Tag Archives: Government spending

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 2017, when ended June 30, 2017, spending on three categories (Maintenance, Preservation, and Modernization) was nearly unchanged from the year before, while spending on the category Expansion and Enhancement fell by 31 percent.

For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2017 totaled $738.798 million. That’s down 14 percent from $857.133 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.

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 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 2016 it had grown to $514.519 million.

KDOT spending, major road programs. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Kansas Statutes Annotated 79-3620.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Century II, Again

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks continue discussing Century II, Wichita’s convention and performing arts center. But first, some unfortunate economic news for Wichita. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 166, broadcast September 24, 2017.

Shownotes

Century II: The consultant’s disclaimer

The report produced for the City of Wichita on Century II has a disclaimer that absolves pretty much everyone from any accountability.

The document is titled “Funding and Delivery Options Analysis for the Century II Facility Expansion: Delivery and Funding Strategy.” It was produced by Arup Advisory Inc. at a cost to the city of $294,000. The entire document is available at https://goo.gl/hq9iqR.

Following is the disclaimer at the front of the report. It is typical of what is found in reports produced by economic development consultants. It establishes several large loopholes for Arup, the City of Wichita, and boosters of public spending on downtown like Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce.

Disclaimer

Current accepted professional practices and procedures were used in the development of this report. However, as with any forecast, there may be differences between forecasted and actual results. The report contains reasonable assumptions, estimates, and projections that may not be indicative of actual or future values or events and are therefore subject to substantial uncertainty. Future developments cannot be predicted with certainty, and this may affect the estimates or projections expressed in this report, consequently Arup specifically does not guarantee or warrant any estimate or projections contained in this report.

This document is intended only for the information of the City. It is not intended for and should not be relied upon by any third party, and no responsibility is undertaken to any third party.

Our findings are based on limited technical, financial, and commercial data concerning the project and its potential delivery options. Arup has relied upon the reasonable assurances of independent parties and is not aware of any facts that would make such information misleading.

We must emphasize that the realization of any prospective financial information set out within our report is dependent on the continuing validity of the assumptions on which it is based. We accept no responsibility for the realization of the prospective financial information. Actual results are likely to be different from those shown in the prospective financial information because events and circumstances frequently do not occur as expected, and the differences may be material.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Century II, Its Future

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Community influencer John Todd joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to discuss Century II, Wichita’s convention and performing arts center. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 165, broadcast September 17, 2017.

Shownotes

In Wichita, not your tax dollars

At a Wichita City Council meeting, citizens are told, “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars.”

At the meeting of the Wichita City Council this week, Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) lectured the audience, saying: “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars.”

The matter under consideration was a redevelopment plan for Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. Approval was necessary if tax increment financing (TIF) funds could be spent on the park. 1 TIF is a mechanism whereby future tax revenues are redirected towards a specific purpose, usually to the benefit of a private property owner. 2

The “plan” under consideration was solely the financing plan. No actual design for a future Naftzger Park was considered or selected.

At the council meeting — and at many other meetings and online discussions — people have noted that the city is planning to spend money on the redesign of Naftzger Park while at the same time there are, according to them, unmet needs throughout the city: Closing swimming pools, assistance for homeless, inadequate staffing of the police department, etc. Why, they ask, can’t the Naftzger Park money be used to solve these problems?

The admonishment of Williams — “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars” — was directed at this criticism. She is correct: The mechanism of TIF allows for these dollars to be spent on just one thing, and that is the redesign of Naftzger Park. 3

So in one way, they aren’t our tax dollars. They are being spent in the way that TGC Development Group, the owner of adjacent property, wants them spent. 4

But this upends the rationale and justification for taxation.

In Wichita, as in most cities, the largest consumers of property tax dollars are the city, county, and school district. All justify their tax collections by citing the services they provide: Law enforcement, fire protection, education, etc. It is for providing these services that we pay local taxes.

Within a TIF district, however, the new property tax dollars — the increment — do not go to the city, county, and school district to pay for services. Instead, these dollars are used in ways that benefit private parties.

Yet, the new development will undoubtedly demand and consume the services local government provides — law enforcement, fire protection, and education. But its incremental property taxes do not pay for these, as they have been diverted elsewhere. (The base property taxes still go to pay for these services, but the base is usually low.) Instead, others must pay the cost of providing services to the TIF development, or accept reduced levels of service as existing service providers are saddled with increasing demand.

Supporters of TIF argue that TIF developers aren’t getting a free ride. The city isn’t giving them cash, they say. The owners of the TIF development will be paying their full share of higher property taxes in the future. All this is true. But, these future tax dollars are spent for their benefit, not to pay for the cost of government.

In the case of Naftzger Park, the situation is murkier. Usually TIF funds are spent on things that directly benefit the private development, things like property acquisition, site preparation, utilities, and drainage. In this case, the TIF funds are being spent to redesign a public park — and a park that many people like.

But it’s clear that the present state of Naftzger Park is a problem for TGC. A newly redesigned park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for TGC’s projects, and will greatly benefit that company. Now that the park redesign will be financed with TIF, this new park comes at no cost to TGC.

Contrary to Council Member Williams and the others who voted in favor of the TIF redevelopment plan: These are our tax dollars. Redirecting them for private benefit has a cost. A real cost that others must pay. If we don’t recognize that, then we must reconsider the foundation of local tax policy.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park tax increment financing (TIF). Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-tax-increment-financing-tif/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  3. The Center City South TIF district is an unusual case in that only 70 percent of the incremental taxes are redirected.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park contract: Who is in control? Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-wichita-contract-who-controls/.

Redesigned Naftzger Park likely not only subsidy

The developers of property near Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita will possibly receive millions in other subsidy.

The powerful impetus to redevelop Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is attributed to two sources: The NCAA basketball games in March and the desire of TGC Development Group to develop property it owns near the park.

How much motivation comes from which source depends on who you ask. But it’s clear that the present state of the park is a problem for TGC. A newly redesigned park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for TGC’s projects, and will greatly benefit that company. If the park redesign is paid for with tax increment financing, or TIF, this new park comes at no cost to TGC.

But this is likely not the only benefit TGC will receive from taxpayers. The building TGC owns near Naftzger Park is commonly known as the “Spaghetti Works” building. Before that it was known as the Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company. Under that name, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 1 Then, in 2016 conditional approval was given for federal historic preservation tax credits. 2

These federal tax credits are worth 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitating historic structures. 3 These credits may be used dollar-for-dollar when paying federal income taxes, or they may be sold for cash, usually at a discount, and someone else uses them — instead of cash — to pay taxes they owe.

Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company faded sign. Click for larger.
So when TGC spends, say, $1,000,000 on the building, it will receive — conceptually — a slip of paper valued at $200,000. It may use this instead of cash to pay its taxes, or it may sell it to someone else.

That’s not all. Although there is no application at this time, it’s likely that TGC will also apply for Kansas tax credits. These are like the federal credits, except they are for 25 percent of the rehabilitation costs. 4

Together these tax credits can pay up to 45 percent of the costs of rehabbing this building.

These tax credits have a real cost. As long as state or federal government does not reduce spending by the amount of these credits, and specifically because of these credits, other taxpayers have to pay.

Additionally, these tax credits are inefficient. When Kansas Legislative Post Audit looked at Kansas tax credits, it found that when sold, the state receives 85 cents of project value for each dollar foregone. 5

There are many reasons why historic preservation tax credits should be eliminated. 6 7 But for now, it’s important to know that a redesigned Naftzger Park is not the only economic subsidy the nearby private property owners are likely to receive.


Notes

  1. National Park Service, National Register Digital Assets. Available at https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/83000440.
  2. Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company search at National Park Service, Technical Preservation Services. Captured August 14, 2017. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MN292dHVZZ2NLcWs/.
  3. National Park Service, Technical Preservation Services. Tax Incentives for Preserving Historic Properties. Available at https://www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives.htm.
  4. Kansas Historical Society. State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. available at http://www.kshs.org/p/state-historic-rehabilitation-tax-credit/14666.
  5. “The Historic Preservation Tax Credit isn’t cost-effective. That credit works differently than the other three because the amount of money a historic preservation project receives from the credit is dependent upon the amount of money it’s sold for. Our review showed that, on average, when Historic Preservation Credits were transferred to generate money for a project, they only generated 85 cents for the project for every dollar of potential tax revenue the State gave up.” Kansas Legislative Post Audit. Kansas Tax Revenues, Part I: Reviewing Tax Credits. Available at http://www.kslpa.org/assets/files/reports/10pa03-1a.pdf.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas historic preservation tax credits should be eliminated. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-historic-preservation-tax-credits-should-be-eliminated/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Kansas historic preservation tax credits should not be expanded. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-historic-preservation-tax-credits-should-not-be-expanded/.

Naftzger Park land ownership

One of the issues surrounding Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is land ownership.

Naftzger Park land ownership from Sedgwick County Online Map Portal. Click for larger.
Information from the Sedgwick County Online Map Portal shows land parcels and ownership. The nearby illustration shows Naftzger Park and its environs. (I don’t think it’s possible for me to save a link that brings you directly to the map as I’ve shown it.) On this map, the two parcels owned by private owners are outlined in orange. The City of Wichita or the Board of Park Commissioners own the other parcels north of William Street.

We can see that the park is built partially on land owned by private owners. City officials have said that a narrow strip of land on the east side of the park is involved. From this map we can see that the situation is more complex.

It would be interesting to learn how this mistake — if that’s what it is — occurred. At one time the city owned the entire block after it acquired land to reform what was skid row.

Naftzger Park public hearing

On Tuesday August 15 the Wichita City Council will hold a public hearing to consider authorizing spending TIF funds on Naftzger Park.

This week the Wichita City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a new redevelopment project plan for a tax increment financing (TIF) district in downtown Wichita. The redevelopment project plan contemplates transforming Naftzger Park. The hearing is part of the regular council meeting at 9:00 am Tuesday August 15 at city hall.

While the city has held four public meetings on the topic of Naftzger Park redesign, these meetings were not legally required. But the Tuesday public hearing is required, as city documents explain: “In order to establish the legal authority to use tax increment financing the City Council must adopt a redevelopment project plan for a project area, within the district, which provides more detailed information on the proposed project, how tax increment financing would be used and demonstrates how the projected increase in property tax revenue will amortize the costs financed with tax increment financing.” 1

As for providing “more detailed information on the proposed project,” the redevelopment project plan supplied by the city is quite generic. This week the project architect presented four plans at public meetings. But these drawings cannot be found online — not on the city’s website, its Facebook page, or the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation — except for unclear photographs.

The redevelopment project plan describes how to pay for the redesign of Naftzger Park: “Improvements on the adjacent site are anticipated to generate the revenue necessary to fund the improvements to Naftzger.” This is the mechanism of tax increment financing: Future property taxes are redirected from their normal course and funneled back to benefit the development. The city correctly notes that the TIF funds are being used to develop a public park, not a private development. But the private property owner obviously considers the present park a problem. A new park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for new development and will be of great benefit to the owner. And, many people are opposed to changing the park.

From the redevelopment project plan: “The City will provide public funding, including tax increment financing and general obligation bond financing to finance the project costs.” 2 That is, there is additional spending contemplated.

“Tax increment funds may also be used to pay for eligible improvements financed through general obligation bonds and to reimburse additional eligible project costs when additional tax increment revenues are available.” 3 Here, the redevelopment project plan hints at more property tax being redirected to the development.

“It is assumed that Project construction will begin in 2018 and be completed before the end of 2023, and therefore achieve full valuation by January 1, 2024. It is estimated that in 2024 the property tax increment will be $163,970.” 4 These projections are highly speculative. The city’s record in projecting future development in current TIF districts is spotty. See WaterWalk, Ken-Mar, etc.

“Park improvements are projected to costs approximately $3,000,000, with $1,500,000 of such costs to be financed from proceeds of the City’s full faith and credit tax increment bonds (the “Bonds”).” 5 Here the redevelopment project plan reminds readers that if future property taxes are insufficient to pay the bonds, the city itself is liable. The city exacts an agreement from TIF developers that if TIF revenue is insufficient that the developers will pay the difference, but the city’s record in enforcing these agreements is spotty. 6

“Incremental tax revenue available after the payment of such Bonds may be used to pay for additional TIF-eligible Project costs related to Park improvements on a pay-as-you-go basis or reimburse the debt service on City general obligation bonds issued to finance a portion of the cost of the Park improvements, if any.” 4 Again, the redevelopment project plan hints that future park spending may be paid for with TIF.

The table titled “Projected Tax Increment Report” is subtitled with the name of a different project. This is probably an error without much consequence, as someone in the city probably reused a spreadsheet from a similar project and forgot to revise the title. The same error appears in a second table of figures titled “Projected Bond Cash Flow Report.” Except: The city made this same error in previous versions of this document, as I reported earlier. 8 We’re left to wonder whether anyone — at city hall, the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, or the private developers who will benefit from this spending — care to correct errors like this.

The first table projects the assessed value — and by implication, also the appraised or market value — of property through the year 2036. These projections are highly speculative.

Excerpt from city documents. Click for larger.

In a section titled “Description of Naftzger Park Project” we see an item titled “TIF Pay-as-you-go Costs” with the amount given as $1,500,000. This spending was mentioned in earlier city documents, but hasn’t received much public discussion. The $1.5 million figure that is in the news is from “regular” TIF financing. In that case, the city borrows money, and the debt is repaid from future property taxes. With the pay-as-you-go TIF, the city simply spends future property taxes in the project. 9 The difference is that in regular TIF, the city is liable for the debt if future incremental taxes are insufficient to cover bond payments. In pay-as-you-go TIF, there is no debt, only redirection of property taxes from their normal distribution.

For more about Naftzger Park, see these articles and other information from Voice for Liberty:


Notes

  1. Wichita City Council Agenda Packet for August 15, 2017. Item IV-2. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/08-15-2017%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  2. City of Wichita. Comprehensive Financing Feasibility Study for the Naftzger Park Project within the Center City South Redevelopment District City of Wichita, Kansas. Available in the August 15 agenda packet.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. See, for example, Weeks, Bob. Ken-Mar TIF district, the bailouts. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/ken-mar-tif-district-the-bailouts/. Also
  7. Ibid.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park public hearing to be considered. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-public-hearing-to-be-considered/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Naftzger Park

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita Assistant City Manager and Director of Development Scot Rigby joins hosts Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss the plans for Naftzger Park. Then, Bob and Karl continue the discussion. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 161, broadcast August 13, 2017.

Shownotes

Naftzger Park construction manager

The City of Wichita seeks a construction manager for the construction of Naftzger Park.

The request for qualification is titled “CONSTRUCTION MANAGER AT RISK to Construct Naftzger Park.” On the city’s purchasing website the relevant information is contained in five separate documents. I’ve gathered them together in one document, which you may access here.

The city may be getting ahead of itself. The RFQ sets the deadline for submissions as 2:00 pm Tuesday August 15. That morning is when the Wichita City Council will consider approval of the redevelopment project plan. 1 Until that plan is approved by a two-thirds majority of the council, there exists no authorization to spend funds from a tax increment financing district. 2

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
Referring to the planning process for downtown Wichita in 2008 and 2009, the document says, “Since that time downtown Wichita has experienced record growth.” This statement isn’t true. Since that time there are fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In all cases, the trend is lower. 3 There is growth in people living downtown.

Something new appears in this paragraph: “Design and construction are planned to be implemented in phasing to accommodate budget, with the first phase budget of $1,500,000 for design, project administration and construction. The first phase budget will provide for an open and usable park that accommodates as many programming features as budget allows. In addition to the $1,500,000 for phase one, there will also be approximately $500,000 worth of cross site work, demolition, and infrastructure to be completed on the adjacent property.”

The document doesn’t specify the source of the $500,000, and this is the first mention of that sum, as far as I know. But the fact that management of it is included in this RFQ is more evidence that the redesign of Naftzger Park is really a project being done for the benefit of the nearby private landowner.

Later, more evidence of the park’s importance to, and benefit of, one company: “Because of the adjacent location and utilization of the park as it relates to the Spaghetti Works Development, it is necessary that TGC’s team play an integrated role; so that the flow and function developed in the park work seamlessly together with the TGC project.”

Just to emphasize, the proposals are not sent to city hall but to the private company that will benefit from the park redesign: “Sealed Request for Proposal will be received in the office of the TGC Development Group, 125 N Emporia, Suite 202, Wichita, KS 67202, Attn: Blake Heiman.”

A possible plan for Naftzger Park from the City of Wichita
And who will make the decision? An addendum to the RPQ holds: “A Selection Committee consisting of staff from various City department and TGC will evaluate submissions.”

The city has provided an illustration of what a potential redesign might look like. There has been much criticism — including by city council members — especially for the covering of the park with artificial turf. But, the RFQ states: “A summary of programmatic elements will include a flexible use lawn area (with potential of artificial turf).”

For more about Naftzger Park, see these articles and other information from Voice for Liberty:


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Upcoming Naftzger Park legislative action. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/upcoming-naftzger-park-legislative-action/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Background on tax increment financing (TIF) as applied to Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-tax-increment-financing-tif/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.

Naftzger Park tax increment financing (TIF)

Background on tax increment financing (TIF) as applied to Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita.

The City of Wichita has proposed using tax increment financing (TIF) revenue to redevelop Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. Various city officials have said something along these lines: There is a pot of money — 1.5 million dollars — available for use on Naftzger Park, and this money can’t be used for any other purpose. Also, it’s implied that if this money is not used on Naftzger Park, this money will not be available for any purpose, almost as though the money will be wasted.

The source of the money is tax increment financing (TIF). This is a method of public finance whereby future property tax revenues are redirected from their normal flow to something else. The amount of taxes that are paid at the time of the formation of the TIF district is called the base, which is a function of the district’s original assessed value. The plan is that as new property is built or existing property renovated in the TIF district, there is more assessed value, and more taxes are levied and collected. The amount of taxes paid each year above the base is called the increment. It is these incremental taxes that are captured and rerouted. Because TIF is usually applied to blighted areas and the property is not highly valued, the base is usually low. In successful TIF projects, the increment can be very large. 1

To where are the incremental taxes redirected? Generally, to the benefit of property owners in the TIF district. 2 While there are restrictions on how TIF dollars may be spent, I don’t think any developers within TIF districts have not been able to take full advantage of the TIF dollars that are available, although Naftgzer Park is a special case (see below).

Advocates of TIF make it sound as though it is free money. They often say that if the proposed project does not receive TIF financing, it can’t be built. This is the “but for” justification: But for the benefit of TIF, nothing will happen. Without TIF there will be no development, and no future incremental taxes will be collected.

There are several issues with this line of thinking. First, the but for rationale is subject to abuse. Developers who want to use TIF have a large monetary incentive to make it appear as though their projects are not financially viable without TIF. That’s the meaning of but for. To make their case for TIF, developers supply financial projections to cities, and the city usually accepts them at face value. These financial projections rely on many assumptions about the future, often 20 or more years in the future. For example, what will be the occupancy rate and average room rate for a proposed hotel in 15 years? Forecasting these values for next year is difficult enough. Yet, it is projections like these that form the basis of the necessity of TIF.

City officials do not have the expertise to evaluate these financial projections. If citizens want to see these projections, the City of Wichita will not supply them, in most cases.

Second: The pleas for TIF made by developers are sometimes plainly false. In Wichita, a developer wanted to build a grocery store using TIF and other incentives. He told the city he has “researched every possible way” to make the project work, and it would not work without TIF. 3 A representative of the developer told the city council, “There will not be a building on that corner if this [TIF] is not passed today. … That new building would not be built. I absolutely can tell you that because we have spent months … trying to figure out a way to finance a project in that area.”

The city’s chief economic development official told the council, “We know, for example, from the developer’s perspective in terms of how much they will make in lease payments from the Save-A-Lot operator, how much that is, and how much debt that will support, and how much funds the developer can raise personally for this project. That has, in fact, left a gap, and these numbers that you’ve seen today reflect what that gap is.” 4

While the city approved TIF, the county did not. So TIF was not available, and the developer abandoned the project. But: A different developer built the same grocery store and additional retail space at the same location without TIF. It is still in operation six years later.

Third: If it is true that we can’t have new development without TIF, there may be obstacles in place that should be removed so that development can take place without TIF.

Not free money

TIF has a cost. A real cost. If we don’t recognize that, then we must reconsider the foundation of local tax policy.

In Wichita, as in most cities, the largest consumers of property tax dollars are the city, county, and school district. All justify their tax collections by citing the services they provide: Law enforcement, fire protection, education, etc. It is for providing these services that we pay local taxes.

Within a TIF district, however, the new property tax dollars — the increment — do not go to the city, county, and school district to pay for services. Instead, these dollars are used in ways that benefit the development: Property acquisition, site preparation, utilities, drainage, street improvements, streetscape amenities, public outdoor spaces, landscaping, and parking facilities, according to the city’s explanation.

Yet, the new development will undoubtedly demand and consume the services local government provides — law enforcement, fire protection, and education. But its incremental property taxes do not pay for these, as they have been diverted elsewhere. (The base property taxes still go to pay for these services, but the base is usually low.) Instead, others must pay the cost of providing services to the TIF development, or accept reduced levels of service as existing service providers are saddled with new demand.

Supporters of TIF argue that developers aren’t getting a free ride. The city isn’t giving them cash, they say. The owners of the TIF development will be paying their full share of higher property taxes in the future. That’s true. But, these new tax dollars are spent for their benefit, not to pay for the cost of government.

We’re left with an uncomfortable situation. City officials tell us that we must pay property taxes so the city can provide services. (In fact, right now the Wichita city manager is recommending increasing property taxes to pay for more police officers.)

At the same time, however, the city creates special classes of people who use services but don’t pay for them.

Yes, the city and developers cite the but for argument, arguing that without the benefit of TIF, there won’t be new development and new demand for services. But we’ve seen that the but for rationale is dubious and subject to abuse.

Of note: At a recent public meeting regarding Naftzger Park, someone asked if some of the $1.5 million could be used for more police officers. The answer from city officials was “no.” That answer is correct. But in the normal case, part of this $1.5 million would be available to pay for more police.

Also: The redevelopment district in which incremental taxes will be redirected to Naftzger Park includes a number of properties that are already developed.

Allowed uses: It’s just infrastructure

In their justification of TIF, proponents may say that TIF dollars are spent only on allowable purposes. Usually a prominent portion of TIF dollars are spent on things that are related to infrastructure, as listed above. This allows TIF proponents to say the money isn’t really being spent for the benefit of a specific project. It’s spent on infrastructure, they say, which they contend is something that benefits everyone, not one project specifically. Therefore, everyone ought to pay.

But this isn’t the case. Often non-TIF developers pay for significant infrastructure at their own expense. An example is the Waterfront development in northeast Wichita. There is a street that winds through the development, Waterfront Parkway. To anyone driving or walking in this area, they would think this is just another city street — although a very nicely designed and landscaped street. But the city did not pay for this street. Private developers paid $1,672,000 for this infrastructure, and then deeded it to the city. The same developers paid for street lights, traffic signals, sewers, water pipes, and turning lanes on major city streets. In order to build the Waterfront development, private developers paid for infrastructure, with a total cost of these projects at one time being $3,334,500. It has likely risen since then. 5

In the case of Naftzger Park, it’s argued that the park benefits everyone. Therefore, it’s akin to infrastructure. In reality, the park is more like the front yard of a proposed hotel and a nearby building, being developed for their owner’s benefit. The developers of these are managing, along with the city, the plans for Naftzger Park. Incredibly, applications to be the park’s architect were sent not to the city, but to the private developers. 6

Further: Park improvements were not an allowed use of TIF funds when the Center City South TIF was formed in 2007. So the city amended the TIF district plan to allow for TIF funds to be used to redevelop Naftzger Park. 7

Redirect your taxes, not mine

The Wichita Downtown Development Corporation (WDDC) is funded, primarily, by property taxes. A district known as the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) levies a property tax in a district roughly defined as from Kellogg north to Central, and the Arkansas River east to Washington Street. In 2011 the mill levy was 5.950 and raised nearly $600,000 in revenue. 8 For 2016 the mill levy was 7.140. With an assessed value of $92,901,423, the SSMID tax ought to raise about $663,000. 9

All the property tax money raised by the SSMID is used to fund WDDC.

Now, WDDC — one of the leading advocates for the use of TIF in downtown Wichita — is quite happy to see incremental tax dollars redirected away from the city, county, and school district to benefit TIF developers. You might think that WDDC would also participate in this — purportedly — beneficial arrangement, consenting for its share of property tax to also be redirected for the benefit of developers.

Guess again. The SSMID — nearly the only source of funding for WDDC — is exempted from having its tax revenue capture by TIF and redirected to another purpose.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  2. The Center City South TIF district is an unusual case in that only 70 percent of the incremental taxes are redirected.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita Planeview neighborhood: Yes, we have! Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/in-wichita-planeview-neighborhood-yes-we-have/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. For Wichita, Save-A-Lot teaches a lesson. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/for-wichita-save-a-lot-teaches-a-lesson/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  6. City of Wichita. Request for Qualification No. – FP740043. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MQ1ZVcXVsNVQ2dkE/view?usp=sharing.
  7. Wichita city council agenda packet for May 16, 2016, agenda item IV-1.
  8. Wichita city ordinance 48-786. Available at http://wichitaks.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=820&meta_id=65004.
  9. Sedgwick County Clerk’s Office and author’s calculations.

Upcoming Naftzger Park legislative action

The redesign of Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is not a done deal, at least not legally.

While the City of Wichita is engaging citizens and planning for the future of Naftzger Park, there is still another legislative step the city must take in order to fully proceed. In Kansas, use of tax increment financing requires at least two steps. The first step is that cities or counties establish the boundaries of the TIF district. After the TIF district is defined, cities then must approve one or more project plans that authorize the spending of TIF funds in specific ways. (The project plan is also called a redevelopment plan.) In Kansas, overlapping counties and school districts have an opportunity to veto the formation of the TIF district, but this rarely happens. Once the district is formed, cities and counties have no ability to object to TIF project plans. 1

Center City South Redevelopment TIF District, July 2017. Click for larger.
In the case of Naftzger Park, the TIF district (named Center City South) was formed some years ago, and there have been redevelopment plans adopted that cover portions of this rather large TIF district. Now a new redevelopment project area is proposed that includes Naftzger Park and some surrounding property. In the nearby map from the city, the Center City South TIF district is shown. The redevelopment project area under consideration is labeled “11.”

In order to pass a redevelopment plan into statute, Kansas law requires a public hearing and passage of the redevelopment plan by a two-thirds majority of the governing body. For the Wichita city council, that means five votes are needed to adopt the project plan and start spending money. 2

Documents from the city explain: “The next step in establishing the legal authority to use TIF is the adoption by the City Council of a redevelopment project plan, within the district, which provides more detailed information on the proposed project and how TIF would be used, and demonstrates how the projected increase in property tax revenue will amortize the costs financed with TIF.” 3

Just for emphasis, from the same document: “Once adopted, the City will be authorized to use TIF to finance eligible project costs.”

(The terminology may be confusing. Some documents use the term “project plan” and sometimes “redevelopment plan.” TIF districts are also sometimes referred to as “redevelopment districts.”)

On July 11, 2017 the Wichita city council set August 15 as the date for the public hearing. Presumably a vote on adoption of the redevelopment plan will be at the same meeting, although votes like this have been delayed. And, there’s no guarantee there will be five votes in favor of adopting the plan.

Since the redevelopment plan has not been adopted, you may be wondering how the city is going to use TIF funds to pay the architects. That’s a good question. It is the city’s declared intent to use TIF funding for work that is currently being done: “The park design is anticipated to be provided by Tax Increment Financing and is identified in the proposed 2018 CIP.” 4

Another consideration: The city is proceeding at full speed — “an aggressive timetable” is the quote from the city manager — on the plan to redevelop Naftzger Park. 5 Public sentiment seems to be that it is a “done deal.” It’s going to happen, people are resigned to say.

To his credit, the city manager is also quoted in the same Eagle article showing his understanding that the process is not complete: “If the process doesn’t allow us to do it, it doesn’t allow us to do it,”

But other city officials act as though the design of Naftzger Park is inevitable, that the TIF money is there waiting to be spent, and those funds will be lost if not spent on the park.

With attitudes like this, I wonder why we should bother holding a public hearing.

Following is an excerpt from the July 11, 2017 city council agenda packet:

The next step in establishing the legal authority to use TIF is the adoption by the City Council of a redevelopment project plan, within the district, which provides more detailed information on the proposed project and how TIF would be used, and demonstrates how the projected increase in property tax revenue will amortize the costs financed with TIF. …

In accordance with state law, a TIF Project Plan has been prepared in consultation with the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, which has made a finding that the project is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan for development of the area. In order to adopt a TIF Project Plan, the City Council must first set a public hearing no less than 30 and no more than 70 days from adoption of the resolution setting the hearing. The date of August 15, 2017, at the regular City Council meeting is proposed for the public hearing on the Naftzger Park Project Plan.

If adopted by the City Council, the attached resolution setting the August 15, 2017 public hearing will be sent to the owners and occupants of all property located within the proposed Naftzger Park Project Area, by certified mail. The resolution will also be published in the Wichita Eagle and copies will be provided to the Board of County Commissioners and Board of Education and their appropriate staff.

After closing the public hearing on August 15, 2017, the City Council may adopt the TIF Project Plan by ordinance, by two-thirds majority vote. Once adopted, the City will be authorized to use TIF to finance eligible project costs.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  2. 7 city council members times 2 divided by 3 equals 4.67, which must be rounded up to 5.
  3. Wichita city council agenda packet for July 11, 2017, item IV-1.
  4. Wichita city council agenda packet for July 18, 2017, item IV-3.
  5. Finger, Stan. Contentious crowd gathers to discuss Naftzger Park’s future, redesign. Wichita Eagle, July 27, 2017. Available here: http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article164112397.html.

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

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/.

Happy Fiscal New Year, Kansas (not)

A Kansas public policy group celebrates tax increases. But it isn’t enough, and more reform is required.

Kansas Center for Economic Growth has promoted higher taxes in Kansas for many years, and this year it got its wish. Here are a few remarks based on its self-congratulatory article titled “Happy Fiscal New Year, Kansas.”

KCEG wrote: “Kansas is now better positioned to provide great schools”
Wait a moment. I thought Kansas already has great schools. That’s what the Kansas public school establishment tells us.

And I think that the author made a mistake here. Instead of writing about “public schools,” the author mentions — simply — “schools.” Usually the Kansas public school establishment is careful to qualify their plea for more school spending with “public.” To them, spending on private schools or charter schools is money wasted, money that should have gone to public schools. Fortunately, and amazingly, the tax credit scholarship program, a program limited to students currently in low-performing schools, was expanded slightly. 1

If KCEG really wanted to promote great schools in Kansas, it would embrace school programs such as charter schools.

KCEG: “vibrant communities”
Here, KCEG believes that taking more money from the private sector through taxation and letting government spend it is “vibrant.” But how does government work? In a democracy, a majority forces its will on the minority. Or, special interest groups intensely lobby for benefits at the expense of everyone else. Or, a form of the precautionary principle tamps down sparks of innovation in government bureaucracies, like public schools. Government is the opposite of “vibrant,” which the dictionary defines as “full of energy and enthusiasm.”

KCEG: “It also phases in the restoration of an important tax credit and three deductions that were eliminated in 2012 to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy.”
In 2012 everyone’s taxes were cut. Aside from that, we don’t pay for tax cuts. We pay for the cost of government.

When someone says we must pay for tax cuts, it presumes that tax cuts have a cost. The only way this makes sense is if we believe that the state has first claim on our incomes. The state takes what it says it needs, and we get to keep the rest. If the government is ever persuaded to reduce its claim on our incomes, that has a cost that must be paid in some way.

But for those who believe in self-ownership, this is nonsense. It’s the people who “give” tax money to the government, not the government who “gives” it back in the form of tax cuts. If the government cuts taxes, the government gives us nothing. It simply takes less of what is ours in the first place.

But the attitude of many government officials is the opposite. In 2006 Kansas cut taxes on business equipment and machinery. At the time, the Wichita Eagle reported: “Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who first proposed the business machinery tax cut, agreed. ‘We’re not giving away money for the sake of giving it away,’ she said. ‘I’m hoping that the economic growth will actually help fund the school plan that we just passed.'” (emphasis added)

(By the way, this sounds like Sebelius was planning for tax cuts to pay for themselves.)

KCEG: “This means looking beyond income tax reforms and rebalancing Kansas’ ‘three-legged stool’ by addressing problems with the state’s sales tax and property tax.”
The three-legged stool is one of the most inappropriate analogies ever coined. If the state of Kansas were to develop an additional source of tax revenue, say by slapping a tariff on Budweiser imported from Missouri or Coors imported from Colorado, we’d hear spending advocates like KCEG speaking of the virtue of a stable four-legged chair. Many states thrive without one of our three legs, the income tax. And if we’re looking for stability, as Hineman mentions, income taxes are quite volatile compared to the other legs. 2

KCEG: “To pay for the Governor’s irresponsible and steep income tax cuts”
Again, we don’t have to pay for tax cuts. But there was irresponsible behavior, that being to continue to spend and avoid serious attempts at spending reform.

KCEG: “In response to the ongoing budget crisis, the sales tax was increased in 2015 to offset lagging state revenue. This affected every Kansan in every county, but especially hurt low-income residents.”
Here, KCEG is correct. The state should not have raised the sales tax, and the state needs to work on lowering the sales tax rate on groceries. For more on this topic, see Wichita sales tax hike would hit low income families hardest and Kansas sales tax has disproportionate harmful effects.

(Actually, KCEG is not totally correct. The sentence should have ended with “… to continue to pay for wasteful state spending because the governor and legislature would not seriously consider spending reform.”)

KCEG: “And because of the gamble with income tax cuts”
There was no gamble with income tax cuts, the governor’s boastful claims notwithstanding. 3 The tax cuts did what tax cuts should do: Leave more money in the hands of the people it belongs to.

KCEG: “As a result, property taxes shot up as communities struggled to keep up with the demand for basic services.”
If taxation was shifted from the state level to local levels, that in itself is not bad. In fact, it keeps taxing and spending more closely controlled at the local level, without communities having to fight in Topeka for a share of the state budget pie.

KCEG: “If we want to fully recover from the past five years, tax reform must address sales and property tax problems in addition to income tax issues.”
KCEG doesn’t say what are the problems with sales and property taxes. But I think I know what they believe: These two forms of taxation are too low. They don’t raise enough money from the right people.


Notes

  1. “On and after July 1, 2018, the bill amends the definition of “public school” within the TCLISS Program Act to mean a school identified by KSBE as one of the lowest 100 performing schools with respect to student achievement. It also amends the definition of “qualified school” to require accreditation on and after July 1, 2020. Accreditation must be by KSBE or a KSBE-recognized national or regional accrediting agency. Additionally, the bill expands eligibility for the tax credit to individuals and places an annual cap of $500,000 on contributions.” Kansas Legislature. SB 19: Creating the Kansas school equity and enhancement act, summary. Available at http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/sb19/.
  2. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Gary C. Cornia & Ray D. Nelson. State Tax Revenue Growth and Volatility. 6 Regional Economic Development, 23-58 (2010). Available at https://files.stlouisfed.org/files/htdocs/publications/red/2010/01/Cornia.pdf.
  3. Weeks, Bob. The yardstick for the Kansas experiment. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/yardstick-kansas-experiment/.

Deconstructing Don Hineman

Another Kansas legislator explains why raising taxes was necessary. So he says.

Many members of the Kansas Legislature are writing pieces defending their decision to vote for higher taxes. Don Hineman is one. His explanation merits more than average attention, as he is the Majority Leader of the Kansas House of Representatives. This week the Topeka Capital-Journal published his op-ed Rep. Don Hineman: Why tax reform was necessary. It deserves comment.

Hineman wrote: “This return to common sense tax policy resulted from legislators listening to their constituents and fulfilling the promises they made during 2016 campaigns.”
There may have been some candidates who campaigned on a platform of higher taxes. But most used more subtle language, such as Hineman’s use of the phrase “common-sense tax policy.” Does anyone know what that means? Does it mean the same thing to everyone? Besides, raising taxes was just one issue for most candidates and campaigns. And, voters must vote for candidates, not specific policies. As Justice Antonin Scalia told us, “Campaign promises are, by long democratic tradition, the least binding form of human commitment.” An example comes from Hineman’s web page, which states one of his four core values is “Respect for private property rights.” He has respect for your property, unless that property happens to be your money. Then he wants more.

Hineman: “… restore our state to firmer fiscal ground.”
This could have been done with spending cuts, too.

Hineman: “… a group of 88 representatives and 27 senators from across the political spectrum voted to override the governor’s veto.”
Here, Hineman refers to the coalition of Republicans and Democrats that passed the tax bill notwithstanding the governor’s veto. Because members of both major parties voted the same way, it’s described as nonpartisan. It’s meant as a good thing. But most of the Republicans who voted for higher taxes qualify as Democrats in many ways. They dismiss the Republican Party platform and embrace most aspects of the Democratic Party and progressive goals. There is no “spectrum.” Regarding taxation and the size of government, they’re pretty much the same color. Kansas Policy Institute confirms: “The Freedom Index published by Kansas Policy Institute has repeatedly shown the legislative political division to not be about Democrats and Republicans but about legislators’ view of the role of government, and the above June 2 update of 2017 Freedom Index certainly bears that out. With a score of 50 percent being considered neutral, there are 13 Senators at the top of the list with positive scores and 13 Senators at the bottom of the list — and every one of them is a Republican.” 1

Hineman: “Brownback’s tax plan abandoned the ‘three-legged stool’ approach to funding government, which had served Kansas well for decades by relying on a stable balance of income, sales and property.”
The three-legged stool is one of the most inappropriate analogies ever coined. If the state of Kansas were to develop an additional source of tax revenue, say by slapping a tariff on Budweiser imported from Missouri or Coors from Colorado, we’d hear spenders like Hineman speaking of the virtue of a stable four-legged chair. Many states thrive without one of our three legs, the income tax. And if we’re looking for stability, as Hineman mentions, income taxes are quite volatile compared to the other legs. 2

As far as serving Kansas well: There are a variety of ways to look at the progress of Kansas compared to the nation, but here’s a startling fact: For the 73rd Congress (1933 to 1935) Kansas had seven members in the U.S. House of Representatives. (It had eight in the previous session.) Until 1992 Kansas had five. Today Kansas has four members, and may be on the verge of losing one after the next census. This is an indication of the growth of Kansas in comparison to the nation.

” … sweep from the highway fund … rejected the governor’s short-term fixes as being neither responsible nor conservative …”
In this (heavily edited) sentence, Hineman complains about sweeping money from the state’s highway fund. But: Even after raising taxes, the budget just passed by the legislature continues sweeps from the highway fund in the amount of $288,297,663 in fiscal year 2018. For fiscal year 2018, the total of the quarterly sweeps is $293,126,335. 3

Hineman: “The fiscal strain created by the 2012 tax cuts caused public schools to suffer, increasing class sizes and reducing program offerings.”

Kansas school spending. See article for notes about 2015. Click for larger.
The nearby chart shows Kansas school spending, per pupil, adjusted for inflation. It’s easy to see that since 2011, spending has been remarkable level. There was a change in 2015 that shifted the way some school funding was credited, but in total, not much changed.

Kansas school employment. Click for larger.

Kansas school employment ratios. Click for larger.
Some people will dismiss spending figures for a variety of reasons. They may say that inflation affects schools differently from everything else, or that these figures don’t include KPERS, or that they do include the cost of facilities. So let’s look at something else: The number of employees compared to the number of students. When we do this, we find that igures released by the Kansas State Department of Education show the number of certified employees rose slightly for the 2016-2017 school year.

The number of Pre-K through grade 12 teachers rose to 30,431 from 30,413, an increase of 0.06 percent. Certified employees rose to 41,459 from 41,405, or by 0.13 percent.4 These are not the only employees of school districts.5

Enrollment fell from 463,504 to 460,491, or 0.61 percent. As a result, the ratios of teachers to students and certified employees to students fell. The pupil-teacher ratio fell from 15.2 pupils per teacher to 15.1. The certified employee-pupil ratio fell from 11.2 to 11.1.

If we look at these ratios over time, we see they are remarkably consistent since 2012. These figures, at least on a state-wide basis, are contrary to the usual narrative, which is that school employment has been slashed, and class sizes are rising rapidly. The pupil-teacher ratios published by KSDE are not the same statistic as class sizes. But if the data shows that the ratio of pupils to teachers is largely unchanged for the past five years and class sizes are rising at the same time, we’re left to wonder what school districts are doing with teachers. And, why are programs being eliminated?

(The relative change in enrollment and employment is not the same in every district. To help Kansas learn about employment trends in individual school districts, I’ve gathered the numbers from the Kansas State Department of Education and present them in an interactive visualization. 6 7)

Hineman: “Though raising taxes is never easy …”
No. Spenders love to raise taxes. In fact, some legislators warned that the tax hikes are not enough, and that they’ll be back for more. Indeed, projections show spending outpacing revenue in just a few years.

Hineman: “… it was unfortunately the only responsible option available. State government has been cut to the point where there is no reasonable way to reduce spending enough to balance the budget.”
No. One example: The efficiency study commissioned by the legislature recommended savings in the method of acquiring health insurance for public school employees. This was not adopted. Therefore, $47,200,000 in general fund spending is added over what the governor recommended. 8 9 This was not cutting services or benefits. It was asking school employees to do something differently in order to save money. But, it didn’t happen.

Can Kansas cut spending? There are many states that spend less than Kansas on a per capita basis. 10

Hineman: “Those who parrot the phrase ‘we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem’ have repeatedly failed to offer realistic suggestions for further cuts.”
Hineman is correct in a small way. To balance the budget this year with cuts alone was probably impossible. The lust for spending other people’s money is just too great. But there have been proposals that should have been followed. First, the legislature should have commissioned the efficiency study in 2012 when taxes were cut. That didn’t happen. Then, the legislature should take the efficiency study seriously. But even simple things — like the recommendation of savings through school employee health insurance acquisition reform — are difficult to accomplish, because the spenders don’t want these reforms.

And, in the past there have been responsible plans for reforming spending and the budget. But these plans were not wanted, nor were they realized. 11

Hineman’s criticism shows that it is difficult to cut spending. People become accustomed to other people paying for their stuff. Legislators want to appear to be doing more for their constituents, providing seemingly free stuff while pushing aside the idea of paying for it. And so government grows, at the expense of our liberty and what might have been had the money been left in the productive private sector.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. “Freedom index: Political division is citizens vs. government, not party lines.* Available at https://kansaspolicy.org/freedom-index-political-division-citizens-vs-government-not-party-lines/.
  2. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Gary C. Cornia & Ray D. Nelson. State Tax Revenue Growth and Volatility. 6 Regional Economic Development, 23-58 (2010). Available at https://files.stlouisfed.org/files/htdocs/publications/red/2010/01/Cornia.pdf.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Kansas, sweeps to continue. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-sweeps-continue/.
  4. According to KSDE, certified employees include Superintendent, Assoc./Asst. Superintendents, Administrative Assistants, Principals, Assistant Principals, Directors/Supervisors Spec. Ed., Directors/Supervisors of Health, Directors/Supervisors Career/Tech Ed, Instructional Coordinators/Supervisors, All Other Directors/Supervisors, Other Curriculum Specialists, Practical Arts/Career/Tech Ed Teachers, Special Ed. Teachers, Prekindergarten Teachers, Kindergarten Teachers, All Other Teachers, Library Media Specialists, School Counselors, Clinical or School Psychologists, Nurses (RN or NP only), Speech Pathologists, Audiologists, School Social Work Services, and Reading Specialists/Teachers. Teachers include Practical Arts/Vocational Education Teachers, Special Education Teachers, Pre-Kindergarten Teachers, Kindergarten Teachers, Other Teachers, and Reading Specialists/Teachers. See Kansas State Department of Education. Certified Personnel. http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/reports_and_publications/Personnel/Certified%20Personnel%20Cover_State%20Totals.pdf.
  5. There are also, according to KSDE, non-certified employees, which are Assistant Superintendents, Business Managers, Business Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Business Personnel, Maintenance and Operation Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Maintenance and Operation Personnel, Food Service Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Food Service Personnel, Transportation Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Transportation Personnel, Technology Director, Other Technology Personnel, Other Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Attendance Services Staff, Library Media Aides, LPN Nurses, Security Officers, Social Services Staff, Regular Education Teacher Aides, Coaching Assistant, Central Administration Clerical Staff, School Administration Clerical Staff, Student Services Clerical Staff, Special Education Paraprofessionals, Parents as Teachers, School Resource Officer, and Others. See Kansas State Department of Education. Non-Certified Personnel Report. http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/reports_and_publications/Personnel/NonCertPer%20Cov_St%20Totals.pdf.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school spending, an interactive visualization. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-spending-interactive-visualization/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school employment. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/politics/kansas-school-employment-2/.
  8. “The FY 2018 budget assumes savings of $47.2 million from implementation of Alvarez & Marsal efficiency recommendations to include K-12 health benefit consolidation and sourcing select benefit categories on a statewide basis.” Budget Report, p. 17
  9. “Add $47.2 million, all from the State General Fund, for removing savings associated with A&M recommendations for health insurance and procurement for FY 2018.” Bill Explanation For 2017 Senate Sub. For House Bill 2002, p. 10.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Spending in the states, per capita. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/spending-states-per-capita-2/.
  11. Kansas Policy Institute. A Five-Year Budget Plan for the State of Kansas: How to balance the budget and have healthy ending balances without tax increases or service reductions. Available at https://kansaspolicy.org/kpi-analysis-5-year-kansas-budget-plan/.

Decoding Duane Goossen

When reading the writings of former Kansas State Budget Director Duane Goossen, it’s useful to have a guide grounded in reality.

In a look back at the Kansas Legislature this year, former state budget director Duane Goossen has a few opinions. Here are a few, as appeared in the Wichita Eagle, and some counter arguments.

“Kansans, we are done being kicked around.”
No, Kansans are just starting to be kicked around even harder. That’s what higher taxes represent.

“We became famous, the poster state for bad tax policy.”
No, Kansas became the poster state for bad spending policy. Our legislature and governor had several years to find ways to reform spending, but there was not the will to do so. One example: The budget for next year contains $47.2 million in spending because the legislature did not adopt a recommended plan to save money on purchasing health insurance for school employees. That number rises to $89.0 million the following year.

“Kansans wanted their government to work, and wanted public education adequately funded.”
But spending on schools, adjusted for inflation, on a per-student basis, varied very little the past six years. 1 Kansas school employment rose slightly for the current school year, and ratios of employees to pupils fell, also slightly. The ratios of teachers to pupils and certified employees to pupils has been nearly constant in recent years. 2

Another constant refrain is that the state was not spending on highway maintenance. But spending on actual road maintenance programs has risen, with a few ups and downs. (This is spending apart from the sweeps of highway funds.) Additionally, while groups claimed that the state could maintain only 200 miles of roads a year, data from KDOT show that the number of miles maintained has risen for three years, and is well above 2,000 miles per year. 3

“…a discredited ‘trickle down’ tax cut ideology.”
“Trickle down” is not a term that economists use. It has no meaning in economics.

“Certainly, kudos should go to the courageous legislators and legislative leaders who voted to override.”
It is not courageous to raise taxes on anyone, wealthy or not. Courage would have been starting to reform spending five years ago.

“Most citizens prefer not to spend their time thinking about budget and tax policy issues.”
Goossen is correct. Politicians and bureaucrats prefer to work out of the spotlight, especially when raising taxes while showing no resolve to reform spending.

“An even higher percentage of voters expressed concern that the state was not investing enough in education.”
The spending establishment does a very good job convincing people that spending on nearly everything, especially schools, is lower than the reality. As a result, surveys of people across the county, and in Kansas, repeatedly show that the average person has little knowledge of the level of spending in schools and whether spending is rising or falling. 4 This reinforces the previous point.

“Kansas will be climbing out of the Brownback experiment for years.”
Here, Goossen is probably referring to delayed KPERS payments and borrowing from the highway fund. Well. When Goossen was state budget director, the KPERS funding ratio fell year after year. 5 The general fund swept from the highway fund during those years, too. That’s at the same time KDOT was also issuing long-term debt, including some bonds that were interest-only payments for many years. 6 (The state still does this.) To top it off, the budget just passed by the legislature continues sweeps from the highway fund in the amount of $288,297,663 in fiscal year 2018. For fiscal year 2018, the total of the quarterly sweeps is $293,126,335. 7


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school spending, an interactive visualization. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-spending-interactive-visualization/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school employment. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/politics/kansas-school-employment-2/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Highway budget cuts and sweeps in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/highway-budget-cuts-sweeps-kansas/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Kansans still uninformed on school spending. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-uninformed-school-spending/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/we-must-eliminate-defined-benefit-public-pensions/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-transportation-bonds-economics-worse-than-told/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. In Kansas, sweeps to continue. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-sweeps-continue/.