Tag Archives: Jim Howell

From Pachyderm: Sedgwick County Commission candidates

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Republican Candidates for Sedgwick County Commission. Appearing, in order of their initial appearance, were:

  • Richard Ranzau, District 4.
  • Pete Meitzner, District 1.
  • Jim Howell, District 5.

This was recorded September 7, 2018.

Shownotes

Is the pursuit of intergovernmental grants wise?

Is the pursuit of intergovernmental grants wise? Would local governments fund certain programs if the money was not seen as “free?”

An eariler version of this article failed to distinguish Jim Howell’s position from the majority of candidates. I regret the error.

At a forum of candidates for Sedgwick County Commission, the subject of intergovernmental grants was discussed. All candidates except for current commissioners Richard Ranzau and Jim Howell were fully in favor — enthusiastic, even — of the grant system. Both Ranzau and Howell expressed skepticism of the wisdom and efficacy of the grant system.

Other candidates participating in the forum had several justifications for accepting intergovernmental grants: It’s our tax money we sent to Washington or Topeka, it’s foolish not to try to get back our tax money, the grants are already funded, the money will simply go somewhere else. There are a few problems with these lines of reasoning.

First, the grants are not “already paid for.” Since the federal government runs a deficit, we’re not paying the entire cost of government. To say that some things (program A, B, and C) are paid for, and other things (programs D, E, and F) are not paid for, is making artificial distinctions that can’t be justified.

But deficit spending (on grants or other things) makes sense to politicians who want to deliver more government services than are being paid for by current levels of taxation. Federal and state grants make sense to local politicians and bureaucrats who want to be able to say they “won” federal or state dollars, so that the county or city can spend at no one’s cost. That’s how grant money is often characterized: Spending at no one’s cost.

But politicians and bureaucrats across the nation make the same argument. We all wind up spending money at no one’s cost, so they say.

Then: We must “try to get back our tax money.” This highlights another absurdity of government grants. We pay taxes, and then hope that we win the competition to get back our money. Who developed this system? Again, politicians like to boast they “won” grant funding that has no cost. Bureaucrats thrive on the jobs and power that grants provide, both locally and at the state and federal levels. Someone has to collect the taxes, write the applications for grants, evaluate the applications, administer the grant money at the state or federal level, administer the grant money at the local level, write reports on how the grant money is spent, and then someone has to read the reports. This creates a lot of jobs for bureaucrats. It also costs a lot, which is a deadweight cost, that is, costs that provide no benefit.

(If politicians and bureaucrats in other states, cities, and counties are smarter than us, do we have a fair chance of getting our tax money back in the form of grants?)

Finally: There is evidence that intergovernmental grants accepted today result in higher taxes tomorrow. Worse, this is for spending that local governments might not choose if local government bore the entire cost. But after the grant ends and after a constituency is created, it’s difficult to stop the spending.

Following, from 2013, a presentation of research on grants and future taxation.

Federal grants seen to increase future local spending

“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” — Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman

Is this true? Do federal grants cause state and/or local tax increases in the future after the government grant ends? Economists Russell S. Sobel and George R. Crowley have examined the evidence, and they find the answer is yes.

The research paper is titled Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes? Testing the Friedman-Sanford Hypothesis.

The difference between this research and most other is that Sobel and Crowley look at the impact of federal grants on state and local tax policy in future periods.

This is important because, in their words, “Federal grants often result in states creating new programs and hiring new employees, and when the federal funding for that specific purpose is discontinued, these new state programs must either be discontinued or financed through increases in state own source taxes.”

The authors caution: “Far from always being an unintended consequence, some federal grants are made with the intention that states will pick up funding the program in the future.”

The conclusion to their research paper states:

Our results clearly demonstrate that grant funding to state and local governments results in higher own source revenue and taxes in the future to support the programs initiated with the federal grant monies. Our results are consistent with Friedman’s quote regarding the permanence of temporary government programs started through grant funding, as well as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s reasoning for trying to deny some federal stimulus monies for his state due to the future tax implications. Most importantly, our results suggest that the recent large increase in federal grants to state and local governments that has occurred as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will have significant future tax implications at the state and local level as these governments raise revenue to continue these newly funded programs into the future. Federal grants to state and local governments have risen from $461 billion in 2008 to $654 billion in 2010. Based on our estimates, future state taxes will rise by between 33 and 42 cents for every dollar in federal grants states received today, while local revenues will rise by between 23 and 46 cents for every dollar in federal (or state) grants received today. Using our estimates, this increase of $200 billion in federal grants will eventually result in roughly $80 billion in future state and local tax and own source revenue increases. This suggests the true cost of fiscal stimulus is underestimated when the costs of future state and local tax increases are overlooked.

So: Not only are we taxed to pay for the cost of funding federal and state grants, the units of government that receive grants are very likely to raise their own levels of taxation in response to the receipt of the grants. This is a cycle of ever-expanding government that needs to end, and right now.

An introduction to the paper is Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes?.

For Sedgwick County Commission, too much debate

By moving to end motions and debate, the Sedgwick County Commission isn’t effectively serving citizens and taxpayers.

Yesterday’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission offered an opportunity to learn how we can improve local government.

The issue the commission was considering, significant in its own right, is not important to the following discussion. It’s the process that needs improvement.

There was a proposed ordinance. Commissioner Jim Howell offered two amendments — really substitute motions — that altered the proposed ordinance. Each failed by votes of three to two.

Howell had two more motions to offer. But Commissioner David Dennis moved a motion to end the offering of additional motions. In this vote the majority prevailed, and Howell was silenced. Commissioners voting to end debate were Chair Dave Unruh, Michael O’Donnell, and Dennis. Richard Ranzau and Howell opposed the motion to end debate.

The county commission is not a deliberative body like a legislature. The county does not have committees like a legislature. I’m not advocating for the county to form committees, but here’s what is missing from the county process: There is no opportunity for interested parties — often lobbyists, but also regular people — to testify before a committee as legislation is being developed. There is no committee mark-up process in which the text of a bill is crafted and finalized. There is no committee vote that decides whether to recommend the bill to the entire legislative body.

Some of this happens in Sedgwick County, of course, but mostly behind the scenes. There is the county staff meeting Tuesday morning, when the commissioners meet with staff in an informal setting. While this meeting is open to the public, there is rarely news coverage. (Hint to county staff: These meetings could easily be broadcast and archived on the internet without much cost or effort.)

In a legislature, when a bill is considered by the entire body, there is usually an amendment process. They may be many amendments that require time to debate and consider. This process was mentioned by two commission members who have served in the Kansas legislature.

But it seems a majority of Sedgwick County Commission members don’t care for this process.

I understand why some commissioners wanted to end debate. Sometimes amendments to legislation create a moment where legislators have to cast a vote on an issue, often a finely-grained issue. Sometimes that vote is used as a campaign issue in future elections. Those votes may appear in compilations of legislative activity that reveal how legislators vote.

But amendments and debate are part of the legislative process. Commissioner Howell had several amendments that he had prepared in advance. They were not off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment ideas. They were crafted to attempt to find a compromise that a majority of commissioners could accept.

But a majority of Sedgwick County Commission members didn’t want that.

Perhaps some commissioners where concerned about the meeting becoming lengthy. We see that from Wichita City Council members. They’re paid a part-time salary, so maybe there’s merit to their carping about long meetings.

But Howell’s amendments took just a few minutes each to consider. And — this is highly relevant — the members of the Sedgwick County Commission are paid a handsome full-time salary. They should not object to the meeting lasting all day, if that’s what it takes to serve the citizens. And citizens were not well-served by the commission’s decision to silence one of its members.