Tag Archives: Jeff Longwell

Wichita City Council Member Jeff Longwell

WichitaLiberty.TV: John Todd and the fight against blight

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: John Todd explains how cities in Kansas are seeking additional power to seize property, and tells us why we should oppose this legislation. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 188, broadcast March 17, 2018.


Sedgwick County’s David Dennis on economic development

Following the Wichita Mayor, the Chair of the Sedgwick County Commission speaks on economic development.

Last week Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis penned a column for the Wichita Eagle praising the county’s efforts in economic development. 1 Dennis is also chair of the commission this year.

In his column, the commissioner wrote: “Economic development is a key topic for the Board of County Commissioners and for me in particular. Right now we have a lot of momentum to make our community a more attractive place for people and businesses.”

This emphasis on the word “momentum” seems to be a fad among Wichita’s government leaders. More about this later.

Dennis also wrote: “Traditional governmental incentives are a thing of the past. There are no more blank checks from Sedgwick County for businesses.”

Except: The county participates in incentive programs that allow companies like Spirit to escape paying taxes, and when you don’t have to pay taxes, that’s the same economic effect as someone giving you cash to pay those taxes. Spirit Aerosystems will receive Industrial Revenue Bonds, which are not a loan of money to Spirit, but allow the company to avoid paying property taxes and sales taxes. 2 3 These incentives are a cost to the county and other units of government, and are as good as cash to Spirit. (For this and many other projects the county is not involved in the approval of the IRB program, but it doesn’t object, and it sees its tacit approval as part of its partnership with the City of Wichita.)

Besides this, the county engages in traditional incentives — almost like a blank check — but disguises them. In this case, for example, the county is contributing $7 million towards the construction of a building exclusively for Spirit’s use. How will the county pay for that? The memorandum that the county agreed to states: “The county participation of $7 million US is anticipated to be available cash.” 4

You might be wondering if the county is treating this contribution as an investment that a business would make, where it would earn back its investment plus a profit by collecting rent from Spirit. After all, county leaders tell us they want to operate government like a business.

But, you’d be wrong if you thought that. The memorandum specifies the rent as $1 per year. Not $1 per square foot per year, but $1 per year for the entire building. Furthermore, at the end of 20 years, Spirit will have the option to purchase the property for $1.

There’s really no way to characterize this transaction other than as a multi-million giveaway to Spirit. Not directly as a blank check or cash, but in a roundabout way that costs the county and benefits Spirit in the same way as cash.

I can understand how Dennis and others like Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell want to convince the public that they are no longer dishing out cash. Often, the public doesn’t like that. So instead they do the same thing in roundabout ways like leasing a building for $1 per year or paying millions in cash for a “parking easement” for which the city has no real use. 5 Chairman Dennis and others hope you won’t notice, but these leaders would be more credible if they didn’t try to obfuscate the truth.

Sedgwick County jobs. Click for larger.
Sedgwick County jobs, change from prior year. Click for larger.
At the end of his column, Dennis wrote: “There is a lot of momentum and forward movement in our community right now and I’m encouraged to see what we can achieve as a team.”

There’s that word again: momentum. Coincidently, shortly after this column was published, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published an update to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. It shows the number of jobs in Sedgwick County declining. This update was released after Dennis wrote his column, but as can be seen from the nearby charts, the slowdown in Sedgwick County jobs and the Wichita-area economy is not a new trend.

If Dennis really believes our economy has “momentum and forward movement,” it is my sincere hope that he is simply uninformed or misinformed about these statistics. Because if he is aware, we can only conclude that he is something else that is worse than being merely ignorant.


  1. David Dennis. Sedgwick County part of drive to strengthen area workforce. Wichita Eagle, March 5, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559734.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Spirit expands in Wichita. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/spirit-expands-wichita/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. More Cargill incentives from Wichita detailed. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/cargill-incentives-from-wichita-detailed/.

Mayor Longwell’s pep talk

A column written by Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell ignores the reality of Wichita’s economy.

This week Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell contributed a column to the Wichita Eagle that seems to defy economic reality. 1

For example, he wrote how Wichita is a “thriving city in a brand new age of possibility.” Construction and change is everywhere, he said.

The problem is this: Even though there seems to be a lot of construction and change, Wichita isn’t thriving.

There are several ways to gauge the economic health of a city. Jobs are probably most important, especially to politicians, and jobs data is available on a frequent and timely basis. And when we look at Wichita’s growth in nonfarm jobs, we see Wichita lagging far behind the nation.

Wichita and national nonfarm employment. Click for larger.
Wichita and national nonfarm employment, ratio. Click for larger.
It wasn’t always that way. Nearby charts show the ratio of Wichita job growth to the nation. When the line is above the value one, it means Wichita was outpacing the nation.

Wichita has done that many times — growing faster than the nation. But that hasn’t been the case recently. In fact, as the charts show, the ratio of Wichita to the nation is sinking. Wichita is falling farther behind.

But despite this evidence, that mayor wrote, “In the coming years, we’re going to continue our growth pattern, and we need passionate individuals supporting and expanding upon our efforts.”

I sincerely hope the mayor is not aware of the poor performance of the Wichita-area economy. Because if he is aware, and he promises to “continue our growth pattern,” we’re in for continued trouble. Did you know that the Wichita-area economy shrank from 2015 to 2016? That is, we produced fewer goods and services in 2016 than in 2015, after accounting for inflation. 2 Is this the growth pattern the mayor promises to continue?

Finally, the mayor issued this plea: “We can’t be complacent in our comfort. We must reconcile our vibrant history with a limitless future. Let’s shed the stigma of what we have been and embrace the vibrant mantle of what we’re becoming.”

First, anyone who’s complacently comfortable is uninformed or unbelieving of the statistics regarding the Wichita economy.

Second, “what we’re becoming” is a low-growth area, falling behind the rest of the country, with the gap growing. The opposite of “vibrant.”

Then, the “stigma of what we have been” describes Mayor Longwell and other long-time officeholders and bureaucrats. It is they who have taken responsibility for the development of the Wichita-area economy. It is their decisions and policies that have led to our slow growth. They are eager to take credit for the successes we do have. But as the mayor’s ill-informed article shows, they are not willing to accept responsibility for failure, much less to even acknowledge the truth.

For other measures of the Wichita economy, see:


  1. Longwell, Jeff. All Wichitans have a part in pushing forward. Wichita Eagle, March 4, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559924.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.

Property under attack in Kansas

Local governments in Kansas are again seeking expanded power to seize property.

In Kansas, officials of many city governments feel they don’t have enough power to deal with blight. This year, as in years past, there is legislation to expand the power of cities to seize property. 1 2

John Todd, along with Paul Soutar, made a video to explain the bill and the surrounding issues. It’s just five minutes in length. View it below, or click here to view at YouTube. Todd’s written testimony to the Kansas Legisalture has photographs and examples. It may be viewed here.


Presently, tools are in place. Cities already have much power to deal with blight and related problems. Last year Todd and I, along with others, had a luncheon meeting with a Kansas Senator who voted in favor of expanding cities’ powers. When we told him of our opposition, he asked questions like, “Well, don’t you want to fight blight? What will cities do to fight blight without this bill?” When we listed and explained the many tools cities already have, he said that he hadn’t been told of these. This is evidence that this bill is not needed. It’s also evidence of the ways cities try to increase their powers at the expense of the rights of people. 3

The Governor’s veto. A similar bill passed the legislature in 2016. Governor Brownback vetoed that bill, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition.” 4

The Governor’s veto provoked a response from Wichita government officials. It let us know that they are not as respectful of fundamental rights as was Brownback. 5

For example, in remarks from the bench, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said there is no intent to be “aggressive in taking people’s property.” 6 But expanding the power of government — aggression, in other word — is what the bill does. Otherwise, why the need for the bill with its new methods and powers of taking property?

And once government is granted new powers, government nearly always finds ways to expand the power and put it to new uses. Even if we believe Meitzner — and we should not — he will not always be in office. Others will follow him who may not claim to be so wise and restrained in the use of government power.

Government expands and liberty recedes. Government continuously seeks new ways to expand its powers through enabling concepts like blight. Did you know the entire suburban town of Andover is blighted? 7 Across the country, when governments find they can take property with novel and creative interpretations of blight, they do so. 8

It’s easy to sense the frustration of government officials like Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell. In his remarks, he asked opponents of SB 338 “what they would do” when confronted with blight. That is a weak argument, but is advanced nonetheless. Everyone has the right — the duty — to oppose bad legislation even if they do not have an alternate solution. Just because someone doesn’t have a solution, that doesn’t mean their criticism is not valid. This is especially true in this matter, as cities already have many tools to deal with blight.


  1. Kansas Legislature. HB 2506. Rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities. Available at http://kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/hb2506/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Power of Kansas cities to take property may be expanded. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/power-kansas-cities-take-property-may-expanded/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Kansas, the war on blight continues. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-war-blight-continues/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Governor Brownback steps up for property rights. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/governor-brownback-steps-property-rights/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/wichita-revealing-discussion-property-rights/.
  6. Video. Wichita City Council speaks on blight. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-city-council-speaks-blight/.
  7. Weeks, B. (2012). Andover, a Kansas city overtaken by blight. Voice For Liberty in Wichita. Available at wichitaliberty.org/economics/andover-a-kansas-city-overtaken-by-blight/.
  8. Nicole Gelinas, Eminent Domain as Central Planning. (2015). City Journal. Available at www.city-journal.org/html/eminent-domain-central-planning-13253.html.

Growing the Wichita economy

Wichita leaders are proud of our region’s economic growth. Here are the numbers.

Greater Wichita Partnership is our region’s primary agency responsible for economic development. On its website, it tells us, “We are an organization built upon teamwork and the idea that, when everyone is advancing in the same direction, we can create a powerful force to effect change — and, thanks to our numerous investors and partners, we are.” One of the things GWP says we are doing is “Growing primary jobs.” 1

Recently Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr told a group of young people this:

From the innovation campus at Wichita State University and development along the Arkansas River in downtown, including a new baseball stadium, to the conversations happening now about a new convention center and performing arts facility, Fluhr said the momentum is pushing to keep Wichita on par with the development of other communities around the country.

That development, which has in recent years expanded to incorporate the entire region, is a critical component to attracting and retaining talent — the exact kind of talent in the ICT Millennial Summit crowd. 2

In January Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said, “It’s hard to find a time when we’ve had more momentum.” 3

In announcing his candidacy for Sedgwick County Commission, Wichita city council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said, “We have enjoyed great progress and growth during my two terms as a City Council member and I plan to do my part to assure Sedgwick County is part of this continued success.” 4

Given all this, it ought to be easy to find economic data supporting momentum, progress, and growth. Let’s look at some indicators.

Personal income. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2016 rose slightly from the 2015 level, but is still below the 2014 level. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, personal income fell in 2016. 5

Personal Income Summary, Wichita, through 2016. Click for larger.

Population. In 1990 Wichita was the 80th largest metropolitan area. In 2016 its ranking had fallen to 87.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
Downtown Wichita. There’s been a lot of investment in downtown Wichita, both public and private. But since 2008 the trend is fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. Almost every year these numbers are lower than the year before. This is movement in the wrong direction, the opposite of progress. There may be good news in that the number of people living downtown may be rising, but business activity is declining. 6

Employment. While officials promote the low Wichita-area unemployment rate, there is an alternative interpretation: The September 2017 unemployment rate declined to just about half the January 2011 rate. The number of employed persons rose by 1.2 percent, but the labor force fell by 3.1 percent. If we consider only the unemployment rate, it looks like the Wichita area is prospering. But the unemployment rate hides bad news: The number of jobs increased only slightly, and the labor force fell by a lot. While it’s good that there are more people working, the decline in the labor force is a problem. (More about employment below.) 7

Wichita MSA unemployment through September 2017. Click for larger.

Growth in output. The worst news, however, is that the Wichita-area economy shrank from 2015 to 2016. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the Wichita metropolitan area gross domestic product fell by 1.4 percent. For all metropolitan areas, GDP grew by 1.7 percent. Since 2001, GDP for all metropolitan areas grew by 29.3 percent, while Wichita had 12.3 percent growth. 8

Wichita MSA employment, annual change. Click for larger.
The GDP figures are for 2016, and figures for 2017 won’t be available until September. So what happened in 2017? Could 2017 be the genesis of momentum to drive our economy forward?

While GDP figures aren’t available, jobs numbers are. For the year 2016, total nonfarm employment in the Wichita metropolitan area grew by 0.62 percent. For 2017, the growth rate was 0.56 percent — a slowdown in the rate of job growth.

These job growth figures are far below the rate for the nation, which were 1.79 and 1.58 percent respectively.

Annual change in job growth, Wichita and USA through 2017. Click for larger.

Furthermore, Wichita’s job growth rate in 2016 was lower than 2015’s rate of 1.07 percent. This is momentum in the wrong direction. Nearby charts illustrate. 9

What to do?

You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.
— Phillip C. McGraw

The failure of the Wichita-area economy to thrive is a tragedy. This is compounded by Wichita leaders failing — at least publicly — to acknowledge this. While we expect people like the mayor, council members, and the chamber of commerce to be cheerleaders for our city, we must wonder: Do these people know the economic statistics, or do they choose to ignore or disbelieve them?

From private conversations with some of these leaders and others, I think it’s a mix of both. Some are simply uninformed, while others are deliberately distorting the truth about the Wichita economy for political or personal gain. The people who are uninformed or misinformed can be educated, but the liars are beyond rehabilitation and should be replaced.


  1. Greater Wichita Partnership. Available at http://www.greaterwichitapartnership.org/about_us/about_us.
  2. Daniel McCoy. ICT Millennial Summit: Wichita is having a moment. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/11/30/ict-millennial-summit-wichita-is-having-a-moment.html.
  3. Heck, Josh. Emerging Leaders panel offers insight into eco-devo strategies. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/01/11/emerging-leaders-panel-offers-insight-into-eco.html.
  4. Bill Wilson. Wichita council member unveils bid for county commission. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/02/13/wichita-council-member-unveils-bid-for-county.html.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Wichita personal income up, a little. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-personal-income-up-2016/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Wichita employment up. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-employment-up/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.
  9. In some presentations these figures may differ slightly due to data revisions and methods of aggregation. These differences are small and not material.

Greater Wichita Partnership asks for help

Wichita’s economic development agency asks for assistance in developing its focus and strategies.

At the meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission this week, commissioners will consider funding a consultant to assist the Greater Wichita Partnership.

Here is information provided to commissioners:

Greater Wichita Partnership (GWP) has requested $45,000 from Sedgwick County to engage the services of a consultant to direct an initiative to bring more focus to GWP’s regional economic development efforts. This one-time request, if provided, is intended to be leveraged with $45,000 from the City of Wichita and another $45,000 from GWP. Sedgwick County’s committment would represent one-third of the consultant’s work.

The proposed consulting engagement would be designed with two primary goals:

1. Develop a strategic plan for GWP that establishes an organizational structure to optimize and coordinate regional economic development efforts that grow opportunities, help create and maintain jobs, and promote the region as an attractive place to locate and/or grow a business.

2. Bring clarity and innovative ways for the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth (BREG) to expand. We need to develop strategies to work together as a region to maintain and grow the Aerospace clusters for which we are known globally; while working to attract and grow businesses in other industries that will strengthen and diversify the regional economy.

There are a few ways to look at this request. One is that presently, GWP is working well and providing positive results, so there’s no need to spend money on the organization’s improvement. Local leaders seem pleased with GWP and its work. In January Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said “It’s hard to find a time when we’ve had more momentum.” 1 There are many other example of praise heaped on GWP and its leaders.

Or: We might argue that even though GWP is performing well, an overhaul could really boost its efforts.

Or: We might wonder how this organization is just getting started doing things like working on its focus and strategies. (While GWP is relatively new, it is a successor to a previous economic development group, with many of the same leaders and employees.)

What has GWP been doing? How effective is its stewardship of the Wichita-area economy? Here are some numbers on the Wichita-area economy.

Click for larger.
Personal income. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2016 rose slightly from 2015 level, but is still below the 2014 level. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, personal income fell in 2016. 2

Wichita metro employment and unemployment. Click for larger.
Employment. While officials promote the low Wichita-area unemployment rate, there is an alternative interpretation: The May 2017 unemployment rate declined to just about half the January 2011 rate. The number of employed persons rose by 1.1 percent, but the labor force fell by 3.7 percent. If we consider only unemployment rate, it looks like the Wichita area is prospering. But the unemployment rate hides bad news: The number of jobs increased only slightly, and the labor force fell by a lot. While it’s good that there are more people working, the decline in the labor force is a problem. 3

Population. In 1990 Wichita was the 80th largest SMA. In 2016 its ranking had fallen to 87.

Growth of GDP by Metro Area and Industries. Click for larger.
Growth in output. The worst news, however, is that the Wichita-area economy shrank from 2015 to 2016. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the Wichita metropolitan area gross domestic product fell by 1.4 percent. For all metropolitan areas, GDP grew by 1.7 percent. Since 2001, GDP for all metropolitan areas grew by 29.3 percent, while Wichita had 12.3 percent growth. 4

With these points in mind, we ought to wonder if GWP and its leadership ought to be replaced with something else.

This item will be handled on the commission’s consent agenda, meaning that there will be no discussion or individual vote unless a commissioner decides to “pull” the item.


  1. Heck, Josh. Emerging Leaders panel offers insight into eco-devo strategies. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/01/11/emerging-leaders-panel-offers-insight-into-eco.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita personal income up, a little. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-personal-income-up-2016/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita employment trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-employment-trends/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.

In Wichita, three Community Improvement Districts to be considered

In Community Improvement Districts (CID), merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public. Wichita may have an additional three, contributing to the problem of CID sprawl.

This week the Wichita City Council will hold public hearings considering the formation of three Community Improvement Districts. In Kansas Community Improvement Districts, merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public. 1

Each of these CIDs will charge customers additional sales tax, with a cap on the amount that may be raised, and a separate cap on the length of the CID. For the three projects this week, here are the details: 2

Delano Catalyst CID: 2% additional tax, raising up to $3,000,000, up to 22 years
Spaghetti Works CID: 2% additional tax, raising up to $3,118,504, up to 22 years
Chicken N Pickle CID: 1.5% additional tax, raising up to $2,300,000, up to 15 years

All these CIDs are of the pay-as-you-go type, which means the city is not borrowing money that would be repaid by the CID tax proceeds. Instead, the CID tax proceeds are periodically sent to the landowners as they are collected. The city retains a 5% administrative fee.

Additionally, two of these CIDs earmark 10% of the CID tax collections for public benefits, which are extra park maintenance for the Spaghetti Works CID, and street improvements for the Chicken N Pickle CID. While these earmarks may seem magnanimous gestures, they directly work to the developers’ benefit. For Spaghetti Works, Naftzger Park is, in effect, becoming the front yard to a development. It will be of great benefit for it to be maintained well, especially considering that the developers will be able to close the park for private events. For the Chicken N Pickle CID, the street improvements the CID will fund are usually paid for by special tax assessments on the nearby landowners, which in this case is the Chicken N Pickle. This is a large savings.

By the way, none of the applications for these economic development incentives pleads economic necessity. They simply want more money, and are willing to let government take the blame when customers notice they’re paying 9% or 9.5% sales tax in these districts.

Of additional note: The Delano and Spaghetti Works developments are receiving many millions of taxpayer-provided subsidy from other economic development incentive programs. 3 4

It will be interesting to see how the council’s two new members, Brandon Johnson (district 1, northeast Wichita) and Cindy Claycomb (district 6, north central Wichita), will vote in these matters. As Progressives, we might expect them to be opposed to higher sales taxes, which affect low-income households disproportionally. We also might expect them to be opposed to targeted tax incentives for the “wealthy,” such as the now-defunct exemption on pass-through business income in Kansas. Here, they are asked to vote on a highly targeted tax incentive that will benefit identifiable wealthy parties.

Issues regarding CID

Perhaps the most important public policy issue regarding CIDs is this: If merchants feel they need to collect additional revenue from their customers, why don’t they simply raise their prices? But the premise of this question is not accurate, as it is not the merchants who receive CID funds. The more accurate question is why don’t landlords raise their rents? That puts them at a competitive disadvantage with property owners that are not within CIDs. Better for us, they rationalize, that unwitting customers pay higher sales taxes for our benefit.

Consumer protection
Customers of merchants in CIDS ought to know in advance that an extra CID tax is charged. Some have recommended warning signage that protects customers from unknowingly shopping in stores, restaurants, and hotels that will be adding extra sales tax to purchases. Developers who want to benefit from CID money say that merchants object to signage, fearing it will drive away customers.

State law is silent on this. The City of Wichita requires a sign indicating that CID financing made the project possible, with no hint that customers will pay additional tax, or how much extra tax. The city also maintains a website showing CIDs. This form of notification is so weak as to be meaningless. See Wichita community improvement districts should have warning signs and In Wichita, two large community improvement districts proposed. In the latter, future Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell argued that signs showing different tax rates for different merchants would be confusing. Council Member Sue Schlapp said she supported transparency in government, but informing consumers of extra taxes would make the program “useless.”

Eligible costs
One of the follies in government economic development policy is the categorization of costs into eligible and non-eligible costs. The proceeds from programs like CIDs and tax increment financing may be used only for costs in the “eligible” category. I suggest that we stop arbitrarily distinguishing between “eligible costs” and other costs. When city bureaucrats and politicians use a term like “eligible costs” it makes this process seem benign. It makes it seem as though we’re not really supplying corporate welfare and subsidy.

As long as the developer has to spend money on what we call “eligible costs,” the fact that the city subsidy is restricted to these costs has no economic meaning. Suppose I gave you $10 with the stipulation that you could spend it only on next Monday. Would you deny that I had enriched you by $10? Of course not. As long as you were planning to spend $10 next Monday, or could shift your spending from some other day to Monday, this restriction has no economic meaning.

Notification and withdrawal
If a merchant moves into an existing CID, how might they know beforehand that they will have to charge the extra sales tax? It’s a simple matter to learn the property taxes a piece of property must pay. But if a retail store moves into a vacant storefront in a CID, how would this store know that it will have to charge the extra CID sales tax? This is an important matter, as the extra tax could place the store at a competitive disadvantage, and the prospective retailer needs to know of the district’s existence and its terms.

Then, if a business tires of being in a CID — perhaps because it realizes it has put itself at a competitive disadvantage — how can the district be dissolved?

The nature of taxation
CIDs allow property owners to establish their own private taxing district for their exclusive benefit. This goes against the grain of the way taxes are usually thought of. Generally, we use taxation as a way to pay for services that everyone benefits from, and from which we can’t exclude people. An example would be police protection. Everyone benefits from being safe, and we can’t exclude people from participating in — and benefiting from — police protection.

But CIDs allow taxes to be collected for the benefit of one specific entity. This goes against the principle of broad-based taxation to pay for an array of services for everyone. But in this case, the people who benefit from the CID are quite easy to identify: the property owners in the district.


  1. Weeks, Bob. Community improvement districts in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/community-improvement-districts-kansas/.
  2. Wichita City Council Agenda Packet for January 9, 2018. Agenda items IV-1, IV-2, and IV-3.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park project details. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-project-details/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Delano catalyst site. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/delano-catalyst-site/.

Delano catalyst site

A development near downtown Wichita may receive subsidy through four different avenues.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider approval of a development agreement with EPC Real Estate, LLC, for the Delano catalyst site. This is vacant land north of Douglas, between the Advanced Learning Library and the River Vista project.

Update: The measure passed four votes to three, with Bluebaugh, Frye, and Longwell in the minority.

Wichita Eagle reporting mentions some of the public subsidy the development will receive: $12 million over a period of years, in the form of Tax Increment Financing and Community Improvement District sales tax. (Delano project looks to add 180 apartments, hotel next to new Wichita library)

One form of additional subsidy is forgiveness of sales tax on the construction of buildings. The Letter of Intent for Industrial Revenue Bonds the council will consider states: “The City’s governing body has authorized an application for sales tax exemption with an estimated value of $1,611,822.”

But a really big gift to the developers is the price of the land. City document state the selling price for the 7.2 acre plot is $750,000. That’s about ($750000 / 7.2 acres) = $104,167 per acre. It’s a pretty good deal for the buyers. A look at some current commercial land listings in Wichita finds these:

1.20 acres at 47th South and Seneca for $425,000, or $354,167 per acre.
0.50 acres at 140 N. West St. for $225,000, or $450,000 per acre.
20.00 acres at 1462 S. Maize Road “Great for entertainment, retail, etc.” for $4,251,456, or $212,573 per acre.
0.52 acres at 640 N. Webb Road for $368,570, or $708,788 per acre.

It’s clear that the developers are buying the land from the city for a small fraction of its value.

By the way: Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell says the city will no longer offer cash incentives for economic development. But selling land a deeply discounted price: Is that different from a cash incentive?

We might also note that this project will receive millions in benefits from Tax Increment Financing. This was a program born out of a perceived need to help redevelop blighted property. This development site, however, is vacant land.

Finally: If downtown Wichita is really progressing as well as its boosters say, why is it necessary to offer so much subsidy to develop a project like this?

Spirit Aerosystems incentives reported

Opinions vary on economic development incentives, but we ought to expect to be told the truth of the details.

The Wichita Business Journal has reported on the economic development incentives used to cement the Spirit AeroSystems expansion announced last week. Following are some quotes from its article How Wichita won the battle for Spirit AeroSystems’ expansion. Background on the aspects of the deal can be found at Spirit expands in Wichita.

Wichita Business Journal: “And many aren’t shy about bringing cash to the table as an incentive. In Wichita, in the wake of the defeat at the polls in 2014 of a sales tax measure that would have been used in part for economic development activities, such a war chest isn’t an option.”

Wichita and Sedgwick County are contributing cash and cash-equivalents to the deal. See below for more.

Further, the city has other ways to fund a “war chest” of incentives. While the sales tax failed to pass, there was nothing to prevent the city council from raising other taxes (such as property tax or franchise fees) to raise funds for economic development. Now there is a property tax limitation imposed by the state, but there are many loopholes the council could drive a large truck through, including holding an election asking voters to raise property taxes.

Also, the city justifies spending on economic development incentives by the positive return to the city. That is, for every dollar the city spends or forgoes in future taxes, it receives a larger amount in return. For this project, the analysis provided by Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University reports a benefit/cost ratio of 2.75 to one for the city. That is, the city believes it will receive $2.75 for every $1.00 “invested.” If the city truly believes this, it should have no hesitation to issue bonds to fund this incentive, repaying the bonds with the projected benefits.

Wichita Business Journal: “‘Here … the state, city and county put together a very creative package focused on infrastructure and training,’ [Spirit CEO Tom] Gentile said.”

I suppose the innovative aspects of the package are the formation of a new business entity to build and own a large building, funded largely by the city and county. Also, the infrastructure referred to may mean the city’s forgiveness of Spirit’s debt to the city regarding a special water project.

Wichita Business Journal: “The government investment isn’t cash, but it is a way of helping Spirit grow that Gentile said combined with local training opportunities to make the government involvement important to Spirit’s decision to expand in Wichita.”

According to the agreement the city and county will consider this week, both Sedgwick County and the City of Wichita are contributing cash. The city will also forgive a large debt owed by Spirit. It’s hard to see how canceling a debt is different from giving cash.

Also, city, county, state, and school district are canceling millions in property and sales taxes that Spirit would otherwise owe, which is also difficult to distinguish from a cash benefit.

Finally, the state, under the PEAK problem, will likely refund to Spirit the state income tax withheld from their paychecks (minus a small fee).

Wichita Business Journal: “‘Because Spirit was willing to look at another way of investing, because this community said it was more important to invest in other ways, they’re allowing us to invest in infrastructure instead of handing Spirit cash,’ Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said Wednesday. ‘We believe that our community can rally behind that. We’re investing in Spirit and they’re investing in our community.'”

I’d really like to know the “another way of investing” the mayor mentions. Plus, contrary to the mayor’s assertion, the city is handing Spirit cash. Well, it’s giving cash to a new business entity whose sole purpose is to provide a new building for Spirit. Perhaps for Jeff Longwell that’s a distinction with a meaningful difference. If so, that’s too bad.

There are differing opinions as to the necessity and wisdom of economic development incentives. But we ought to expect the unvarnished truth from our mayor and economic development officials. It would be great if the Wichita Business Journal helped report the truth.

Spirit expands in Wichita

It’s good news that Spirit AeroSystems is expanding in Wichita. Let’s look at the cost.

While it is good news that Spirit AeroSystems is expanding its Wichita operations, it is not without cost to several governmental agencies. Here’s a summary of what is publicly available so far.

First, a new “entity” will be formed in order to facilitate the construction and ownership of a new building on the Spirit campus. 1

This entity will be funded with $7 million in cash from Sedgwick County and $3 million cash from the City of Wichita. Further, the city will forgive Spirit’s debt of $3.5 million associated with a water project. 2

Second, through the mechanism of Industrial Revenue Bonds,3 Spirit receives a property tax exemption of one hundred percent for five years, with renewal for another five years if goals are met. Despite the use of the term “bond,” no governmental entity is lending money to Spirit, and no one except Spirit is liable for bond repayment.

Third: The bonds confer another benefit to Spirit: According to city documents, “IRBs will, pursuant to STATE law, provide for a sales tax exemption on materials and labor subject to sales tax necessary to construct and equip FACILITY.” 4 City documents give no dollar amount is given for the sales tax exemption. But in the analysis conducted by Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University these figures are used for the amount of sales tax exemption: City of Wichita: $279,445. Sedgwick County: $137,354. State of Kansas: $5,370,270. Total: $5,787,069. 5

Fourth, this project will undoubtedly qualify for PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. This is a State of Kansas program that allows companies to keep the state income taxes their employees pay through paycheck withholding, less a small fee. 6 It isn’t possible to know in advance how much PEAK benefit the company will receive, because the individual circumstances of each employee determine the income tax withheld. The following calculation, however, gives an indication of the magnitude of the amount of PEAK benefits Spirit can expect:

$56,000 annual salary / 26 pay periods = $2,154 per bi-weekly pay period. For a married worker with two children, withholding tables show $55 to be withheld each pay period, or $55 * 26 = $1,430 per year. For 1,000 employees, the PEAK benefit is $1,430,000 per year. 7

There may be other programs that this project qualifies for.

Are these incentives necessary?

Taxpayers might be wondering if these incentives are necessary for Spirit to be able to expand its operations, and for it to select Wichita as the site. Spirit says it has received generous offers from other locations. If so, Spirit could do itself a favor by revealing these offers. So too, could other Wichita companies that have claimed intense courtship by other cities. But the economic development industry operates in darkness.

One thing that would also increase the credibility of economic development efforts is for Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell (and others) to stop making claims of “no more cash incentives.” The city explicitly offers cash in this proposal. The city also offers to cancel a debt, which is just like cash. Forgiveness of future taxes is as good as cash, too.

For years we’ve been told that Wichita needs to diversify its economy, meaning that it relies too heavily on the aircraft industry. This expansion by Spirit will undoubtedly heighten that concentration. We should not turn down this expansion of our local economy. But the incentives that are offered have a cost, and that cost is paid — partly — by other business firms in other industries that are trying to grow in Wichita.

Many will undoubtedly cheer the Spirit announcement as an economic development win on a large scale. It will add many jobs. But the Wichita-area economy is so far behind it will take much more growth than this to catch up with the rest of the nation. In fact, the Wichita-area economy shrank last year. 8 And while many cheer our low unemployment rate, sole reliance on that number hides a shrinking labor force. 9

Also, let’s be appropriately humble when boasting about this expansion. A region’s largest employer deciding to expand in the same city: This is the minimum level of competence we ought to expect from our economic development machinery.

Further, economists caution us to look beyond any single project, no matter how large, and consider the entirety of the local economy. As economist Art Hall has noted, large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. “The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.” 10

That’s assuming that the incentives even work as advertised in the first place. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, in their paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives published in Journal of the American Planning Association, wrote on the effects of incentives. A few quotes from the study, with emphasis added:

Given the weak effects of incentives on the location choices of businesses at the interstate level, state governments and their local governments in the aggregate probably lose far more revenue, by cutting taxes to firms that would have located in that state anyway than they gain from the few firms induced to change location.

On the three major questions — Do economic development incentives create new jobs? Are those jobs taken by targeted populations in targeted places? Are incentives, at worst, only moderately revenue negative? — traditional economic development incentives do not fare well. It is possible that incentives do induce significant new growth, that the beneficiaries of that growth are mainly those who have greatest difficulty in the labor market, and that both states and local governments benefit fiscally from that growth. But after decades of policy experimentation and literally hundreds of scholarly studies, none of these claims is clearly substantiated. Indeed, as we have argued in this article, there is a good chance that all of these claims are false.

The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state or local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering their expectations about their ability to micromanage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing the foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.


  1. “The CITY, COUNTY and COMPANY would each take action to establish a new legal entity separate and apart from the CITY, COUNTY and COMPANY for development of the PROJECT (the “ENTITY”) which will take such form as the PARTIES may approve.” Memorandum of Understanding for Project Eclipse, Section I.A. Contained within agenda packet for Wichita City Council meeting for December 13, 2017.
  2. “The COUNTY participation of $7 million US is anticipated to be available cash; the CITY participation would consist of cash in the amount of $3 million US, forgiveness of $3.5 million US in future COMPANY payments associated with the CAPITAL COMPONENT and an agreement to make additional capital improvements relating to the WATER AGREEMENT in an approximate cost of $1 million US.” Memorandum of Understanding for Project Eclipse, Section I.B
  3. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  4. Memorandum of Understanding for Project Eclipse, Section I.3.E
  5. Project Eclipse – ROI calcs plus author’s calculation. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uGaxTgrctYpBjkG7PR6bP81SxgFjpzjo/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/peak-promoting-employment-across-kansas/.
  7. Kansas Department of Revenue Withholding tables. Available at https://www.ksrevenue.org/pdf/whtables2017.pdf.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.
  9. “It is possible that the unemployment rate falls while the number of people employed falls or rises slowly. This is the general trend in Wichita for the past seven years or so.” Weeks, Bob. Wichita employment up. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-employment-up/.
  10. William F. Fox and Matthew N. Murray, “Do Economic Effects Justify the Use of Fiscal Incentives?” Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 71, No. 1, 2004, p. 79. A


Another Wichita Eagle publisher

Wichita Business Journal: “McClatchy Co. spokeswoman Jeanne Segal told the Wichita Business Journal on Wednesday that Kelly Mirt has resigned and will rejoin his family in North Carolina. … Mirt was announced as the Eagle’s publisher and vice president of advertising in July. … Mirt came to Wichita after the of former Eagle publisher Roy Heatherly in May. Mirt was the newspaper’s sixth publisher since 2007.” See Wichita Eagle publisher resigns, McClatchy says.

The system is rigged against you

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, December 6, 2017: “Reading the article about Southeast High School has hardened my resolve even more that my kids will never attend public school.” Dear writer: I’m sorry to inform you, but there is an entire industry in Kansas that works to make sure that public schools are the only viable option for most Kansas families.

Will we ever know the cost?

Wichita Eagle headline: Spirit plans ‘mega project’ with $1 billion investment, 1,000 more jobs in Wichita. This is good news. I wonder, however, if we will ever know all the news, specifically how much it cost to make this happen. Also: Will Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell’s pledge to forego cash incentives apply to this project?

DeMint in Wichita this week

At the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Former Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. DeMint served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005, representing the fourth district of South Carolina. From 2005 to 2013 he served in the United States Senate, again representing South Carolina. From 2013 to 2017 he was president of the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation’s leading conservative think tanks. Now he serves as senior advisor to Citizens for Self-Governance, a group which is seeking to call a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution in order to reduce federal government spending and power. See here for details.

Too much on the consent agenda in Wichita city hall

The Wichita city council will consider an item that, I believe, is of sufficient interest and controversial enough that it should appear on a regular agenda, not a consent agenda.

Update: at Tuesday’s meeting, the council passed the consent agenda without discussion of this agenda item.

Meetings of governmental bodies like the Wichita City Council may contain a consent agenda. That’s a collection of agenda items that are voted on in bulk, with one single vote, unless a council member requests an item be “pulled” for discussion and possibly a separate vote. Generally, items on consent agendas are not controversial, and it may hold two dozen or more items. If no council member asks to pull an item, there is no discussion.

Tomorrow the Wichita city council will consider an item that, I believe, is of sufficient interest and possibly controversial enough that it should appear on a regular agenda, not a consent agenda. It involves the hiring of a consultant to help the city find a baseball team. 1

Tomorrow’s meeting, being on the fourth Tuesday of a month, is traditionally for consent agenda items only, plus workshops. But the council has, a few times, declared this meeting to be a “regular” meeting in order to conduct business other than consent agenda items.

The Wichita city council has a history of placing controversial items on the consent agenda. It has, at least once, removed an item from the consent agenda to place it on a regular agenda. 2 There are some things the council doesn’t want to talk about.

In addition, Current Mayor Jeff Longwell has wondered if the city holds too many public hearings. 3 Some things, the mayor feels, don’t need public input.


  1. Weeks, Bob. A consultant to help Wichita’s confidence factor. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/consultant-help-wichita-confidence-factor/.
  2. See, for example, For Wichita City Council, discussion is not wanted at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/for-wichita-city-council-discussion-is-not-wanted/, Wichita, again, fails at government transparency at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-fails-government-transparency/, and Wichita open records issue buried at https://wichitaliberty.org/open-records/wichita-open-records-issue-buried/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. For Wichita’s mayor, too many public hearings. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-mayor-too-many-public-hearings/.

A consultant to help Wichita’s confidence factor

Wichita considers hiring a consultant to help find a baseball team.

In August the Wichita Eagle reported:

Wichitans can hope for an announcement on a new affiliated baseball team coming to Wichita by the end of 2017, Mayor Jeff Longwell says.

“By the end of this calendar year, we feel confident that we will be able to announce a team, who the team is, all of the above,” Longwell told The Eagle Tuesday afternoon. “We hope that we can complete all of those conversations by the end of this year and be able to announce a contract in place.” 1

Evidently the mayor and the city are feeling less confident. Next week’s city council agenda includes a proposal to hire a consulting firm to help the city. The contract the council will consider states: “Wichita desires to retain Beacon Sports as its advisor and exclusive representative for the Assignment, and perform such other advisory services as are mutually agreed upon between the two parties.” 2

The city’s analysis advises: “Based on the encouraging findings, City staff have reached the conclusion that, due to Minor League Baseball (MiLB) rules and protocols, it is necessary to formally contract with a specialized baseball consultant.”

The contract has a cap of $50,000. For this, the contract states, “Beacon Sports will use its best efforts and endeavor to assist Wichita in obtaining and having present to it qualified offers on terms that are acceptable to Wichita, but makes no representation regarding the successful outcome of this Assignment.”

Of note, this item appears on the consent agenda. That’s a collection of agenda items that are voted on in bulk, with one single vote, unless a council member requests an item be “pulled” for discussion and possibly a separate vote. Generally, items on consent agendas are not controversial, and it may hold two dozen or more items.


  1. Salazar, Daniel. Expect affiliated baseball team announcement by end of 2017, Wichita mayor says. Wichita Eagle, August 29, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article170095417.html.
  2. “MiLB Baseball Consultant Contract,” Wichita City Council Agenda packet for October 24, 2017. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/10-24-2017%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.

Wichita in the Wall Street Journal

A Wall Street Journal article reports on Wichita, but there are a few issues with quotes from the mayor.

In an article in one of the nation’s leading newspapers, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell is quoted:

“We’re no longer going to play in this traditional incentive game and offering cash to companies,” said Mayor Jeff Longwell. “We think quality of life will do more.”

The article as shared on Facebook. Click to visit the post.
The article in the Wall Street Journal is The ‘Air Capital of the World’ Has a Problem: Too Few Aviation Workers. A subscription may be required to view the article.

What is wrong with what the mayor said? It’s mostly true that the city is no longer paying cash as jobs incentives, although that was never a large part of the city’s spending on incentives. What’s troubling about the mayor’s remarks is that the city has many incentives programs that are just as valuable as paying cash. The State of Kansas adds others. Here are the major programs the city and state offer that are as good as cash:

The city offers programs (IRB and EDX) in which companies escape paying property taxes, which is just as good as receiving the same amount in cash. 1

The IRB program, once bonds are authorized by the city, often allows a company to escape paying sales taxes, in some cases several million dollars. Not paying a dollar in sales tax is just as good as receiving a dollar in cash. 2

The city uses tax increment financing (TIF), in which property taxes paid by a property owner are redirected for the property owner’s benefit. So instead of paying cash for improvements, developers let their property taxes pay for these. 3

The city uses STAR bonds, in which future sales tax revenue is redirected for the benefit of a specific property owner. This lets the property owners avoid spending cash on things. 4

The city approves the formation of community improvement districts in which the taxing authority of the city is used to allow merchants to collect extra sales tax. 5

For one company, the city cut permitting fees in half. It’s estimated the company will save $85,000. That’s as good as receiving cash. 6

And if this is not enough, the city might pay your company $6,500,000 in cash to use your parking garage during the hours you don’t need it. (Never mind this parking isn’t really needed.) 2

Besides these programs, the state has programs such as PEAK, which pay cash benefits to companies. Also, the city supports applications for state and federal historic preservation tax credits. Receiving tax credits is as good as receiving cash.

Set aside the question of whether these incentive programs are necessary and effective. Then we’re left with a few questions:

Is the mayor not aware that these incentive programs are as valuable to companies as receiving cash payments?

Or does the mayor believe that the methods by which these programs are implemented obscure the economic realities?

Or is there some other reason?

Wichita MSA employment since 2010. Click for larger.
It’s encouraging that the mayor wants to change something. Since the last recession, Wichita is falling further behind the rest of the country in job growth. 8 For the two recessions before that, Wichita was able to catch up to the rest of the country in job growth. But that isn’t happening now.

But if the mayor thinks we’re doing something other than using the equivalent of cash to lure companies to Wichita — or just to retain existing companies — he is wrong.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
By the way, the Journal article reports this: “Wichita, known as the ‘air capital of the world,’ is working with the industry to train thousands of new workers while sprucing up downtown in an attempt to make it a place where people want to stay — and to dissuade companies from shipping the jobs overseas.”

It’s true that a lot of money, but public and private, has been spent on downtown. The economic results, unfortunately, are not good: Since the time of increased investment, there are fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. 9


  1. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. STAR bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/star-bonds-kansas/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Community improvement districts in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/community-improvement-districts-kansas/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. More Cargill incentives from Wichita detailed. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/cargill-incentives-from-wichita-detailed/.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita MSA employment series. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-msa-employment-series/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.

A Wichita social media town hall

A City of Wichita town hall meeting ends in less than nine minutes, with a question pending and unanswered.

As part of its engagement with citizens, the City of Wichita holds social media town hall meetings. On June 20, 2107, there was a Facebook town hall on the topic of economic development featuring Assistant City Manager Scot Rigby. His charge is “developing and implementing a coordinated and comprehensive development services program and for developing, implementing and overseeing economic development, redevelopment and real estate programs and projects.” He’s worked for the city for two years. 1

Promoting the town hall. Click for larger.
There is not a customary duration for events like this, although other social media town halls have been promoted by the city as lasting 90 minutes. Surely citizens might expect any meeting like this to last at least 30 minutes, if not 60 or more.

But Wichita Assistant City Manager Scot Rigby’s town hall meeting on June 20 lasted eight minutes and 22 seconds.

(A screen capture of the event is available here, and the entire event as recorded on Facebook is here.)

It wasn’t for lack of questions that the meeting ended so quickly. One question I asked had to do with the city’s reporting on its economic development efforts. The City of Lawrence annually produces a comprehensive report, but Wichita does not. 2 Rigby answered this question online, which is the way these things are supposed to work.

An excerpt from the town hall. Click for larger.
Then I asked this question: “There has been a lot of investment, public and private, in downtown Wichita. What has been the trend in the number of business firms, employees, and payroll during that time?” That was six minutes and 50 seconds after the start of the meeting, according to Facebook. The meeting ended 92 seconds later with no answer to this question.

But I wanted the city to answer my question. After five weeks of multiple requests through both Facebook and email, I received a response from the city:

from: Bob Weeks
to: Scot Rigby

Hi, I’m still wondering why the social media town hall from June 20 was ended after less than nine minutes. There is still a pending question.

For your convenience, here is the link to the Facebook video:

Thank you,
Bob Weeks

Dear Mr. Weeks-

Scot Rigby asked that I follow up with your question since I was involved with coordination of the Social Media Town Hall events.

During the Social Media Town Hall events on June 15 and June 20 we presented content in a variety of formats on Facebook and Twitter. We used the Facebook Live format for one topic, but 30 second videos for 14 other topics (seven on each day). We publicized the Facebook Live topic the day before, and our intent was to respond to questions from that topic as well as during the event. We ended the Facebook Live event after responding to comments and feedback from June 15 and focused efforts on responding to other posts as well as Nextdoor, which we used for the first time during the Social Media Town Hall this year. Because of changes in technology, each year the Social Media Town Hall is a little different.



Elizabeth Goltry Wadle
Principal Budget Analyst
City of Wichita

I think I’ll characterize this as nonresponsive.

Besides this answer, the city also responded on Facebook on July 18, nearly a month after I posed the question. That response referred me to the 2016 State of Downtown Report from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. That is also (mostly) nonresponsive to my question.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
In a way, I can sympathize with Rigby not wanting to answer my question. Perhaps he doesn’t know the answer. But he might know — he should know — the answer, which is that since 2007 there are fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In all cases, the trend is lower. 3

Regarding the 2016 State of Downtown Report from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation: That document claims there are 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita. That is a large mistake and greatly overstates the number of workers. 4

It’s curious that the city did not refer me to a 2017 edition of the State of Downtown Report. But that document does not exist. It’s common for these reports to be released in May, but this year’s report is not yet available.

The city takes pride in being responsive to citizens. Former Mayor Carl Brewer often spoke in favor of government transparency. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, he listed as an important goal for the city this: “And we must provide transparency in all that we do.”

When the city received an award for transparency in 2013, a city news release quoted Wichita City Manager Robert Layton:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”

Shortly after his election, current Mayor Jeff Longwell penned a column in which he said, “First off, we want City Hall to be open and transparent to everyone in the community.”

Is a lack of staff at city hall the reason why I can’t get an answer to a question? I don’t think so. Two years ago the city expanded its staff by hiring a Strategic Communications Director. When the city announced the new position, it said: “The Strategic Communications Director is the City’s top communications position, charged with developing, managing, and evaluating innovative, strategic and proactive public communications plans that support the City’s mission, vision and goals.”

My experience with this social media town hall runs contrary to the city’s proclaimed goals, and this is not the only time I’ve had problems with the city regarding requests for information. 5


  1. City of Wichita. Assistant City Manager, Development Director Hired. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/News/Pages/2015-07-15a.aspx.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita doesn’t have this. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-does-not-have-this/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. During Sunshine Week, here are a few things Wichita could do. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/open-records/sunshine-week-wichita/.

Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again

Wichita city hall failed to uphold the terms of a development agreement from five years ago, not monitoring contracts that protect the public interest.

Two weeks ago a Wichita Eagle article reported on a 2002 public-private partnership that called for the private-sector company to submit an annual report to the city. But the company did not submit the reports, and the city didn’t ask for them. The city did after the Eagle inquired. 1

Much of the Eagle article described why current city officials were not aware of the 2002 agreement: “Due largely to turnover on the city staff and term limits on the City Council, top officials at City Hall were unaware of the contract provisions until The Eagle inquired about them. … No city official who played a major role in the 2002 contract is still actively involved in government.”

The article quoted Mayor Jeff Longwell as “interested in WaterWalk fulfilling any contractual agreement they have in place (with the city), even if that contract was made 20 years prior to my time.”

Now we know that the city did not enforce a similar agreement with the same WaterWalk developer made while Longwell was a council member. The city manager who oversaw the agreement is still manager.

WaterWalk additional rent calculation, excerpt. Click for larger.
We don’t have to look as far back in history as 2002 to find an agreement the city did not enforce, one where the city was not protecting the interest of taxpayers. In 2012 the city entered into a same or similar agreement in the same WaterWalk development with the same developer, Jack P. Deboer. It also called for the city to potentially earn payments, called “additional annual rent.” It also called for reports to be made, although the exact language used is “provide that calculation.” 2

I asked for the annual reports on July 10. Three days later I received a message indicating the documents would be ready on July 19. On that day they arrived. Like those provided to the Eagle, they were heavily redacted and showed that no additional rent was due the city.

Upon further inquiry, it is clear that these reports were not filed with the city on an annual basis, but were created only after I asked for them. 3

Calculations use incorrect formula

The 2012 agreement specified that the WaterWalk developer would be able to annually deduct 20 percent of the construction costs as “development cost return.” But, in the calculations provided to me by the city, 17 percent is used instead. 4

WaterWalk additional rent calculation, excerpt. Click for larger.

The city excused this error as being in favor of the city, and no additional rent was due in any case.

Redacted, not really

As shown in the examples above, the documents provided to me were heavily redacted, with nearly all numbers obscured. The illustrations show the appearance of the pdf document when opened in Acrobat reader or another pdf reader.

But a simple copy and paste into another application like Microsoft Word revealed the blacked-out numbers. The procedure used by the city didn’t really redact the numbers. It appears that someone used the Acrobat drawing tools to draw thick black lines over the numbers, which isn’t effective. Acrobat offers a set of redaction tools specifically designed for removing sensitive content from pdfs, and the city should have used this method. 5

When I reported this finding to the city, Elder replied: “We would ask that you respect the privacy of this information as well as the City’s obligations under the Kansas Open Records Act at K.S.A. 45-221(b), included below, which strictly prohibits the release of the financial information of a taxpayer, and not disclose the financial information.” 6

I don’t believe that the Kansas Open Records Act prohibits the disclosure of this information, and it is in the public interest that these numbers are available. At the moment, I am inclined to respect the city’s request.


Here is another example of the city and its private-sector partners failing to observe a contract. The city did not monitor its agreements to protect the public interest, and this agreement is recent enough that remoteness in time is not an excuse.

Were the 2002 and 2012 development agreements wise for the city? At the time of the 2012 deal, I wrote this: 7

[There] is a provision that requires the apartment developer to pay “Additional Annual Rent.” Under this concept, each year the apartment developer will calculate “Adjusted Net Cash Flow” and remit 25 percent of that to the city.

To the casual observer, this seems like a magnanimous gesture by the apartment developer. It makes it look like the city has been a tough negotiator, hammering out a good deal for the city, letting citizens profit along with the apartment developer.

But the definition of cash flow includes a comprehensive list of expenses the may be deducted, including the cost of repaying any loans. There’s also an allowable expense called “Tenant Development Cost Return,” which is the apartment developer’s profit. The agreement defines this profit as 20 percent, and it’s deducted as part of the computation of “Adjusted Net Cash Flow.”

If there is ever any money left over after the dedication of all these expenses and profit margin, I will be surprised. Shocked, even. Here’s one reason why. One of the allowable deductions that goes into the computation of “Adjusted Net Cash Flow” is, according to city documents: “Amounts paid into any capital, furniture, fixture, equipment or other reserve.” There’s no restriction as to how much can be funneled into these reserve accounts. We can be sure that if this project was ever in the position where it looked like it might have to remit “Additional Annual Rent” to the city, contributions to these reserve funds would rise. Then, no funds paid to the city.

This is an example of the city appearing to be concerned for the welfare of taxpayers. In reality, this concept of “Additional Annual Rent” is worse than meaningless. It borders on deception.

Beyond this, we now know that neither the city nor the WaterWalk developer followed the terms of the deal. The annual reports were not supplied by the company, and they were not requested by the city. As it turns out the annual reports purport to show that the city was owed no money under the profit sharing agreement.

But that’s not the point. The issue is that the city did not enforce a simple aspect of the agreement, and the private-sector company felt it did not need to comply. Taxpayers were not protected, and we’re left wondering whether these agreements were really meant to be followed.


  1. Lefler, Dion. WaterWalk profit-sharing: 15 years, zero dollars for Wichita. Wichita Eagle, July 8, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article160147944.html.
  2. “As Additional Annual Rent Tenant shall pay a sum equal to twenty-five percent (25%) of the Adjusted Net Cash Flow commencing with the first day the Tenant Improvements open for business. The Tenant shall calculate Adjusted Net Cash Flow for each Current Year within forty-five (45) days after the end of the Current Year (or portion thereof) and provide that calculation, and pay to the Landlord the Additional Annual Rent, within sixty (60) days after the end of the Current Year. Additional Annual Rent shall continue until this Lease expires. Adjusted Net Cash Flow is Gross Revenues less Total Expenses, less the total amount of capital expenses for furniture, fixtures, and equipment for the Tenant Improvements in excess of the aggregate amount expended from any reserve during such year.” Amendments to WaterWalk Developer Agreements. August 21, 2012. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9Mdm1tWjlQbVAzemM/view?usp=sharing.
  3. Email from city development analyst Mark Elder, July 21, 2017. “The annual report for this project was requested in the same time frame as the reports provided for Gander Mountain however, the documents were provided to the City within the last week.”
  4. Wichita City Council agenda packet for August 21, 2012. Waterwalk Ground Lease, Section 16.08. “Tenant Development Cost Return, defined as, on an annual basis, twenty percent (20%) of the total Construction Costs for all Tenant Improvements paid by Tenant, Developer, or permitted assignees and sublessees. As further clarification, the amount determined to be twenty percent (20%) of the total Construction Costs for all Tenant Improvements may be included in the calculation of the Total Expenses each year during the Term of this Lease.”
  5. Adobe.com. Removing sensitive content from PDFs. Available at https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/removing-sensitive-content-pdfs.html.
  6. “Except to the extent disclosure is otherwise required by law or as appropriate during the course of an administrative proceeding or on appeal from agency action, a public agency or officer shall not disclose financial information of a taxpayer which may be required or requested by a county appraiser or the director of property valuation to assist in the determination of the value of the taxpayer’s property for ad valorem taxation purposes; or any financial information of a personal nature required or requested by a public agency or officer, including a name, job description or title revealing the salary or other compensation of officers, employees or applicants for employment with a firm, corporation or agency, except a public agency. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to prohibit the publication of statistics, so classified as to prevent identification of particular reports or returns and the items thereof.”
  7. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk apartment deal not good for citizens. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-apartment-deal-not-good-for-citizens/.

More Cargill incentives from Wichita detailed

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

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

As summarized in the agenda packet:

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

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

Industrial Revenue Bonds

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

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

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

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

Parking easement

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

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

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

Expedited plan review, reduced fees, and ombudsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other subsidy programs

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

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

Is this needed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Won’t anyone develop in downtown Wichita without incentives?

Action the Wichita City Council will consider next week makes one wonder: If downtown Wichita is so great, why does the city have to give away so much?

Next week the Wichita City Council will consider a package of incentives for the developer of a large downtown building, the Finney State Office Center.

The building has an appraised value of $7,902,570, per the Sedgwick County Treasurer. The city will sell it for $100,000. That’s a mere 1.3 cents per dollar, if the county’s valuation is reasonable.

(But, the $100,000 is non-refundable, should the purchaser decide not to close on the building.)

Finney State Office Building environs. Click for larger.
The project is also asking for the city to issue Industrial Revenue Bonds. Despite the use of the term “bond,” the city is not lending money to anyone. Someone else will purchase the bonds. Instead, the IRBs are a vehicle for conveying property tax abatements and sales tax exemptions.

In this case, the developer requests a sales tax exemption for purchases during the renovation. City documents don’t give a value for the sales tax that might be exempted. But the developer has requested IRBs for an amount up to $35,000,000. So a sales tax exemption might be worth up to $2,625,000, depending on how much taxable products and services are purchased.

IRBs also carry the possibility of a property tax abatement. Granting of the abatement is routine in most areas of the city. But, this property is located within a tax increment financing (TIF) district. That means, according to Kansas law, that a property tax abatement may not be awarded. That is, unless the property is removed from the TIF district, which is what the city proposes.

What is the value of the tax abatement? City documents don’t say. But if the developer spends $35 million on the project, it ought to carry something near that appraised value when complete. So its annual property tax bill would be ($35,000,000 * 25 percent assessment rate for commercial property = $8,750,000 assessed value * 124.341 mill rate) $1,087,984.

There’s another exception the city will probably make for this project. According to the city’s economic development incentives policy, the city must receive a payoff of at least 1.3 times its investment. That benchmark isn’t met in this case, with Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research reporting a benefit-cost ratio of 1.04 to the city. Nonetheless, city staff recommends the city approve the incentives, citing several loopholes to the policy.

There’s also a parking agreement to consider. Given the city’s past practice, the city will lease parking stalls at rates below market rate or the city’s cost to provide.

No cash incentives

The city, in particular Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, have prominently and proudly touted the end of cash incentives. But, this project is receiving benefits better than cash: An $8 million building for a song, no sales tax, and no property tax for ten years. Let’s ask the city to be honest and give us dollar values for these incentives.


A second question is this: Why is it necessary to provide all these incentives in order to induce someone to develop in downtown Wichita? The cost of these incentives increases the cost of government for everyone else — that is, everyone else except all the other incentive-receivers.

In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent

Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens’ right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider approval of a contract with Visit Wichita, the city’s convention and visitor bureau. Once again, citizens will be left out of knowing how the city’s tax money is spent.

In the past, I’ve asked that Visit Wichita (formerly Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau) make its spending records available. It’s the same type of information that the city will send you about its own spending. But for Go Wichita, spending must — apparently — be kept secret.

It’s not a small amount of money that will be spent in secret. This year the city will send Go Wichita almost $2.5 million.1

But that’s not all. Since the implementation of the “City Tourism Fee” Visit Wichita collects 2.75 percent of hotel bills. (Welcome to Wichita! Here’s the bill for your tourism fee!) That’s estimated to generate $3 million in 2017.2

That is a lot of tax money, and also a high proportion of the agency’s total funding. We don’t have IRS filings from Visit Wichita since the city tourism fee started, so it’s difficult to say what portion of its funding is tax money. But it’s a lot, at least 90 percent.

Despite being nearly totally funded by taxes, Visit Wichita refuses to supply spending records. Many believe that the Kansas Open Records Act requires that it comply with such requests. If the same money was being spent directly by the city, the records undoubtedly would be supplied.

I’ve appeared before the council several times to ask that Visit Wichita and similar organizations comply with the Kansas Open Records Act. See Go Wichita gets budget approved amid controversy over public accountability, City of Wichita Spends $2 million, Rebuffs Citizen’s Transparency Request, and articles at Open Records in Kansas.

The lack of transparency at Visit Wichita is more problematic than this. Visit Wichita refused to provide to me its contract with a California firm retained to help with the re-branding of Wichita. When the Wichita Eagle later asked for the contract, it too was refused. If the city had entered into such a contract, it would be a public record. Contracts like this are published each week in the agenda packet for city council meetings. But Visit Wichita feels it does not have to comply with simple transparency principles.

The City of Wichita could easily place conditions on the money it gives to these groups, requiring them to show taxpayers how their tax dollars are being spent. But the City does not do this. This is not transparency.

In the past I’ve argued that Visit Wichita is a public agency as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But the city disagreed. And astonishingly, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agreed with the city’s interpretation of the law.

So let’s talk about good public policy. Let’s recognize that even it is the case that the Kansas Open Records Act does not require Visit Wichita, WDDC, and GWEDC to disclose records, the law does not prohibit or prevent them from fulfilling requests for the types of records I’ve asked for. Even if the Sedgwick County District Attorney says that Visit Wichita is not required to release documents, the law does not prevent the release of these records.

Once we understand this, we’re left with these questions:

Why does Visit Wichita want to keep secret how it spends taxpayer money, as much as $5.5 million next year?

Why is this city council satisfied with this lack of disclosure of how taxpayer funds are spent? Many council members have spoken of how transparency is important. One said: “We must continue to be responsive to you. Building on our belief that government at all levels belongs to the people. We must continue our efforts that expand citizen engagement. … And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” That was Mayor Brewer speaking in his 2011 State of the City address.

The city’s official page for the current mayor holds this: “Mayor Longwell has championed many issues related to improving the community including government accountability, accessibility and transparency …”

During the recent mayoral campaign, Longwell told the Wichita Eagle that he wants taxpayers to know where their money goes: “The city needs to continue to improve providing information online and use other sources that will enable the taxpayers to understand where their money is going.”

In a column in the Wichita Business Journal, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell wrote: “First off, we want City Hall to be open and transparent to everyone in the community.”

Now is the chance to fulfill these promises. All the city needs to do is add to its contract with Visit Wichita that the agency agree that it is a public agency spending public dollars, and that it will comply with the Kansas Open Records Act.

It would be a simple matter for the council to declare that the city and its taxpayer-funded partner agencies believe in open government. All the city has to have is the will to do this. It takes nothing more. It costs the city and its agencies nothing, because the open records law lets government charge for filling records requests. I would ask, however, that in the spirit of open transparent government, in respect for citizens’ right to know how tax funds are spent, and as a way to atone for past misdeeds, that Visit Wichita fulfill records requests at no charge.


  1. “The 2017 Adopted Budget includes funding for Visit Wichita’s annual allocation in the amount of $2,476,166, which is to be paid from the Convention & Tourism Fund.” City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016.
  2. “For 2017 the tax is budgeted to generate $3 million.” City of Wichita. Agenda for April 19, 2016.

Bizarre and troubling Wichita city council meetings

Inside jokes or a public shaming: Either way, it isn’t good.

Those who watch meetings of the Wichita City Council may have become accustomed to Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell and his unusual sense of humor. But an episode from the September 6, 2016 meeting of the council goes beyond bad and unfunny humor, presenting an unfavorable image of our city to anyone watching the meeting. The target of the mayor’s humor — or derision — is Wichita city manager Robert Layton. A video excerpt of the meeting is available here, or at the end of this article.

The mayor’s treatment of the city manager seems cruel. But maybe not. Perhaps there are inside jokes in play here, humor that an outside observer like myself does not understand and can’t appreciate. But that’s the problem. If, in fact, the mayor is joking with the manager, these are inside jokes. Therefore, outsiders won’t understand the humor. This includes most citizens of Wichita and outsiders observing the meetings of the Wichita City Council. I think I can speak for everyone when I say this: We aren’t impressed. It isn’t funny.

If the mayor isn’t joking, then what’s left is public cruelty, and that of a boss (the mayor) to those who work for him (the manager). Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer did this too, and to more than one city manager.

If you need help interpreting the mayor’s intent, consider this: The agenda for this meeting, for this item, held the notation “RECOMMENDED ACTION: Defer this item until October 4, 2016” for this item. There was no need for the mayor’s needling of the manager.

Either way — inside jokes or a public scolding — episodes like this are not good for the city’s image.