In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent

Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens’ right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider approval of a contract with Visit Wichita, the city’s convention and visitor bureau. Once again, citizens will be left out of knowing how the city’s tax money is spent.

In the past, I’ve asked that Visit Wichita (formerly Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau) make its spending records available. It’s the same type of information that the city will send you about its own spending. But for Go Wichita, spending must — apparently — be kept secret.

It’s not a small amount of money that will be spent in secret. This year the city will send Go Wichita almost $2.5 million.1

But that’s not all. Since the implementation of the “City Tourism Fee” Visit Wichita collects 2.75 percent of hotel bills. (Welcome to Wichita! Here’s the bill for your tourism fee!) That’s estimated to generate $3 million in 2017.2

That is a lot of tax money, and also a high proportion of the agency’s total funding. We don’t have IRS filings from Visit Wichita since the city tourism fee started, so it’s difficult to say what portion of its funding is tax money. But it’s a lot, at least 90 percent.

Despite being nearly totally funded by taxes, Visit Wichita refuses to supply spending records. Many believe that the Kansas Open Records Act requires that it comply with such requests. If the same money was being spent directly by the city, the records undoubtedly would be supplied.

I’ve appeared before the council several times to ask that Visit Wichita and similar organizations comply with the Kansas Open Records Act. See Go Wichita gets budget approved amid controversy over public accountability, City of Wichita Spends $2 million, Rebuffs Citizen’s Transparency Request, and articles at Open Records in Kansas.

The lack of transparency at Visit Wichita is more problematic than this. Visit Wichita refused to provide to me its contract with a California firm retained to help with the re-branding of Wichita. When the Wichita Eagle later asked for the contract, it too was refused. If the city had entered into such a contract, it would be a public record. Contracts like this are published each week in the agenda packet for city council meetings. But Visit Wichita feels it does not have to comply with simple transparency principles.

The City of Wichita could easily place conditions on the money it gives to these groups, requiring them to show taxpayers how their tax dollars are being spent. But the City does not do this. This is not transparency.

In the past I’ve argued that Visit Wichita is a public agency as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But the city disagreed. And astonishingly, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agreed with the city’s interpretation of the law.

So let’s talk about good public policy. Let’s recognize that even it is the case that the Kansas Open Records Act does not require Visit Wichita, WDDC, and GWEDC to disclose records, the law does not prohibit or prevent them from fulfilling requests for the types of records I’ve asked for. Even if the Sedgwick County District Attorney says that Visit Wichita is not required to release documents, the law does not prevent the release of these records.

Once we understand this, we’re left with these questions:

Why does Visit Wichita want to keep secret how it spends taxpayer money, as much as $5.5 million next year?

Why is this city council satisfied with this lack of disclosure of how taxpayer funds are spent? Many council members have spoken of how transparency is important. One said: “We must continue to be responsive to you. Building on our belief that government at all levels belongs to the people. We must continue our efforts that expand citizen engagement. … And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” That was Mayor Brewer speaking in his 2011 State of the City address.

The city’s official page for the current mayor holds this: “Mayor Longwell has championed many issues related to improving the community including government accountability, accessibility and transparency …”

During the recent mayoral campaign, Longwell told the Wichita Eagle that he wants taxpayers to know where their money goes: “The city needs to continue to improve providing information online and use other sources that will enable the taxpayers to understand where their money is going.”

In a column in the Wichita Business Journal, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell wrote: “First off, we want City Hall to be open and transparent to everyone in the community.”

Now is the chance to fulfill these promises. All the city needs to do is add to its contract with Visit Wichita that the agency agree that it is a public agency spending public dollars, and that it will comply with the Kansas Open Records Act.

It would be a simple matter for the council to declare that the city and its taxpayer-funded partner agencies believe in open government. All the city has to have is the will to do this. It takes nothing more. It costs the city and its agencies nothing, because the open records law lets government charge for filling records requests. I would ask, however, that in the spirit of open transparent government, in respect for citizens’ right to know how tax funds are spent, and as a way to atone for past misdeeds, that Visit Wichita fulfill records requests at no charge.


Notes

  1. “The 2017 Adopted Budget includes funding for Visit Wichita’s annual allocation in the amount of $2,476,166, which is to be paid from the Convention & Tourism Fund.” City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016.
  2. “For 2017 the tax is budgeted to generate $3 million.” City of Wichita. Agenda for April 19, 2016.

In Wichita, converting a hotel into street repairs

In Wichita, it turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets.

Update: The Council approved these projects.

In September the Wichita City Council decided to sell the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Wichita for $20 million. Now the council will consider two proposals for spending this money.

One proposal is to spend $10 million on street repair, called “one-time pavement maintenance projects” in city documents.1

A second proposal is to spend $4 million on transit over the next four years. This is pitched as sort of a “bridge to sustainability.” That is, if the Wichita transit system can make it through the next four years, it can — somehow — become sustainable. The plan contains idea like this: “Extensive public education will be used to build ridership. Transit information will be available to a wider audience. Potential users will be engaged in more one-on-one manner.”2

Whatever the merits of these spending programs, Wichita is taking a capital asset and using it to fund current spending. In particular, street maintenance needs to be performed continuously. Here, the city has not been taking care of streets that taxpayers paid for and entrusted to the city for care. It turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets. But street maintenance is something that needs to be performed — and paid for — every year. We shouldn’t have to rely on a sale of a capital asset to fund daily needs.

Following, from October, what the city should do with the Hyatt proceeds.

Wichita, give back the Hyatt proceeds

Instead of spending the proceeds of the Hyatt hotel sale, the city should honor those who paid for the hotel — the city’s taxpayers.

The City of Wichita has sold the Hyatt Regency Hotel for $20 million. Now, what should the city do with these funds? In a workshop this week, the city manager and council recognized that these funds should not be used for operating purposes. This is important. The Hyatt Hotel was paid for with long-term debt, which the city says has been retired. The proceeds from this sale should be used in a similar way: For long-term capital investment, not day-to-day operating expenses. But the council heard two proposals that are decidedly more like operating expenses rather than capital investment.

One proposal, presented by Public Works Director Alan King, is to spend $10 million on street repair over two years. Part of that expense is to purchase a new truck, which is a capital, not operating, expense. But King later revealed that the truck could be purchased out of the existing capital budget.

Street maintenance, however, is an operating expense.

A second proposal, from the Wichita Transit System, would use about $4 million to sustain and improve current bus service. It was presented to the council as a “bridge to a long term solution.”

This, too, is an operating expense.

As these proposals were presented in a workshop, no decision was made.

These two proposed uses of the $20 million Hyatt sales proceeds are contrary to the goal of not using the funds for operating purposes. If the city decides to use the sales proceeds in this way, a capital investment will have been sold in order to pay for day-to-day expenses.

Instead of spending on these two projects, the city should simply return the money to those who paid for the Hyatt in the first place. Those people are, of course, the taxpayers of Wichita. It would be difficult to give back the funds to individual taxpayers in proportion to the amount they supplied. So what the city should do is retire $20 million of the city’s long-term debt.

If not that, then the city should use the Hyatt proceeds to pay for another long-lived asset, perhaps the new downtown library. Either of these alternatives respects the principles of sound financial practice, and also respects the taxpayers.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016. Agenda Item No. IV-2.
  2. City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016. Agenda Item No. IV-3.

State pension cronyism

A new report details the way state pension funds harm workers and taxpayers through cronyism.

Updated to accurately reflect the time period of the targeted investments.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has released a report detailing the various ways state employee pension funds are harmed by cronyism. The report may be read at Keeping the Promise: Getting Politics Out of Pensions.

The problem, ALEC reports, is: “Unfortunately, many lawmakers and pension plan officials have other priorities besides doing what is best for workers. They see the billions of pension fund dollars they manage as an opportunity to advance their own agendas. Rather than investing to earn the best return for workers, they use pension funds in a misguided attempt to boost their local economies, provide kickbacks to their political supporters, reward industries they like, punish those they don’t and bully corporations into silence and behaving as they see fit.”

One form of pension fund cronyism is Economically Targeted Investments (ETIs). These are local investments “that have been selected for their economic or social benefits in addition to the investment return to the employee benefit plan.” Kansas has its own experience with this type of cronyism. During the first half of the 1980s KPERS, the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, made numerous targeted investments that led to large losses. One newspaper article reported: 1

It all seemed so easy to many economic development planners.

In an era of hard-to-get money for business start-ups and small business expansion, why not tap into the state’s healthy $3 billion-plus retirement funds as a source for seed capital?

After all, it is there. And much of the profits earned by the Kansas Public Employees Retirement Systems have come from out-of-state investments.

For many Kansas legislators, the lure of using KPERS money for economic development was tempting. So KPERS, under considerable legislative pressure, agreed to target nearly 10 percent of its fund for business expansions in Kansas.

But three years after that decision, it is clear that KPERS money is not a panacea for economic development.

Here is one particularly egregious example of how KPERS did business.2 In this case, the chair of KPERS benefited personally from KPERS investment decisions, and in a brazen manner:

Take, for example, the $7.8 million investment in Emblem Graphic Systems, a company based in Kansas City and Denver that manufactured specialty package labels. According to court documents:

KPERS Chairman Mike Russell was on the Emblem board of directors and had personally guaranteed $200,000 in loans to the company.

Shortly before KPERS invested $5.3 million in Emblem in 1985, Russell resigned from his Emblem seat. The KPERS loan, however, was used to relieve Russell of his obligation to cover the earlier loans totaling $200,000.

KPERS continued to invest in the company until 1988, At one point, KPERS even paid $273,305 to itself to pay back the money it had lent Emblem when the company was sold. KPERS got back only $1.76 million of the $7.8 million it had lent the company.

Russell, however, was able to make a profit on his 3,000 shares in Emblem when the company bought him out for $48,330 — using KPERS money.

KPERS is suing, among others, Russell, the lawyers who approved the transactions, and Kenneth Koger, who managed the Emblem investment and about 70 percent of the investments in question.

Russell was not available for comment.

In 1992, Russell pleaded no contest to one felony count of aiding and abetting securities fraud regarding a different KPERS investment.3

In September 1991 the loss to KPERS was given as $92 million. 4 Lawsuits continued until 2003.

The governor of Kansas during the time of the targeted KPERS investments was John Carlin (1979 to 1987).


Notes

  1. S. Gossett/The Wichita Eagle, F 1989, ‘Disappointing returns the percentage of the KPERS fund given over to new business ventures has been reduced in light of big losses’, Wichita Eagle, The (KS), 16 Oct, p. 7D, (online NewsBank).
  2. Hobson, G 1996, ‘Full Accountability’, Wichita Eagle, The (KS), 22 Sep, p. 1A, (online NewsBank).
  3. Press, A 1992, ‘Former KPERS Chief Sentenced To Probation For Securities Fraud’, Wichita Eagle, The (KS), 25 Jun, p. 4D, (online NewsBank).}
  4. “After six years of investing in small- and medium-sized companies in Kansas, the state pension fund has 87 investments that are worth $231 million less than the fund paid for them, analysts told the fund’s trustees Friday. Considering that KPERS has collected about $139 million from those companies, however, the fund has lost $92 million in cash on its so-called ‘direct placement’ program, according to estimates by the staff of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.” Cross/The Wichita Eagle, J 1991, ‘Kpers Losses Put At $92 Million Lawyer Predicts ‘Monumental’ Suit’, Wichita Eagle, The (KS), 14 Sep, p. 2D, (online NewsBank).

The Wichita economy, according to Milken Institute

The performance of the Wichita-area economy, compared to other large cities, is on a downward trend.

While good news for the Wichita metropolitan area economy is becoming more frequent, it’s important to compare how Wichita is doing relative to other cities. The Milken Institute produces ranking of cities based on their economic performance in its Best-Performing Cities project.

The ranking are composed of a number of factors such as short-term and long-term job growth, short-term and long-term wage and salary growth, growth of high-tech industry, and high-tech location quotient.1 Milken also notes: “Best-Performing Cities is solely an outcomes-based index. It does not incorporate input measures (business costs, cost-of-living components, and quality-of-life conditions, such as commute times or crime rates). These measures, although important, are prone to wide variations and can be highly subjective.”2

Ranking of the Wichita-area economy from 2003 to 2016, from Milken Institute.
I’ve gathered data from the Milken project for Wichita. The data starts in 2003, the first year for which data is available. The data in the table is the rank for Wichita among 200 large metropolitan areas. The best rank is 1, while the worst is 200. In the line chart for each data series, I’ve inverted the data so that the best performance is at the top.

As the charts show, for overall ranking, Wichita has been declining for some time.

Wichita employment compared to Kansas and the nation. Click for larger.
This does not mean the Wichita-area economy is on the decline. But it means the relative performance of Wichita has not kept up with other cities. As can be seen in the chart of Wichita, Kansas, and U.S. non-farm employment, Wichita employment is rising. But it isn’t rising as fast as the nation, as can be seen in the widening gap between Wichita and the nation since 2010.

Of note, Wichita economic development agencies rely on Milken data.3 4

Data for Wichita from Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. “High-tech location quotients (LQs), which measure the industry’s concentration in a particular metro relative to the national average, are included to gauge an area’s participation in the knowledge-based economy. We also measure the number of specific high-tech fields (out of a possible 19) whose concentrations in an MSA or MD are higher than the national average.” Milken Institute. 2015 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities. http://www.best-cities.org/2015/best-performing-cities-report-2015.pdf.
  2. ibid.
  3. Greater Wichita Partnership. In Wichita, you will find the knowledge & skill base to get the job done well. http://www.gwedc.org/site_selectors/labor_data.
  4. Greater Wichita Partnership. Air Capital of the World. http://www.gwedc.org/key_industries/aerospace_aviation.

Kansas school employees by type

An interactive visualization of relative trends in Kansas school employment.

Kansas State Department of Education makes available tables of the number of employees working in Kansas schools. Employees are classified in two broad categories, Certified and Non-Certified. Within each category, employees are further classified by job type such as Superintendent, Curriculum Specialist, and Social Worker.

Example from the visualization, showing assistant superintendents highlighted. Click for larger.
I’ve gathered the tables back to fiscal year 2002 (the 2001 — 2002 school year) and present them in an interactive visualization. There are separate visualizations for Certified and Non-Certified employees. In each, as shown in the instruction, you may check the check boxes to add or remove types of employees. For the employee types that are shown, you may click to highlight types apart from the others.

The line charts show the relative change in the number of employees. You may learn whether the number of employee type A is growing faster or slower than employee type B.

The visualization also holds tables showing the number of employees.

Click here to open the visualization in a new window.

Using the visualization.
Using the visualization.

The plan to raise your taxes that can’t be found

A coalition of Kansas advocacy groups wants to raise your taxes, but the plan is difficult to find.

On Wednesday a coalition of groups presented their plan to balance the Kansas budget and provide more tax revenue to spend. But — this plan can’t be found at any of the participating groups’ websites. So as a service to these groups, (Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Kansas Action for Children, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Kansas-National Education Association) I present a scanned version of the plan. Maybe one of the groups will send me a digital original.

Click here to view the plan.

Economic development incentives at the margin

The evaluation of economic development incentives in Wichita and Kansas requires thinking at the margin, not the entirety.

When considering the effect of economic development incentives, cities like Wichita use a benefit-cost analysis to determine whether the incentive is in the best interests of the city. The analysis usually also considers the county, state, and school districts (although these jurisdictions have no say over whether the incentive is granted, with a few exceptions). The idea is that by paying money now or forgiving future taxes, the city gains even more in increased tax collections. This is then pitched as a good deal for taxpayers: The city gets more jobs (usually) and a “profit,” too.

Economic activity usually generates tax revenue that flows to governmental agencies. When people work, they pay income taxes. When they make purchases, they pay sales taxes. When they buy existing property or create new property, they pay property taxes. This happens whether or not the economic activity is a result of government incentives. This is a key point that deserves more exploration.

Government often claims that without an incentive provided by government, a company would not have located in Wichita. Or, without the incentive, it would not have expanded in Wichita. Now, the city says incentives are necessary to persuade companies to consider remaining in Wichita rather than moving somewhere else.1

But there are a few problems with the arguments that cities, states, and their economic development agencies promote. One is that the increase in tax revenue happens regardless of whether the company has received incentives. Therefore, the benefit-cost ratio calculations are valid only if incentives were absolutely necessary. Otherwise, government claims credit for something that was going to happen anyway. This is a big question that deserves exploration.

For example, what about all the companies that locate to Wichita, or expand in Wichita, or simply remain in Wichita without receiving incentives? How do we calculate the benefit-cost ratio when a company receives no incentives? The answer is it can’t be calculated, as there is no government cost, so the divisor in the equation is zero. Instead, there is only benefit.

Then, we don’t often ask why some companies need incentives, and others do not. Do the companies that receive incentives really need them? Is it really true that a business investment is not feasible without subsidy? Why do some companies receive incentives multiple times while others thrive without incentives?

We may never know

We may never know the answer to these questions. Here’s why. Suppose fictional company XYZ Enterprises, Inc. dangles the idea of moving from Wichita to some other city. XYZ cites incentive packages offered by other cities. Wichita and the state then come up with millions in incentives, and XYZ decides to remain in Wichita. Question: Were the incentives necessary? Was the threat to move genuine? If XYZ admits the threat was not real, then it has falsely held Wichita and Kansas hostage for incentives. If the city or state admits the threat was not real, then citizens wonder why government gave away so much.2

So we’ll never really know. Everyone involved has incentive to maintain the fiction and avoid letting the truth leak out.

A small lever moves big boulders, they say

Related is that jurisdictions may grant relatively small incentives and then take credit for the entire deal. I’ve been told that when economic development agencies learn of a company moving to an area or expanding their Wichita operations, they swoop in with small incentives and take credit for the entire deal. The agency is then able to point to a small incentive and take credit for the entire deal. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to get the involved parties to speak on the record about this.

Further, governments may not credit the contribution of other governments. In the past when the Wichita economic development office presented information about an incentive it proposed to offer to a company, it would sometimes list the incentives the company is receiving from other governments. As an example, when the city offered incentives to NetApp in 2012, the city’s contribution was given as a maximum of $418,000. The agenda material mentioned — obliquely — that the State of Kansas was involved in the incentive package. Inquiry to the Kansas Department of Commerce revealed that the state had promoted incentives worth $35,160,017 to NetApp.3 Wichita’s incentive contribution is just 1.2 percent of what the state offered, which makes us wonder if the Wichita incentive was truly needed. Nonetheless, Wichita city officials spoke as though the city alone was responsible for NetApp’s decision.

The importance of marginal thinking

When evaluating economic development incentives, we often fail to properly evaluate the marginal gains. Here’s an example of the importance of looking at marginal gains rather than the whole. In 2012, the City of Wichita developed a program called New HOME (New Home Ownership Made Easy). The crux of the program is to rebate Wichita city property taxes for five years to those who buy newly-built homes in certain neighborhoods under certain conditions.

Wichita City HallThe important question is how much new activity this program will induce. Often government takes credit for all economic activity that takes place. This ignores the economic activity that was going to take place naturally — in this case, new homes that are going to be built even without this subsidy program. According to data compiled by Wichita Area Builders Association and the WSU Center for Economic Development and Business Research — this is the data that was current at the time the Wichita city council made its decision to authorize the program — in 2011 462 new homes were started in the City of Wichita. The HOME program contemplated subsidizing 1,000 homes in a period of 22 months. That’s a rate of 545 homes per year — not much more than the present rate of 462 per year. But, the city has to give up collecting property tax on all these homes — even the ones that would be built anyway.

What we’re talking about is possibly inducing a small amount of additional activity over what would happen naturally and organically. But we have to subsidize a very large number of houses in order to achieve that. The lesson is that we need to evaluate the costs of this program based on the marginal activity it may induce, not all activity.

For more, see Wichita new home tax rebate program: The analysis.


Notes

  1. “But the Hawker Beechcraft deal is different, focused on saving existing jobs, not creating new jobs, and the result diverts millions in limited taxpayer funds, primarily state income tax revenues, from state coffers to a company’s benefit, simply to have an existing business stay put.” Flentje, Edward. Brinkmanship with jobs. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/brinkmanship-with-jobs/.
  2. For more on this, see LeRoy, Greg. The Great American Jobs Scam. Especially chapter two, titled Site Location 101: How Companies Decide Where to Expand or Relocate. The entire book may be read online at http://www.greatamericanjobsscam.com/pages/preview-book.html. A relevant excerpt: “These prisoners’ dilemma games also enable companies to create fictions about cause and effect. These fictions can be used to create public versions of how deals happened that no one can credibly contradict, because the company’s real decision-making process will never be revealed. The most important fiction to maintain, of course, is that subsidies matter in deciding where a company expands or relocates. For example, being able to send secret signals to competing cities means companies can tell contradictory stories to different cities and have no fear of being exposed. If a company really has its heart set on City A, it can tell that city that it is in the hunt, but needs to do better. Meanwhile, it can send less urgent signals to Cities B and C, even if they offered bigger packages at first. Eventually, City A offers the biggest package, and the company announces its decision to go there.”
  3. Weeks, Bob. NetApp economic development incentives: all of them. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/netapp-economic-development-incentives-all-of-them/.

Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief

Several large employers in Wichita ask to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.

This week the Wichita City Council will hold public hearings concerning the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds to Spirit AeroSystems, Inc and other companies.1 In the IRB program, government is not lending money, and Wichita taxpayers are not at risk if the bonds are not repaid. In fact, in the case of Spirit, the applicant company plans to purchase the bonds itself, according to city documents. Instead, the purpose of the IRB process is to allow Spirit to escape paying property taxes and, often, sales taxes.

These bonds will allow Spirit to avoid paying property taxes on taxable property purchased with bond proceeds for a period of five years. The abatement may then be extended for another five years. Usually these IRB issues also carry a sales tax exemption, but the agenda packet for this item does not mention such

City documents state that the property tax abatement will be shared among the taxing jurisdictions in these estimated amounts:

City: $424,918
State: $19,500
County: $381,979
USD 259: $731,614

The listing of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, is likely a mistake by the city, as the Spirit properties lie in the Derby school district. This is evident below.

The forgiveness of taxes is justified by the city because it believes it will receive a return that is greater than the foregone taxes. This benefit-cost ratio is calculated by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research (CEDBR) at Wichita State University based on data supplied by the applicant company and the city. The rationale behind these calculations is a matter of debate. Even if valid, calculating the ratio with any degree of precision is folly, reminding us of the old saw “Economists use a decimal point to remind us they have a sense of humor.”

City of Wichita: 5.38 to 1
City General Fund: 2.60 to 1
City Debt Service Fund: NA to 1
Sedgwick County: 2.69 to 1
U.S.D. 260: 1.16 to 1
State of Kansas: 5.51 to 1

These figures reveal that the City of Wichita is forcing a decision on a neighboring jurisdiction that it would not accept for itself, unless it uses one of many exceptions or loopholes. This adverse decision is forced upon the Derby School District. It faces a benefit-cost ratio of 1.16 to 1, which is below the city’s standard of 1.30 to 1, unless an exception is cited. 2 The Derby School District is not involved in this action and has no ability to influence the issuance of these bonds, should it desire to.

We have to wonder why the City of Wichita imposes upon the Derby school district an economic development incentive that costs the Derby schools $731,614 per year, with a substandard payoff?
Of note, the Derby school district extends into Wichita, including parts of city council districts 2 and 3. These districts are represented by Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin, respectively.

In a second agenda item, the city will consider IRBs for a building being developed by Air Capital Flight Line. The beneficiary, however, is Spirit, as city documents state: “The requested sales tax exemption and property tax abatement will be passed on as a benefit to Spirit.”

The annual benefit in tax savings is given by the city as:

City: $294,174
State: $13,500
County: $264,447
USD 259: $506,502

These values are offset by a Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILOT) estimated at $13,251 annually.

For benefit-cost ratios, the city supplies these:

City of Wichita: 3.65 to 1
City of Wichita Gen Fund: 1.83 to 1
City of Wichita Debt Serv: NA to 1
Sedgwick County: 2.09 to 1
USD 260: 1.00 to 1
State of Kansas 2.48: to 1

Here we see the same mistake with the Wichita and Derby school districts. We also see the Derby school district giving up $506,502 in tax revenue, with no positive return.

Spirit is not the only company asking for tax relief through IRBs this week. Three other companies are making similar requests. In none of these cases is economic necessity cited as a reason for escaping taxes. None are threatening to leave Wichita if the relief is not granted.

The problem with these actions

Part of the cost of these companies’ investment, along with the accompanying risk, is spread to a class of business firms that can’t afford additional cost and risk. These are young startup firms, the entrepreneurial firms that we need to nurture in order to have real and sustainable economic growth and jobs. But we can’t identify which firms will be successful. So we need an economic development strategy that creates an environment where these young entrepreneurial firms have the greatest chance to survive. The action the Wichita city council is considering this week works against entrepreneurial firms. (See Kansas economic growth policy should embrace dynamism and How to grow the Kansas economy.)

A major reason why these tax abatements are harmful to the Wichita economy is its strangling effect on entrepreneurship and young companies. As these companies and others escape paying taxes, others have to pay. This increases the burden of the cost of government on everyone else — in particular on the companies we need to nurture.

There’s plenty of evidence that entrepreneurship, in particular young business firms, are the key to economic growth. But Wichita’s economic development policies, as evidenced by these actions, are definitely stacked against the entrepreneur. As Wichita props up its established industries, it makes it more difficult for young firms to thrive. Wichita relies on targeted investment in our future. Our elected officials and bureaucrats believe they have the ability to select which companies are worthy of public investment, and which are not. It’s a form of centralized planning by government that shapes the future direction of the Wichita economy.

These targeted economic development efforts fail for several reasons. First is the knowledge problem, in that government simply does not know which companies are worthy of public investment. This lack of knowledge, however, does not stop governments from creating policies for the awarding of incentives. This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led to companies receiving grants or escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form. Young entrepreneurial companies are particularly vulnerable.

Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development PolicyProfessor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business is critical of this approach to economic development. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

In the same paper, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

In making his argument, Hall cites research on the futility of chasing large employers as an economic development strategy: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. To quote from the most comprehensive study: ‘The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.'”

(For a summary of the peer-reviewed academic research that examines the local impact of targeted tax incentives from an empirical point of view, see Research on economic development incentives. A sample finding is “General fiscal policy found to be mildly effective, while targeted incentives reduced economic performance (as measured by per capita income).”)

There is also substantial research that is it young firms — distinguished from small business in general — that are the engine of economic growth for the future. We can’t detect which of the young firms will blossom into major success — or even small-scale successes. The only way to nurture them is through economic policies that all companies can benefit from. Reducing tax rates for everyone is an example of such a policy. Abating taxes for specific companies through programs like the Wichita city council is considering this week is an example of precisely the wrong policy.

In explaining the importance of dynamism, Hall wrote: “Generally speaking, dynamism represents persistent, annual change in about one-third of Kansas jobs. Job creation may be a key goal of economic development policy but job creation is a residual economic outcome of business dynamism. The policy challenge centers on promoting dynamism by establishing a business environment that induces business birth and expansion without bias related to the size or type of business.”

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach, especially the policies that prop up our established companies to the detriment of dynamism. We need to advocate for policies — at Wichita City Hall, at the Sedgwick County Commission, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. We need political leaders who have the wisdom to realize this, and the courage to act appropriately. Which is to say, to not act in most circumstances.

Small business

This year American City Business Journals presented the results of a study of small business vitality in cities. 3 Wichita ranked at number 104 out of 106 cities studied. Awarding incentives to large companies places small business at a disadvantage. Not only must small business pay for the cost of government that incentivized companies avoid, small companies must also compete with subsidized companies for inputs such as capital and labor.

Pursuing large companies

Research has found that the pursuit of large companies doesn’t produce the desired growth: “The results show that large firms fail to produce significant net benefits for their host communities, calling into question the high-stakes bidding war over jobs and investment.” 4

This finding is counterintuitive. People can easily see the large companies. They are likely to know someone that works there. But it is the unseen effects that must be considered too, and that is rarely done.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. City Council agenda packet for December 6, 2016.
  2. Sedgwick County/City of Wichita Economic Development Policy. Available at www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/Economic/EconomicDevelopmentDocuments/City%20of%20Wichita%20Economic%20Development%20Policy.pdf.
  3. Wichita Business Journal. The State of Small Business: Wichita scores low in small biz vitality. Available at www.bizjournals.com/wichita/print-edition/2016/04/29/the-state-of-small-business-wichita-scores-low-in.html.
  4. William F. Fox and Matthew N. Murray, “Do Economic Effects Justify the Use of Fiscal Incentives?” Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 71, No. 1, 2004, p. 79.

Gary Sherrer and Kansas Policy Institute

A former Kansas government official criticizes Kansas Policy Institute.

I wouldn’t normally use a Facebook comment in a public way, but the comment was left in public, to a post on my Facebook profile. Plus, the writer is a former Kansas government official. He’s Gary Sherrer, who has been Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of Commerce, and Chair of the Kansas Board of Regents.

From the author's Facebook profile, starting December 2, 2016. Click for larger.
From the author’s Facebook profile, starting December 2, 2016. Click for larger.
Sherrer had criticized the truthfulness of Kansas Policy Institute, claiming he “could write an essay” on his criticism of KPI. Upon my suggestion for him to do so, he offered two criticisms.

First, Sherrer wrote this: “They count KAPERS payments that in the past were direct state payments. Now they send them to the school districts and within hours transfer them back to the state yet it shows as increased revenue in the local budget. Same $s just an accounting trick.”

This is a standard argument of Kansas public school spending advocates, which is that because of a change in the way teacher retirement funds (KPERS contributions) are handled, it looks like the state is spending more on schools, when in fact it is not.

In response, Kansas Policy Institute noted this: “According to Dale Dennis, KPERS funding was last sent directly to KPERS in 2004; it has since been sent directly to school districts included in reported school funding totals.”1

Dale Dennis is Deputy Commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education and head of Fiscal and Administrative Services.

Wichita Public Schools, State Revenue by Source, KPERS ContributionsEven though Dennis is the state’s top education finance official, we don’t have to rely solely on him to illustrate changes in KPERS payment accounting. Information from the Wichita public school district2 shows the same. Here I’ve plotted the funding sent by the state of Kansas to USD 259 for KPERS contributions. As Dennis indicated, in 2005 the Wichita school district started receiving money from the state for KPERS. Prior to that year it received none.

So if anyone wants to claim that KPERS payment accounting has been changed in order to be deceptive, why don’t we ask former governor Kathleen Sebelius why it happened under her watch?

Additionally, the argument that the KPERS funds are held by school districts for just hours or minutes is trivial. If the state allowed school districts to hold the funds for two days, two weeks, two months — would that make any meaningful difference? Instead, school districts ought to be thankful that the taxpayers of the state of Kansas cover part of employee retirement costs. But we don’t hear those thanks, just complaints.

Sherrer is correct on one thing: There are people in government who may be touting increased KPERS payments as increased school spending. Two things: KPERS spending is school spending. If not that, what is it? Second, these people are not Kansas Policy Institute. KPT takes efforts to separate KPERS spending from other school spending.3

Here’s something else from Sherrer: “Anther example- local property taxes collected for schools was always sent directly to the school district- after all it is local not state tax $s. Now the local sends it to the state, then it is sent to school districts. Again, same dollars but trick accounting to make it look like increased state spending.”

I’ve never seen KPI make the claim that Sherrer makes. Others may make it, but KPI takes steps to adjust figures for this change.4

Finally, Sherrer writes: “When is Kansas Policy going do do research on the financial disaster called the Kansas budget?” Well, KPI has done this, providing a detailed roadmap. In my reporting on KPI’s plan, I wrote:

The State of Kansas has implemented tax reform that reduces the tax burden for Kansans. A remaining challenge that has not yet been tackled is spending reform, that is, aligning Kansas state government spending with a smaller stream of tax revenue. Critics of tax reform say the Kansas budget is a mess or a train wreck, pointing to projections of large deficits before long. Tax increases or service cuts will be required to balance the budget, contend critics.

In a policy brief released today, Kansas Policy Institute presented a plan for bringing the budget in balance while retaining low tax rates (and future reductions) and accommodating projected future spending needs for Medicare and schools.

You can more about the plan at For Kansas budget, balance is attainable.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. State school board member should practice what he preaches. https://kansaspolicy.org/state-school-board-member-practice-preaches/.
  2. USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds, and USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2007, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds.
  3. For example, see Dorsey, David. Non-KPERS funding sets another per-pupil record in 2015-16. https://kansaspolicy.org/non-kpers-funding-sets-another-per-pupil-record-in-2015-16/.
  4. For example, see Parkes, Patrick. State school funding ranks high in Kansas. https://kansaspolicy.org/state-school-funding-ranks-high-in-kansas/.

Wichita bridges, well memorialized

Drivers — like me — on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita are happy that the work on a small bridge is complete, but may not be pleased with one aspect of the project.

The memorial plaque celebrating the accomplishment on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita. The flare from the sun is a defect of this photograph, not the marker. Click for larger.
The memorial plaque celebrating the accomplishment on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita. The flare from the sun is a defect of this photograph, not the marker. Click for larger.
It’s a small bridge, on East Twenty-First Street between Mosely and New York Streets. At 49 feet long it is designated a bridge by the Federal Highway Administration. And we’re glad it’s there.

But with city lane width guidelines for arterial streets at 11 feet, this four-lane bridge may not be not much longer than it is wide.1

The bridge on East Twenty-First Street. Click for larger.
The bridge on East Twenty-First Street. Click for larger.
Does it warrant the full commemorative treatment of a bronze plaque memorializing the elected officials and bureaucrats who happened to be in office at the time taxpayers paid for this bridge?

A city official told me that the plaque cost around $2500, and noted that the City Council approves them for each project.2

Why does the city spend so much on plaques for bridges that, in some cases, may not be much longer than wide? It’s a small matter, but these issues are symbolic of government’s attitude towards costs, and of some officials’ view of their own self-importance.

It’s presumptuous, that such a mundane accomplishment would be decorated so at the expense of taxpayers. More than this, it’s preposterous.

West Twenty-Ninth Street in Sedgwick County. Click for larger.
West Twenty-Ninth Street in Sedgwick County. Click for larger.
The City of Wichita is not alone. As I reported in The bridges of Sedgwick County are well marked, Sedgwick County does this, too. And doubly so. The bridge in Twenty-First Street in Wichita has one plaque, but even small bridges in Sedgwick County have two, one on each side.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. *Street Design Guidelines, Approved by the City Council, December 2014. http://www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/Planning/PlanningDocument/Street%20Design%20Guidelines-Final.pdf
  2. Email correspondence with Gary Janzen, Wichita City Engineer and Assistant Director Public Works & Utilities, November 28, 2016.

Spending in the States

The National Association of State Budget Officers publishes spending data for the states. In this interactive visualization, I present the data in a graphical and flexible format.

Data for each state is subdivided by fund (see below for definitions). Data through 2015 is actual, while data for fiscal year 2016 is estimated. The figures for the state “United States” were computed by summing the spending in all states, then dividing by the U.S. population. These figures are not adjusted for inflation.

Of note is the tab comparing spending in states that have an income tax vs. those that have no income tax.

Click here to access the visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.
Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

From NASBO, definitions of the funds.

General Fund: The predominant fund for financing a state’s operations. Revenues are received from broad-based state taxes. However, there are differences in how specific functions are financed from state to state.

Federal Funds: Funds received directly from the federal government.

Other State Funds: Expenditures from revenue sources that are restricted by law for particular governmental functions or activities. For example, a gasoline tax dedicated to a highway trust fund would appear in the “Other State Funds” column. For higher education, other state funds can include tuition and fees. For Medicaid, other state funds include provider taxes, fees, donations, assessments, and local funds.

Bonds: Expenditures from the sale of bonds, generally for capital projects.

State Funds: General funds plus other state fund spending, excluding state spending from bonds.

Government schools’ entitlement mentality

If the Kansas personal income grows, should school spending also rise?

Kansas Policy Institute has noticed something about the Kansas public school spending establishment, in particular Kansas Association of School Boards. KPI president Dave Trabert wrote “KASB published a three-part series last week, making the case that school funding and other government spending hasn’t kept up with the growth in personal income.”1 KASB believes that if Kansans’ personal income rises, so too should school spending, and in proportion.

This is not the first time KASB has made this argument. Last year I wrote “If Kansas personal income rises but the school spending establishment doesn’t get its cut, something is wrong, they say.”2

I also wrote: “Another indication of the perversity of this argument is that spending less of a share of our income to obtain a product or service is usually viewed as an advancement, not a situation to be cured. For example in 1929, American households spent 23.4 percent of disposable personal income on food. In 2013 it was 9.8 percent. This is a good thing.”

Read the complete article from KPI at Government’s Entitlement Mentality — Part 1.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. Government’s Entitlement Mentality — Part 1. https://kansaspolicy.org/governments-entitlement-mentality-part-1/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. For Kansas schools, a share of your income is the standard. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-schools-share-income-standard/.

Beware of government arts spending

Art is too important to be dependent on politicians and injecting politics into anything inevitably tarnishes it, writes Lawrence W. Reed of Foundation for Economic Education.

Economist Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

While in Wichita Reed appeared on WichitaLiberty.TV in this episode. An abridged version of the following appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Beware of Government Arts Spending
By Lawrence W. Reed

While visiting Wichita in October, I learned that city government subsidies for the arts is a local, contentious issue. I’d like to offer a perspective: Don’t do it. Art is too important to be dependent on politicians and injecting politics into anything inevitably tarnishes it.

Proponents of art subsidies argue that because a large majority of people enjoy art and even personally engage in it, it’s therefore a government responsibility. But even larger majorities of people enjoy things like clothing, pets and good movies; this fact is actually an argument for government to butt out and stick to doing its proper duties.

Lawrence W. Reed
Lawrence W. Reed
Those “studies” that purport to show X return on Y amount of government arts spending are a laughingstock among economists. The numbers are cooked and almost never compared to alternative uses of tax money. Even less frequently do subsidy advocates consider what people might choose to do if their earnings weren’t taxed away in the first place.

Every interest group with a claim on the treasury argues that spending for its projects produces some magical “multiplier” effect. Routing other people’s money through politicians and bureaucracy is supposed to somehow magnify wealth, while leaving it in the pockets of those who earned it is somehow a drag. Assuming for a moment that such preposterous claims are correct, wouldn’t it then make sense to direct all income through the government?

What if “public investment” simply displaces a certain amount of private investment? Arts subsidy advocates never raise this issue, but I know that I personally am far less likely to make a charitable donation to something I know is on the dole than to something that depends on the good hearts of willing givers.

What if I, as a taxpayer, could keep what the government would otherwise spend on the arts and invest it in my child’s education and get twice the return than the government would ever get on the arts? The more that government takes, the less we can purchase of the things we value, including tickets to the theatre or a concert.

Money which comes voluntarily from the heart is more meaningful than money that comes at gunpoint (taxes). For that reason I don’t believe in either arts welfare or shotgun marriages. There’s an endless list of desirable, enriching things, very few of which carry a tag that says, “Must be provided by taxes and politicians.”

If we don’t rob Peter the worker to pay Paul the artist, perhaps Paul may have to become a better artist or a better marketer of his art, or perhaps find another profession entirely. Welcome, Paul, to the real world of willing customers and earning an honest living.

Decoding the Kansas teachers union

Decoding and deconstructing communications from KNEA, the Kansas teachers union, lets us discover the true purpose of the union.

Here, we look at a dispatch from Kansas National Education Association’s “Under the Dome” newsletter from March 14, 2013. It may be found here. The topic of this day was a charter school bill. Kansas has a law that allows charter schools, which are public schools that operate outside many of the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools. But the Kansas law is written in a way that makes it difficult to form a charter school, and as a result, Kansas has very few charter schools.

KNEA, the teacher union in Kansas, says: Rep. Ed Trimmer noted that a study provided by the proponents (anti-public school “think tank” Kansas Policy Institute) reported that the worst performing charter schools are in states that have multiple charter school “authorizers” — just like this bill.

This sentence holds much of the key to understanding the motives of the teachers union, and the rest of the public school spending lobby. First, they use the term “anti-public school.” This lets us know that for all the bluster coming from the teachers union and its allies about the importance of education and Kansas schoolchildren, it is only public schools that interest them. The simple reason is that in private schools and charter schools, the teachers aren’t union members. It is those union members that the union cares about. Other schools where teachers can work free of the union and its influence are competition to the union.

The use of “think tank” lets us know that the union doesn’t think Kansas Policy Institute is deserving of respect. KPI uses government data to show the true state of Kansas public education, so naturally the teachers union needs to suppress the tellers of truth.

By the way, I don’t think KPI is “anti-public school.” KPI advocates for school choice, to be sure, but school choice programs comfortably co-exist with public schools in many states. And — let’s remind the teachers union that charter schools are public schools.

Then the use of “authorizers” in quotes: Charter school authorizers oversee the charter schools they authorized. In Kansas, the only charter school authorizers are local school boards, and they have shown very little willingness to authorize charters. Here’s what is interesting: In some states with good charter school laws, authorizers must hold their charter schools accountable. In Denver, for the 2011 school year, 25 percent of the charters seeking renewal were closed.1 (There, charters are reauthorized every third year.) That type of accountability is rarely seen in the traditional public schools, where poor-performing schools live on, year after year.

The teachers union says: The Committee reconvened at 1:30 to get a special presentation by anti-public school zealot Dave Trabert of the “think tank” Kansas Policy Institute. Trabert sold his usual snake oil denouncing Kansas public schools as failing most students and thoroughly confused the committee with his talk of NAEP, NCLB, RTTT, state assessments, cut scores and the performance of Texas schools compared to Kansas.

See? The teachers union doesn’t like to talk about the performance of Kansas schools. Anyone who presents the data is denounced. It’s easy to see why. The U.S. Department of Education, through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), conducts the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) every other year. Known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” it is “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”2 The important thing to remember is that the test is not under the control of states. It is the same in all states, and allows for state-to-state comparisons. (More about this in a moment.)

Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Click for larger.
Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Click for larger.
Nearby is a chart showing performance on the NAEP test. It presents data for grade four reading over time, divided by major categories of race. It shows the percent of students scoring at the level of Basic or better, and on a separate scale, at Proficient or better.

Looking at the first column of data, labeled “All Students,” we can see that Kansas performs better than Texas in every year. It is this finding that the teachers union and its allies use to promote the goodness of Kansas schools.

Aggregated data like this can hide some underlying truths. Look at the third column, reporting scores for black students. For “At or above Proficient,” Kansas and Texas students perform nearly the same. For Basic or better, Texas has the clear advantage in most years.

Similar investigation reveals that for Hispanic students, Texas and Kansas score nearly the same. For white students, Texas scores better than Kansas in each year.

So which schools are better in fourth grade reading, Kansas or Texas? If you were the parent of a young black child learning to read, Texas is doing a better job. For that matter, if you were the parent of a young white child learning to read, Texas has been doing a better job than has Kansas.

(By the way, Texas spends less on its schools than Kansas, on a per-pupil basis.3)

(These charts are derived from an interactive visualization of NAEP scores that I developed. You may access it here to conduct your own investigations.)

We can see why the teachers union demeans and demonizes those who present data like this.

The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
Why are NAEP scores important? Doesn’t the State of Kansas have its own tests? The answer is yes, Kansas has its own tests. And until recently these tests — the standards that the state used to measure achievement — were very weak. That is, Kansas was willing to say students are “proficient” at a much lower level of performance than most other states. In some cases, just a handful of states had lower standards than Kansas. But now the new Kansas standards are more in line with those of other states, and present a more truthful assessment of Kansas schoolchildren. Not surprisingly, scores on the new tests are lower.4

In the past, the teachers union and its allies used the (generally good) performance on these very weak Kansas tests to conclude that Kansas schools were performing well. But that was a lie.

The teachers union says: He was joined via Skype by noted ideological researcher Matthew Ladner. Ladner, who greatly admires Jeb Bush and Florida schools was brought to Kansas by Trabert and KPI once before. Only back then his presentation was colored by the fact that he won a “Bunkum Award” from the National Educational [sic] Policy Center (NEPC). The NEPC, located at the University of Colorado is a national consortium of education researchers and academicians who review the reports of think tanks to make sure it is based on sound research standards.

First, Florida schools perform well on the NAEP, relative to Kansas. If you need convincing, use the visualization of NAEP scores referenced above to compare Florida and Kansas. You’ll find many cases where Florida does better than Kansas.

(By the way, Florida spends less than Kansas on schools, on a per-pupil base.3 This is the real problem the teachers union and its allies have with Florida and Texas: These states spend less than Kansas.)

Now: What is the National Education Policy Center (NEPC)? Just like the Kansas teachers union says, it reviews the reports of think tanks. And when it does, its criticisms are routinely shredded when placed under scrutiny. (Example criticism of one NEPC writer: “His review is deeply flawed and significantly misrepresents our data and findings.6) Almost all the reports it finds to be faulty are published by conservative/libertarian think tanks, although I did see a Brookings Institute report criticized.

Here’s something else: The Kansas teachers union and its allies vigorously attempt to discredit KPI because of its purported funders. If that is a valid concern or criticism, consider this. NEPC’s funders include the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.7 Teachers unions funding research to discredit non-union schools. Who could have figured?

Now we ask this: Should we hold the Kansas teachers union to the same standards it expects of others?


Notes

  1. Colorado League of Charter Schools.
  2. National Assessment of Educational Progress. About. Available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/SSF/2014/00A08.
  4. Weeks, Bob. After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/after-years-of-low-standards-kansas-schools-adopt-truthful-standards/.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/SSF/2014/00A08.
  6. Jim Kessler, Tess Stovall, and Dee Dee Dolan. A Response to the National Education Policy Center: “NEPC review is fatally flawed.” http://www.thirdway.org/memo/a-response-to-the-national-education-policy-center-nepc-review-is-fatally-flawed.
  7. National Education Policy Center. Support. http://nepc.colorado.edu/support.

Kansas benefits from foreign trade

The Kansas economy benefits greatly from foreign trade, and we should oppose restrictions on trade.

Bryan Riley of Heritage Foundation has contributed an extensive analysis of the benefits foreign trade brings to Kansas. Riley is Jay Van Andel Senior Policy Analyst in Trade Policy at Center for Trade and Economics (CTE).

Riley notes three ways that foreign trade benefits Kansas:

  • Imports provide competitive products for Kansas consumers and manufacturers.
  • Exports benefit Kansas farmers and aerospace workers.
  • Foreign investment supports thousands of Kansas jobs.

He recommends: “The state’s congressional delegation can best advance the interests of Kansans by opposing protectionist policies and working to remove barriers to international trade and investment.” Specifically:

These benefits are threatened by U.S. trade barriers that protect politically well-connected companies from competition while driving up prices and threatening jobs in Kansas industries reliant on international trade.

The state’s congressional delegation can best advance the interests of Kansans by opposing protectionist policies and working to remove barriers to international trade and investment.

The danger to Kansas, and to the entire country, is that President-Elect Donald J. Trump campaigned on a platform of renegotiating trade agreements and imposing high tariffs if favorable agreements were not obtained. This is the opposite of free trade.

Concluding, Riley projects a bright future for Kansas — if trade increases:

Kansas is positioned to prosper from continued growth in trade with the rest of the world as trade barriers are reduced. Physical barriers, such as the limits imposed by canals and ports unable to handle modern cargo ships, and governmental barriers, like limits on shipping and the use of imported inputs, are falling across the globe. The state’s congressional delegation should take the lead in making sure that government-constructed impediments to trade and prosperity fall as well.

Riley’s paper at Heritage is Trade and Prosperity in the States: The Case of Kansas. He also appeared on WichitaLiberty.TV earlier this year to discuss trade and its importance. See WichitaLiberty.TV: Heritage Foundation’s Bryan Riley on free trade.

The Joseph Ashby Show, revived

Joseph Ashby on WichitaLiberty.TV 2015-06-21He’s no longer on AM radio at KQAM, but people still want to hear him. So for now there’s the Joseph Ashby Show podcast.

There are several ways to listen:

  • Like The Joseph Ashby Show on Facebook. Click here for this. (Be sure to ask for notifications, or at least for posts to show at the top of your newsfeed.)
  • Subscribe to the podcast on Podbean. Click here for this.
  • Follow The Joseph Ashby Show on Twitter. Click on @JosephAshbyShow.

Kansas state assessments

An experimental presentation of Kansas state school assessment data.

The Kansas State Department of Education supplies student assessment data on its Kansas Report Card website. This is an experimental visualization of the data, still in experimental development stage.

The performance levels one through four are described like this: “Level 1 indicates that student is not performing at grade-level standards. Level 2 indicates that the student is doing grade-level work as defined by the standards but not at the depth or level of rigor to be considered on-track for college success. Level 3 indicates that the student is performing at academic expectations for that grade and is on track to being college ready. Level 4 indicates that the student is performing above expectations and is on-track to being college ready.”

The visualization, so far, has four different views of the data. This visualization is in experimental stage. Please send feedback and suggestions to [email protected]

Click here to access the visualization.

An example screen from the visualization. Click for larger.
An example screen from the visualization. Click for larger.

Decoding Duane Goossen

The writing of Duane Goossen, a former Kansas budget director, requires decoding and explanation. This time, his vehicle is “Rise Up, Kansas.”

Duane Goossen was Kansas budget director from 1998 to 2010.1 He is critical of the administration of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and recent sessions of the Kansas Legislature. It’s useful to examine his writings so that Kansans may become aware of the ramifications of his recommendations, and how during his years as budget director he was unable to adhere to the principles he now advocates. Following, some language from his recent article Rise Up, Kansas.

Goossen: “This marks the beginning of a hopeful new chapter in the Kansas story. It also presents a desperately needed opening for comprehensive tax reform.”

Comprehensive tax reform. That sounds good, as “reform” has a positive connotation. It means change for the better. But in this case reform means raising taxes, and by a lot. In fact, advocates of tax increases generally won’t say by how much they want to raise taxes.

As an example, in May a coalition of spending groups called for what they termed “Option 4.” It would eliminate all tax cuts enacted since 2012. This action would reinstate the tax on pass-through business income — the so-called “LLC loophole.” But this would also raise income taxes wage income, as those tax rates also were reduced in 2012. For example, income tax rates for a married family earning up to $30,000 would rise to 3.50 percent from the current 2.70 percent. That’s an increase of 30 percent in the income tax rate. For other income levels the increase is greater.2

A spokesperson for the Option 4 coalition argued that rolling back the tax cuts could increase revenue to the state by $1 billion. By the way, the Option 4 coalition did not call for the rollback of the sales tax increase passed in 2015. I should qualify that with apparently, as no handouts explaining Option 4 can be found. In addition, an audio recording of the press conference has been removed.

Members of the Option 4 coalition included Shannon Cotsoradis of Kansas Action for Children, Bob Totten from the Kansas Contractors Association, Rebecca Proctor of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Mark Desetti from the Kansas National Education Association.3

With the exception of the pass-through business income tax, failing to be specific about whose taxes will be raised by how much is characteristic of spending groups. In fact, these spending groups generally shy away from using the term tax. Look at these examples of language from Goossen’s article:

  • damage to state finances
  • hemorrhage revenue
  • can’t start healing while still in triage mode
  • fix our structural revenue imbalance
  • broaden the tax base
  • means reviewing our entire tax code
  • modernizing all revenue sources
  • get our fiscal house back in order
  • begin with commonsense basics
  • new priorities
  • recover the opportunities we lost
  • senseless era of crisis
  • begin restoring those opportunities
  • rise above the political fray
  • find courage to make difficult decisions
  • imagine the possibilities

Commonsense basics. Who could be against that? Yet each of these terms is a call for more and higher taxes.

Goossen: “Three credit rating downgrades”

The Kansas credit rating has declined. In making this decision, Moody’s mentioned “revenue reductions (resulting from tax cuts) which have not been fully offset by recurring spending cuts.4 So Kansas has a decision: Offset revenue reductions with higher taxes or spending cuts. Moody’s doesn’t care which is chosen, but Goossen and the spending coalition does.

KPERS funded ratio through 2014Of note, Moody’s mentions another problem: “an underfunded retirement system for which the state is not making actuarially required contributions.” This is an ongoing problem, as the nearby chart illustrates. The funding ratio of the Kansas retirement plan has deteriorated for many years, including the years when Duane Goossen was Kansas budget director. (Recently Kansas has improved the funding ratio of KPERS, but it did that by borrowing funds, which was an unwise decision. Because of the borrowing, Kansas has delayed schedule KPERS contributions, which effectively pays for current spending with long-term debt.5)

Moody’s also mentioned “In recent years the state has appropriated funds from or shifted costs to the State Highway Fund to help balance the general fund budget.” This too, is an ongoing problem.6 “Raiding the Bank of KDOT” has been a problem for many years, including the years when Duane Goossen was Kansas budget director.

Goossen: “It will likely take a generation to fully recover from this horrible experiment.”

Spending in Kansas. Click for larger.
Spending in Kansas. Click for larger.
Goossen is not specific as to the nature of the damage. Generally, a claim of slashed state spending is made. But it’s difficult to see the purported decline. Some programs may have been cut, but overall, spending is level or climbing, as can be seen in the nearby chart.7 Additionally, in comparison to other states Kansas spends a lot, and continues to.8

Goossen: “lifting the burden the Brownback plan forced onto our lowest-earning Kansans.”

Yes, we should sharply reduce or eliminate the sales tax on groceries. It affects low-income households most severly.9

Goossen: “And it means establishing a responsible state savings account.”

Kansas General Funding ending balance. Click for larger.
Kansas General Funding ending balance. Click for larger.
Kansas doesn’t have what some states have, which is a true rainy day fund that is governed by statute as to when contributions must be made and when the fund may be used. Instead, Kansas has a simple requirement for an ending balance of 7.5 percent, which the state has regularly ignored for decades. Low ending balances are a hallmark of Kansas government, including the years when Duane Goossen was Kansas budget director. In fact, in one year his budget had a negative ending balance.10


Notes

  1. Goossen, Duane. Kansas Budget Blog. http://www.kansasbudget.com/.
  2. Kansas Policy Institute. *Option 4: Soak the poor. https://kansaspolicy.org/option-4-soak-poor/.
  3. Hancock, Peter. Session resumes with call for total repeal of Brownback tax cuts. Lawrence Journal-World, April 27, 2016. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2016/apr/27/session-resumes-call-total-repeal-brownback-tax-cu/.
  4. Moody’s Investors Service, Inc. Moody’s downgrades Kansas issuer rating to Aa2 from Aa1, notched ratings to Aa3 from Aa2 and KDOT highway revenue bonds to Aa2 from Aa1; outlook stable. April 30, 2014. https://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-downgrades-Kansas-issuer-rating-to-Aa2-from-Aa1-notched–PR_298383.
  5. Weeks, Bob. This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/we-must-eliminate-defined-benefit-public-pensions/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-transportation-bonds-economics-worse-than-told/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Kansas government spending. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-government-spending-2/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Spending in the states, per capita. Interactive visualization. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/spending-states-per-capita-2/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Kansas sales tax has disproportionate harmful effects. https://wichitaliberty.org/taxation/kansas-sales-tax-has-disproportionate-harmful-effects/.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Kansas General Fund. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-general-fund-2/.

Airport traffic statistics

Airport traffic data presented in an interactive visualization.

Example from the visualization, showing Wichita compared to all airports. Click for larger.
Example from the visualization, showing Wichita compared to all airports. Click for larger.
The source of this data is TranStats, a service of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, specifically table T-100 Domestic Segment (U.S. Carriers). TranStats describes the table: “This table contains domestic non-stop segment data reported by U.S. air carriers, including carrier, origin, destination, aircraft type and service class for transported passengers, freight and mail, available capacity, scheduled departures, departures performed, aircraft hours, and load factor when both origin and destination airports are located within the boundaries of the United States and its territories.”

This data is produced monthly, but this visualization holds data only through the complete year 2015. Visualization created by the author using Tableau Public.

Click here to access the visualization.

Personal income in the states

An interactive visualization of personal income growth and change in the states.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, collects and analyses data regarding the U.S. and world economies. One series is personal income, defined by BEA as “Personal income is the income received by, or on behalf of, all persons from all sources: from participation as laborers in production, from owning a home or business, from the ownership of financial assets, and from government and business in the form of transfers. It includes income from domestic sources as well as the rest of world. It does not include realized or unrealized capital gains or losses.”

This interactive visualization presents personal income data from BEA. Data is subdivided by state, along with regions and the entire country. There are four views of data. Some work best with just two or three states, while others can show many states. You may choose a range of dates (this data is quarterly). Also, select one or more states or regions. Click on the legend to highlight one or more series.

Click here to use the visualization.

Example from the visualization, showing Kansas and the United States. Click for larger.
Example from the visualization, showing Kansas and the United States. Click for larger.

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