrow, the final outcome is now clear. July 1 the sales tax rate in Sedgwick County will rise to 7.3% with the exception of Derby where it will rise to 7.8%. In a couple of years there will be a brand new pigeon coop, that lacks an anchor tenant, in downtown Wichita to add to the succession of money losing boondoggles that already litter the area.

If the Senator Hensley’s of the world prevail (he is the senate minority leader who issued his statewide tax hike plan last week), the 2005 legislature will soon pass a statewide sales tax hike and he would add at least another .2% to the figures cited in the previous sentence. The governor favors a statewide tax hike and there is talk of “rounding up” to say, an even 6 percent statewide. If that happens, there are parts of this state that will have total (state and local)sales tax rates approaching 10 percent.

The new millionaires who will be created through the prices the county will pay for the land it wants downtown for this boondoggle project will provide an interesting (but expensive) source of amusement in the near future too. It will also be interesting to see what portion of the construction labor used is “union” versus non union. Dale Swenson praised prevailing wage and other mandatory union wage rates like the federal government’s Davis-Bacon Act during the debate on that amendment.

As a frame of reference, New York City has a 8.625% sales tax rate. New York City does NOT tax groceries. I’ll let you decide, regardless of whether Kansas raises state rates or not, how we compare with a sales tax rate of 7.3%-or as much as-8.0%. If one of the tax raising legislators had not taken ill in the senate, the odds of a statewide tax hike raising the sales tax to 6.0% is not out of the question. Sedgwick County will have a high sales tax rate.

The only suggestion for Sedgwick County taxpayers that I can think of is that most of the cities in Butler County only have a 1/2 cent local sales tax, so their total is 5.8%. If you live in eastern Sedgwick County and want to save on grocery purchases, there is a Dillons at Andover Road and Kellogg. You should be able to save $1.50 on the purchase of $100 worth of groceries after July 1 based upon the variable local sales tax rates between Sedgwick and Butler counties.

I look forward to fulfilling my promise and including the recorded vote on final passage of SB 58 into the 2005 Kansas Taxpayers Network’s vote rating. Every legislator who cast an affirmative vote for SB 58 will have to bear some responsiblity for this looming boondoggle. The next battle will be trying to get this odious sales tax removed because a fiscal “crisis” in government will certainly appear before this tax expires. Rep. Huy was absent.

Letter to County Commissioners Regarding AirTran Subsidy

March 18, 2005

Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners

Dear Commissioner:

I am writing to explain my opposition to Sedgwick County funding the AirTran subsidy.

My primary reason for opposing this subsidy is that it distorts the market process through which individuals and businesses decide how to most productively allocate capital.

Aside from that, it seems to me that the argument that many Fair Fares supporters make is flawed. They are grossly — I would say even speciously — overstating the importance of the airport to our local economy.

As an example, Mr. Troy Carlson, then Chairman of Fair Fares, wrote a letter that was published on September 16, 2004 in the Wichita Eagle. In that letter he claimed $2.4 billion economic benefit from the Fair Fares program ($4.8 billion for the entire state). I was curious about how these figures were derived. Through correspondence With Mr. Steve Flesher, air service development director for the city of Wichita, I learned that the basis for them is a study by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University that estimates the economic impact of the airport at $1.6 billion annually. In this study, the salaries of the employees of Cessna and Bombardier, because these companies use the airport’s facilities, are counted as economic impact dollars that the airport is responsible for generating.

To me, this accounting doesn’t make sense on several levels. For one thing, if we count the economic impact of the income of these employees as belonging to the airport, what then do we say about the economic impact of Cessna and Bombardier? We would have to count it as very little, because the impact of their employees’ earnings has been assigned to the airport.

Or it may be that someday Cessna or Bombardier will ask Sedgwick County for some type of economic subsidy, and they will use these same economic impact dollars in their justification. But these dollars will have already been used, as they were attributed to the airport.

Or suppose that Cessna tires of being on the west side of town, so it moves east and starts using Jabara Airport. Would Cessna’s economic impact on Sedgwick County be any different? I think it wouldn’t. But its impact on the Wichita airport would now be zero. Similar reasoning would apply if Cessna built its own runway.

An article I wrote titled Stretching Figures Strains Credibility provides more information, including a link to the Center for Economic Development and Business Research study.

I would be happy to speak to the County Commission as a group if you think they would be interested.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Bob Weeks

Testimony in Opposition to Senate Bill 58

From John Todd.


Members
House Taxation Committee
State Capitol
Topeka, Kansas 66612

Subject:
Testimony in OPPOSITION TO SENATE BILL #58 (Sales Tax Increase For The Proposed Downtown Wichita Arena).

My name is John Todd. I am a self-employed real estate broker from Wichita, and I come before you in opposition to the enabling legislation that would allow Sedgwick County to raise the local sales tax 1% to fund a new Downtown Arena in violation of current state law.

Under current state law, Counties in Kansas are not authorized to raise county sales taxes for projects like the proposed Downtown Wichita Arena without first obtaining the required legislative approval prior to any vote of the public. A public vote advertised as non-binding was held in Sedgwick County on November 2, 2004 without the legislative approval as required by law, and now Sedgwick County officials are asking you to approve this illegal vote retroactively to the November General Election.

Before you consider the favorable passage of Senate Bill #58 into law that would make an illegal vote legal, ex post facto, after the fact, and retroactively, you really ought to consider what was the original legislative intent of the current state law in the first place, and whether it is good precedence to allow counties to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore. Does anyone suppose that the intent of the current law was a desire on the part of prior legislators to exercise some modest control over a counties ability to “approve” massive sales tax hikes on it’s citizens, particularly for non-essential entertainment venues like arenas? Do you, as legislators not have a fiduciary responsibility to your constituents and the people of Kansas by demanding that local governmental units follow the rule of law in the same manner as you expect citizens to follow the law? If the current statute is flawed, perhaps you should be working to correct those flaws before you allow Sedgwick County to break the law?

The solution to this problem is for you to reject Senate Bill #58 or at a bare minimum, I would suggest that you amend the Bill by approving the 1% sales tax subject to new vote of the people, as current state law requires. Local governmental units should not be allowed to selectively ignore the state law(s) they chooses not to follow by essentially placing themselves above the law. This sets bad legislative precedence, and you should not allow it to happen.

Sincerely,

John R. Todd

Testimony regarding House Bill No. 2132

Written testimony of Bob Weeks regarding House Bill No. 2132. A pdf version is available here: https://wichitaliberty.org/files/House_Bill_2132_Testimony_by_Bob_Weeks_2005-03-10.pdf

March 10, 2005

Thank you for allowing me to present this written testimony. I realize that the voters in Sedgwick County voted for the arena sales tax increase. I believe, however, there is ample reason why you should vote against the tax. The idea of the taxpayer-funded arena came about so fast in the summer of 2004 that there was little thought given to the underlying issues. I wish to present what my research has uncovered.

WSU Study Not Complete

On of the main arguments advanced for having all the residents of Sedgwick County pay to build the arena was a study prepared by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. The study claimed a large economic benefit from the arena. It is because of this economic benefit that arena supporters say the entire community should pay to build the arena. This study, however, is incomplete in two important areas: its lack of depreciation accounting, and it ignores the substitution effect.

No Depreciation Accounting

Government Accounting Standards Board Statement 34 requires governments to account for the cost of their assets, usually by stating depreciation expense each year. Through a series of email exchanges with Mr. Ed Wolverton, President of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, I have learned that the WSU Center for Economic Development and Business Research was not aware of this requirement when they prepared their study. Mr. Wolverton admitted this after checking with the study authors. Furthermore, Mr. Chris Chronis, Chief Financial Officer of Sedgwick County, in an email conversation told me that the county will take depreciation expense for the downtown arena. I do not know what a figure for depreciation expense would be, but it would likely be several million dollars per year, and it would materially and substantially change the arena’s financial footing.

No Substitution Effect Allowed For

In a television new story reported by Mr. Erik Runge of KWCH Television on October 25, 2004, I was interviewed, and I mentioned the substitution effect. This is the term used to describe what research has found: that much of the new economic activity such as bars and restaurants that might appear around a downtown arena would be bars and restaurants that have moved from other parts of the city. There is little or no new economic activity, just movement of existing activity. Mr. Runge interviewed Mr. Ed Wolverton, President of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, who said “In WSU’s report they felt like there definitely could be some substitution effect.” The reporter explained “But how much was never studied. Downtown development backer Ed Wolverton says mostly due to time restraints.”

These two glaring omissions of materially important facts by the WSU study should lead us to question its other findings. Other than the report on KWCH, I saw no reporting of these two matters.

Claimed Economic Benefit is Not Realized

Arena supporters say that everyone should pay to build and operate the arena because it will generate economic impact that everyone will benefit from. The economic benefit claimed by arena supporters, however, has not been found to materialize in other cities. In the March 2001 issue of “FedGazette,” published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, an article titled “Stadiums and convention centers as community loss leaders” contains this quote:

“Current research indicates that stadiums and arenas have a particularly bad track record when it comes to delivering on promises of community economic windfalls. University researchers Mark Rosentraub and Mark Swindell found that three decades worth of studies ‘lead to the inescapable conclusion that the direct and indirect economic impacts of sports teams and the facilities are quite small’ and do not create much in the way of new jobs or economic development.”

In a paper titled “Professional Sports Facilities, Franchises and Urban Economic Development” (UMBC Economics Department Working Paper 03-103) by Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County we find this quote:

“Siegfried and Zimbalist (2000) recently surveyed the growing literature on retrospective studies of the economic impact of sports facilities and franchises on local economies. The literature published in peer-reviewed academic journals differs strikingly from the predictions in ‘economic impact studies.’ No retrospective econometric study found any evidence of positive economic impact from professional sports facilities or franchises on urban economies.”

Arena Tax Requires Everyone to Subsidize the Interests of a Few

Since, as current research has found, arenas do not generate the positive economic impact that their supporters claim, the arena tax instead becomes the public as a whole subsidizing the leisure activities of a relatively small number of people. The people who do use the arena, moreover, are quite easy to identify: they purchase tickets to events, or they pay to rent the arena. It is these people who should pay the full cost of the arena construction and operation.

Local Officials Not Truthful

Sedgwick County Commissioners stated that if the downtown arena sales tax did not pass, they would borrow money to renovate the Kansas Coliseum. If we do the math on the figures they quoted, that is to borrow $55 million and pay it back at $6.1 million a year for 20 years, we find that the interest rate is 9.17%, which is a terribly high interest rate for a government to pay. The county commissioners told us they were ready to pay this much if the arena tax didn’t pass.

I wrote to Sedgwick County Commissioner Tom Winters, asking him for an explanation. He replied that the interest rate is really 7.5% for this reason: To the $55.3 million cost of the renovations, we must add $6.5 million for capitalized interest during the construction period, and $.9 million for debt issuance costs. So yes, Commissioner Winters is correct about the 7.5% rate, but this also means that the cost of the Coliseum renovations should be stated as $62.7 million instead of $55 million. But even 7.5% interest is too high to pay.

What is troubling is that local government officials are not being truthful with the public.