Tag Archives: Government spending

Kansas agency expenditures

Data regarding State of Kansas agency spending presented in an interactive visualization.

The source of this data is KanView, the Kansas transparency portal, through its download center. Data from multiple years are combined into one database. Data starts with fiscal year 2011.

This visualization is experimental. I would appreciate feedback on views of this data that would be useful.

Click here to access the visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

Visualization: Kansas agency expenditures

Data regarding State of Kansas agency spending presented in an interactive visualization.

The source of this data is KanView, the Kansas transparency portal, through its download center. Data from multiple years are combined into one database. Data starts with fiscal year 2011.

Of this data, KanView advises: “Agency expenditure data is available by Agency Fund Type, Agency Primary Expenditure Accounts, and by Agency Program.” The various views of the visualization show this data arranged in these ways.

Regarding accounts, KanView offers this explanation:

State expenditures are classified at a primary, intermediate, and detail level account codes. These classifications facilitate the various levels of reporting detail required for budgetary, financial, management, or other reports.

Seven primary expenditure classifications are prescribed. Intermediate classifications are assigned within each primary classification. Within each intermediate classification is the detail classifications used to code accounting transactions.

The prescribed primary classifications are:

  • Salaries and Wages: Amounts paid to, or on behalf of, elected or appointed state officials and employees.

  • Contractual Services: Payments for communications, freight and express, printing and advertising, rentals, repairing and servicing, employee travel expense reimbursement, utilities, and professional or other services.

  • Commodities: Payments for consumable supplies, maintenance materials and parts, and other miscellaneous purchases.

  • Capital Outlay: Payments for machinery, equipment, land, vehicles, buildings and other major purchases.

  • Grants, Claims and Shared Revenue: Disbursements for grants, claims, shared revenue and other related disbursements where the disbursing agency does not receive a direct service or tangible asset.

  • Debt Service: Payments of principal, interest and service charges on borrowed money.

  • Non-Expense Items: Disbursements for refunds, advances, investments and other disbursements not properly classified as governmental expenditures.

  • Expense Transfers: Agency use of transfer account codes is generally only on interfund transactions between state agencies. Transfers move cash from one fund to another fund within the State Treasury.

Regarding functions:

The function view identifies expenditures for high-level activities and programs of the State, upon selecting a high-level function, specific programs within this function can then be displayed for a particular state agency.

Major State Functions include: General Administration, Human Resources, Education, Public Safety, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Highways and Other Transportation, Health and Environment, Economic Development, Lottery, and Universities.

For funds, KanView explains:

A “fund” is the fundamental unit of accounting designed to demonstrate legal compliance and to aid financial management by segregating transactions related to certain governmental functions or activities. Fund View initially displays the major fund types denoting the high-level purpose of the underlying funds as classified in the statewide accounting and reporting system. Upon selecting a major fund type, specific funds can then be displayed for a particular state agency. Each agency fund is further segregated by individual accounts (for budgetary or other legal requirements) which provides an additional level of classification.

Valid major fund types and descriptions are:

  • State General Fund: The primary operating fund of the State. It accounts for all financial resources of the State except those required to be accounted for in another fund. The state general fund is primarily supported by tax revenue.

  • Special Revenue Funds: Funds established for specific purposes normally specified by state statutes, or in the case of federal grants, for purposes specified by the federal government. These funds are primarily supported by user fees or grants.

  • Capital Projects Funds: Funds established to account for the acquisition and construction of major capital facilities other than those financed by proprietary funds and trust funds.

  • Debt Service Funds: Funds established to account for the accumulation of resources and the payment of long term debt principal and interest.

  • Enterprise Funds: Funds established to account for activities that are generally of a business nature where goods or services a sold to the general public or similar customer groups.

  • Internal Service Funds: Funds established to account for goods and services provided to other state agencies or internal departments on a cost-reimbursement basis.

  • Trust and Agency Funds: Trust funds contain monies received, held, and disbursed by the State acting as a trustee, agent, or custodian. Agency funds contain monies collected by the State as an agent and disbursed to other governments, businesses or individuals.

  • Component Units Funds: Funds of component unit(s). A component unit is a legally separate organization for which the primary government is financially accountable.

This visualization is experimental. I would appreciate feedback on views of this data that would be useful.

Click here to access the visualization.

For more visualizations, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

Visualization: Kansas vendor transactions

Data regarding State of Kansas payments to vendors.

The source of this data is KanView, the Kansas transparency portal, through its download center. Data from multiple years are combined into one database. Data starts with July 1, 2010.

KanView says this data shows “payments made to vendors from all state agencies and include the following key data elements: fiscal year, agency (Business Unit), account description, funding, vendor name, document number, payment date and amount.”

This visualization is experimental. I would appreciate feedback on view of this data that would be useful. The visualization may be slow to respond, as it holds 7.3 million rows of data.

Click here to access the visualization.

For more visualizations, click here.

Efficiencies in Sedgwick County government

A document that hasn’t been made public details savings achieved in Sedgwick County over a recent period of nearly three years.

A document prepared within the Sedgwick County Division of Finance details savings of $6,308,097 over a period of almost three years, starting in November 2015. That is the month when Michael Scholes joined Sedgwick County as County Manger. His last day as manager was November 30, 2018, after being dismissed by the county commission. This document is dated August 29, 2018.

An example of a savings is: “Eliminated 6.0 FTEs and associated funding due to the outsourcing of EMS Billing ($304,027).”

The document contains a summary:

  • Priority 1 – Safe & Secure Communities had a total savings listed of $3,959,137, where the categories of efficiencies included technology changes, process improvements, consolidation, training, grants to offset costs, and staffing changes.
  • Priority 2 – Human Services & Cultural Experiences had a total savings listed of $1,931,447, where the categories of efficiencies included technology changes, process improvements, staffing changes, consolidation, training, and collaboration with other entities.
  • Priority 3 – Communications & Engagement had efficiencies in transparency and elections process with the purchase of new voting equipment.
  • Priority 4 – Effective Government Organization had a total savings listed of $417,513, where the categories of efficiencies included technology changes, process improvements, and staffing changes.

To the best of my knowledge, this document has not been shared with the public, and is not found on the county’s website. I make it available here.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Economic development incentives

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at some economic development incentive programs in Wichita and Kansas. Second in a series. Tax increment financing (TIF) is prominent in this episode. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 219, broadcast November 25, 2018.

Shownotes

WichitaLiberty.TV: Economic development incentives

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at some economic development incentive programs in Wichita and Kansas. First in a series. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 218, broadcast November 18, 2018.

Shownotes

Kansas school salaries

An interactive visualization of Kansas school salaries by district and category.

This visualization holds salaries of Kansas school superintendents, principals, and teachers. The visualization shows the average for each of these categories for each school district. The values are adjusted for inflation to the most current year values. Some data is presented on a per-pupil basis using full-time equivalent student counts.

The visualization includes both tables and charts. The source of the data is Kansas State Department of Education for salaries and enrollments, United States Bureau of Labor Statistics for price levels, and author’s calculations.

Click here to access the visualization.

Kansas school salaries. Click for larger.
Kansas school salaries on a per-student basis. Click for larger.
Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

Visualization: Kansas school salaries

An interactive visualization of Kansas school salaries by district and category.

This visualization holds salaries of Kansas school superintendents, principals, and teachers. The visualization shows the average for each employee category for each school district. The visualization includes both tables and charts. Some data is presented on a per-pupil basis using full-time equivalent student counts.

The values are adjusted for inflation to the most current year values.

KSDE says this data includes contracted salaries, including fringe benefits. More information from KSDE is available for superintendents, principals, and teachers.

Salary data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Inflation-adjusted data calculated using Consumer Price Index, all items, 1982-84=100 (series CUUR0000SA0) from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Click here to use the visualization.

For more visualizations, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

Kansans voted for growth, not stagnation

Kansans voted for growth, not stagnation

By Michael Austin
Director, Sandlian Center for Entrepreneurial Government

With a new Kansas Governor-elect and State Legislature, Kansans voted to make a change. Despite many elections however, the Kansas economy has been slowing for the past 40 years. While the new administration cites government as the solution to this problem, history shows that government is primarily the cause. Kansans need of a new way of thinking. They won’t get that from a Democrat or Republican as governor.

Kansas has had a storied life in celebrating freedom and improving its quality of life. Through our abolitionist beginnings to creative developments in industry, Kansas led in economic freedom with Wichita at its center. Legendary Wichitan entrepreneur Colby Sandlian got started in the 1950s, noticing permits for single-family homes averaging 150 a week. At the time, local government zoning staff had fewer than 10 employees. Today, Wichita averages around 45 permits a week with a local government zoning staff of near 50 individuals. While other factors have been at play in Wichita, economic vitality and government bureaucracy seem to have an opposing relationship.

Kansas families are nearly $12,000 poorer than the national average with 172,000 fewer available jobs. Like Wichita, with this sluggish growth, Kansas has more government jobs than the national average. Government is essential to a civilized society, but it can only act through taxes taken from Kansans. The bigger the government, the bigger the burden on families and commerce.

Kansans can’t keep up with inflation because government growth limits employers’ ability to attract qualified employees. Kansas government growth also creates and supports monopolies; forcing low-income consumers to pay higher prices for goods and services. Worst of all, Kansas government growth forces around 10,000 Kansans a year to abandon the state. Other states and countries that provide similar governmental services with fewer taxes entice Kansans to leave. This is likely to get worse under an ObamaCare expansion and record government spending growth, financed with high taxes.

We can give Kansans tools to demand their government return more choices and change course. For this reason, the Kansas Policy Institute created the Sandlian Center for Entrepreneurial Government. It captures the observation above and the entrepreneurial spirit needed to make Kansas a better place to live and work.

Reversing economic immobility, we will show where Kansas is headed if government taxes and spends. We’ll advise how government can better listen to Kansans, helping them keep more of what they earn while enacting the best policy to grow private wages and jobs. We’ll provide pathways to sensible regulations, ensuring public safety and encouraging new innovative businesses to keep prices low for Kansans. Most importantly, we’ll teach public organizations to provide better services at a better price to reverse the trend of out-migration seen in Kansas and Wichita.

For Kansans to live closer to the American dream, they need a responsive government that allows more opportunities and ensures their tax dollars are spent wisely. Politicians come and go, but the principles that can make this a reality never change.

Michael Austin, Sandlian Center for Entrepreneurial Government
Michael Austin is the Director of the Sandlian Center for Entrepreneurial Government at the Kansas Policy Institute. In this role he is responsible for educating public organizations and the public on taxes and budget, using economic research to turn government inefficiencies into effective policy solutions. Before joining the Sandlian Center, Michael served as an economist in various roles of Kansas state government. As an adviser to former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Michael’s work made him the first to discover the drop in commodity and energy prices that plagued Kansas and the region, later termed “The Rural Recession.” Most recently as Chief Economist in the Kansas Department of Revenue, his research and presentation on the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and its effects on Kansans jumpstarted discussions ensuring it will be a key concern in the upcoming Kansas legislative session.

Michael is a New York City transplant, living with his wife and two children in the Lawrence Area. Michael is a Washburn University School of Business Scholar earning his Bachelor of Business Administration and double majored in management and economics. Michael also graduated from the University of Kansas’s Department of Economics with a Master of Arts with honors. Email Michael at [email protected].

Kansas highway pavement conditions

What is the condition of Kansas highways?

Each year the Kansas Department of Transportation surveys the condition of highway pavement and issues a report called the Network Optimization System (NOS) Survey. 1

Of the condition of highways, the report notes: “Since the data was first collected in 1983, the percentage of pavement surface in good condition has appreciably increased while the percentage of poor pavement has significantly decreased.”

Kansas Highway Conditions, through 2017. Click for larger.
Here’s a chart of the conditions of Kansas roads and highways. 2 It shows that, for interstate highways, the percent of the system in good condition has been pretty level since 2001, although there is a slight decline recently that is within the range of normal year-to-year variation. For non-interstate highways, the percent in good condition fell starting in 2004, but has rebounded, with a small decline in the most recent year.

Based on these charts, there’s no factual basis to claim that Kansas roads and highways are deteriorating or crumbling.

KDOT notes that the condition report “…also shows that while the last few years have been challenging due to very tight budgets, KDOT and its partners continue to find means to maintain the pavement surface condition.” The most recent financial report from KDOT shows that spending on preservation has fallen significantly the past three years, while spending on maintenance has been level. 3


Notes

  1. Kansas Department of Transportation. Pavement Management Information System (PMIS). Available at https://www.ksdot.org/bureaus/matreslab/pmis/reports.asp.
  2. Kansas Department of Transportation. 2017 Kansas NOS Condition Survey Report. Available at https://www.ksdot.org/Assets/wwwksdotorg/bureaus/matResLab/pmis/2017/CSR2017_SW.pdf.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Kansas highway spending. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-highway-spending-2018/.

Kansas highway spending

A look at actual spending on Kansas highways, apart from transfers.

KDOT spending, major road programs. Click for larger.
KDOT spending, total road programs. Click for larger.
KDOT transfers. Click for larger.
KDOT funding sources, partial. Click for larger.
When we look at actual spending on Kansas roads and highways, we see something different from what is commonly portrayed. Kansas Department of Transportation publishes a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report that details spending in four categories. These figures represent actual spending on roads and highways, independent of transfers to or from the highway fund.

For fiscal year 2018, which ended June 30, 2018, spending on two categories (Maintenance and Modernization) rose slightly from the year before, while spending on the categories Preservation and Expansion and Enhancement fell.

For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2018 totaled $528.234 million. That’s down 28 percent from $736.781 million the year before, and up from a low of $698.770 million in fiscal 2010.

Again, these are dollars actually spent on highway programs. A common characterization of the way Kansas government is funded is called “robbing the bank of KDOT.” To the extent that characterization is accurate, there is a separate line item titled “Distributions to other state funds” that holds these values. It appears in the nearby table. A chart shows sales tax distributions from the general fund to KDOT, and transfers from KDOT. The two values tack closely over history, and in 2018 were nearly identical values.

Many also criticize Kansas government for slashing highway spending, letting our roads crumble. While total spending on these four programs has been falling (after adjusting for inflation), the decline, until recent years, is minor compared to the hysterical claims of those with vested interests in more government, and especially highway, spending.

Kansas law specifies how much sales tax revenue is transferred to the highway fund. Here are recent rates of transfer and dates they became effective: 1

July 1, 2010: 11.427%
July 1, 2011: 11.26%
July 1, 2012: 11.233%
July 1, 2013: 17.073%
July 1, 2015: 16.226%
July 1, 2016 and thereafter: 16.154%

A nearby chart shows the dollar amounts transferred to the highway fund from sales tax revenue. In 2006 the transfer was $98.914 million, and by 2018 it had grown to $530.765 million.

KDOT spending, major road programs. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Kansas Statutes Annotated 79-3620.

State government employees in Kansas

Kansas has more state government employees per resident than most states, and the trend is rising.

Each year the United States Census Bureau surveys federal, state, and local government civilian employees. 1 The amount of payroll for a single month (March) is also recorded. In this case, I’ve made the data for state government employees available in an interactive visualization.

For 2016, Kansas had 17.90 full-time equivalent state government employees per thousand residents. This ranked 15th among the states. These employees resulted in payroll cost of $979 per resident, which is 21st among the states.

Nearby is an example from the visualization showing state government employment count (full-time equivalent) per thousand residents for Kansas and some nearby states. It shows total employment, and in addition, education employment and hospital employment. (Since nearly all employees in Kansas elementary and secondary schools are employees of local government, not the state, the employees shown are working in higher education. See below for visualizations of local government employees.)

Two things are evident: The level of employment in Kansas is generally higher than the other states, and the trend in Kansas is rising when many states are level or declining. This data counters the story often told, which is that state government employment has been slashed.

If we look at data for state and local government employees, the conclusions are nearly the same.

Click here to learn more and access the visualization.

There are separate visualizations for local government employees only, and also for state and local government employees together. Click on state and local government employment of local government employment by state and function.

Example from the visualization, showing Kansas and other states. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. United States Census Bureau. Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll (ASPEP). Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/apes.html.

Visualization: State government employment by state and function

An interactive visualization of state government employment, grouped by state and function.

These are state government employees only. Local and federal government employees are not included.

Source of data is United States Census Bureau, Local Government Employment and Payroll Data: March 2016. The program’s page is Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll (ASPEP).

In the visualization, I’ve multiplied the March payroll number by 12 to produce an approximation of annual payroll. Using each state’s population for each year, I’ve also computed the annual payroll on a per-resident basis and the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees per thousand residents.

Click here to access the visualization.

For more visualizations, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

Wichita checkbook updated

Wichita spending data presented as a summary, and as a list.

As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. This visualization is updated with data through August 31, 2018.

To learn more about this data and use the visualization, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

Visualization: Wichita check register

Wichita spending data presented as a summary, and as a list.

As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization. To access a simple list in csv format, click here.

For more visualizations, click here.

Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor named “Go Wichita,” which changed its name to “Visit Wichita.”

Similarly, there are payments made to both “Westar Energy” and “Westar Energy — EDI.” These are the same entities, just as “Visit Wichita” and “Go Wichita” are the same entity. To the city’s credit, the matching pairs have the same vendor number, which is good. But resolving this requires a different level of analysis.

Also, the purpose of payments may not be evident from the payee’s name. For example, “State Street” is the payee that has received the most money over the time period covered by this data. It is a custodial bank for the city’s retirement systems. 1

Of note, there are many checks issued in amounts $20 or less. Bank of America has estimated that the total cost of sending a business check ranges from $4 to $20. 2

It is by now routine for governmental agencies to post spending data like this, but not at the City of Wichita. Upon inquiry, city officials told me that the present financial management system “does not include many modern system features such as an ‘open checkbook.’” An “open checkbook” refers to a modern web interface where citizens can query for specific data and perhaps perform other analysis. An example is Denver’s open checkbook.

We’ve been promised a modern system for many years.

While the next-generation Wichita financial system will probably have such a feature, there’s no reason why citizens can’t experience some of the benefits now. The spreadsheet of spending data could easily be posted on the city’s website on a monthly basis. People like myself will take that data and make it more useful. The city has demonstrated that it is able to post documents to its website, so there is no reason why this should not be happening.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Finance/PensionDocuments/2015%20Pension%20CAFR.pdf.
  2. Wall Street Journal. U.S. Companies Cling to Writing Paper Checks. Available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-companies-cling-to-writing-paper-checks-1394494772.

Local government employment in Kansas

Kansas has nearly the highest number of local government employees per resident, compared to other states.

Local government employment by state. Click for larger.
Local government employment in education. Click for larger.
For all local government employees, Kansas had 50.59 per thousand residents in 2016, higher than all states (and areas) but the District of Columbia and Wyoming. These employees had an annual payroll of $2,141.16 per resident. Ten states were higher.

Considering elementary and secondary education, Kansas had 30.03 such employees per thousand residents. This was higher than all states but Vermont and Wyoming. The payroll for these employees was $1,150.85 per resident, with eleven states above Kansas.

Kansas is a small state in terms of population. Might small states have higher needs for employees on a per-resident basis? A plot of employees vs. population shows nearly no relationship between the two.

These are local government employees only. State and federal government employees are not included.

Of note, Hawaii has no local employees in elementary and secondary education, as it has one school district which is run by the state. 1

The source of this data is the United States Census Bureau. I’ve gathered it and placed in in an interactive visualization. Click here to learn about the visualization and use it to make your own charts and tables.

State population vs. local government employment per resident. Click for larger.

— Notes

  1. Wikipedia. Hawai’i Department of Education. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawai%27i_Department_of_Education.

Visualization: Local government employment by state and function

An interactive visualization of local government employment, grouped by state and function.

These are local government employees only. State and federal government employees are not included.

Source of data is United States Census Bureau, Local Government Employment and Payroll Data: March 2016. The program’s page is Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll (ASPEP).

In the visualization, I’ve multiplied the March payroll number by 12 to produce an approximation of annual payroll. Using each state’s population for each year, I’ve also computed the annual payroll on a per-resident basis and the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees per thousand residents.

Click here to access the visualization.

For more visualizations, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.

Visualization: School spending in the states

School spending in the states, presented in an interactive visualization.

The Elementary/Secondary Information System (ElSi) is a project of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES is “the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.”1 Here is data from ElSi regarding per-pupil revenue and spending in the states.

Near the end of this article are definitions of each measure. There are measures for total expenditures and total current expenditures. The major difference is that the current expenditures measure does not include the cost of construction of schools and the expense of debt associated with that.

Of note, the values for “United States” are the average of the values for the states, computed with equal weight without regard for the total spending or number of students in each state.

As of the date of publication, data was available through the school year ending in 2015.

Since these data series cover substantial periods of time, I’ve also used the Consumer Price Index2 to adjust the figures for the effects of inflation. Each measure has a companion whose name starts with “i.” This is the value adjusted for inflation, based on the CPI. You may choose to view the values as reported by ElSi, which are in current dollars. These are the values not adjusted for inflation. Or, you may use the “i.” measures, which are in constant dollars.3

This data is presented in an interactive visualization created using Tableau Public. There are three views of this data, accessed by tabs along the top. To access the visualization, click here.

For more visualizations, click here.

School spending in Kansas and the United States. Click for larger.
School spending in Kansas and the United States. Click for larger.

Definitions of measures

Total Revenues (TR) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
Total revenues per student ate the total revenues from all sources (tr) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file.

Total Expenditures (TE11+E4D+E7A1) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
This is the Total Expenditures (Digest) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file. The Total Expenditures (Digest) is the subtotal of Direct State Support Expenditures for Private Schools (e4d).

Total Current Expenditures for Public El-Sec (TE5) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
This is the total current expenditures for public elementary and secondary education (te5) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file. The Expenditures for equipment, non-public education, school construction, debt financing and community services are excluded from this data item.

Local Revenues (STR1+R2) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
Local revenues per student are the total of all local revenue categories (strl and r2) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file. Local revenues are raised and allocated by local governments.

State Revenues (R3) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
State revenues per student are revenues received by the LEAs from the state (r3). divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file.

Federal Revenues (STR4) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
Federal revenues per student are federal revenues (str4) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file.


Notes

  1. National Center for Education Statistics. About us. nces.ed.gov/about/.
  2. United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index. www.bls.gov/cpi/.
  3. The U.S. Census Bureau explains: ” Constant-dollar values represent an effort to remove the effects of price changes from statistical series reported in dollar terms. The result is a series as it would presumably exist if prices were the same throughout as they were in the base year-in other words, as if the dollar had constant purchasing power.” Current versus Constant (or Real) Dollars. www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/income/guidance/current-vs-constant-dollars.html.

Wichita Eagle calls for a responsible plan for higher taxes

A Wichita Eagle editorial argues for higher property taxes to help the city grow.

In a recent op-ed, the Wichita Eagle editorial board writes: “It’s hard to make the argument that Wichitans are overtaxed by their city government. It’s time for the community to look at how it helps the city grow. A responsible plan that asks Wichita families to chip in the cost of a family meal should be part of the conversation.” 1

First, note that some factual elements of the editorial board’s argument are incorrect, as I show in Wichita Eagle argues for higher taxes.

The argument that a tax increase is only “the cost of a family meal” is weak. (From the editorial: “A 1-mill increase would cost a property owner $11.50 annually for every $100,000 of appraised value of a home.”) In other words, it’s just a little bit. Just one dollar each month. You won’t even notice it.

This is a standard argument made by those who want higher taxes and those who oppose tax cuts. The problem is just that: Everyone makes this argument, and when added together, the nickels and dimes add up to real money.

Besides, there are families in Wichita who have trouble paying for family meals.

Then, there’s the effect on business. An ongoing study reveals that generally, property taxes on commercial and industrial property in Wichita are high. Specifically, taxes on commercial property in Wichita are among the highest in the nation. Commercial property is taxed at 2.180 times the rate as residential property. (The U.S. average is 1.683.) Because Wichita’s ratio is high, it leads to high property taxes on commercial property. 2

Raising taxes on commercial enterprise shifts economic activity from the private sector to government. Citizens may want to ask where money is spent most beneficially.

The Eagle editorial board says higher property taxes could help the city grow. There’s no doubt the city needs help growing. But given the record of our local government leaders — both elected and bureaucratic — it’s difficult to see how giving them more money to spend will help.

WaterWalk, downtown Wichita, September 30, 2014. There has been little change since then, except for the loss of Gander Mountain.
As an example of government helping the city grow, consider the Waterwalk development in downtown Wichita. Despite some $41 million in taxpayer subsidy, the development languishes. On top of that, the city doesn’t enforce agreements that might benefit taxpayers. 3

The Wichita Eagle editorialized “Seven years into a project that was supposed to give Wichita a grand gathering place full of shops, restaurants and night spots as well as offices and condos, some City Council members and citizens remain skeptical at best about WaterWalk’s ability to deliver on its big promises. … True, the skepticism to date is richly deserved.” 4

Oh. That editorial was written in 2009, nine years ago. Since then, there has been some improvement, like the Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites Hotel and the fountain. But, Gander Mountain — the development’s retail anchor — closed.

The present Eagle editorial board calls for a “responsible plan.” But when we see the city spending on things like Waterwalk and then failing to uphold agreements designed to protect taxpayers — well, the city hasn’t been acting responsibly.

Contrast downtown’s Waterwalk with Waterfront, a development at 13th and Webb Road in east Wichita that started around the same time as Waterwalk. There, developers spent millions of their own money to build a beautiful parkway, sewers, traffic lights, and the like. 5

Merchants at Wichita’s Waterfront. Click for larger.
It is at Waterfront where we see large first-class office buildings and small executive offices. It is there we find desirable nationally-known restaurants like Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy, Bonefish Grill, PF Chang’s China Bistro, and Red Robin. We also see fine local restaurants like Chester’s Chophouse & Wine Bar. It is at Waterfront we find lodging like Homewood Suites by Hilton, retail stores like Ethan Allen, and the city’s only Whole Foods Market.

All this at Waterfront was done without help from the taxpayers, unlike downtown’s Waterwalk consuming our $41 million. Other popular developments like Bradley Fair and New Market Square were developed with little or no government help.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
Even the subsidized “development” that most people agree is a success is not all it’s cracked up to be. That is downtown Wichita, where there has been hundreds of millions in private and public investment over the past decade. The result is that over the same time, business activity in downtown Wichita has been on a downhill trend. The data for 2016 (the most recent year for data) is a bit of good news, with the decline stopping and business activity remaining mostly unchanged. It isn’t the vibrant growth we’ve been told is happening in downtown Wichita, but at least things are not getting worse. 6

So: Do we trust Wichita’s political and bureaucratic leaders to develop a “responsible plan?” Give this record, do we want to shift more resources from the private sector to the government sector?

Competing tax hikes

It’s surprising that the Eagle editorial board would recommend higher property taxes right now. That’s because it’s likely we’ll be asked to approve more taxation, probably soon. There is support among the city’s elite for a renovated or new performing arts and convention center, something that probably can’t be done without more tax revenue. Project Wichita is seen by many as an effort to persuade the region for higher taxes.

Also: In 2014 the steering committee for the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan delivered a report to the Wichita City Council. This report told the council that the “cost to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards” is an additional $45 to $55 million per year over current levels of spending. 7

I’m not aware of the city directing additional spending to cure this maintenance gap. As time passes, the gap becomes larger. Although: The city decided to spend an additional $10 million on street repair. But that was a one-time infusion made available when the city sold a capital asset.

This backlog of maintenance is a manifestation of the city not being responsible with assets Wichita taxpayers paid for. And if it is true that we need to spend an additional $45 to $55 million per year, where will the city get those funds? The Eagle urges a one mill property tax increase, which it says means the “city budget would gain $3.5 million to $4 million.” To fix our maintenance backlog would require a property tax increase of over ten mills, if that is how the city decides to raise the funds.


Notes

  1. Wichita Eagle editorial board. Wichita, it’s time to consider a tax increase. It’s past time, actually. August 17, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article216790960.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita business property taxes still high. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-business-property-taxes-still-high/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-contract-not-followed/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Wichita’s Waterwalk failure breeds skepticism. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichitas-waterwalk-failure-breeds-skepticism/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Many Wichita developers pay for infrastructure. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/many-wichita-developers-pay-for-infrastructure/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends-2016/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Wichita sales tax does little to close maintenance gap. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-sales-tax-little-close-maintenance-gap/.

Hugh Nicks: Misinformed, or lying?

Analysis of criticism by Hugh Nicks, a candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, demonstrates that the candidate is either misinformed or lying.

On his Facebook page, Sedgwick County Commission candidate Hugh Nicks accuses Richard Ranzau of “Voting against our community’s children and babies.” As evidence, Nicks supplies a link to an article in the Wichita Eagle. 1

What’s notable about this claim is this paragraph from the article Nicks uses as evidence:

In 2015, Ranzau and other commissioners voted to cut the federal Women, Infants and Children program grant by $320,000 to $1.9 million. He said at the time that WIC could be more efficient because it was serving fewer clients. The county health department used only $1.83 million of the $2.15 million it was awarded the year before. 2

Note that the amount Ranzau (and others) voted to spend on WIC was slightly more than what was spent the year before, at a time when WIC demand was declining, as there were fewer clients. At the time, KMUW Radio reported: “Citing a recent decline in WIC participants that coincides with an increase in employees with the program, the commission’s majority voted to accept only a portion of the grant, saying the full amount wasn’t needed.” 3

So no needy women or children went without the ability to use this program. The commission voted to reduce spending on administrative costs. The commission does not have the authority to set qualifications for participating in the program, nor does the commission set the level of benefits, that is, the amount of money and services participants receive. The county merely administers the program according to federal and state guidelines.

What does Hugh Nicks think of this? In the Eagle article he uses in his Facebook post, the reporter wrote this about Nicks:

He also called the WIC program “one of the saddest things I’ve seen recently.”

“When it comes to infants and children, I’m not too worried about politics, but I am concerned about children’s health and safety,” Nicks said. “The commission has a duty to protect the most vulnerable among us, particularly when they have nowhere else to turn.”

Since no women and children lost their benefits or had them cut, it’s difficult to see why Nicks is sad.

Is he concerned that the county trimmed administrative costs? Consider some of the values listed in Nicks’ campaign literature: “Ask tough questions” and “Be conservative with finances.”

That is what the commission did, under Richard Ranzau’s chairmanship. Trimming administrative costs — no matter who is paying them — is financially conservative.

Those savings came from “asking tough questions,” a value Nicks upholds. Yet for doing that, Nicks blasts the commission, including Ranzau, as “sad” and “political.”

Voters ought to ask: Is Hugh Nicks merely uninformed, or is he lying? It might be tempting to dismiss these remarks as having been made by an uninformed candidate. But Nicks says he has been running since October 2017 so that he can learn about the issues. 4

If we eliminate “uninformed,” we’re left with “lying.”

Nearby, see Richard Ranzau speak on this issue. (Hugh Nicks and his campaign surrogates were also invited, but would not appear.) Or, click here to view at YouTube.

Following, some excerpts from the commission meeting where this matter was discussed: 5

Ms. Adrienne Byrne-Lutz, Director of the Health Department: “The Health Department has provided WIC services for well over 40 years, and the program is funded entirely through the United States Department of Agriculture that passes through KDHE.”

Later:

Chairman Ranzau said, “Our assigned caseload is going down 9.88 percent, expenditures going up 5.51 percent, and we’re actually combining two, last year there were two separate, the WIC and then the breastfeeding.”

Ms. Adrienne Byrne-Lutz said, “That’s correct.”

Later:

Chairman Ranzau said, “Historically, the past, we tend to spend less than what we’re actually given. Like the last two years, we spent about $320,000 less than what we were given to begin with?”

Ms. Adrienne Byrne-Lutz said, “Well, we don’t get a lump sum from WIC. We just get what we spend.”

Chairman Ranzau said, “But we spent $320,000 less than what we were authorized to spend?”

Ms. Adrienne Byrne-Lutz said, “Yes.”


Notes

  1. Nicks For County Commission Facebook page, July 20, 2018. Available at https://www.facebook.com/NicksForCountyCommission/photos/a.1633354576739927.1073741832.1591968844211834/2011959645546083/.
  2. Tidd, Jason. Ranzau, County Commission challengers spar over grant funding in health forum.” *Wichita Eagle, July 17, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article215075195.html.
  3. Sandefur, Sean. Sedgwick Co. Commissioners Approve Reduced WIC Grant. Available at http://www.kmuw.org/post/sedgwick-co-commissioners-approve-reduced-wic-grant.
  4. “You may wonder why I’m announcing so early, since the Republican Primary for the County Commission seat isn’t until August 2018. The reason is simple. I like to do my homework. I want to learn about the way Sedgwick County governs, and the rationale behind the decisions that have been made. I want to learn about the issues that are most important to the people in the 4th District. I think serving as County Commissioner is too important to take an on-the-job-training approach, and I don’t want to be on a learning curve at the taxpayers’ expense.” Nicks4commissioner.com. News. October 19, 2017. Available at http://www.nicks4commissioner.com/news.html. .
  5. Sedgwick County Commission. Meeting Minutes, October 7, 2015. Available at https://sedgwickcounty.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=436793&GUID=B8AC30D4-8245-4631-A804-0690C15BC9CC.