Tag Archives: Economics

PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas

PEAK, a Kansas economic development incentive program, redirects employee income taxes back to the employing company.

An economic development incentive program in Kansas is PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. This program allows companies to retain 95 percent of the payroll withholding tax of employees.

Flow of tax dollars under normal circumstances, and under PEAK.
Flow of tax dollars under normal circumstances, and under PEAK.
PEAK incentive payments can be a substantial sum. Tables available at the Kansas Department of Revenue indicate that for a single person with no exemptions who earns $40,000 annually, the withholding would be $27 per week (for weekly payroll), or $1,404 annually. For a married person with two children earning the same salary, withholding would be $676 annually. Under PEAK, the company retains 95 percent of these values. (These illustrations are based on 2016 tax rates.)

There are requirements regarding the minimum number of jobs to be created or retained. Also, companies must pay wages greater than or equal to the median county wage. 1

Then, the Secretary of Commerce has “discretion to approve applications of qualified companies and determine the benefit period.”

Legislators and public officials like programs like PEAK partly because they can promote these programs as self-financing. That is, the state isn’t subsidizing a company. Instead, the company is paying its own way with its own taxes (actually, its employees’ taxes). PEAK supporters say the state is not sending money to the company. Instead, the company is just holding on to 95 percent of its employees’ withholding taxes instead of sending the funds to the state.

Schemes like PEAK call into question one of the fundamental principles of taxation: That tax funds be used to fund the operations of government, not to enrich one particular person or company. But continually, states and local government use programs like PEAK — and others like tax increment financing (TIF) districts, Community Improvement Districts (CIDs), Industrial Revenue Bonds, and others — that turn over a public function to private interests.

Illustration of a shortfall under PEAK
Illustration of a shortfall under PEAK
Here’s another consideration regarding the PEAK program. The amount of money withheld from a worker’s paycheck is not the same as the amount of tax the worker actually owes the state. Withholding is only an approximation, and one that is biased in favor of the state. Many Kansas workers receive an income tax refund from the state. This is in recognition that the sum of the withholding taxes paid by a worker is larger than the actual tax liability. Therefore, the state is returning money that the state was not entitled to.

Now, what about workers who are employed at a company that is in the PEAK program and who receive a state income tax refund? Their withholding taxes — 95 percent, anyway — have already been given back to their employer.

So: What is the source of the money used to pay these refunds? How much money is paid in refunds to employees working at PEAK-participating companies?

We should note that the funds don’t come from the PEAK company’s employees, as the employees receive credit for all their withholding taxes, even though 95 percent never contributed to the state treasury.

Inquiry to the Department of Revenue revealed that there are no statistics on actual income tax liability of PEAK employees vs. the amount of withholding tax credited to that employee that was retained or refunded to the PEAK employer. The Department of Commerce referred inquiries to the Department of Revenue.

If we wanted to know how much money was paid in refunds to PEAK-company employees, I believe we would need to examine the account of each affected employee. I’m sure it’s not possible to come up with an answer by making assumptions, because the circumstances of each taxpayer vary widely.

Whatever the amount, it represents state tax revenue being used to fund an economic development incentive program that is pitched as being self-funded.


Notes

  1. “PEAK requires the qualified company to commit to creating five new jobs in non-metropolitan counties or ten (10) new jobs in the metropolitan counties of Shawnee, Douglas, Wyandotte, Johnson, Leavenworth and Sedgwick over a two-year period. The qualified company must also pay wages to the PEAK jobs/employees, that when aggregated, meet or exceed the county median wage or North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) average wage for their industry.” Kansas Department of Commerce. Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) Program. Available at http://kansascommerce.gov/141/Promoting-Employment-Across-Kansas-Progr.

Personal income by metropolitan area

An interactive visualization of personal income growth and change in metropolitan areas.

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 unincorporated business, from the ownership of financial assets, and from government and business in the form of transfer receipts. It includes income from domestic sources as well as from the rest of the world. Personal income is the income that is available to persons for consumption expenditures, taxes, interest payments, transfer payments to governments and the rest of the world, or for saving.” 1

This interactive visualization holds personal income, per capita personal income, and population for United States metropolitan areas. I’ve adjusted some figures for the effects of inflation by adjusting them to 2016 dollars.

Click here to access the visualization.


Notes

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.
  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Local Area Personal Income. Available at https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/lapi/lapi_newsrelease.htm.

Wichita employment up

Employment in the Wichita metropolitan area is on an upward tick.

Wichita MSA employment. Click for larger.
Using seasonally-adjusted figures, employment in the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area 1 was 294,800 in January 2017. For September, it is 302,700, an increase of 7,900, or 2.7 percent. This data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor. 2

Wichita MSA employment. since 2010 Click for larger.
The employment data comes from the BLS Current Employment Statistics program, which surveys employers. 3

BLS also collects data regarding employment and unemployment through the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. 4 It is part of the Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a “monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” 5 This data is collected from a survey of households, and the monthly data is not adjusted for seasonality. This is the data series that produces the oft-cited unemployment rate.

It’s important to understand the nature of the unemployment rate. Being a ratio, it has two moving parts, specifically the number of unemployed people and the number of people in the labor force. (The labor force, broadly, is the number of persons working plus those actively looking for work.

It is possible that the unemployment rate falls while the number of people employed falls or rises slowly. This is the general trend in Wichita for the past seven years or so. The nearby table illustrates this. Because the values in this data series are not adjusted for seasonality, I use the average of the proceeding 12 months.

In the first example, the unemployment rate fell by nearly half for the time period chosen. (2010 was the first full year after the most recent recession ended.) That improvement was produced by a small increase in the number of employed people and a large decline in the labor force. Is our area better off for this? Local politicians and bureaucrats seem to think so, as the low unemployment rate is widely cited as a measure of their success in managing the local economy.

The second example uses as its starting point 2008, which was the high mark for employment in the Wichita MSA. The unemployment rate then is nearly the same as today. But both the labor force and the number of employed persons is down.

If we consider only the unemployment rate, it looks like the Wichita area is prospering. But the unemployment rate hides bad news.

In the nearby chart you can see these effects. The unemployment rate has been declining, although it has recently increased slightly. The labor force has been declining. The number of employed persons has increased, although it has also recently declined.

Wichita MSA employment and labor force. Click for larger.
Wichita MSA unemployment rate. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Butler, Harvey, Sedgwick, Sumner, and Kingman counties. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wichita,_KS_Metropolitan_Statistical_Area.
  2. The labor force, specifically the civilian labor force, are those people working, plus those people actively searching for work, minus people under 16 years of age, minus people living in institutions (for example, correctional facilities, long-term care hospitals, and nursing homes), minus people on active duty in the Armed Forces.
    BLS defines unemployed people as: “Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.”
    The unemployment rate is “the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.”
    Bureau of Labor Statistics. *Glossary.* Available at https://www.bls.gov/bls/glossary.htm.
  3. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: The Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey.
    Both surveys are needed for a complete picture of the labor market.
    The payroll survey (CES) is designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings in the nonfarm sector, with industry and geographic detail. The survey is best known for providing a highly reliable gauge of monthly change in nonfarm payroll employment. A representative sample of businesses in the U.S. provides the data for the payroll survey.
    The household survey (CPS) is designed to measure the labor force status of the civilian noninstitutional population with demographic detail. The national unemployment rate is the best-known statistic produced from the household survey. The survey also provides a measure of employed people, one that includes agricultural workers and the self-employed. A representative sample of U.S. households provides the information for the household survey.
    National employment estimates from both the household and payroll surveys are published in the Employment Situation news release each month. The estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comparing employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys. Available at https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/ces_cps_trends.htm.
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. Available at https://www.bls.gov/lau/.
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey. Available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/.

Wichita, youthful and growing from the core

A letter writer tells Wichitans that “We have an opportunity to show the country the future of Wichita is youthful and bright, and its growing from the core out.”

In support of replacing Century II with something “no less than absolutely spectacular in ambition,” a letter in the Wichita Eagle states, “We have an opportunity to show the country the future of Wichita is youthful and bright, and its growing from the core out.” 1

Sadly, these observations are not true. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the median age of Wichitans is rising, the proportion of the population in the millennial category is static or shrinking slightly, and the proportion that are senior citizens is rising. Wichita is growing older, not younger.

As far as “growing from the core out,” the downtown population is up. Although: The increase from 2010 to 2015, proportional to the entire city, was only slightly greater. In 2010, 0.36 percent of Wichitans lived in downtown, rising only slightly to 0.37 percent in 2015. (These are Census figures for zip code 67202, which is downtown Wichita.)

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
Click for larger.
If we gauge growth by the number of jobs, business establishments, and payroll in downtown, we find that downtown Wichita is shrinking. There is some controversy regarding how to measure the number of jobs in downtown Wichita, but by any measure, the number of jobs is declining. 2 3


Notes

  1. Think big on Century II. Wichita Eagle. Letters, September 14, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article174129391.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Growth in Downtown Wichita Jobs. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/growth-downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.

Downtown Wichita jobs decline

By the measure of jobs used by the City of Wichita, downtown jobs declined in 2015.

Jobs in downtown Wichita, according to LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics. Click for larger.
Annual change in jobs, according to LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics. Click for larger.
According to a series of data from the United States Census Bureau, the number of jobs in downtown Wichita declined by 1.6 percent from 2014 to 2015.

The data, known as LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics, or LODES, was updated in September to include data from 2015. 1. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Longitudinal-Employer Household Dynamics Program Available at https://lehd.ces.census.gov/data/#lodes.] Downtown Wichita is defined in this case as zip code 67202, which is the same definition used by the city of Wichita, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, and Center for Economic Growth and Business Research at Wichita State University.

As can be seen in the nearby charts, the number of jobs has been on a mostly downhill trend.

There is, however a serious problem with this data series, as it includes workers whose “administrative home” is downtown, even though they work somewhere else. The Census Bureau makes this caveat clear to users of this data. 2 Because all Wichita school district employees have an “address” of 201 N. Water in downtown Wichita, they appear in the LODES data series as employees with that address.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
It is a serious mistake to count all Wichita school district employees as downtown workers. Most school employees work in schools and other sites scattered throughout the city, not in downtown. Further, this year the school district moved its administrative offices to the former Southeast High School building at Lincoln and Edgemoor. That’s in zip code 67218, not 67202. The effect of this on the LODES statistics (it will appear that some 7,000 workers have moved out of downtown Wichita) probably won’t appear for two or three years.

Click for larger.
Even if we use the data series promoted by the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, the trend in jobs is in the wrong direction. WDDC promotes the large investment in downtown Wichita, by both private and public sources. 3 But employment is trending in the opposite direction. 4

But this data series is not useful as a measure of the number of people working in downtown Wichita, as it overstates the true number. The LODES data is widely cited by the City of Wichita and affiliated agencies such as WDDC and the Wichita Chamber of Commerce. 5 It appears prominently in the State of Downtown report produced by WDDC, generally released on May of each year. So far, there is no report for this year.


Notes

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics Data (2002-2015) [computer file
  2. Weeks, Bob. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Growth in Downtown Wichita Jobs. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/growth-downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.

Wichita economy shrinks

The Wichita-area economy was smaller in 2016 than the year before.

The Wichita MSA economy produced fewer goods and services in 2016 than in 2015, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the Wichita metropolitan area gross domestic product fell by 1.4 percent. For all metropolitan areas, GDP grew by 1.7 percent.

Since 2001, GDP for all metropolitan areas grew by 29.3 percent, while Wichita had 12.3 percent growth.

Wichita and US GDP. Click for larger.

Wichita job growth

Wichita economic development efforts viewed in context.

Greater Wichita Partnership is the organization with primary responsibility for economic development in the Wichita area. Data provided by GWP shows that since 2004, GWP takes credit for creating an average 1,847 jobs per year through its economic development efforts. 1

To determine whether this is an impressive amount, we need context.

Over the past ten years the labor force for the Wichita MSA has averaged 314,877 each month (in May 2017 it was 306,809), and there were an average of 295,785 people working each month (May 2017 value was 293,763).

So one level of context is that the jobs for which GWP credits itself amount to 1,847 of 295,785 jobs, or 0.6 percent of the number of people working.

Click for larger.
Another way to look at this level of job creation is to consider it in relation to the number of hires. Over the past ten years, the national average monthly rate of hires is about 3.4 percent, meaning that each month 3.4 percent of jobs have a new person filling them, or the jobs are newly-created. With an average of 295,785 people working in the Wichita MSA each month, this means that about 10,057 jobs have a new worker, each month. That’s 120,684 per year. With GWP taking credit for 1,847 jobs, this means that GWP’s efforts are responsible for 1.5 percent of the new hires each year.

Another context: Employment in the Wichita MSA reached a peak of 312,100 in July 2008. In June 2017 it was 298,800. To get back to the peak, Wichita needs 13,300 new jobs. At the GWP rate of 1,847 per year, it will take seven more years to recover.

All this shows that the efforts of our economic development machinery are responsible for small proportions of the jobs we need to create. This assumes that the data regarding jobs and investment that GWP provides is correct.

Here’s one example of problems with the data GWP provides. GWP reported that companies made investments of $1.2 billion in 2016 when the average for years before that was $138 million. That looks like an impressive jump. This figure, however, contains over one billion dollars of investment by Spirit Aerosystems projected to occur over the next five years. Not in 2016, but possible over the next five years. Yet GWP presents this investment as through it occurred in 2016.

Furthermore, when Spirit asked the city for authority to issue $280 bonds over five years, it told the city this would result in 349 new jobs over the same time period. That’s creating jobs at the rate of 70 per year. These jobs are welcome, but we need thousands of jobs per year. 2

Does GWP deserve credit? GWP says, “We only incorporate data and dollar amounts from projects which we helped attract, retain or expand; we do not include announcements that we have not assisted with.” 3 “Helped” and “assisted” are not very precise. How much “help” did Spirit need to decide to remain in Wichita, except for hundreds of millions of dollars in forgiven taxes? That is something the people of Wichita pay for, not GWP.

We must also be concerned about the reliability of GWP statistics. Earlier this year GWP was prominently promoting on its website the success of NetApp, a technology company. The problem is that NetApp never met the job creation numbers GWP promoted, and in fact, had been downsizing its Wichita operations. 4

Still, GWP promoted NetApp as a success. An important question is, the NetApp jobs that were announced but never created: Are they included in the jobs and investment totals GWP provides? We don’t know, because GWP will not disclose the data used to build its report.

There are other instances of GWP’s predecessor, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition (GWEDC), promoting Wichita as home to companies that had closed their Wichita facilities, or were in the process of closing. 5

GWP also promotes this on its website: “Downtown Wichita is work central, boasting 26,000 daytime workers in the financial, healthcare, education, oil & gas and creative services industries.” This claim of 26,000 workers is based on blatant misuse and misrepresentation of U.S. Census data, and GWP leadership has known of this for several months. 6 Still, the use of incorrect data remains.

Capacity to create

When the Wichita area offered incentives to a company that planned to add 50 jobs, the president of the chamber of commerce told commissioners that staff worked very hard to acquire these jobs. He called it “a great moment” in economic development. 7 But 50 jobs, while welcome, is just a drop in the bucket compared to what Wichita needs.

For Spirit to create 349 jobs over five years, we must let the company escape paying property tax and sales tax on $280 million of property.

For BG Products to add 11 well-paying jobs, we must let them avoid paying $204,280 per year in property taxes and $368,417 in sales tax.

In order to prepare the incentives package for another company, several events took place. There was a visit to the company. Then another visit and tour. Then economic development officials helped the company apply for benefits from the Kansas Department of Commerce. Then these officials worked closely with Wichita city staff on an incentive package. City documents stated that the expansion will create 28 jobs over the next five years. Obtaining these jobs took a lot of effort from Wichita and Kansas economic development machinery. Multiple agencies and fleets of bureaucrats at GWEDC, the City of Wichita, Sedgwick County, and the State of Kansas were involved. Wichita State University had to be involved. All this to create 5.6 jobs per year for five years.

This illustrates a capacity problem. Acquiring these jobs took a lot of bureaucratic effort, which has a cost. It required expensive incentives. Occasionally the city works with a large number of jobs, as in the recent case of Cargill. But those jobs required many expensive incentives, and no jobs were created. The incentives and effort were spent simply to persuade Cargill to remain in Wichita instead of moving elsewhere.

All this assumes, of course, that the incentives are necessary. Either that, or there is a larger problem. If companies can’t afford to make investments in Wichita unless they receive exemptions from paying taxes, we must conclude that taxes are too high. It’s either that, or these companies simply don’t want to participate in paying for the cost of government like most other companies and people do.

Civic leaders say that our economic development policies must be reformed. So far that isn’t happening. Our leaders say that we will no longer use cash incentives. But cash incentives like forgivable loans were a minor part of the incentives Wichita and the State of Kansas used. Furthermore, forgiveness of taxes is just as good as receiving cash. 8

The large amount of bureaucratic effort and cost spent to obtain relatively small numbers of jobs lets us know that we need to do something else to grow our local economy. We need to create a dynamic economy, focusing our efforts on creating an environment where growth can occur organically without management by government. Dr. Art Hall’s paper
Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy provides much more information on the need for this. 9

In particular, Hall writes: “Embracing dynamism starts with a change in vision. Simply stated, the state government of Kansas should abandon its prevailing policy vision of the State as an active investor in businesses or industries and instead adopt the policy vision of the State as a caretaker of a competitive ‘platform’ — a platform that seeks to induce as much commercial experimentation as possible.” But our economic development policies are that of an “active investor,” and the cost of incentives increases the cost of experimentation.

Another thing we can do to help organically grow our economy and jobs is to reform our local regulatory regime. Kansas Policy Institute released a study of regulation and its impact at the state and local level. This is different from most investigations of regulation, as they usually focus on regulation at the federal level.

Business Perceptions of the Economic Impact of State and Local Government Regulation coverThe study is titled “Business Perceptions of the Economic Impact of State and Local Government Regulation.” It was conducted by the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University. Click here to view the entire document.

Following is an excerpt from the introduction by James Franko, Vice President and Policy Director at Kansas Policy Institute. It points to a path forward.

Surprising to some, the businesses interviewed did not have as much of a problem with the regulations themselves, or the need for regulations, but with their application and enforcement. Across industries and focus group sessions the key themes were clear — give businesses transparency in what regulations are being applied, how they are employed, provide flexibility in meeting those goals, and allow an opportunity for compliance.

Sometimes things can be said so often as to lose their punch and become little more than the platitudes referenced above. The findings from Hugo Wall are clear that businesses will adapt and comply with regulations if they are transparent and accountable. Many in the public can be forgiven for thinking this was already the case. Thankfully, local and state governments can ensure this happens with minimal additional expense.

A transparent and accountable regulatory regime should be considered the “low hanging fruit” of government. Individuals and communities will always land on different places along the continuum of appropriate regulation. And, a give and take will always exist between regulators and the regulated. Those two truisms, however, should do nothing to undermine the need for regulations to be applied equally, based on clear rules and interpretations, and to give each business an opportunity to comply. (emphasis added)

Creating a dynamic economy and a reformed regulatory regime should cost very little. The benefits would apply to all companies — large or small, startup or established, local or relocations, in any industry.

Our civic leaders say that our economic development efforts must be reformed. Will the path forward be a dynamic economy and reformed regulation? Or will it be more bureaucracy, chasing jobs a handful at a time?


Notes

  1. Greater Wichita Partnership – 2017 Investment Request. Part of the February 15, 2017 Sedgwick County Commission meeting. Available at https://goo.gl/hk6RHB.
  2. “Spirit is now requesting a new Letter of Intent (LOI) to issues IRBs in an amount not to exceed $280,000,000 for a period of five years. … Spirit projects it will create 349 new jobs over the next five years as a result of these expansions. In addition to the $280,000,000 Spirit expects to invest in facilities over the next five years, it also projects approximately $825,000,000 of capital investment in new machinery and equipment for a total capital investment in excess of $1 billion dollars.” Wichita City Council agenda packet for May 3, 2016.
  3. Personal correspondence from Andrew Nave, GWP executive vice president of economic development.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Greater Wichita Partnership. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/greater-wichita-partnership/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economic development not being managed. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-economic-development-managed/.
  6. “The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice.” Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Economic development in Sedgwick County. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/sedgwick-county-government/economic-development-sedgwick-county/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Contrary to officials, Wichita has many incentive programs. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/contrary-officials-wichita-has-many-incentive-programs/. Also: Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Boeing incentives. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/fact-checking-yes-wichita-boeing-incentives/.
  9. See also Weeks, Bob. Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-grant-property-sales-tax-relief/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita and Kansas economies

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn discuss issues regarding the Wichita and Kansas economies. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 163, broadcast September 3, 2017.

Shownotes

  • Wichita employment trends. While the unemployment rate in the Wichita metropolitan area has been declining, the numbers behind the decline are not encouraging.
  • Downtown Wichita business trends. There has been much investment in Downtown Wichita, both public and private. What has been the trend in business activity during this time?
  • Wichita downtown plan focused on elite values, incorrect assumptions. One of the themes of those planning the future of downtown Wichita is that the suburban areas of Wichita are bad. The people living there are not cultured and sophisticated, the planners say. Suburbanites live wasteful lifestyles. Planners say they use too much energy, emit too much carbon, and gobble up too much land, all for things they’ve been duped into believing they want.
  • Charts shown in the show: (Click charts for larger versions.)

Metro area employment and unemployment

An interactive visualization of labor force, employment, and unemployment rate for all metropolitan areas in the United States.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, makes monthly employment and unemployment statistics available. I’ve gathered them for all metropolitan areas and present them in an interactive visualization.

The labor force, specifically the civilian labor force, are those people working, plus those people actively searching for work, minus people under 16 years of age, minus people living in institutions (for example, correctional facilities, long-term care hospitals, and nursing homes), minus people on active duty in the Armed Forces. 1

BLS defines unemployed people as: “Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.” 2

The unemployment rate is “the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.” 3

In the visualization you may select tabs to show a table or a chart. You may select a range of dates and the metro areas that appear.

The home page for the visualiation is here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Glossary. Available at https://www.bls.gov/bls/glossary.htm.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.

Metro area employment and unemployment

An interactive visualization of labor force, employment, and unemployment rate for all metropolitan areas in the United States.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, makes monthly employment and unemployment statistics available. I’ve gathered them for all metropolitan areas and present them in an interactive visualization.

This data comes from the BLS Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. 1 It is part of the Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a “monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” 2 This data is seasonally adjusted.

In the visualization you may select tabs to show a table or a chart. You may select a range of dates and the metro areas that appear.

To use the visualization, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. Available at https://www.bls.gov/lau/.
  2. Burea of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey. Available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/.

Wichita employment trends

While the unemployment rate in the Wichita metropolitan area has been declining, the numbers behind the decline are not encouraging.

The unemployment rate, a widely-cited measure of the health of an economy, is not an absolute measure. Instead, it is a ratio, specifically the ratio of the number of unemployed people to the number of people in the labor force. (The labor force, broadly, is the number of persons working plus those actively looking for work. 1)

It is entirely possible that the unemployment rate falls while the number of people employed also falls. This is the general trend in Wichita for the past seven years or so. Here are some figures from Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor: 2

The May 2017 unemployment rate declined to just about half the January 2011 rate. The number of employed persons rose by 1.1 percent. The labor force fell by 3.7 percent.

If we consider only unemployment rate, it looks like the Wichita area is prospering. But the unemployment rate hides bad news: The number of jobs increased only slightly, and the labor force fell. While it’s good that there are more people working, the decline in the labor force is a problem.

In the nearby chart you can see these effects. The unemployment rate has been declining, although it has recently increased slightly. The labor force has been declining. The number of employed persons has increased, although it has recently declined.

To use an interactive visualization of employment data for Wichita, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. The labor force, specifically the civilian labor force, are those people working, plus those people actively searching for work, minus people under 16 years of age, minus people living in institutions (for example, correctional facilities, long-term care hospitals, and nursing homes), minus people on active duty in the Armed Forces.
    BLS defines unemployed people as: “Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.”
    The unemployment rate is “the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.”
    Bureau of Labor Statistics. Glossary. Available at https://www.bls.gov/bls/glossary.htm.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/.

Wichita metro employment and unemployment

An interactive visualization of labor force, employment, and unemployment for the Wichita MSA.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, makes monthly employment and unemployment statistics available. 1 I’ve gathered them for the Wichita metropolitan area and present them in an interactive visualization.

This data comes from the BLS Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. 2 It is part of the Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a “monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” 3

In the visualization you may select tabs to show a table or charts. The moving average tab holds smoothed data, using the average of all values for the previous year. You may also select a range of dates for the charts.

To use the visualization, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. The labor force, specifically the civilian labor force, are those people working, plus those people actively searching for work, minus people under 16 years of age, minus people living in institutions (for example, correctional facilities, long-term care hospitals, and nursing homes), minus people on active duty in the Armed Forces.
    BLS defines unemployed people as: “Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.”
    The unemployment rate is “the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.”
    Bureau of Labor Statistics. Glossary. Available at https://www.bls.gov/bls/glossary.htm.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. Available at https://www.bls.gov/lau/.
  3. Burea of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey. Available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: After the Kansas tax increases

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Jonathan Williams, chief economist at American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), joins Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss what ALEC does, and then topics specific to Kansas. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 159, broadcast July 30, 2017.

Shownotes

Tax collections by the states

An interactive visualization of tax collections by state governments.

Each year the United States Census Bureau collects data from the states regarding tax collections in various categories. I present this data in an interactive visualization.

The values are for tax collections by the state only, not local governmental entities like cities, counties, townships, improvement districts, cemetery districts, library districts, drainage districts, watershed districts, and school districts.

Of particular interest is the “Total by State” tab. Here you can select a number of states and compare their tax burdens. (Probably three or four states at a time is the practical limit.) This data is presented on a per-person basis.

From this data we can see a number of valuable comparisons. For example, it is often said in Kansas that we can’t eliminate our income tax as has Texas, because we don’t have as much oil severance tax revenue. From the data we see that Texas collected $84 per person in severance tax, while Kansas collected $17 per person. This difference is far larger than the difference in total tax collections between these states.

Similarly, when comparing Kansas to Florida — which like Texas has no income tax — the large amount of tourism in Florida is said to generate enough revenue to allow zero income tax. But, in 2016 Florida collected $1,081 per person in sales tax, while Kansas collected $1,115 per person. Florida does not collect sales tax on groceries, so it may be that visitors pay more of the sales tax burden. But, Kansas still collects more sales tax on a per-capita basis, and Kansas collects much more tax in total than Florida, again on a per-capita basis.

Data is as collected from the United States Census Bureau, Annual Survey of State Government Tax Collections, and not adjusted for inflation. Visualization created using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

National Transit Database, an interactive visualization

An interactive visualization of data over time from the National Transit Database.

Do you wonder how much it costs to run your transit system? The National Transit Database holds data for transit systems in the U.S. I’ve gathered some key statistics and presented them in an interactive visualization.

In the case of Wichita, we see that “OpExp per PMT” for 2015 is $1.02. This is total operating expense per passenger mile traveled. It’s not the cost to move a bus a mile down the street. It’s the cost to move one passenger one mile. And, it is operating cost only, which means the costs of the buses are not included.

Some definitions used in the database:

  • UZA: The name of the urbanized area served primarily by a transit agency.
  • UPT: Unlinked passenger trips.
  • PMT: Passenger miles traveled.
  • Total OpExp: Total operating expense.

The visualization holds three tabs. One is a table of figures. The other two illustrate data for a single transit system or single mode.

Click here to access the visualization.

Example from the visualization for Wichita. Click for larger.

In Wichita, new stadium to be considered

The City of Wichita plans subsidized development of a sports facility as an economic driver.

West Bank Redevelopment District. Click for larger.
This week the Wichita City Council will consider a project plan for a redevelopment district near Downtown Wichita. It is largely financed by Tax Increment Financing and STAR bonds. Both divert future incremental tax revenue to pay for various things within the district.1 2

City documents promise this: “The City plans to substantially rehabilitate or replace Lawrence-Dumont Stadium into a multi-sport athletic complex. The TIF project would allow the City to make investments in Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, construct additional parking in the redevelopment district, initiate improvements to the Delano multi-use path and make additional transportation improvements related to the stadium project area. In addition to the stadium work, the City plans to construct, utilizing STAR bond funds, a sports museum, improvements to the west bank of the Arkansas River and construct a pedestrian bridge connecting the stadium area with the Century II block. The TIF project is part of the overall plan to revitalize the stadium area and Delano Neighborhood within the district.”3

We’ve heard things like this before. Each “opportunity” for the public to invest in downtown Wichita is accompanied by grand promises. But actual progress is difficult to achieve, as evidenced by the example of Block One.4

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
In fact, change in Downtown Wichita — if we’re measuring the count of business firms, jobs, and payroll — is in the wrong direction, despite large public and private investment. 5

Perhaps more pertinent to a sports facility as an economic growth driver is the Intrust Bank Arena. Five years ago the Wichita Eagle noted the lack of growth in the area. 6 Since then, not much has changed. The area surrounding the arena is largely vacant. Except for Commerce Street, that is, and the businesses located there don’t want to pay their share of property taxes. 7

I’m sure the city will remind us that the arena was a Sedgwick County project, not a City of Wichita project, as if that makes a difference. Also, the poor economic performance cited above is for Downtown Wichita as delineated by zip code 67202, while the proposed stadium project lies just outside that area, as if that makes a difference.

By the way, this STAR bonds district is an expansion of an existing district which contains the WaterWalk development. That development has languished, with acres of land having been available for development for many years. We’ve also found that the city was not holding the WaterWalk developer accountable to the terms of the deal that was agreed upon, to the detriment of Wichita taxpayers. 8

Following, selected articles on the economics of public financing of sports stadiums.

The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums

Scott A. Wolla, “The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums,” Page One Economics, May 2017. This is a project of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Link.
“Building sports stadiums has an impact on local economies. For that reason, many people support the use of government subsidies to help pay for stadiums. However, economists generally oppose such subsidies. They often stress that estimations of the economic impact of sports stadiums are exaggerated because they fail to recognize opportunity costs. Consumers who spend money on sporting events would likely spend the money on other forms of entertainment, which has a similar economic impact. Rather than subsidizing sports stadiums, governments could finance other projects such as infrastructure or education that have the potential to increase productivity and promote economic growth.”

What economists think about public financing for sports stadiums

Jeff Cockrell, Chicago Booth Review, February 01, 2017. Link.
“But do the economic benefits generated by these facilities — via increased tourism, for example — justify the costs to the public? Chicago Booth’s Initiative on Global Markets put that question to its US Economic Experts Panel. Fifty-seven percent of the panel agreed that the costs to taxpayers are likely to outweigh benefits, while only 2 percent disagreed — though several panelists noted that some contributions of local sports teams are difficult to quantify.”

Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums Are a Game That Taxpayers Lose

Jeffrey Dorfman. Forbes, January 31, 2015. Link.
“Once you look at things this way, you see that stadiums can only justify public financing if they will draw most attendees from a long distance on a regular basis. The Super Bowl does that, but the average city’s football, baseball, hockey, or basketball team does not. Since most events held at a stadium will rely heavily on the local fan base, they will never generate enough tax revenue to pay back taxpayers for the cost of the stadium.”

Sports Facilities and Economic Development

Andrew Zimbalist, Government Finance Review, August 2013. Link.
“This article is meant to emphasize the complexity of the factors that must be evaluated in assessing the economic impact of sports facility construction. While prudent planning and negotiating can improve the chances of minimizing any negative impacts or even of promoting a modest positive impact, the basic experience suggests that a city should not expect that a new arena or stadium by itself will provide a boost to the local economy.

Instead, the city should think of the non-pecuniary benefits involved with a new facility, whether they entail bringing a professional team to town, keeping one from leaving, improving the conveniences and amenities at the facility, or providing an existing team with greater resources for competition. Sports are central to cultural life in the United States (and in much of the world). They represent one of the most cogent ways for residents to feel part of and enjoy belonging to a community. The rest of our lives are increasingly isolated by modern technological gadgetry. Sport teams help provide identity to a community, and it is this psychosocial benefit that should be weighed against the sizeable public investments that sports team owners demand.”


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. STAR bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/star-bonds-kansas/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  3. Wichita City Council, agenda packet for July 18, 2017.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita’s Block One, a beneficiary of tax increment financing. Before forming new tax increment financing districts, Wichita taxpayers ought to ask for progress on current districts. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-block-one-beneficiary-tax-increment-financing/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  6. “Ten years ago, Elizabeth Stevenson looked out at the neighborhood where a downtown arena would soon be built and told an Eagle reporter that one day it could be the ‘Paris of the Midwest.’ What she and many others envisioned was a pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhood of quaint shops, chic eateries and an active arts district, supported by tens of thousands of visitors who would be coming downtown for sporting events and concerts. It hasn’t exactly turned out that way. Today, five years after the opening of the Intrust Bank Arena, most of the immediate neighborhood looks much like it did in 2004 when Stevenson was interviewed in The Eagle. With the exception of a small artists’ colony along Commerce Street, it’s still the same mix of light industrial businesses interspersed with numerous boarded-up buildings and vacant lots, dotted with ‘for sale’ and ‘for lease’ signs.” Lefler, Dion. 5 years after Intrust Bank Arena opens, little surrounding development has followed. Wichita Eagle. December 20, 2014. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article4743402.html.
  7. Riedl, Matt. Has Commerce Street become too cool for its own good? Wichita Eagle. April 8, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/keeper-of-the-plans/article143529404.html.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk agreement not followed. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-agreement-not-followed/.

More Cargill incentives from Wichita detailed

More, but likely not all, of the Cargill incentives will be before the Wichita City Council this week.

A division of Cargill, Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, is moving from an office on North Main Street in downtown Wichita to the site of the former Wichita Eagle building, also in downtown Wichita. Last year it was widely reported that Cargill was considering moving this division to another city. Reports of incentives offers to Cargill from other cities spurred the City of Wichita to offer its own incentives if Cargill would remain in Wichita. This week the city council will consider additional subsidies and incentives besides those already offered. 1

As summarized in the agenda packet:

“In exchange for Cargill’s commitment, the City has negotiated the following:

  • Issue Industrial Revenue Bonds (Letter of Intent approved April 18, 2017) 100% property tax abatement; 5+5 year basis
  • Sales tax exemption
  • Acquisition of a 15 year parking easement for public access to the garage in the evenings and on weekends (estimated cost of $6,500,000)
  • Expedited plan review (50% reduction in time)
  • Reduced permitting fees (50%) (estimated savings of $85,000)
  • Assign a project manager/ombudsman for a single point of contact for the company”

Industrial Revenue Bonds

In April the city council approved a letter of intent regarding Cargill’s participation in the Industrial Revenue Bond program. 2 The city won’t be lending Cargill money. Instead, IRBs are a (convoluted) method whereby local governments are able to forgive the payment of property taxes. For the case of Cargill, city documents from April state the tax forgiveness could be worth $1,359,531 per year. 3 This would be shared by these taxing jurisdictions in these annual amounts, again according to city documents:

  • City of Wichita: $378,450
  • Sedgwick County: $340,958
  • USD 259, the Wichita Public School District: $622,723
  • State of Kansas: $17,400

Cargill has agreed to make an annual Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILOT) of $413,900, according to city documents.

In addition to the property tax exemption, the IRBs also carry a sales tax exemption for purchases related to construction. City documents give an estimated value of $2,026,291 for the sales tax Cargill will not have to pay. 4

Parking easement

At one time, it was thought that the city would build a parking garage and let Cargill use it an no cost, or at a greatly reduced cost. Instead, the city now proposes that Cargill build the garage and the city will acquire an easement. This has sounded almost benign, but now we realize that the city will pay Cargill an estimated $6.5 million. In return, the city will be able to use up to approximately 700 parking spaces outside of Cargill business hours for a period of 15 years.

Is this a good deal for the city? The city has agreed to pay $9,286 for the use of each parking space for 15 years during non-business hours. 5 For comparison, recently the city rehabilitated the parking garage at 215 S. Market at a cost of $17,609 per parking space. The city rents 180 of these to a nearby company at the rate of $35 per month, which is $420 per year. 6 In the case of Cargill, the city is paying — effectively — $619 dollars per parking spot per year, and for off-hours use only.

It is not known whether the city will charge fees to the public to use the garage. It is also unknown whether there is much demand for public parking at the Cargill location, but present market conditions would suggest there is not much additional demand.

Expedited plan review, reduced fees, and ombudsman

The city has agreed to cut permit fees and speed response time for approvals. 7

This incentive — the need for it and its value to Cargill — is an explicit admission that City of Wichita regulations are burdensome. If not, why would the city devote time and expense to helping Cargill obtain relief from these regulations?

Consider this aspect of public policy: Cargill is a large company with — presumably — fleets of bureaucrats and lawyers trained to deal with burdensome government regulation. These costs can be spread across a large company, meaning that Cargill can afford to overcome burdensome regulations.

But what about the small companies that don’t have fleets of bureaucrats and lawyers? What about the young or small companies that can’t spread the costs of regulation across a large volume of business? What will the city do for these companies? This is especially important because the spirit of entrepreneurship the city wants to cultivate is most commonly found in small, young, companies — the type of company without fleets of bureaucrats and lawyers.

The city says it would do for any company what it is doing for Cargill. Except: How are companies supposed to know to ask for regulatory relief, streamlining, and a discount on fees?

If the city really wants to help all companies, it would — at its own initiative — cut fees and reduce response time across the board, for everyone. Until then Wichita offers special regulatory treatment for special circumstances, which widens the gulf between the haves and have-nots. 8

Other subsidy programs

The agenda packet for the city council meeting doesn’t mention this, but from the State of Kansas Cargill is likely to receive PEAK benefits. Under this program, the Kansas state withholding tax deducted from Cargill employees’ paychecks will be routed back to Cargill. 9 (Not all; only 95 percent.) Some very rough calculations show that PEAK benefits might be worth some $2 million annually to Cargill. 10

Ironically, with the recent increases in Kansas income taxes, PEAK is even more valuable to Cargill.

Is this needed?

In the past, economic development subsidies of this type were justified by local governments as necessary to recruit new companies to the area. These subsidies, however, are used simply to retain a company that is already located in downtown Wichita.

The city has asked Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research to produce benefit/cost ratios. They show that the costs the city, county, and state incur will generate benefits that exceed these costs. For the school district, costs exactly equal benefits — a remarkable coincidence.

The reasoning and calculation behind these benefit/cost ratios is opaque. The general idea is that spending by a company spawns other spending that results in economic benefit and growth. That’s true. It’s important to know, however, that this benefit also occurs when companies move to Wichita or expand in Wichita, without the benefit of economic development subsidies.

The question, then, becomes are these incentives necessary? Would Cargill have moved to another city if not for these incentives? It’s only if Cargill would have left Wichita that the benefit/cost ratios have any meaning.

The City of Wichita says Cargill received lucrative offers from other cities. But these offers have not been seen, to my knowledge. We’re left to take the word of Cargill that it received offers from other cities, and that it would have moved from Wichita if not for Wichita’s incentives.

Cargill, as we’ve seen, has a multi-million dollar motive. City of Wichita officials also have a large motive, as do officials and politicians at the state level. The politicians and bureaucrats want to — need to — be seen as doing something to improve the economy. It costs none of them one dime to pay these incentives. But the Cargill building will fulfill their ediface complex when they preside at groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

If Wichita leaders wanted to gain the trust of Wichitans, to have us believe and understand that these incentives are necessary to keep Cargill in Wichita, the city could reveal the other offers Cargill received. Cargill itself could reveal offers it received from other cities. These actions would help Wichitans understand whether these incentives are truly needed. But the world of economic development incentives is a murky swamp.

Finally, Mayor Jeff Longwell, other council members, and city hall bureaucrats tell us that the city has moved beyond cash incentives. Cash will not be paid for jobs, they say.

But forgiving a tax bill is just like paying cash. Discounting the cost of permits is just like paying cash. Paying $6.5 million to use a company’s parking garage during hours the company has no use for it: How is that different from simply paying the company a cash incentive?

Perhaps the mayor and others have a different understanding of the economics of transactions than I.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Agenda Packet for July 18, 2017. Approval of Development Agreement with Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  3. City of Wichita. Council agenda packet for April 18, 2017.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Cargill subsides start forming. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/cargill-subsides-start-forming/.
  5. $6,500,000 / 700.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Why is this man smiling? Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/man-smiling/.
  7. “Section 4.03. Approvals. The City agrees to provide a 50% reduction in the fees charged by the City for permits and approvals, including plan review, utility and building permitting fees, for all matters related to the Project. The City also agrees to reduce the response time for approval of building plans from the standard 30 days to 15 days for all matters related to the Project.” Also: “The reduction in the permitting fees will be paid from the Economic Development fund.”
  8. Weeks, Bob. Regulation in Wichita, a ‘labyrinth of city processes.’ Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/regulation/regulation-wichita-labyrinth-city-processes/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. In Kansas, PEAK has a leak. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-peak-leak/.
  10. For the first year of the agreement, Cargill is expected to have 750 or more employees at an average salary of $66,814. That annual salary / 26 pay periods = $2,570 biweekly. For a family with two children (this is just a guess and could be way off), there are two withholding allowances, so $2,570 – ($86.54 x 2) = $2,397. Using the new withholding tables for married workers (another assumption), bi-weekly withholding is $48.17 + 5.7% x ($2,397 – $1,298) = $48.17 + $62.64 = $110.81. That means $2,881 annual withholding, so Cargill’s 95% share is $2,737. For 750 employees, this is an annual subsidy to Cargill of $2,052,750.

Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2016 is $4,293,901

As in years past, a truthful accounting of the finances of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita shows a large loss.

The true state of the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita are not often a subject of public discussion. Arena boosters cite a revenue-sharing arrangement between the county and the arena operator, referring to this as profit or loss. But this arrangement is not an accurate and complete accounting, and hides the true economics of the arena. What’s missing is depreciation expense.

An example: In February 2015 the Wichita Eagle reported: “The arena’s net income for 2014 came in at $122,853, all of which will go to SMG, the company that operates the facility under contract with the county, Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said Wednesday.” A reading of the minutes for the February 11 meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission finds Holt mentioning depreciation expense not a single time. Neither did the Eagle article.

In December 2014, in a look at the first five years of the arena, its manager told the Wichita Eagle this: “‘We know from a financial standpoint, the building has been successful. Every year, it’s always been in the black, and there are a lot of buildings that don’t have that, so it’s a great achievement,’ said A.J. Boleski, the arena’s general manager.”

The Wichita Eagle opinion page hasn’t been helpful, with Rhonda Holman opining with thoughts like this: “Though great news for taxpayers, that oversize check for $255,678 presented to Sedgwick County last week reflected Intrust Bank Arena’s past, specifically the county’s share of 2013 profits.”

Even our city’s business press — which ought to know better — writes headlines like Intrust Bank Arena tops $1.1M in net income for 2015 without mentioning depreciation expense.

All of these examples are deficient in an important way, and contribute confusion to the search for truthful accounting of the arena’s finances. As shown below, recognizing depreciation expense is vital to understanding profit or loss, and the “net income” referred to above doesn’t include this. In fact, the “net income” cited above isn’t anything that is recognized by standard accounting principles.

The problem with the reporting of Intrust Bank Arena profits

There are at least two ways of looking at the finance of the arena. Nearly all attention is given to the “profit” (or loss) earned by the arena for the county according to an operating agreement between the county and SMG, a company that operates the arena. 1

This agreement specifies a revenue sharing mechanism between the county and SMG. For 2106, the accounting method used in this agreement produced a profit of $680,268 to be split (not equally) between SMG and the county. The county’s share was $140,134. 2

While described as “profit” by many, this payment does not represent any sort of “profit” or “earnings” in the usual sense. In fact, the introductory letter that accompanies these calculations warns readers that these are “not intended to be a complete presentation of INTRUST Bank Arena’s financial position and results of operations in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.” 3

That bears repeating: This is not a reckoning of profit and loss in any recognized sense. It is simply an agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG as to how SMG is to be paid, and how the county participates.

A much better reckoning of the economics of the Intrust Bank Arena can be found in the 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Sedgwick County.4 This document holds additional information about the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena. The CAFR, as described by the county, “… is a review of what occurred financially last year. In that respect, it is a report card of our ability to manage our financial resources.”

Regarding the arena, the CAFR states:

The Arena Fund represents the activity of the INTRUST Bank Arena. The facility is operated by a private company; the County incurs expenses only for certain capital improvements or major repairs and depreciation, and receives as revenue only a share of profits earned by the operator, if any, and naming rights fees. The Arena Fund had an operating loss of $4.6 million. The loss can be attributed to $4.4 million in depreciation expense.

Financial statements in the same document show that $4,434,035 was charged for depreciation in 2016, bringing accumulated depreciation to a total of $35,126,958.

If we subtract SMG payment of $140,134 from depreciation expense, we learn that the Intrust Bank Arena lost $4,293,901 in 2016.

Depreciation expense is not something that is paid out in cash. That is, Sedgwick County did not write a check for $4,434,035 to pay depreciation expense. Instead, depreciation accounting provides a way to recognize and account for the cost of long-lived assets over their lifespan. It provides a way to recognize opportunity costs, that is, what could be done with our resources if not spent on the arena.

But not many of our public leaders recognize this. In years past, Commissioner Dave Unruh made remarks that illustrate the severe misunderstanding under which he and almost everyone labor regarding the nature of spending on the arena: “I want to underscore the fact that the citizens of Sedgwick County voted to pay for this facility in advance. And so not having debt service on it is just a huge benefit to our government and to the citizens, so we can go forward without having to having to worry about making those payments and still show positive cash flow. So it’s still a great benefit to our community and I’m still pleased with this report.”

Earlier in this article we saw examples of the (then) Sedgwick County Assistant Manager, the Intrust Bank Arena manager, and several Wichita Eagle writers making the same mistake.

Intrust Bank Arena commemorative monument
Intrust Bank Arena commemorative monument
The contention — witting or not — of all these people is that the capital investment of $183,625,241 (not including an operating and maintenance reserve) in the arena is merely a historical artifact, something that happened in the past, something that has no bearing today. There is no opportunity cost, according to this view. This attitude, however, disrespects the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to raise those funds. Since Kansas is one of the few states that adds sales tax to food, low-income households paid extra sales tax on their groceries to pay for the arena — an arena where they may not be able to afford tickets.

Any honest accounting or reckoning of the performance of Intrust Bank Arena must take depreciation into account. While Unruh is correct that depreciation expense is not a cash expense that affects cash flow, it is an economic reality that can’t be ignored — except by politicians, apparently. The Wichita Eagle and Wichita Business Journal aid in promoting this deception.

We see our governmental and civic leaders telling us that we must “run government like a business.” Without frank and realistic discussion of numbers like these and the economic facts they represent, we make decisions based on incomplete and false information.


Notes

  1. Management Agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG. August 1, 2007. Available here.
  2. The Operations of INTRUST Bank Arena, as Managed by SMG. December 31, 2016. Available here.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Sedgwick County. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the County of Sedgwick, Kansas for the Year ended December 31, 2016. Available here.

Airport traffic statistics

Airport traffic data presented in an interactive visualization, updated through 2016.

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.” 1

This data is produced monthly, but this visualization holds data only through the complete year 2015. In the visualization, you may select the airports that are displayed, and adjust the range of years.

Visualization created by the author using Tableau Public.

Click here to access the visualization.


Notes

  1. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Air Carrier Statistics (Form 41 Traffic) — U.S. Carriers. Available at https://www.transtats.bts.gov/Tables.asp?DB_ID=110.

The yardstick for the Kansas experiment

A politician’s boasting should not be the yardstick for policy.

As noted by Ed Flentje in the Wichita Eagle:

As a newly elected governor in 2011 Brownback embraced the discredited, tax-cut dogma of Arthur Laffer in the belief that tax cuts would dramatically stimulate economic growth. He told a friendly audience that cutting income tax rates would generate even more revenue for government. Soon after, the governor elevated the bluster. His tax cuts would give “a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy.” “We’ll have a real live experiment.” “Look out Texas. Here comes Kansas!” “Glide path to zero.”

Despite Professor Flentje’s claim, there is much evidence that higher taxes, especially higher income taxes, mean lower economic growth. 1 2 3 (There’s also the side benefit of leaving more money in the hands of those who earned it, rather than transferring it to the wasteful public sector.) Cutting taxes — or raising taxes, for that matter — is a treatment that influences things in one direction. If other more powerful forces influence things in an opposite direction, it doesn’t mean the original treatment didn’t work.

In the case of Kansas, think how much worse things might be if not for the stimulative effect of the tax cuts.

Still, Governor Brownback should have been more measured in his remarks — or his bluster. He shouldn’t have followed the example of President Barack Obama. He, right after becoming president, promised that the unemployment rate would not top eight percent if his stimulus bill was passed. That plan passed.

In January 2009 two Obama administration officials, including Christina Romer (who would become chair of the Council of Economic Advisers) wrote a paper estimating what the national unemployment rate would be with, and without, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, commonly known as the stimulus. The Romer paper included a graph of projected unemployment rates. The nearby chart from e21 took the Romer chart and added
actual unemployment rates. (The accompanying article is Revisiting unemployment projections. That chart and article were created in 2011. I’ve updated the chart to show the actual unemployment rate since then, as black dots. The data shows that the actual unemployment rate was above the Obama administration projections — with or without the stimulus plan — for the entire period of projections.

The purpose of this is not to defend Brownback by showing how Obama is even worse. (Disclosure: Although I am a Republican, I didn’t vote for Brownback for governor.) Instead, we ought to take away two lessons: First, let’s learn to place an appropriately low value on the promises, boasts, and bluster made by politicians. Then, let’s recognize the weak power government has to manage the economy for positive effect. Indeed, the lesson of the Obama stimulus is that it made the unemployment rate worse than if there had been no stimulus — at least according to the administration projections.

Governor Brownback was right to cut taxes because Kansas taxes were too high.

Unemployment with and without stimulus through 2014-01

  1. “So what does the academic literature say about the empirical relationship between taxes and economic growth? While there are a variety of methods and data sources, the results consistently point to significant negative effects of taxes on economic growth even after controlling for various other factors such as government spending, business cycle conditions, and monetary policy. In this review of the literature, I find twenty-six such studies going back to 1983, and all but three of those studies, and every study in the last fifteen years, find a negative effect of taxes on growth. Of those studies that distinguish between types of taxes, corporate income taxes are found to be most harmful, followed by personal income taxes, consumption taxes and property taxes.” McBride, William. What Is the Evidence on Taxes and Growth? Tax Foundation. Available at https://taxfoundation.org/what-evidence-taxes-and-growth/.
  2. “Research finds that higher state taxes are generally associated with lower economic performance. There is somewhat weaker evidence that state and local taxes can significantly reduce income growth within a state, particularly when the revenues raised are devoted to transfer payments. More recent research corroborates this finding in relation to net investment and employment. However, when additional tax revenue is used to improve the quality of public goods and services, economic growth may increase. When looking at business activity more broadly, more comprehensive reviews of the literature find higher taxes to be associated with less economic growth. They also find this relationship to be stronger within metropolitan areas than across metropolitan areas, which means that local taxes have a larger effect on economic growth when it is less costly for firms and taxpayers to relocate to avoid the tax.” Mercatus Center. Economic Perspectives: State and Local Tax Policy. Available at https://www.mercatus.org/publication/economic-perspectives-state-and-local-tax-policy.
  3. “Two research papers illustrate the need to maintain low taxes in Kansas, finding that high taxes are associated with reduced income and low economic growth.” Weeks, Bob. Kansas needs low taxes. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-needs-low-taxes/.