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Testimony regarding House Bill No. 2132

Written testimony of Bob Weeks regarding House Bill No. 2132. A pdf version is available here: https://wichitaliberty.org/files/House_Bill_2132_Testimony_by_Bob_Weeks_2005-03-10.pdf

March 10, 2005

Thank you for allowing me to present this written testimony. I realize that the voters in Sedgwick County voted for the arena sales tax increase. I believe, however, there is ample reason why you should vote against the tax. The idea of the taxpayer-funded arena came about so fast in the summer of 2004 that there was little thought given to the underlying issues. I wish to present what my research has uncovered.

WSU Study Not Complete

On of the main arguments advanced for having all the residents of Sedgwick County pay to build the arena was a study prepared by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. The study claimed a large economic benefit from the arena. It is because of this economic benefit that arena supporters say the entire community should pay to build the arena. This study, however, is incomplete in two important areas: its lack of depreciation accounting, and it ignores the substitution effect.

No Depreciation Accounting

Government Accounting Standards Board Statement 34 requires governments to account for the cost of their assets, usually by stating depreciation expense each year. Through a series of email exchanges with Mr. Ed Wolverton, President of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, I have learned that the WSU Center for Economic Development and Business Research was not aware of this requirement when they prepared their study. Mr. Wolverton admitted this after checking with the study authors. Furthermore, Mr. Chris Chronis, Chief Financial Officer of Sedgwick County, in an email conversation told me that the county will take depreciation expense for the downtown arena. I do not know what a figure for depreciation expense would be, but it would likely be several million dollars per year, and it would materially and substantially change the arena’s financial footing.

No Substitution Effect Allowed For

In a television new story reported by Mr. Erik Runge of KWCH Television on October 25, 2004, I was interviewed, and I mentioned the substitution effect. This is the term used to describe what research has found: that much of the new economic activity such as bars and restaurants that might appear around a downtown arena would be bars and restaurants that have moved from other parts of the city. There is little or no new economic activity, just movement of existing activity. Mr. Runge interviewed Mr. Ed Wolverton, President of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, who said “In WSU’s report they felt like there definitely could be some substitution effect.” The reporter explained “But how much was never studied. Downtown development backer Ed Wolverton says mostly due to time restraints.”

These two glaring omissions of materially important facts by the WSU study should lead us to question its other findings. Other than the report on KWCH, I saw no reporting of these two matters.

Claimed Economic Benefit is Not Realized

Arena supporters say that everyone should pay to build and operate the arena because it will generate economic impact that everyone will benefit from. The economic benefit claimed by arena supporters, however, has not been found to materialize in other cities. In the March 2001 issue of “FedGazette,” published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, an article titled “Stadiums and convention centers as community loss leaders” contains this quote:

“Current 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 ‘lead to the inescapable conclusion that the direct and indirect economic impacts of sports teams and the facilities are quite small’ and do not create much in the way of new jobs or economic development.”

In a paper titled “Professional Sports Facilities, Franchises and Urban Economic Development” (UMBC Economics Department Working Paper 03-103) by Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County we find this quote:

“Siegfried and Zimbalist (2000) recently surveyed the growing literature on retrospective studies of the economic impact of sports facilities and franchises on local economies. The literature published in peer-reviewed academic journals differs strikingly from the predictions in ‘economic impact studies.’ No retrospective econometric study found any evidence of positive economic impact from professional sports facilities or franchises on urban economies.”

Arena Tax Requires Everyone to Subsidize the Interests of a Few

Since, as current research has found, arenas do not generate the positive economic impact that their supporters claim, the arena tax instead becomes the public as a whole subsidizing the leisure activities of a relatively small number of people. The people who do use the arena, moreover, are quite easy to identify: they purchase tickets to events, or they pay to rent the arena. It is these people who should pay the full cost of the arena construction and operation.

Local Officials Not Truthful

Sedgwick County Commissioners stated that if the downtown arena sales tax did not pass, they would borrow money to renovate the Kansas Coliseum. If we do the math on the figures they quoted, that is to borrow $55 million and pay it back at $6.1 million a year for 20 years, we find that the interest rate is 9.17%, which is a terribly high interest rate for a government to pay. The county commissioners told us they were ready to pay this much if the arena tax didn’t pass.

I wrote to Sedgwick County Commissioner Tom Winters, asking him for an explanation. He replied that the interest rate is really 7.5% for this reason: To the $55.3 million cost of the renovations, we must add $6.5 million for capitalized interest during the construction period, and $.9 million for debt issuance costs. So yes, Commissioner Winters is correct about the 7.5% rate, but this also means that the cost of the Coliseum renovations should be stated as $62.7 million instead of $55 million. But even 7.5% interest is too high to pay.

What is troubling is that local government officials are not being truthful with the public.

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