February 3, 2005
Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee
Topeka, Kansas 66612
Subject: Testimony in OPPOSITION TO SENATE BILL #58 (Sales Tax Increase For The Proposed Wichita/Sedgwick County Arena).
My name is John Todd. I am a self-employed real estate broker from Wichita, and I come before you in opposition to the enabling legislation that would allow Sedgwick County to raise the local sales tax 1% to fund a new Downtown Arena.
The reason why I am here in opposition to this government driven plan is my basic belief that individuals know best how to spend their own money, and that they should be allowed the freedom to spend the fruit of their own labor as they wish, and not as government dictates, particularly when it involves mandatory spending for an elective entertainment venue like the proposed downtown arena.
If the need for a Downtown Arena were market driven, the private sector would already be building it, and the taxpayers would be left out of the loop. Obviously, it is not, and so the proponents want the taxpayers to build it and absorb the losses. I believe their plan calls for over $20 million in operational losses. This does not count the business property that will be taken off the tax rolls for a county owned facility. If the Wichita Eagleâ€™s pre-election numbers of $40 million in property value was correct, those losses in real estate taxes could amount to $1 million more in lost taxes per year, and I would bet that that shortfall will be spread back over the other real estate property taxpayers.
How did we ever get the idea that the road to prosperity is built on government spending and the heavy taxation of our people? How far from the truth can this be?
Anyone who has read the Eagle in recent months can attest to the massive number of so called â€œeconomic developmentâ€ projects in downtown Wichita that are losing money, and that the taxpayer is being asked to cover. One only needs to read of the $1.00 per year 99 year leases that are being awarded for the millions of dollars taxpayer owned land and the $7 million dollars needed to lure a second or third choice anchor retailer downtown to grow disenchanted with local governmentâ€™s ability to â€œmanageâ€ anything, particularly if it is related to real estate development.
And why should anyone be concerned with these boondoggles? We canâ€™t continue to take $184.5 million here and $140 million there, and $100 million yonder out of our economy and hope to favorably compete with other cities, counties, and states in our region.
There are numerous excellent examples of free market economics at work in our city. One only needs to look north and south on Rock Road in Wichita to observe the benefits of this privately funded system that expands the tax base, creates jobs, and is indeed true â€œeconomic growthâ€, and best of all, the taxpayer is not liable if any of these business ventures fail. Will a 1% sales tax that will remove $184.5 million from the Sedgwick County economy hurt these local businesses? Absolutely! And according to an article in the March 2001 issue of â€œFedGaxette,â€ published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis entitled â€œStadiums and convention centers as community loss leadersâ€ contains this quote:
â€œCurrent research indicates that stadiums and arenas have a particularly bad track record when it comes to delivering on promises of community economic windfalls. University researchers Mark Rosentraub and Mark Swindell found that three decades worth of studies â€˜lead to the inescapable conclusion that the direct and indirect economic impacts of sports teams and the facilities are quite smallâ€™ and do not create much in the way of new jobs or economic development.â€
The proponents of this Bill here today will tell you that 52% of the voters voted for the arena. That is true; however, they ignore the fact that our County elected officials were less than forthcoming in advising voters that the arena vote was an advisory election only, and is not binding. The County is not authorized to raise sales taxes without first obtaining legislative approval prior to any vote. Sedgwick County broke state law! The legislature is now faced with the dilemma of passing enabling legislating, and making it retroactive to the November 2, 2004 election and calling that election binding. This is wrong, and you should not let it happen. At the very least, if you pass the enabling legislation, a subsequent public vote should be required before allowing the County to raise the sales tax.
Before you pass this Bill into law, several matters need to be considered.
1. Is the $184.5 million dollar price tag excessive?
2. What is the real impact of taking $184.5 million dollars out of the private economy in terms of retailer profits and potential job losses?
3. The arena vote was won by a narrow margin. Rural Sedgwick County voters voted against the arena as did voters in the less affluent neighborhoods. Perhaps the sales tax should be optional at the check out stand. Those who want to pay the arena tax could and those who donâ€™t could simply â€˜opt outâ€™.
4. What will happen to the Sedgwick County economy if the Legislature or the Supreme Court mandates a statewide sales tax to meet the Courtâ€™s requirements for school financing?
5. What is the specific location for the proposed arena? Who owns the land? Is the land going to cost $1.00 per square foot or $20.00 per square foot? And is the $20 million for land acquisition going to cover the actual cost, or will it be double or triple that amount? Would not an astute â€œprivateâ€ investor already own the land or control the price under an option to purchase contract? If the Legislature allows the County to fill its checkbook, will not the price of land double or triple?
6. No one knows what the proposed arena will look like since it has not been designed. Should not the taxpayers have known what they are voting for?
7. Before you authorize giving the Sedgwick County Commission a blank check with $184.5 million of taxpayer money deposited in it, perhaps you need to consider placing some â€œcontrolsâ€ over how they spend the money?
8. Will the people who contributed to the pro arena campaign be allowed to bid on the construction work, participate in the design work, earn commissions for the sale/purchase of the land, or will these be considered a â€œconflict of interestâ€?
9. Will the Sedgwick County commissioners be required to explain why they voted for a $55 million dollar renovation for the Kansas Coliseum and then decided that it was too expensive? What did they do with the long-term capital improvement fund(s) that should have been earmarked for this project? And how do they explain that only $25 million in private funds were needed to renovate a similar size arena at Wichita State University? Does it always cost the public sector twice the amount to do the work as the private sector? Perhaps we need to enlist the business acumen of the private sector to build the arena for half of the proposed cost?
10. Perhaps our voters need better information in order for them to make an informed decision regarding a new arena or a renovated Coliseum? Property taxes were made an issue in the arena campaign. Many votes expressed their frustration to me that they were not given the opportunity to vote for â€œnone of the aboveâ€, and since they were more opposed to property taxes than sales taxes, they were forced to vote for the arena. Perhaps the legislature needs to enact legislation requiring a public vote before local governments can raise local property taxes?
11. Are not government directed projects like the arena the antitheses of the free market system? Does anyone else tire of working until April or May of each year to pay his or her taxes? Is government really the answer?
Too many questions need to be answered before you decide pass this Bill into law. A non-binding public vote for a downtown arena in 1993 failed to pass by a wide margin. Since the 1993 vote was ignored, you have the necessary precedence and current state law on your side to ignore this vote, and at the very least amend this Bill to require another public referendum.
Thank you for allowing me to speak. I would be glad to answer questions.
John R. Todd