Kansas Supreme Court Bypasses Voters Right to Representation

Following is a press release from Kansas House Member Frank Miller, Republican from Independence. I think he assesses the situation accurately.

Supreme Court School Finance Decision
Press Release 6/6/2005

Kansas Supreme Court By-Passes Voters Right to Representation

I am shocked and very alarmed that the Kansas Supreme Court by a unanimous decision would so boldly by-pass the authority of the legislature and directly appropriate funding for governmental functions. This is just another step in the dangerous abrogation of the Constitution and a further increase in the activism of our courts. Meaning – our courts across the Nation are taking over the role of the legislature, i.e. making laws and ordering government spending. The Kansas Supreme Court judges are appointed by the governor and are not elected officials. Legislators are elected by the people and the constitution places the responsibility of appropriating funding for all functions of the Government with the Legislature.

I am not a lawyer, but have read enough of the US and Kansas Constitutions to believe that the Supreme Court has stepped way beyond its powers when it mandates the Kansas Legislature to increase spending and taxes as they are now ordering. The Court order states “We (the Kansas Supreme Court) further conclude, after careful consideration, that at least one-third of the $853 million amount reported to the Board in July of 2002 (A&M [Augenblick & Myers] study’s cost adjusted for inflation) shall be funded for the 2005-06 school year”. One third of $853 million is $285 million. The legislature has already appropriated an increase in spending of $142 million (largest single year increase since 1992) for the school year 2005-06, but did not increase any taxes. Thus to comply with the court’s order we must add another $143 million to our latest budget amount by July 1, 2005! The Court further states that the legislature must appropriate the full amount of $853 million for the school year 2006-2007. We must recognize that this is Kansas Supreme Court ACTIVISM AT ITS WORST!

Bear in mind an increase in the current budget of an additional $143 million (142+143 = $285 million) may require a per capita annual increase in taxes for a family of four of approximately $208! Next year the minimum increase will be a whopping $853 million resulting in an additional per capita annual increase in taxes for a family of four of approximately $1240! However, this increase is contingent on findings and timeliness of a Post Audit study. Total funding for K-12 education has already been increasing two times faster than the inflation rate for the past five years! This latest Supreme Court order if fully implemented will put the State into a “SUICIDAL ECONOMIC DIVE”!

I strongly urge you to let me know by telephone, letter, or email your answer to the following question: “DO YOU THINK THE KANSAS SUPREME COURT HAS MADE A GOOD OR BAD DECISION?”

To contact Rep. Frank Miller write, telephone, or email to P.O. Box 665, Independence, KS, 67301, Tel: (Home) 620-331-0281; Email frank@frankmiller.org, or see webpage www.frankmiller.org.

Disgraceful decision will hurt Kansas

This is a reprise of a January 10, 2005 column, which is worthwhile to read again.

Disgraceful Decision Will Hurt Kansas
by Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director, Kansas Taxpayers Network

The Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance decision is deeply flawed both in substance and in procedure. This five page judicial edict (www.kscourts.org see case no. 92,032) announced January 3 is designed to pressure the legislature into voting for more spending for public schools without saying by how much. Many tax and spend advocates are now claiming the court is requiring a tax hike, but no such specific language is contained within this decision.

This claim is supposedly based upon language contained within the Kansas Constitution and various statutes enacted in Kansas. This Constitution itself is unchanged since the 1994 Kansas Supreme Court decision that said the school finance system was constitutional. At that time, state school spending was almost $700 million a year less than it is today. This decision is inconsistent with the 1994 case and the school spending facts between 1994 and now.

Neither this legal edict or any language within our state constitution suggests whether increased school spending of four percent or fourteen percent or forty four percent more will make anything constitutional. The only positive for Kansas taxpayers in this ruling was the court’s decision to keep this case out of judicial activist Terry Bullock’s courtroom and Bullock’s explicit billion dollar spending and tax edict.

Plaintiff and trial attorneys for the school districts that brought this lawsuit are already claiming that a billion dollars in additional state spending is required. The leading plaintiff attorney is Alan Rupe who has been involved in all of the school finance lawsuits in Kansas going back to the 1980’s and has been repeating this claim. Ironically, the Augenblick and Myer study (A&M) that the plaintiffs rely upon in their lawsuit uses a much smaller figure. The actual A&M report, which is often discussed but seldom actually quoted says, “we are suggesting that total (public school) spending needs to increase by $229 million,” (page ES-4).

So the court came up with a judicial edict that said state spending on public schools was inadequate without saying by how much. The court went on to say that some unspecified increase in spending might not be enough to make it constitutional either. This is a strong indication on how the rule of law in Kansas is being replaced by the rule of a new super-legislature that consists of seven black robed lawyers. It is interesting to note that 57 percent of this court/super legislature, or more than twice the statewide average of 26.8 percent of registered voters in Kansas, are registered Democrats according to a check of public records.

The Kansas Supreme Court managed to come up with this ruling despite a lack of evidence in any of this litigation that Kansas spends less per pupil on public schools than our neighboring states. In fact, anyone who wants to check the federal government’s figures will see that Kansas spends more than our surrounding states despite having lower income than the national average. In some of these surveys Nebraska is ranked as spending as much or slightly more than Kansas but all of the other neighboring states get by with much less government school spending. A couple of days after this decision was released a national survey by Education Week confirmed that the government school system in Kansas is adequately funded. Kansas received a “B” grade on this scorecard for funding (see www.edweek.org).

A few days earlier the latest state data came out showing that Kansas’ average spending grew 3.8 percent in 2003-04 or $341 per pupil to average of $9,235. In 2004-05 the schools have budgeted school spending to grow by 10 percent, breaking the $10,000 per pupil mark. The average per pupil (FTE) in Kansas will have $10,162 spent during 2004-05 according to this most recent Kansas public school budget data.

However, the court’s unsigned and non-final edict lacked many of the important characteristics of judicial rulings. This edict was unsigned by anyone and news articles claim that such an edict must be unanimous to be issued this way by the court. Of course, this is not guaranteed as a final decision either. So this decision is vague concerning the state’s constitutional language and leaves important legal issues unspecified beyond a general decision that more spending is required with the court positioning itself to second guess the legislature’s after first adjournment and April 12.

Last month the court was narrowly and bitterly divided when it overruled its own 2001 decision by a 4-to-3 margin on the constitutionality of the Kansas death penalty. At least in that decision, Kansans were able to find out where the judges actually stood and there was a signed opinion.

In theory Kansas voters are supposed to have a say on judicial positions. However, since judicial retention elections were established in 1958 in Kansas, not a single appellate or supreme court member has ever lost their position after a retention election. These judicial appointments are almost as good as getting an explicitly lifetime federal judicial appointment. The pay and pension perks are similar and only slightly smaller too. Four of the Kansas Supreme Court judges had judicial retention votes in 2004 and will continue on the court for terms for at least six more years assuming that none resign or leave the court for other reasons.

The basis for this government school finance decision is the court’s vague position on what this constitutional language, “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state,” means. It is very clear that the Kansas Constitution does not mean that the judiciary system in Kansas should try to make a mess out of Kansas schools like federal judge Clark did in the Kansas City, Missouri school system beginning in the 1980’s and that continued for years.

I, Government

I, Government
Published in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, October 2002 by D.W. MacKenzie
Click here to read the article.

This article illustrates just how large government at all levels has become.

Do we really want governments so powerful that they can do the things described in this article?

How have we let this happen? Will we ever be able to shrink the size and intrusiveness of government? Even under a president who labels himself a conservative, government spending has grown rapidly. Even the most modest proposals to take away power from the government and give it back to the people appear to have no chance of success. The proposal for social security private accounts is an example of this.

The Invasiveness of Government

by John D’Aloia Jr.
May 31, 2005

Trackside last discussed the use of the legislative process to feed the insatiable itch for power that overtakes elected officials. This past session a majority of Kansas state senators demonstrated the itch by passing SB45, a bill that would have given local jurisdictions the means to instantly collect past due property taxes by making the delinquency a cause for a court judgement against all the landowner’s resources to settle the tax debt.

As stated in that Trackside, the ability to condemn or control private property is another route to increasing the power of government. With the Endangered Species Act (ESA), those who covet power found a mighty sword to use against both individual landowners and society. The ESA is infamous for its use as a means not to protect critters but to give government and narrow interest groups power over how citizens use their land and how they spend their money. Examples abound – one of the latest revolves around the endangered Riverside fairy shrimp in California. The Riverside fairy shrimp is a fresh-water shrimp, one-half to one inch long, that lives in mud puddles after it rains. The City of Los Angeles is going to have to remove 1.3 acres of top soil, an estimated 468 tons, using hand trowels, to “transplant” endangered Riverside fairy shrimp eggs from the Los Angeles Municipal Airport (LAX for you frequent flyers) to a preserve being created at the closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, said preserve to be maintained by the city. The Federal Aviation Administration refused to allow a reserve for them at LAX because it would have meant having the area covered by water for several months a year, attracting birds that could be sucked into jet engines. The debate has been going on for six years. The cost was not stated. The fairy shrimp has locked up thousands of acres in California, taken it off-limits for development. The shrimp’s only value appears to be as an ecofascist tool for gaining control over private property and the use of tax dollars. This is not a productive use of the nation’s wealth or a rationale for making tax slaves of citizens.

Not satisfied with the success in using endangered species to gain power, the ecofascists have drummed up another kind of “species” with which to bludgeon landowners. SAFETEA, the acronym for the massive transportation bill working its way through Congress, is, as one would infer by its title and stated purpose, a bill to maintain and enhance the nations transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Senate version of SAFETEA contains provisions more deadly to our freedom than a few million dollars recklessly spent on home-town pork with some remote nexus to transportation, provisions that if enacted will ultimately be expanded to degrade and erode property rights. Would you expect to find new ways in the bill for government to separate you from your property rights and your resources so they could be placed on Gaia’s high altar? Not really, but that is exactly what is buried in the Senate’s SAFETEA, sections that enlarge the already draconian ESA by creating an Invasive Species Act. The title says it all. The full power of the federal government and every law-suit crazed environmentalist will be brought to bear against invasive species and those who harbor them.

How is invasive defined? Not as gardeners define it – a plant that grows and expands wildly into areas not wanted. (Think kudzu vine.) No, the government definition of invasive is “not native”. While the SAFETEA invasive species provisions may “only” apply to highway projects today (thereby giving environmentalists a tool to shutdown highway construction), the readiness of The Clerks, egged on by interest groups, to expand their jurisdiction – mission creep – is a known phenomenon. Contemplate the implications of this definition. Like to fish for rainbow trout? Better enjoy it while you can. The feds have labeled it an invasive species as it is not native to North America. Own a German Shepard? Not native. Grow Bradford pears? Not native. Grow Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, or ryegrass? Not native. Hunt pheasants? Not native. Have goldfish in your pond? Not native. The list goes on and on, every item on it an opportunity for an environmentalist to paint a target on your property rights and your wallet.

See you Trackside.

The Mississippi beef plant has a lesson for us

Writing from Jackson, Miss.

Jackson, Mississippi has a lively talk radio station, WJNT, featuring both local shows and national shows. The hot topic of discussion on my trip to this city was what to do with the MCI settlement money, as the state had just negotiated a settlement with MCI of $100 million, for taxes MCI owed.

Some callers (and perhaps the host) suggested that the state use this money to pay for the “beef plant.” I was curious as to what this meant. Why, I wondered, would Mississippi be paying for a beef packing plant? After a little research I learned that Mississippi had guaranteed loans to develop a beef processing plant, in the name of economic development. The plant operated for just a few months before closing, leaving the taxpayers of Mississippi liable for the loans. The cost to the taxpayers was given as $54 million.

I am writing about this because I feel we need to be more watchful of economic development efforts that the state and local governments undertake using taxpayer money. It is easy to develop grandiose plans for endeavors that will employ many people and generate all sorts of economic benefits. But business is risky. Things don’t — strike that — rarely follow even the best plans. Often, it is the public treasury that bears the risk for a project, not the owners or direct stakeholders. If these people have the risk of the business underwritten by the public, rather than having their own funds at risk, they behave differently. We have ample evidence from recent news reports in Wichita that public officials don’t monitor the progress of both public and public/private projects as they should.

Proponents of issuing bonds, often in the form of industrial revenue bonds or IRBs make the point that the government is not giving the business the money. That’s true, and also a great relief, as Onex has asked for one billion dollars in bonds. But the government is guaranteeing the bonds, so that if the business fails, the government, meaning the taxpayers, have to pay.

How often does the government have to step in and pay for the bonds issued to a failing or underperforming business? We learn of the spectacular failures like the Mississippi beef plant. How many small failures does the government pay for that don’t make the news?

Following is an article from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger from May 1, 2005.

Is there still a beef plant in our future?
Legislature can easily fall back into its old ways

By Charlie Mitchell
Special to The Clarion-Ledger

VICKSBURG — Three questions regarding Mississippi Beef Processors:

How did Mississippi officials risk blowing $54 million in taxpayer money in this boondoggle?

Will anyone be going to jail?

Can it happen again?

Three answers:

Too few, intentionally or otherwise, knew anything about it.

That remains to be seen.

Yes, but not until the (heifer) dust settles.

The basics are clear. A few years ago, under the guise of industrial development, also known as “job creation,” state executive agencies, including the Mississippi Land, Water and Timber Board, partnered with legislative leaders to underwrite startup costs of the beef plant near Oakland in north central Mississippi.

Studies (ignored) showed there was little demand for such a plant and, sure enough, it shut down in November 2004, having operated only a short time for few customers. Officially, a need for $5 million more of the people’s dollars for “equipment repairs” was cited. That wasn’t provided, and the plant is now defunct, in default and the state of Mississippi has to sell it, perhaps for pennies on the dollar, or pay up in full.

Here’s a point to remember: Mississippi Beef Processors was not an abnormal act of the Legislature. It was, in fact, business as usual.

When such proposals show up, usually in the form of bond bills, they are, by coincidence, like cattle, run through the line. Few lawmakers ever ask the purpose for hundreds of millions of dollars being allocated in the public’s name — perhaps because they don’t want projects in their own communities questioned.

Anyway, now that the Oakland project is officially in the dumper, attention turns to who, if anyone, will be held accountable.

Recently, State Auditor Phil Bryant chose his words carefully in updating the state’s press about the work of an investigative task force composed of members of his staff, the attorney general’s staff and a few representatives of the FBI.

Bryant termed the investigation “very active,” but added there is no timetable, no deadline for completion of the review.

But then Bryant turned his remarks to something that could be more important — residual effects of the fiasco.

A specific example, he said, is that during the regular session after a bond bill proposing $500,000 for something called M-Quality was passed well below the radar of the state press, nine House members did ask Bryant for a background check.

M-Quality made headlines for a few days. Day One was a story about the House approval. Day Two was a report that M-Quality existed only on paper, and in very sketchy terms. Details didn’t matter, as it turned out, because on Day Three incorporators of M-Quality withdrew their request. The issue went away.

Bryant indicated respect for the Legislature in this matter, especially since nine (of 174 lawmakers) at least made an inquiry.

More significantly, in the one major initiative to which public funds were pledged this year — a SteelCorr plant near Columbus — extensive background reports were made conditional to the planned allocation of $25 million in state dollars plus up to $85 million more in years to come.

To get the money, SteelCorr had to agree to submit a business plan, officers have had to undergo background checks and credit checks, company financials had to be submitted and a market analysis for its product must be performed under the auspices of the state Institutions of Higher Learning.

Bryant says that’s the way it should be, and was pleased to report that portions of the allocation will also be reserved to pay for state audits of the company’s ongoing performance. Clearly a step in the right direction.

But is any of this law? Must all future gifts be vetted? Nope. Nothing official has been changed in how lawmakers operate, meaning there could easily be another Mississippi Beef Processors fiasco. Officials may feel spanked for now — but the sting will fade.


Where Is Our Public Access Cable Television?

This is a letter I am sending to Cox Communications, plus government officials who I think can help.

Recently I was in Portland, Ore. I happened to notice that there was true public access cable television. I watched several talk shows covering a variety of topics. There were locally-produced music shows, featuring local bands.

This experience caused me to wonder why Wichita doesn’t have this type of community cable television access. I seem to remember that when cable television was new, that local governments were granted public access channels as part of the franchise agreement. In Wichita we have a few channels that are used by the City of Wichita and the local school district. It seems to me, however, that these entities use the channels for very little useful programming. Most of the time these channels are rolling the same stale and useless public service announcements, or the same photographs of downtown Wichita statuary for the past few years.

Can you tell me where I can learn about the history of public access cable television in Wichita? Better yet, how can we have a truly public — and therefore truly useful — channel in Wichita?

Ethics Require Two Recusals In School Finance Lawsuit

Thank you to Karl Peterjohn for your insight into the ethical mess that is our Kansas Supreme Court.

Ethics Require Two Recusals In School Finance Lawsuit
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network

Would you want to go to court and face a judge who used to serve as legal counsel for your courtroom opponent? That is one of the ethics challenges facing the state in trying to fight off the $1 billion school finance lawsuit in front of the Kansas Supreme Court. This court heard oral arguments again May 11 in this case. There are 15 school districts spending millions of dollars promoting this lengthy lawsuit against the state and its taxpayers.

In addition to this ethical challenge is the fact that the governor’s chief of staff is married to another judge on the Kansas Supreme Court. Would you like to go to court after being sued and face a judge whose spouse is the chief of staff to the person who is leading the challenge against you?

Governor Sebelius has been vocal in blasting the legislature’s very expensive increase of $140 million in state spending for public schools during this year’s legislative session. Sebelius said this massive spending hike was inadequate.

The governor did play Hamlet by not signing or vetoing the school finance bill into law and sending it to the Kansas Supreme Court. Governor Sebelius issued a news release blasting the legislature for being excessively stingy in raising spending for public schools and joined the 15 school districts in advocating higher taxes and spending.

The irony is the fact that the legislature’s spending increase was the largest annual increase during the Sebelius administration. Other legislators said that the $140 million increase was the largest this century. This was certainly one of the largest spending hikes since the current formula was created in 1992.

If you were being sued, and as a taxpayer you are, would you like to face Justice Lawton Nuss, who used to represent your legal challenger, and Justice Don Allegrucci, whose wife is the governor’s chief of staff in this $1 billion case being heard in the Kansas Supreme Court? Nuss was in the law firm that represents the lead plaintiff, the Salina public school district, until he joined the court in October 2002.

Since Justice Gernon’s April death there are now only six members of this court. Two of these judges need to recuse themselves for ethics problems unless we want Kansas legal ethics to become an oxymoron.

School district attorney Alan Rupe has criticized these ethical issues as being “ridiculous.” He has also publicly discussed the fact that this lawsuit involves him suing his ex-wife Carol Rupe who is one of the members of the state board of education. Litigation involving ex-spouses, former law firms, and high level state colleagues is not the way to resolve important public policy issues like Kansas school finance.

The average Kansan is not familiar with the judicial canon that says, “A judge shall not allow family, social, political, or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.” This second canon also says that judges shall, “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” The average Kansan does know right from wrong and having judges with ties to one side of a lawsuit is an insult to fairness and will lead to a tainted decision if these judges participate. In fact, the court’s January 3, 2005 is already tainted by these two judges’ participation in that preliminary decision in the school finance lawsuit.

The school districts are now using lawsuits to try and raise taxes instead of going through the legislature to raise taxes like everyone else. This has created the odious position that the taxpayer funded school districts are using tax funds to sue the state that is using tax funds to defend itself. The only guarantee in this case is that taxpayers will be the loser. If the judges who are not in compliance with their own judicial ethics rules continue in this case, the result will be a travesty of justice and a black eye for the entire legal profession in this state.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt and BTK

Congressman Todd Tiahrt has secured $1 million for use by the Wichita Police Department in the omnibus appropriations bill that goes before the House of Representatives on Monday.

The bill has already passed the Senate, Tiahrt spokesman Chuck Knapp said, and approval by the House is expected to be a formality.

While there are safeguards in place to make sure the money is used for certain purposes, Knapp said, “we’re just not able to comment on the details of the funding.” — From “BTK ‘clues’ breed theories” in The Wichita Eagle, December 2, 2004.

Here The Wichita Eagle reports that U.S. Representative Todd Tiahrt secured one million dollars from the federal government to help pay for costs related to the investigation of the BTK serial killer. Rep. Tiahrt was widely praised for this.

We should remember where that money came from. It didn’t fall out of the sky. It wasn’t free. It came from the taxpayers of the entire country. I suspect that many people in Wichita thought it was good that we got the nation as a whole to pay for the BTK investigation.

But think about what had to happen behind the scenes. Rep. Tiahrt must have lobbied for the money. Then the federal government collected tax money, only to send it back to Wichita. That, right there, is inefficient. A bureaucracy had to exist to perform that.

Then, of course, Rep. Tiahrt and Wichita aren’t the only ones looking for a federal handout. When other cities or states receive money in this way — a special payment to one locality for a special project — we in Wichita call it pork barrel spending. That’s exactly what Rep. Tiahrt engaged in to get us the money for BTK. He should be ashamed, and we should not laud him for it.

Thank You, Sedgwick County Commissioners

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

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

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

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

By Alan Cobb, State Director of Americans For Prosperity, Kansas

Many would describe that much of Kansas is in decline. Over 75 percent of the counties in Kansas have lost population just since 2000. Over half of Kansas’ counties have fewer residents today than 1900.

Recently, the Associated Press reported that Kansas is in real danger of losing a Congressional seat during the next reapportionment because of anemic population growth. Kansas population growth from 2000 to 2004 was only 1.7 percent while the nation as a whole grew 4.3 percent. Sedgwick County’s growth was only 2.3% during this time. Kansas’ annual growth of less than one-half of one percent should startle anyone concerned about the future of our fine State.

No matter how you measure growth, Kansas is struggling, particularly when compared to the other 50 states. Kansas is in the bottom ten among states in population growth, income growth and job growth.

Unbelievably, this century Kansas has lost 16,700 private sector jobs while the government sector actually added 15,000 jobs.

The same week it was reported that Kansas may lose a Congressional seat, the Tax Foundation released a study that stated Kansas has the 15th highest state and local tax burden. We are tied with New Jersey and higher than Massachusetts and California. Kansas has a higher tax burden than all of our neighboring states except Nebraska.

Recently the Center for Applied Economics at the University of Kansas compared every Kansas County that borders another State. Except for the Kansas counties bordering Nebraska, the Kansas counties fared worse than their neighbors in Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma when measuring economic activity, income growth and population growth.

Of the top twenty states in population growth this century, all but two states, Utah and Hawaii, have lower tax burdens than Kansas.

I have heard a Kansas legislator comment that that’s just the way it is; Kansas is a rural, Great Plains state and rural, Great Plains states aren’t growing. I do not believe that is true, but even if it were, I am not ready to accept that.

What are we to do about our population predicament? First we must decide that the lack of economic growth is a problem. And we must be brutally honest about the solutions. Is more government spending and taxation the solution? Are more government owned and constructed buildings the solutions for Wichita or Salina or Lakin?

Are we, as a State, willing to honestly assess our State’s strengths and weaknesses and make the necessary policy changes needed for growth?

Without any changes to the path we’re on, rural Kansas faces a bleak future.

I am not willing to accept the declining status quo as the best we can do, and I don’t think most Kansans are either.

What are we prepared to do?

Ethics Require Recusal in School Finance Lawsuit

We should be thankful that there are people like Karl Peterjohn to tell us of things like the conflict of interest he reports in this article. An important question we should be asking is why our newspapers and other news media in Kansas have not reported this.

Ethics Require Recusal in School Finance Lawsuit
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director of Kansas Taxpayers Network

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments again in the school finance lawsuit brought against the state by 15 Kansas school districts. The May 11 oral arguments will eventually be followed by a written decision by the court.

On January 3, 2005 the court delivered an unsigned 3 1/2 page edict that created a fair amount of head scratching at the statehouse over what exactly the court meant at that time. Now that the court has shrunk with the death of one judge, Justice Gernon, the Kansas Supreme Court’s six remaining members will be deciding this case. However, there is a problem with one of the judges.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s second canon of rules requires that its members, “shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”

This rule goes on to state, “A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.” These are important principles for the administration of justice in this state.

These rules bring us to Justice Don Allegrucci, a long time member of the Kansas Supreme Court who needs to recuse himself from this case because of his family situation. Justice Allegrucci’s wife Joyce is Governor Sebelius’ Chief of Staff. His son, Scott, has until recently been a high level appointed official in the state Department of Commerce.

Governor Sebelius’ position on the school finance law is clear. April 5 she said, “I believe the legislature’s school funding plan is neither responsible nor sustainable.” Governor Sebelius criticized the legislature for not increasing state public school spending by more than the $140 million approved by the 2005 legislature. Sebelius has clearly sided with the plaintiff’s position in this lawsuit. That is fine in a political, public policy debate but is problematic with her chief of staff’s husband being on the court where this case is being litigated. Judge Allegrucci needs to recuse himself from this lawsuit.

Governor Sebelius is still hoping to get her package of proposed property, income, and sales tax hikes enacted into law so that state spending will begin growing faster. This is in addition to the rapid 7.3 percent increase in state spending that was approved by the 2005 legislature. The legislature’s budget, which largely followed the governor’s guidelines, puts this state within a few million of having the first $5 billion General Fund budget. This would be another state spending record in addition to having the first All Funds state budget that exceeds $11 billion too.

Justice Allegrucci is no stranger to politics either. In 1978 Allegrucci was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the Kansas fifth district congressional seat. That is why the complaint by the Kansas Supreme Court in their January decision complaining about statehouse politics was laughable. While everyone admits to politics at the statehouse there is certainly more than a significant amount of politics, albeit conducted largely outside of public view, when it comes to the courts and judicial appointments dominated by the Kansas bar and the appointment committee dominated by members of the bar.

The family ties that Justice Allegrucci has to the Sebelius administration indicate that he should recuse himself in the name of impartiality from the school finance litigation as called out by the court’s own canon and rules. Justice Allegrucci’s continued participation in this school finance lawsuit raises a host of troubling ethical problems about judicial impartiality with his family ties to Governor Sebelius’ administration.

Because Government Should Have Accountability

Because Government Should Have Accountability
Paul M. Weyrich, Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation (Click here to read the article.)

In an article from The Wichita Eagle published on May 3, 2005 titled “Ice rink figures don’t add up, records show” we find this quote: “Ice Sports Wichita has been on a downward slide longer than the city staff admits in a report the City Council is scheduled to act on today, records show.” These records were obtained through a request filed under the Kansas Open Records act. My understanding of this news story is that City of Wichita staff has been misleading everyone — including the mayor and city council — about the true state of the ice rink’s financial affairs. If not for the reporters who obtained the records, this deception might be continuing.

The commentary by Paul M. Weyrich referenced above contains examples of where the Federal Freedom of information Act has been used to uncover governmental misdeeds. The article also mentions a bill titled the OPEN Government Act, designed to “ensure that government acts promptly and efficiently in responding to FOIA requests.”

Revolving Door Between Press and Government Turns Again

Mr. Van Williams, Wichita Eagle city hall reporter for the past three years, will become Wichita’s public information coordinator.

I believe there needs to be a tension between the press and the government officials it covers. The press needs to hold officials accountable. It needs to dig deep to uncover facts officials don’t voluntarily concede. It needs to ask them tough questions. It needs to make them angry from time to time.

Would the City of Wichita hire someone who had been doing that?

Wichita City Council Meeting, April 19, 2005

Some quotes and my remarks from the April 19, 2005 meeting of the Wichita City Council, where the AirTran subsidy was considered. Representatives from Delta attended and spoke.

Allen Bell, Economic Development Director for the City of Wichita:

Previous contracts had a dollar amount cap on them. The new contact, we refer to it as a no-cap contract. There is not, in the terms of the agreement, a specific dollar amount that is the not-to-exceed amount. In place of that there is a termination clause that allows the City to terminate its contract with 75 days notice for whatever reason. And the reason, of course, the major reason, would be that we know that within that 75 days, we will deplete the funds that the City believes is appropriate to spend on this.

I was startled to hear this information, that the new contract has no dollar cap, as this has not been, in my memory, reported. It has been reported that AirTran sought a no-cap contract, but that Wichita would not agree to that. But it turns out that the city has agreed to what, in effect, is a no-cap contract. Yes, I believe Mr. Bell when he says that Wichita can cancel the contract, with notice, if the city believes it will spend more than the $2.5 million it has committed to. I would submit, however, that if the City spends the $2.5 million and realizes it needs to spend more to keep AirTran in town, the City Council would vote to do so. Therefore, the no-cap contract is in effect.

Councilmember Schlapp extracted an admission from the Delta representative that Delta is not profitable on the Wichita route now, but they believe they will be soon. Ms. Schlapp concluded that there is no need, then, for a subsidy to Delta.

Mayor Mayans said we have been discriminated against, rate-wise.

Mayor Mayans: “Many of us, actually, are opposed philosophically to government interventions, because we feel that sometimes tilts the playing field.” The Mayor says one thing, but acts in a different way. What good is it to have a philosophical belief if it doesn’t guide your actions?

Mayor Mayans and the Delta representative disagreed on who made telephone calls to whom and at what time. (Mayor Mayans: “So you didn’t call me back!” “Communications is a two way street!” Delta: “My recollection of it differs slightly from yours.” “I don’t recall it was my responsibility to get back to you.”) It is disheartening to realize that major public policy decisions may be made based on incomplete information, because someone didn’t get a telephone message.

Councilmember Martz:

“I guess to me, when I look at competition, if you’re losing money, then you ought to raise your rates enough so that you’re not losing money.”

“I’m a firm believer in competition.”

“I would prefer not having any financial help from the city, but rather through pure competition, all carriers reduce their rates to a level that they number one, can make a profit, at the same time make it economical for the citizens of the whole state of Kansas to be able to fly in and out of Wichita …”

Like the mayor, Mr. Martz says one thing but acts in a different manner. His advice to airlines on how to set their fares is misplaced. We have to assume that businesses act in their best interests, and let it go at that.

Sam Williams, Chairman of Fair Fares, who evidently is so well-known to Council members that he doesn’t introduce himself when he started to speak:

“You know, Kansas in 1861 became a very important state in the history of this country, just before we went into the great dark area of the civil war. You know, we were a key state. What we did at that time had a lot to do with what happened and where we went from there. I would submit that little old Wichita, Kansas is doing that to the airline industry right now. Because of your vision, you are looking at different ways to bring fair pricing in an industry that is kind of broken, in getting them to look at themselves, us to look at ourselves, and how can we partner together to do this. Kansas again is a key, integral part of a change in this country.”

First, to equate our state’s role in the civil war with subsidizing an airline is ludicrous. Second, I feel very sad that Kansas may become the leader in subsidies, and that business leaders applaud this. Mr. Williams, I would ask you if you would welcome a governmental body deciding whether the rates that your business charges are fair, and if not fair, subsidizing your competitor?

I, Pencil

I, Pencil
Leonard E. Read (Click here to read the article.)

Do you think there exists a single person who knows how to make a lead pencil? In this article, Mr. Read shows us how there is no one who knows even a small fraction of what is necessary to produce even this simple, everyday item.

How, then, does a lead pencil come to be manufactured? Through the uncoordinated actions of many people, each exchanging their own small amount of knowledge for something else they want.

The absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred.

Later on we read this:

the configuration of creative human energies–millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.

It is free expression of creative human energy that makes economies work at their maximum potential. Attempts by governments to interfere are bound to fail, as even the coordination of the production of a simple lead pencil is beyond the comprehension of any single person, agency, or computer program.

The miracle and morality of the market

The Miracle and Morality of the Market
Richard M. Ebeling (Click here to read the article.)

In this short article we learn the simple mechanism that makes our economy work so well. Interference with that mechanism is not only harmful, it is immoral.

Prices convey the information that we need to make our economy work. Here is why:

How are the activities of an increasingly larger group of individuals successfully coordinated, so that all the multitudes of demands and supplies are brought into balance and harmony? The Austrian economist and Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek showed how all of the knowledge and information in society can be encapsulated in the price system of the free-market economy. In our roles as both consumers and producers we communicate to one another what we think goods, resources, capital, and labor services are worth to us in their various and competing uses through the prices we are willing to pay for them. These “price signals” serve as the means for all of us to decide and coordinate what we want and are willing to do together with other members of society.

Because of the information conveyed by prices, is not necessary for a government to rule over the economy to cause it to function properly. In fact, government intervention in the economy is harmful, because the market is so complex that it is impossible to guide effectively.

The moral dimension of the market refers to how in a free society, people enter into transactions freely, choosing those that they believe will benefit them:

There are none who are only masters and others who are simply servants. In the market society we are all both servants and masters, but without either force or its threat. In our roles as producers … be it as men who hire out our labor for wages, resource owners who rent out or sell our property for a price, or entrepreneurs who direct production for anticipated profits … we serve our fellow men in attempting to make the products and provide the services we think they may be willing and interested in buying from us.

Yet we know there are those who wish to interfere with the working of a free market through various means. All attempts to do this reduce the amount of liberty we are able to experience.

Too many want to dictate how others may make a living, or at what price and under what terms they may peacefully and voluntarily interact with their fellow human beings for purposes of mutual material, cultural, and spiritual betterment.

Often the concept of free markets is viewed as contrary to a moral society. Those who advocate government programs to make us better off are portrayed as noble, virtuous, and smarter than the rest of us. This article shows us that they are not that at all — they are immoral. Why? Almost all these programs forcibly take money from one person and give it to another to whom it does not belong. There is no moral right for anyone or any government to do that, no matter how noble the cause appears.

Kansas Attorney General Has it Right

TOPEKA — Alan Cobb, director of the Kansas chapter of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, today released the following statement in response to the briefs filed in the State vs. Montoy case currently before the Kansas Supreme Court:

“As questions and concerns swirl about whether or not the Kansas Supreme Court can order a statewide tax increase, we applaud Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline for putting this issue to rest.

In a brief filed yesterday with the court and in response to questions from reporters, AG Kline said clearly that the Kansas Supreme Court does not have the authority to impose taxes or raises the current level of taxation.

From the summary of the brief filed by the Attorney General:

“The Kansas Constitution Prohibits the Supreme Court from Raising Taxes and Prohibits any Expenditure from the State General Fund from Occurring Unless Authorized by Laws Passed by the Legislature.” (emphasis added)

The bottom line is that the Legislature has the responsibility to tax and to fund schools appropriately. They’ve met that burden.

The Kansas Legislature and the Attorney General understand that our state’s taxpayers suffer the 15th worst state and local tax burden in the nation as a percentage of income. That’s an even heavier tax burden than citizens in the notoriously high-tax states of California and Massachusetts must carry! Also, our ranking this year is twice as bad as it was 20 years ago, when we ranked a much better 31st.

“The short-term solution to over-taxation in Kansas is for the legislature to continue rejecting any and all proposed tax increases, and the long-term solution is the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. If Kansas had implemented a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in 1992, taxpayers would have received $1.1 billion in tax rebates and reductions and we would have squirreled away $1.4 billion in Rainy Day funds that would have offset the budget shortfalls that occurred during the recent economic downturn. And Kansas taxpayers would have a little more money in their pockets as they file their taxes this week.”

Book review: Knightfall

Knightfall: Knight Ridder and How the Erosion of Newspaper Journalism Is Putting Democracy At Risk

Davis Merritt
Amacom Books, 2005

The theme of this book, written by a former editor of The Wichita Eagle is that over the past few decades, the business of making newspapers has changed from a business unlike any other to a business just like all others, and we are not well served by this change.

I think the most important quote from the book is this:

With a handful of exceptions, American newspapers are being eroded, their traditional values subverted, their journalistic resources stripped away, their dedication to public service and local communities hallowed out, leaving a thin shell of public relations gimmicks that pretend to be public service and entertainment that pretends to be news.

Newspapers are important. They provide the common set of information that we, as a democracy, can use to work through the issues that face us. Although most people now get news from television and Internet sources, the basis for much of this news content is newspapers.

How is newspaper journalism different from journalism that happens to be in a newspaper? The answer is that newspaper journalism is “not shaped by a limiting technology,” such as a television broadcast; it values completeness over immediacy, it is lengthier and deeper than other sources of journalism, its goal is relevance rather than entertainment, and opinion and analysis is presented separately from news.

What has changed?

External changes have worked against newspapers. The baby boomer generation has not read newspapers with the same frequency as their parents. The fact that most newspapers are now publicly owned means that Wall Street pushes for ever-increasing profits. Newspapers, Mr. Merritt says, are a long-term investment and don’t fare well in today’s short-term investment climate. Technology changes, including the Internet, have been difficult for newspapers to adapt to.

Internal changes have occurred, too. The “creeping corporatism” of the national chains such as Knight Ridder has distanced newspapers from their local communities. The rise of Management By Objective (MBO) in the newsroom has caused editors to make journalistically unwise decisions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the wall that has separated the journalism side from the business side of the newspaper business has all but crumbled.

Is there a solution on the horizon that will bring back the great tradition of newspaper journalism across America? Mr. Merritt presents several possible solutions, but I have the sense that he doesn’t place much hope that any will succeed in the near future.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand newspapers and their important role in our country.

Reading this book has helped me understand why our local newspaper is the way it is, which is to say I understand why it so poorly serves our community. It also reinforces my belief that I should spend less time watching television news and spend more time reading the important newspapers of our country: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Christian Science Monitor. All these newspapers place their content on the Internet through their web sites. The Wall Street Journal costs $6.95 monthly, but the other newspapers are free to read, although you may have to register.

Links to material about this book: Publisher’s page with excerpt, excerpt at Poynter, excerpt at Authorviews.com.

Another letter to the editor

Last time I wrote a letter to the Wichita Eagle for publication, I said that I learned my lesson, which was that I needed to be brief. I didn’t learn this lesson well.

This Sunday The Eagle printed a letter I submitted, and a large section in the middle was omitted. This omitted material was the entire basis of my argument. As before, here is what I submitted, and what The Eagle printed.

What I submitted What was printed
When supporting the subsidy to AirTran, Fair Fares supporters grossly — I would say even speciously — overstate the importance of the airport to our local economy. When supporting the subsidy to AirTran, Fair Fares supporters grossly — I would say even speciously — overstate the importance of Wichita Mid-Continent Airport to our local economy.
As an example, Mr. Troy Carlson, then Chairman of Fair Fares, wrote a letter that was published on September 16, 2004 in the Wichita Eagle. In that letter he claimed $2.4 billion economic benefit from the Fair Fares program ($4.8 billion for the entire state). I was curious about how these figures were derived. I learned that the basis for them is a study by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University that estimates the economic impact of the airport at $1.6 billion annually. In this study, the salaries of 12,134 employees of Cessna and Bombardier, because these companies use the airport’s facilities, are counted as economic impact dollars that the airport is responsible for generating. Fair Fares supporters perform extrapolations starting with that figure to arrive at the $2.4 and $4.8 billion figures. As an example, Troy Carlson, then chairman of Fair Fares, wrote a letter that was published in The Eagle last September. In that letter, he claimed $2.4 billion in economic benefit from the Fair Fares program ($4.8 billion for the entire state). I was curious about how these figures were derived. I learned that the basis for them is a study by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University that estimates the economic impact of the airport at $1.6 billion annually. In this study, the salaries of 12,134 employees of Cessna Aircraft Co. and Bombardier Aerospace, because these companies use the airport’s facilities, are counted as economic impact dollars that the airport is responsible for generating. Fair Fares supporters perform extrapolations starting with that figure to arrive at the $2.4 billion and $4.8 billion figures.
To me, this accounting doesn’t make sense on several levels. For one thing, if we count the economic impact of the income of these employees as belonging to the airport, what then do we say about the economic impact of Cessna and Bombardier? We would have to count it as very little, because the impact of their employees’ earnings has been assigned to the airport.

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

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

It is a convenient circumstance that these two manufacturers happen to be located near the airport. To credit the airport with the economic impact of these companies — as though the airport was involved in the actual manufacture of airplanes instead of providing an incidental (but important) service — is to grossly overstate the airport’s role and its economic importance. To credit the airport with the economic impact of these companies is to grossly overstate the airport’s role and its economic importance.
The best reason for opposing the AirTran subsidy is that it distorts the market process through which individuals and businesses decide how to most productively allocate resources and capital. The second best reason to oppose it is the implausibility of the economic impact figures.

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

The best reason for opposing the AirTran subsidy is that it distorts the market process. The second-best reason to oppose it is the implausibility of the economic impact figures.

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

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