Category Archives: Wichita Eagle opinion watch

Wichita Eagle argues for higher taxes

The Wichita Eagle editorial board wants higher taxes. Relying on its data and arguments will lead citizens to misinformed and uninformed opinions.

In a recent op-ed, the Wichita Eagle editorial board writes: “From the moment the budget was first proposed in July, city leaders made a point of emphasizing the city’s mill levy — the rate by which property is taxed — hasn’t been increased in 25 years. The 25-year figure wasn’t followed by exclamation points of pride or emojis of sadness. It’s just a fact: For one reason or another, the city’s mill levy hasn’t been increased.” 1

I guess we shouldn’t be too harsh on the Eagle editorial board. They believed city leaders. And, I suppose the language is correct in one sense: “the city’s mill levy hasn’t been increased.”

But a quick look at readily available data shows that the City of Wichita mill levy has increased, and by quite a bit.

I don’t have data going back 25 years, but I have gathered and prepared data from 1993 to 2017. And during that time, the City of Wichita mill levy rose from 31.290 to 32.667. That is an increase of 4.40 percent.

It is true that the Wichita City Council did not pass an ordinance to cause this mill levy rate to rise. This is where “hasn’t been increased” holds a grain of truth.

Instead, the mill levy rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to City of Wichita taxation. Someone estimates the assessed value of property the city can tax, and that is subject to error.

The city acknowledges this when pressed. It’s on video. 2

But city leaders and elected officials act as though the mill levy is subject to the whims of forces beyond their control.

While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend. As can be seen in the chart of changes in the mill levy, the council’s decisions result in a generally rising mill levy. From 1993 to 2017, there were seventeen years in which the mill levy rose from the previous year, and six years in which it declined.

We have an estimating process that ought to be random — too high in half the years, too low in the other half — overwhelmingly producing higher tax rates. This nearly three-to-one ratio is beyond mere chance or coincidence.

Also, while some may argue that an increase of 4.40 percent over two decades is not very much, this is an increase in a rate of taxation, not tax revenue collected. As property values rise, and as the mill levy rises, property tax bills can rise rapidly.

But it doesn’t seem that the Eagle editorial board understands this, as it wrote: “A 2019 budget can’t be expected to function properly under 1994 tax rates. Nearly everything a city does costs more a quarter-century later.”

True, I suppose. But the data tells us that property tax revenue rises, and rises faster than the rate of inflation, if inflation is what the editorial board means when it writes that things cost more.

In the nearby table, I use a hypothetical $100,000 home and track the taxes paid to the City of Wichita. I use a home price index to track increases in residential home values. I use the Consumer Price Index to adjust dollars for inflation.

In the table, a $100,000 house paid $360 in taxes to the City of Wichita in 1994. In 2017, the same house paid $665. The increase is due to rising property values and the rising mill levy.

Adjusting for inflation to 2017 dollars, the tax paid in 1994 was worth $595. In 2017, the tax was $665, in 2017 dollars, of course.

So from 1994 to 2017, the property tax paid to the City of Wichita by this hypothetical house rose by 11.7 percent, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

When the Eagle editorial board writes “Nearly everything a city does costs more a quarter-century later,” the response ought to be “Yes, but property taxes paid by citizens on their homes are rising faster than inflation.”

This needs to be considered in the light of cuts the city has made and threatens in the future.

Click for larger.


  1. Wichita Eagle editorial board. Wichita, it’s time to consider a tax increase. It’s past time, actually. August 17, 2018. Available at
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita property taxes rise again. Available at

Wichita Eagle opinion watch

Another nonsensical editorial from the Wichita Eagle.

Stop messing with Sedgwick County ZooThis is contained in an editorial urging Sedgwick County government to “stop messing” with the zoo.1

Nor is there any justification for a “non-disparagement clause” in the proposed operating agreement about the zoo director’s public statements, including a prohibition against doing anything to bring the county or society “unwanted or unfavorable publicity.” Even if the county is right — and the society wrong — about the constitutionality of such a gag rule on a public employee, it’s an insult to longtime director Mark Reed’s professionalism and another case of the county trying to pre-empt criticism and punish critics.

It’s common for employees, especially those in managerial and executive positions, to have such agreements. Companies don’t want their employees bad-mouthing the company. I would not be surprised if Holman herself has such an agreement with her employer, the Wichita Eagle. Even if there is no such agreement, can you imagine how long she would last in her job if she started complaining in public about her low pay, her drab office, how her editor censors her best editorials, the crappy publisher, etc.

Employees have protection through whistleblower laws, so if there is corruption or criminality, employees can report it. And the fact that the zoo director is a government employee: I don’t know if that makes a difference, constitutionally speaking.

  1. Holman, Rhonda. Stop messing with Sedgwick County Zoo. Wichita Eagle, July 20, 2016. Available at

‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ … oops!

An event in Wichita that made national headlines has so far turned out to be not the story news media enthusiastically promoted.

When two Wichita State University students — one a Muslim and also a student leader — reported they were victims of a hate crime, national news media took up the story. A Washington Post headline read “‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’ attacker allegedly yelled as he beat Hispanic man, Muslim student.” USA Today headlined with “Muslim student claims attacker yelled ‘Trump, Trump!”

From the Wichita Eagle: “A Muslim student at Wichita State University says he and a Hispanic friend, who also is a student, were attacked over the weekend by a man who shouted racial epithets and ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ before riding away on his motorcycle.” 1

The Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Kansas) demanded that the incident be investigated as a hate crime.

On this matter, Wichita Eagle editorialist Rhonda Holman opined “Yet, regrettably, Wichita is making national headlines this week for an incident early Saturday at the KwikShop at 21st and Oliver that’s being investigated by the Wichita Police Department as a hate crime. … As described, the deplorable incident further confirms that GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s divisive, nativist talk is finding an audience willing to not only vote for him but also target Muslims and ethnic minorities for verbal abuse and even violence.” 2

But now it is reported that one of the two student “victims” has been charged with a crime. 3 The police report charges that one of the students — not the Muslim student — “provoked another to commit battery or breach of peace by shouting ‘Bernie Sanders’ at Joseph Bryan, rolling up his sleeves and stepping toward him.” 4 Bryan, who is the motorcycle rider alleged to have used the word “trump” in a hateful manner — has been charged, also. But apparently not for using the word “trump,” as that word does not appear in the police report. No one has been charged with a hate crime.

Complaint against Christian Saldana-Banuelos

So shouting “Bernie Sanders” doesn’t seem to rise to the level of a hate crime, while yelling “Trump” does. Go figure.

But there’s something else. The Wichita Eagle jumped all over this story, both the newsroom and opinion page. But so far I haven’t seen an Eagle story on the actual charges that have been filed. (Oh. As I write this, the Eagle has belatedly filed a small story.)

Now we have to wait and wonder whether the Eagle editorial staff will walk back its — shall we say, “regrettable” — conclusions drawn before facts were known.

Who knows what really happened? Does it really matter? Does a scuffle involving three young people in Wichita rise to the level of national news, and does it really say much about the state of race relations in America?

But if the police report accurately describes the event, I have to wonder what charges will be filed against the two WSU student “victims” for lying to the police and the public. Will the Eagle editorial board pursue this deception with the same enthusiasm it showed for covering the original purportedly “deplorable” act?

  1. Morrison, Oliver. Muslim student at Wichita State reports attack by man shouting ‘Trump, Trump, Trump”. Wichita Eagle, March 14, 2016. Available at
  2. Holman Rhonda. Stand up to intolerance and hate. Wichita Eagle, March 15, 2016. Available at
  3. Farris, Deb. WSU students accused of provoking fight KAKE Television. Available at
  4. Wichita Municipal Court. Available at

Was Jesus a socialist, according to Crowson

If you’ve ever wondered when is the time to start ignoring Wichita Eagle editorial cartoonist Richard Crowson, perhaps the time is now.

Here’s what Lawrence Reed had to say on the topic of this cartoon: “The fact is, one can scour the Scriptures with a fine-tooth comb and find nary a word from Jesus that endorses the forcible redistribution of wealth by political authorities. None, period.”

For more from Reed on this topic, see his essay Rendering Unto Caesar: Was Jesus a Socialist?

For Wichita Eagle, no immediate Kansas budget solution

The Wichita Eagle shows how its adherence to ideology misinforms Kansans and limits their exposure to practical solutions for governance.

In an op-ed posted the day before election day, the editorial board of the Wichita Eagle wrote of the problems it believes the next Kansas governor will face:

The candidates vying to be Kansas governor have lofty-sounding goals and campaign promises. But here’s the grim reality: Whoever wins Tuesday will spend the next several years trying to fill a budget hole.

And that hole keeps growing deeper. (“Budget hole awaits winner,” November 3, 2014)

The state has to make changes. We’ve cut taxes, but we’ve not yet met the challenge of cutting spending to match. The problem with this op-ed is the assertion that will take several years to fix. Here’s what I left in reply:

I have to disagree. Kansas Policy Institute has examined the Kansas budget and found ways to make several structural changes that would immediately (within one year) balance the Kansas budget. This would preserve existing services and fully fund the increases in K-12 school spending and social service caseloads that Kansas Legislative Research has projected. The policy brief that KPI has prepared on this matter is only ten pages long and not difficult to comprehend.

The changes that KPI recommends are specific adjustments to the way Kansas spends money. They are not the vague calls to eliminate waste that we see politicians campaign on. This is something that Kansas could do if both Democrats and Republicans have the will.

Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute, added this:

Bob is right. And the Eagle is well aware of our budget plan but declines to let readers know that the budget can be balanced without service reductions or tax increases. It won’t take “several years” to fix the budget; our plan could be implemented by passing a few pieces of legislation.

The policy brief I referenced may be downloaded from KPI at A Five-Year Budget Plan for the State of Kansas: How to balance the budget and have healthy ending balances without tax increases or service reductions or alternatively from Scribd here (may work better on mobile devices). A press release from KPI announcing the policy brief is at 5 Year Budget Plan Outlines Path To Protect Essential Services and Tax Reform.

Wichita Eagle editorial board on the truth

Wichita Eagle Opinion: Brownback Numbers are Suspect

A recent Wichita Eagle editorial penned by Rhonda Holman took Governor Sam Brownback to task for a mistake made in reporting Kansas spending numbers. (Eagle editorial: Brownback ’s numbers are suspect.)

Specifically, Holman wrote:

What’s going on here is clear: Brownback is embracing and repeating numbers that help promote his agenda, including what he sees as the need to push back against a court order for more state funding of public schools.

But Kansans need to trust that what they hear from their governor, especially again and again, is rooted in truth, not cherry-picked, spun or flat wrong.

So let’s look at the use of numbers by the Wichita Eagle editorial board. When discussing school spending, the editorialists refer to base state aid per pupil and treat that as though it was the totality of school spending.

Base state aid per pupil is just part of school spending, and most schools spend much more than that. Specifically, base state aid per pupil for the last school year was $3,780. But the state spent an average of $6,983 per pupil that year, which is an additional $3,203 or 84.7 percent more than base state aid. Overall spending from all sources was $12,656 per pupil. Both of the latter numbers are higher than the previous year.

Also, base state aid per pupil has declined in recent years. That’s a convenient fact for school spending boosters. They can use a statistic that contains a grain of truth in order to whip up concern among the uninformed over inadequate school spending. They can cite this as an argument for increasing spending, even though spending has been rising.

(By the way, when citizens in Kansas and across the nation are asked questions about school spending, we learn they are totally uninformed. Even worse, several candidates for the Wichita school board are similarly uninformed. See Wichita school board candidates on spending.)

Further, citing only base state aid reduces “sticker shock.” Most people are surprised to learn that our schools spend $12,656 per student. It’s much easier to tell taxpayers that only $3,780 was spent. But that’s not a complete picture. In fact, using base state aid as a measure of school spending defines “cherry-picked,” a practice of which Holman accuses the governor.

Informed readers are left wondering whether the Eagle editorial board is ignorant of these facts, or does it have an agenda to push — just like they accuse Brownback.

Here’s something else from Holman in the editorial:

Plus, Brownback has said that “29 percent of Kansas fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level.” That’s a misuse of the results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress survey, in which Kansas actually ranked 10th best in the nation. The better measure is the state assessment, which found 10.1 percent of fourth-graders failed to meet the state standard in reading that year.

The high ranking of Kansas on the NAEP can be explained by the demographic composition of Kansas students compared to other states. As I show in Kansas school test scores, in perspective, Kansas students score better than Texas students on the NAEP. This is a fact congruent with Holman’s citing of Kansas’ high ranking among the states.

But it is also true that Texas white students score better than Kansas white students, Texas black students score better than Kansas black students, and Texas Hispanic students score better than or tie Kansas Hispanic students. The same pattern holds true for other ethnic subgroups. If we examine figures for low-income students, we see a similar pattern.

How can this be? You have to look more closely at the figures than the Wichita Eagle editorial board is willing or able. But if you do this, you will understand more about Kansas schools.

As far as relying on Kansas state assessments to gauge our schools’ performance, we need to be careful. When compared to other states, Kansas has low standards, and these standards have declined.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has analyzed state standards, and we can see that Kansas has standards that are below most states. The table of figures is available at Estimated NAEP scale equivalent scores for state proficiency standards, for reading and mathematics in 2009, by grade and state. An analysis of these tables by the Kansas Policy Institute shows that few states have standards below the Kansas standards.

The editorial board might also wonder why scores on the Kansas assessments — the ones under control of Kansas education officials — are rising, while NAEP scores are not.

A reader sent in this comment, which I believe is apt:

To paraphrase a trusted source:

“[The Eagle’s] numbers matter because they’re being used by [Democrats] and [government employees’ unions] to guide and justify state spending policy decisions, especially in education. The [Eagle] has used [misleading statistics] to drum up public support for plans to [raise] income taxes and to [support] a recent court decision that found the state isn’t meeting its constitutional mandate to provide adequate funding for schools.”

I don’t expect a correction anytime soon.

Wichita Eagle editorial board: When writing that “Kansans need to trust that what they hear from their governor, especially again and again, is rooted in truth, not cherry-picked, spun or flat wrong” please apply this standard to yourself.

To sway opinion, basic facts must be correct

A Vince Corbett of Wichita makes the case for riding an electric bicycle to work instead of driving a car. (“Biking saves,” August 30, 2009 Wichita Eagle) Unfortunately, the letter contains a mistaken fact and an unreasonable assumption.

To make his case, he outlines a commuting trip that someone might make: ” … from 29th Street North and Woodlawn to Douglas and Main to work and to return — a distance of about 32 miles …”

Google maps reports the one-way distance between these two intersections as 7.7 miles. Bing maps found a shorter route at 7.2 miles. Mr. Corbett’s one-way distance of 16 miles is over twice as large as these two numbers. Taking the freeway route is longer at 10.3 miles (according to Bing) but still not anywhere near Corbett’s one-way distance of 16 miles.

Corbett then makes a claim that driving these 32 miles requires three gallons of gasoline, implying a car that gets 10.7 miles per gallon. (I don’t know if we should interpret this as city or highway driving.)

But according to the EPA, a mid-size car like a Chevrolet Malibu gets 22 mpg in the city. A large car like a Buick Lucerne gets 17 mpg. Even a large SUV like a Chevrolet Suburban gets 14 mpg, still quite a bit above Corbett’s illustration.

(A Toyota Prius gets 48 mpg in the city, 4.5 times the figure used by Corbett.)

Letters to the editor of a newspaper are a place for people to express their opinions and attempt to sway public opinion. These letters, however, need to be based on facts that are correct and assumptions that are reasonable. Newspapers do their readers a disservice when letters are not fact-checked in even a very basic way. This letter is such a case.

Wichita Eagle building says something

Wichita Eagle Building detailDetail of Wichita Eagle building on East Douglas. (For a larger version, click on the photo, then click on “All sizes.”)

The Wichita Eagle building is saying something to me, but I can’t quite figure out what.

In a series of four tiles facing Douglas Avenue, it appears that the history of mass communications is described. But I’m not sure of the precise meaning of each diagram. Can someone help?

Opinion line makes me wonder again

Sometimes the Wichita Eagle Opinion Line makes me wonder. Here’s something from today’s collection:

“Wanda Sykes should be given a $400 million contract and radio airtime opposite Rush Limbaugh. Let the free market and capitalism work, and we’ll see which one America really supports.”

The writer wants the free market to work. At the same time, the writer seems to be saying that someone should give the subject Wanda Sykes $400 million. (I think that’s the same amount as Limbaugh’s recent contract.)

Where I think this writer is confused is that Limbaugh was not given anything. He earns his pay, as far as I know. No one is forced to listen to or sponsor his show. Should the tastes of his listeners change, his show would fold.

The writer doesn’t say this, but I suspect the point is that the government should give Sykes this contract, giving her the chance to compete with Limbaugh. This has nothing to do with free markets and capitalism. It is just the opposite.

In reality, the fact that Sykes has no such contract is evidence of the free market working just perfectly.

Editorial Board Pen Names at the Wichita Eagle

Some comment-writers to this blog make very good points that deserve more visibility. This is the case with the following comment left anonymously to the post In Wichita, let’s disclose everything. I mean everything.

It looks like Wichita Liberty has broken another unreported story and has exposed the fact that a portion of the Wichita Eagle’s editorial board operates under a pen name.

Perhaps “Ms. Holman’s” editorials should be placed next to the equally anonymous opinion line comments. I must note that the anonymous comments appearing in the Eagle are usually much more pointed than the signed editorial commentary.

I wonder how conflicts of interest by employees and their families are handled by the newspaper? If “Ms. Holman” was married to a school administrator that might be a very useful fact to know when evaluating her credibility on government school spending issues.

What if she was married to an attorney involved in suing the state over school finance? Full disclosure can lead into a number of interesting places.

There was very little publicity provided to the very salient fact that the Wichita Eagle was a donor to the group backing the 2000 Wichita school bond issue with a sizable donation. I’ll have to ask Wichita Liberty to look into any news media contributions to either side of the 2008 Wichita school bond issue campaign.

In response to the question posed at the end of this comment: The campaign finance report for groups involved on both sides of the Wichita school bond issue in 2008 showed no contribution by the Wichita Eagle.

Is this issue of Rhonda Holman not using her real name a substantive issue? My name was in the Wichita Eagle quite a few times last year in my role as an opponent of the Wichita school bond issue. What would have been the Eagle’s response — in both the newsroom and editorial board offices — if I had used a pen name? What would the use of an assumed name indicated about my willingness to be held accountable for the things I said and wrote?

On the Wichita Eagle editorial board, partisanship reigns

The Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman, writing for the editorial board in today’s lead editorial (Where do city, county stand on bond?) makes a few points that illustrate the highly partisan nature of this board.

Here’s the first example. She complains about lack of transparency in knowing who is contributing to the campaigns for the Wichita school bond issue, writing “It’s frustrating that USD 259 voters must make a decision on the bond issue without knowing who funded the pro- and anti-campaigns. The three groups behind the campaigns could release their donor lists and amounts on their own prior to Election Day …”

As reported recently by this writer in the post Wichita Eagle Political Contributions: This Year? the Eagle contributed to the pro-bond campaign in the year 2000, and never disclosed that fact to its readers.

If Rhoda Holman is really interested in promoting transparency of campaign funding, her newspaper could start by stating whether it has made a contribution this year. She could reveal her own personal contribution too, or state that she hasn’t contributed.

Then, Ms. Holman complains that a candidate for local office benefits from a campaign mailer mailed on the candidate’s behalf by a third party. She doesn’t like the fact that the organization that sent the mailing won’t have to disclose who paid for it, because it’s an educational effort, not an endorsement.

The reason why it’s an educational effort is because it stops short of saying “vote for ____.” But if the voters get that message anyway, Ms. Holman says “mission accomplished.”

Now if this situation sounds familiar, it should. This is very much the situation with the campaign surrounding the proposed Wichita school bond. In this case, USD 259 (the Wichita school district) undertakes an educational effort that has precisely the same characteristics of the effort that Ms. Holman complains about. But she conveniently overlooks this.

There’s one difference, however. We know exactly who is funding the poorly-disguised campaign on behalf of the Wichita school district: taxpayers.

The Threat of Social Progressives

In the July 5, 2008 Wichita Eagle, a Mr. Chet Syres of Hutchinson contributes a letter promoting the virtues of liberalism, proponents of which he now wants us to call social progressives.

I remind Mr. Syres that leftists stole the terms “liberal” and “progressive” from the classical liberals. From For A New Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard:

One of the ways that the new statist intellectuals did their work was to change the meaning of old labels, and therefore to manipulate in the minds of the public the emotional connotations attached to such labels. For example, the laissez-faire libertarians had long been known as “liberals,” and the purest and most militant of them as “radicals”; they had also been known as “progressives” because they were the ones in tune with industrial progress, the spread of liberty, and the rise in living standards of consumers. The new breed of statist academics and intellectuals appropriated to themselves the words “liberal” and “progressive,” and successfully managed to tar their laissez-faire opponents with the charge of being old-fashioned, “Neanderthal,” and “reactionary.” Even the name “conservative” was pinned on the classical liberals. And, as we have seen, the new statists were able to appropriate the concept of “reason” as well.

In recent years, it is liberals themselves that have given their mis-appropriated term a bad name by advocating the policies that Mr. Syres now sells under a new name: social progressivism. Who could be against progress? Only Neanderthals, of course.

But look under the covers. Does raising the minimum wage help those who its proponents want to help? For those lucky enough to retain their jobs after an increase in the minimum wages, yes. For those who lose their jobs, no. For those who have made their way through the public schools (the grand achievement of social progressives) without graining much in the way of skills, and therefore can’t find a job at the new higher wages, no. See Problem of Low Wages Not Easily Solved.

Then there is Mr. Syres’ desire to tax the rich at higher rates, for they are not paying their “fair share.” Trickle-down economics does not work, he says. But the problem is that government can’t create wealth. All it can do is to transfer money from one person to another. Instead, it is people who create wealth and a higher standard of living, most often by accumulating and investing capital. The less capital there is to invest — and taxes reduce that — the less economic progress can be made. With less capital, workers have to dig ditches with shovels instead of power machines. Which would you rather work with? Who earns a higher wage, the man with a shovel, or the man operating a power backhoe? But without someone accumulating wealth and capital, there can be no backhoes, only shovels, and even they require the accumulation of some capital.

Mr. Syres says he wants to promote “social justice” through charity implemented through legislation. Is progress made when voluntary charity is replaced by government programs, fed by taxation? Is progress made when the voluntary cooperation of free people trading in free markets is replaced by the heavy hand of government coercion? Of course not, except for those who believe that they know better than everyone else how things should be, and seek to implement their ideas through expanded government. These are the social progressives, and they are a threat to liberty and prosperity.

A Believer in Good Government Programs

An audio version of this post is available here.

A Mr. Greg Abbott of Clearwater, Kansas makes the case in the June 13, 2008 Wichita Eagle that there are many good government programs: the interstate highway system, the post office, the air traffic control system, police and fire departments, etc.

I believe the writer makes a huge error in logic by assuming that because these programs exist and have been provided by government, then they are good things to have, and that these things can only be provided through government. To make this conclusion requires a huge leap and a good measure of misplaced faith in the institution of government.

Many of the programs the writer cites as examples of good government programs are frequently criticized. The interstate highways in our nation’s cities are often congested to the point where loss of time spent stuck in traffic is a serious problem. Then there is the problem of safety of the nation’s highways, on which some 40,000 people die each year, and many more are seriously injured. Walter Block writes “As far as I am concerned, [these deaths are] taking place in spite of, not so much because of, the actions of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, despite their tendency to take credit for anything positive that happens on their watch, as do all statist agencies.” I recommend his article Deaths by Government: Another Missing Chapter.

The post office? Do many people rely on the post office for delivery of critical shipments when private alternatives such as FedEx and UPS are available?

As for flood control, the federal government’s flood insurance program, by suppressing signals that would be expressed in the price system as insurance premiums, if there was indeed a free market for such insurance, has lead to numerous deaths. Ask the residents of New Orleans how they feel about government levees and government flood insurance. See How Government Insurance Destroyed New Orleans.

Need I continue? Each government program Mr. Abbott mentions has severe problems, and most crowd out efforts by private enterprise to provide alternatives.

There is a truth in the writer’s letter in this sentence: “We need to wake up and realize that we all depend on the government.” That this is true is profoundly sad. Government, Mr. Abbott, operates through force and coercion. Wouldn’t it be better if we could solve problems and provide services through the voluntary cooperation of people?

No Government Trains, Please

Part of the Wichita Eagle opinion watch series.

A writer in the April 2, 2008 Wichita Eagle presses the case for passenger train service in Wichita. But there are several problems with the writer’s argument.

The writer makes this claim: “With Kansas’ vast wind resource, we could power our trains with no fossil fuels.” Yes, there is a lot of wind in Kansas. But it doesn’t blow continuously. What does the writer suggest we power the trains with at those times? Until there is an economically feasible method of storing the electricity generated by wind, we will be reliant on traditional methods of power generation. Wind can only be a supplement.

The writer admits that high-speed passenger train service will require a lot of public money. That’s okay, he says, as we presently spend a lot on our roads and traffic systems. The government-built and owned roads are frequently criticized, however. The fact that we’ve spent a lot on them — with often unsatisfactory results — is not an argument in favor of more government involvement in transportation systems. There is, in fact, a small movement towards more private highways, and there are persuasive arguments that all roads and highways should be privately owned.

If there is in fact a demand for high-speed rail travel in Kansas and the United States, let private entrepreneurs, rather than government, lead its development. That’s the best way to have a system that meets the needs of customers, rather than the needs of politicians and government bureaucrats.

I wonder if the writer remembers that the government does have a track record of owning and operating a railroad. That’s Amtrak, and having mentioned that, I believe no more needs to be said.

Investment in Wichita Public Schools

Part of the Wichita Eagle opinion watch series. An audio broadcast of this article may be heard by clicking here.

A letter writer in the April 27, 2008 Wichita Eagle makes the case that investment in USD 259 (the Wichita, Kansas public school district) has a good return.

By way of comparison, the writer argues that the Wichita airport, having been built with public funds, represents “an investment return.” Whether it represents a good return on investment the writer doesn’t say, but I believe he means that the airport was a good investment of public funds.

The mere fact that the airport exists, however, doesn’t prove a good return on investment. Since the airport is owned by government and doesn’t calculate its profit or loss in a competitive market, we can never know how wise is the “investment” made in the Wichita airport.

Then the writer really gets off track. He speaks of “my own school bond issue within my family,” that being day care, preschool, K through 12, then a degree at the University of Kansas and a master’s degree. These activities are all voluntary choices that the writer and his family made. Taxation by the government, however, is not voluntary. The writer might also be reminded that it may be a voluntary choice to attend the University of Kansas, but the people of the State of Kansas have no choice but to fund its operations.

Finally, the writer states “Some opponents of the school bond issue have even said the kids in USD 259 don’t need tornado shelters. That is ridiculous.” It is true that 60 schools in the Wichita school district don’t have safe rooms, and this situation is the result of decisions made by the school district and its board. They had an opportunity to build more safe rooms as part of the bond issue in 2000, but they decided to spend the money on other things. Similarly, each year the district has a large capital budget to spend, and each year they decide to spend it on things other than safe rooms. Blame for the lack of storm shelters, therefore, rests solely with the Wichita school district. They have decided that other things are more important.

Are Teachers Paid Fairly?

Part of the Wichita Eagle Opinion Watch series. Audio is available here.

The school bond issue in Wichita and those occurring in surrounding districts overlook one crucial necessity: a fair wage for teachers. They are critically underpaid for all levels of education, service and abilities. (From The Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, April 27, 2008)

This writer is misinformed on several levels.

First, bond issues such as the one proposed by USD 259, the Wichita, Kansas public school district, are usually reserved for capital expenditures, such as constructing buildings. Ongoing expenses such as salaries are not considered as part of a bond issue. The writer might also remember that in August 2007, the Wichita school district raised property tax rates to pay for an increase in teacher salaries.

Then, who can determine what constitutes a “fair” wage? I know of no teachers who were forced to accept the jobs they filled. We can only presume that both the teacher and the school voluntarily entered into an agreement, with the wage to be paid as part of that agreement.

But the issue might be a little more complex. For one thing, most public school teachers work under a collective bargaining agreement which specifies the wages to be paid for teachers, based on their length of experience and educational credentials. There is little or nothing that most teachers can do to escape that pay scale. It works both ways: there are excellent teachers who are underpaid compared to the value they generate through their efforts and skill. At the same time there are poor teachers who are overpaid when compared to good or average teachers.

Related is the fact that public school teacher wages are not set in a free market by willing participants on both sides. Whenever teachers get a raise, it is inevitable that letter writers and opinion line callers will express outrage at having to pay for a raise in teacher pay. That’s characteristic of coerced transactions: many taxpayers don’t like to see their taxes go up. But that’s usually the only way that public school teacher pay can be raised.

The public schools, also, have the same problem as does any public agency: they are not able to perform economic calculation to properly evaluate their use of resources. They are not able to calculate profit or loss, so we really don’t know if they use inputs — such as the taxpayer funds used for teacher salaries — wisely.

Besides, the myth that teachers are underpaid relative to other jobs has been exposed for just that. Jay Greene, in the book Education Myths, reports that based on U.S. Department of Labor data for 2002, accounting for the number of hours worked, school teachers earned about $31 per hour. That is more than architects, economists, biologists, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, and chemists.

Preserve farmland at what cost?

A writer in the January 2, 2007 Wichita Eagle laments the loss of farmland to development, particularly residential homebuilding. The writer states that if farmland were preserved, Kansas could become more prosperous.

There are two areas in which I believe this writer is mistaken. First, if the transaction between developer and farmer was voluntary, each is better off than they were before. The developer (and by extension the people he hopes to sell houses to) valued the land more than the farmer did. Otherwise, why would the transaction take place? These voluntary transactions that make both parties better off than before are the basis for the creation of wealth and prosperity.

Second, farmers in Kansas produce so much output that they continually complain of the low prices they receive. Farmers tell us and Congress that if they don’t receive huge subsidies, they will go out of business. In 2005, farmers in Kansas received $1,056,866,760 in subsidy payments. This involuntary transaction reduces the wealth and prosperity of Kansas and the United States.