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Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday October 13, 2011

Wichita city leaders too cozy with developers? Yesterday I participated in a KAKE Television news story where I explained the need for pay-to-play laws in Wichita and Kansas. These laws generally restrict officeholders from participating in votes or activities that would enrich their campaign contributors. In the story I said “What I, and some of my political allies object to, is what is happening in plain sight: In that there is a relatively small group of people — and their spouses and people who work at their companies — who regularly contribute to a wide variety of city council members, both political liberals and political conservatives, because they know that they are going to be coming to the city council and asking for taxpayer money.” Officeholders and the developers who contribute deny there is a connection between contributions and votes. Curiously, these developers generally don’t make contributions to school board members, county commissioners, state legislators, or federal representatives. Actually, it’s not so curious: It’s primarily the Wichita City Council that is able to vote to give them money. I would say the contributors are acting rationally. … If there is no connection between contributions and votes or consideration, there should be no problem in getting the council to agree to some form of pay-to-pay law for Wichita. An example is a charter provision of the city of Santa Ana, in Orange County, California, which states: “A councilmember shall not participate in, nor use his or her official position to influence, a decision of the City Council if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, apart from its effect on the public generally or a significant portion thereof, on a recent major campaign contributor.” … KAKE correspondent Deb Farris reported that Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer doesn’t look at the list of campaign contributors. I wonder: does he send thank you letters to his contributors? … Video and story at Wichita City Leaders Too Cozy With Developers?

Obama economic strategy questioned. This year’s Nobel prize in economics went to Thomas J. Sargent of New York University and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and Christopher A. Sims of Princeton University. In its reporting, the Wall Street Journal explained (A Nobel for Non-Keynesians: People’s expectations about government policy make it difficult for officials to affect the economy in the ways they intend to): “The Swedish economists announcing the award emphasized, correctly, the importance of Messrs. Sargent’s and Sims’s thinking about the role people’s expectations play in economic decision making and the larger economy. But what they failed to mention is that their work has also offered empirical evidence that the school of thought known as Keynesian economics — which believes that government can turn a flagging economy around with the right combination of fiscal ‘stimulus’ (generally government spending) and monetary policy — is fallible.” In further explanation, the Journal writes: “One of Mr. Sargent’s key early contributions, along with University of Minnesota economist Neil Wallace, was the idea that people’s expectations about government fiscal and monetary policy make it difficult for government officials to affect the economy in the ways they intend to. If, for example, people get used to the Federal Reserve increasing the money supply when unemployment rises, they will expect higher inflation and will adjust their wage demands higher also. The result: The lower unemployment rate that the Fed was trying to achieve with looser monetary policy won’t happen. This conclusion was at odds with the Keynesian model, which dominated economic thinking from the late 1930s to the early 1970s. The Keynesian model posited a stable trade-off between inflation and unemployment.” The 1970s however, saw stagflation — both high unemployment and high inflation at the same time, a danger that some feel will grip us in the near future. Keynesianism, of course, is the basis of the economic policy of President Barack Obama and the reason why the economy has not recovered. … While these economists worked on national economies, does the theory of rational expectations apply to state and local governments, meaning that it is very difficult for local government officials to micro-manage their economies through intervention? I think so.

Public vs. private. One of the curious statements in Rhonda Holman’s Sunday Wichita Eagle editorial (Say ‘no’ to naysayers, October 9, 2011) was where she wrote of the “crowds increasingly assembling downtown for concerts and events.” Curious because not long ago she begrudgingly realized the cool down at the Intrust Bank Arena, writing: “Intrust Bank Arena’s strong performance during its inaugural year of 2010 couldn’t last. And it didn’t.” (Make case for arena, August 19, 2100 Wichita Eagle) I don’t know if these two editorials are at odds with each other. … I have noticed one downtown Wichita venue that seems to have a lot of concerts, that being the Orpheum Theater. That venue doesn’t suffer from government genesis and ownership as does the arena, although the arena’s management is in the hands of the private sector. As part of its restoration the Orpheum may qualify for historic preservation tax credits, a government spending program that I oppose. That subsidy, if obtained, is quite small compared to the total taxpayer funding of the arena.

Kansas tax policy. Several news outlets have reported on how hard Kansas state officials are working on crafting a new state tax policy. That worries me. The best tax policy is one that is simple and fair to all. The more tax policy is worked on, the more likely it is to contain measures designed to manage the behavior of people and business firms. This would be a continuation of the conceit that the state can manage economic growth, and contrary to the concepts of economic dynamism for Kansas, where fertile ground is created for all companies.

Petition drive is on. Last Friday citizen activists started the petition drive to give the people of Wichita a chance to vote on crony capitalism or free markets. See Our Downtown Wichita (motto: “Limited government and free markets in Downtown Wichita benefit everyone. Centralized planning and crony capitalism benefit only a few.”) for more information.

Kansas education scores mixed. From Kansas Reporter: “Kansas students’ performance on reading and math proficiency improved for the 11th consecutive year, according to Kansas State Department of Education’s latest State Report Card for schools released Tuesday. Some 87.6 percent of the students tested turned in scores in the top three of five performance levels for reading and 84.7 percent achieved similar scores in math. But two other performance yardsticks show different results. Statewide Kansas test scores on ACT college entrance exams, which are averaging 22 points out of a perfect 36, have been flat for the past five years. … Most Kansas statewide reading, writing and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, tests have changed little since 2000, according to the U.S. Education Department, which counts the test results as the broadest national measure of how school systems compare state by state. ‘Fourth-grade math tests have improved significantly, but that’s about it,; said Arnold Goldstein, program director for the federal Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.” Complete story on Kansas Reporter at Kansas education scores proved mixed picture of schools’ success.

‘Federalists’ author to appear in Wichita. On October 25th Kansas Family Policy Council is hosting an event in Wichita featuring Joshua Charles, a recent KU graduate who has teamed up with Glenn Beck to write the book The Original Argument: The Federalists Case for the Constitution Adapted for the 21st Century. The book debuted at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List in July. … KFPC says “The event will be at Central Christian Church (2900 North Rock Road in Wichita) on Tuesday October 25th at 7:00 pm. Doors will open at 6:30 pm. This is a free event and dessert will be provided for attendees.” RSVP is requested to 316-993-3900 or contact@kansasfpc.com.

Kansas gas wells appraisals. Some Kansas counties use different methods of gas well valuation for tax purposes, writes Paul Soutar in Kansas Watchdog: “The method used to appraise the tax value of gas wells in Stevens County is ‘not correct or appropriate’ according to a report commissioned for Stevens County and released at their latest meeting. The method is or has been used for at least nine years, possibly since the early 1990s, in nine Southwest Kansas counties covering much of the Hugoton gas field, the ninth highest producing field in the U.S. in 2010.” … The complete investigate report is at Report Says Gas Well Appraisal Method ‘Not Correct or Appropriate’.

Lieutenant Governor in Wichita. This week’s meeting (October 14th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, M.D. speaking on “An update on the Brownback Administration’s ‘Roadmap for Kansas’ — Medicaid Reform” … Upcoming speakers: On October 21st: N. Trip Shawver, Attorney/Mediator, on “The magic of mediation, its uses and benefits.” … On October 28th: U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, speaking on “Spending battles in Washington, D.C.” … On November 4th: Chris Spencer, Vice President, Regional Sales Manager Oppenheimer Funds, speaking on “Goliath vs Goliath — The global battle of economic superpowers.” … On November 11th: Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and James Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” … On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?”

Urban renewal. “The goal was to replace chaotic old neighborhoods with planned communities.” Planned by government, that is, with all the negatives that accompany. The fascinating video from Reason.tv is titled The Tragedy of Urban Renewal: The destruction and survival of a New York City neighborhood. Its introduction reads: “In 1949, President Harry Truman signed the Housing Act, which gave federal, state, and local governments unprecedented power to shape residential life. One of the Housing Act’s main initiatives — “urban renewal” — destroyed about 2,000 communities in the 1950s and ’60s and forced more than 300,000 families from their homes. Overall, about half of urban renewal’s victims were black, a reality that led to James Baldwin’s famous quip that “urban renewal means Negro removal. … The city sold the land for a token sum to a group of well-connected Democratic pols to build a middle-class housing development. Then came the often repeated bulldoze-and-abandon phenomenon: With little financial skin in the game, the developers let the demolished land sit vacant for years.”

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