A look at voting behavior in the Kansas House of Representatives regarding an important tax bill.
Recently the Kansas House of Representatives held a series of votes on HB 2178, titled “Substitute for HB 2178 – Concerning income taxation; relating to determination of Kansas adjusted gross income, rates, itemized deductions.” The effect of the bill was to increase taxes.
There were three recorded votes on this bill. On February 15, 2017, the House, acting as Committee of the Whole, passed the bill on a vote of 83 to 39. 63 votes are required for passage. This is one step a bill takes as it becomes law.
On the next day, February 16, the House passed the bill on final action by a vote of 76 to 48. This is the final step the House needs to take to pass a bill into law. (On the next day, the Senate also passed the bill, sending it to the governor.)
The governor vetoed the bill. On February 22, the House considered a motion to pass the bill notwithstanding the governor’s veto. A two-thirds majority — 84 votes — are required to override a veto. This motion passed by a vote of 85 to 40, thereby overriding the governor’s veto. (The Senate also considered an override motion, but it did not pass, so the veto was upheld and this bill did not become law.)
Of interest is the vote-switching in the House as the bill passed through three rounds of votes. In all cases a vote of “Yea” was a vote in favor of making the bill into law. (This is not always the case.) In the nearby table, I’ve shaded the instances where members switched votes.
Data and charts regarding the Kansas general fund.
“The State General Fund receives the most attention in the budget because it is the largest source of the uncommitted revenue available to the state. It is also the fund to which most general tax receipts are credited. The Legislature may spend State General Fund dollars for any governmental purpose.”1
There is a requirement that the general fund have an ending balance of at least 7.5 percent. “Legislation was enacted by the 1990 Legislature to establish minimum ending balances to ensure financial solvency and fiscal responsibility. The legislation requires an ending balance of at least 7.5 percent of total expenditures and demand transfers and requires that the Governor’s budget recommendations and the legislative-approved budget for the coming year adhere to this standard. Often the Legislature suspends this requirement and allows for lower ending balances.”2
“The budget is based on an estimate of annual receipts and the Governor’s recommendation for total expenditures over the course of a fiscal year. However, within any fiscal year, the amount of receipts to the State General Fund varies widely from month to month, and an agency may spend any or all of its appropriation at any time during the fiscal year. In particular, the state must make large expenditures early in the fiscal year for school districts, while meeting the demands for periodic Medicaid reimbursements to providers, as well as making payroll. This makes for an imbalance when compared to when much of the state’s tax revenues are received, such as income tax, mostly recorded in the final quarter of the fiscal year.”3
“Estimates for the State General Fund are developed using a consensus process that involves the Division of the Budget, the Legislative Research Department, the Department of Revenue, and consulting economists from state universities.”4
The sources of data for the following charts and tables are Kansas Budget Reports and Comparison Reports for various years. Figures for fiscal years greater than 2016 are estimates from the Kansas Division of the Budget. Click charts for larger versions.
Kansas Division of the Budget. The Governor’s Budget Report Volume 1, Fiscal Year 2018.http://budget.ks.gov/. ↩
The union believes that without due process, also called tenure, teachers are subject to arbitrary dismissal. A common story is that a school board member whose child isn’t made — say, quarterback on the football team or head cheerleader — could pressure school administrators to take action against the responsible coach or teacher. Pressure could even be brought to change grades.
That could happen. It probably happens. But this is not a reason to saddle schoolchildren with bad teachers, which is what due process does. In a recent survey, teachers said five percent of their colleagues are failures, earning the grade of F.1
Given that teacher quality is the most important factor success factor that schools can control,234 why are these five percent still working in schools as teachers?
Due process laws are the answer. This is the system the Kansas teachers union wants to restore. If successful, the winners are the union and bad teachers. The losers are Kansas schoolchildren.
“If we use the traditional definition of a C grade as ‘satisfactory,’ then the public, on average, thinks about one-fifth of teachers in the local schools are unsatisfactory (13% D and 9% F). … Even teachers say 5% of their colleagues in local schools are failures deserving an F, with another 8% performing at no better than the D level.” No Common Opinion on the Common Core.http://educationnext.org/2014-ednext-poll-no-common-opinion-on-the-common-core/. ↩
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Should Sedgwick County be in competition with the private sector? What are attitudes towards taxation and spending in Kansas? Finally, what is it like to request data from the City of Wichita? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 138, broadcast February 12, 2017.
Tanner is Senior Fellow at Cato Institute. The bill in question is HB 2064, titled “Establishing the KanCare bridge to a healthy Kansas program.” It would expand Medicaid eligibility to more people in Kansas. These quoted remarks are from Tanner’s written testimony, which may be read at Should Kansas Expand Its Medicaid Coverage.
As to the cost of Medicaid expansion, Tanner wrote: “Second, while such estimates are concerning enough in themselves, and would almost certainly require a substantial tax hike to finance, there is ample reason to believe that they understate the actual cost. For example, actual enrollments following expansion have exceeded estimates in every state that has expanded Medicaid under the ACA, in most cases by double digits and in some cases by more than 100 percent. In neighboring Colorado, the maximum projected enrollment was 187,000 and as of October of last year enrollment had exceeded 446,000. … In addition, the per enrollee cost has risen faster than predicted.”
Then, there’s the woodwork effect, which costs are covered only at the regular Medicaid reimbursement rate, not the 94 percent citizens might be tempted to believe: “Third, while it may be tempting to focus on the 94 percent FMAP [Federal Medical Assistance Percentage] for newly eligible adults, you should keep in mind that many of those who enroll under expansion will not fall into this category. Rather, they will be previously eligible individuals or families that are lured into the system through the publicity and outreach efforts surrounding expansion. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute have dubbed this the ‘woodwork effect.’ Woodwork enrollees are not eligible for the enhanced FMAP. Instead, Kansas will have to pay 43.79 percent. In states that have expanded Medicaid under ACA, as much as half or more of those who signed up have fallen into this woodwork category.”
Tanner also noted the uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, under the Trump Administration, warning legislators, “You may well be locking yourselves into future spending based on hopes for federal dollars that may never materialize.”
He also noted the studies that have found that being on Medicaid does not result in very good health outcomes, most notable in the Oregon study.
A statewide poll finds little support for raising taxes as a way to balance the Kansas budget.
Kansas Policy Institute has commissioned another public opinion poll gauging the preferences of Kansans. The poll released this week asked questions about how to balance the budget in the current year and next year, raising the gasoline tax, schools, paying for Medicaid, and voting on local tax increases.
In a press release announcing poll results, KPI president Dave Trabert noted, “Once again, scientific public opinion surveys show that special interests pushing for enormous, record-setting tax increases are completely out of step with the general public. Kansans expect government and school districts to make efficient use of their tax dollars. They don’t want their income taxes or gasoline taxes increased. The question is whether legislators will listen to citizens or special interests that want higher taxes for more spending.”
Some may recognize a discrepancy between the results of this poll with last year’s elections for the Kansas House and Senate. Those elections have been widely interpreted as a referendum against an unpopular governor and his policies. This poll, however, finds little support for raising the taxes that the governor and legislature cut.
A possible explanation is that in elections for office, voters are selecting people to serve in office. Voters must choose candidate A or candidate B (or maybe C or D). Voters must take the entire package of positions associated with a candidate. It isn’t possible to select some positions from candidate A, and others from candidate B.
But in a poll with specific and narrow questions, voters can express their preferences with more precision.
There’s a difference between voting for politicians and voting for — or expressing preference for — specific policies and issues. When given a chance, Wichitans have often voted contrary to the wishes of the city council, city hall bureaucrats, and Wichita’s political class. Whether a special tax giveaway to a hotel, a general sales tax increase, reduction of penalties for marijuana possession, or fluoridation of water: Wichitans voted in opposition to the policies that were supported by the people they voted to place in office.
KPI’s fifth annual Public Education Fact Book is a one-stop shop for data on public school information from The Sunflower State. Numerous scientific surveys show that citizens are grossly misinformed on many pertinent facts of public education in Kansas. Aid and spending per-pupil are much higher than many Kansans believe, and student achievement is lower than understood. This fact book series aims to rectify this situation.
This document is available to read online here, or contact KPI for a printed copy.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Co-host Karl Peterjohn joins Bob Weeks to discuss the fight on blight and property rights, guns on campus, availability of testimony in the Kansas Legislature, and KPERS, our state’s retirement system. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 137, broadcast February 5, 2017.
Proposed changes in the Kansas motor fuel tax and sales tax on groceries affects households in different ways.
As part of a revision to the tax regime in Kansas, a bill proposes to raise the motor fuel tax and reduce the sales tax on most types of groceries. (Restaurant meals would not be affected.) The bill is HB 2237.1 It implements most or all of the elements of a plan called “The Path Forward.”2
Excise taxes (the motor fuel tax) and sales taxes are usually regressive, meaning that their impact is felt most severely by lower-income households.3 Data shows that as income rises, so too does spending on motor fuel and food at home. But the rise in spending is not proportional to income. For example, data from BLS (see below for references) tells us that households in the lowest quintile of income spent an average of $939 per year on motor fuel and oil in 2015. For the highest quintile of households, spending was $3,226.
But when we look at this spending as a percent of household income after taxes, for the lowest quintile spending on motor fuel and oil represents 8.2 percent of income. For the highest quintile, it is 2.3 percent. A similar pattern holds for purchases of food for home consumption.
Because of this relationship, taxes on the sale of gasoline and food affect lower-income households proportionally more. What I have done is to estimate the additional cost, as a percent of after-tax income, of the proposed motor fuel tax. As can be seen in the nearby chart, the additional cost ranges from 0.39 percent of income for the lowest-income households to 0.11 percent for upper-income households. This difference, a factor of 3.5, illustrates the regressive nature of sales taxes, and the gasoline tax is just that — a sales tax.
The bill proposing the increase in gasoline tax also proposes a reduction in the food sales tax rate from 6.5 percent to five percent. That tax is also regressive. In 2014, as Wichita was considering adding one cent per dollar to the sales tax already paid, my analysis of spending found this: “The lowest income class of families experience an increase nearly four times the magnitude as do the highest income families, as a percentage of after-tax income. This is the regressive nature of sales taxes illustrated in numbers.”4
A nearby chart shows that the savings from the proposed lower food sales tax ranges from 0.07 percent for high-income households to 0.33 percent for low-income households. This is consistent with the regressive nature of sales taxes: They affect low-income households greatest — when raised, and also when lowered.
Another chart shows the summative effect of the higher fuel tax and lower food sales tax. Of interest, the net effect is highest for the middle 20 percent of households. Note that considering these two taxes, the effect of the proposed bill is to raise taxes for everyone.
Show the math
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a unit of the U.S. Department of Labor,5 has data for household expenditures on gasoline and oil. This data is available for five intervals, or quintiles, of income.6
Then the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy,7 has gasoline prices. It doesn’t have them for Kansas, but it does for the Midwest.8
From these two values, we can calculate the number of gallons of gasoline purchased for each income level. Here, we lose a bit of validity, as the BLS data is for purchases of gasoline and oil. But it’s the data we have, and purchases of gasoline surely dominate purchases of motor oil.
Once we have the number of gallons of gasoline purchased, we multiply by the proposed eleven cents per gallon additional tax. This produces the extra gasoline sales tax cost per household. This is a static calculation and assumes no change in the number of gallons purchased due to the higher cost from the tax, or from any change in gasoline prices for any reason.
Then, the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey also holds income after taxes for the five income levels. Simple division gives us the percent of household income that the additional tax represents.
The BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey also holds data for spending on food at home for the five income levels. From that, we can multiply by 1.5 percent to estimate the amount saved if sales tax on food falls to five percent from 6.5 percent. As with purchases of gasoline, this is a static calculation and assumes no change in behavior from reduced sales tax on groceries. Simple division gives us the percent of household income that the tax savings represents.
Then, we can subtract the food sales tax savings from the additional gasoline tax costs to produce a net calculation.
Kansas House of Representatives, Committee on Taxation. HB 2237, Concerning taxation; relating to income tax, rates, determination of income, tax credits; motor fuels tax, rates, trip permits, distribution; sales and compensating use tax, food and food ingredients.http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/hb2237/. ↩
It is easy to provide Kansans with written testimony from the Kansas Legislature. At least I think so.
On the Kansas Legislature website, each committee has its own page. On these committee pages there are links for “Committee Agenda,” “Committee Minutes,” and “Testimony.” When I looked at these pages two years ago, I found that in most cases there is no data behind these links.1 I do not know what the statistics would be if I repeated the analysis for this year.
But the written testimony and informational presentations provided to committees are of interest and value to citizens. Most committees — perhaps all — require conferees to supply a pdf or Microsoft Word version of their testimony in advance of the hearing. These electronic documents could be placed online before the committee hearing. Then, anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone could have these documents available to them.
As an illustration, a bill from last week, SB31, was of interest to many in Kansas.2 But the page for the committee that heard this bill holds no testimony, for this bill or any other.
I’ve gathered the written testimony on SB31 and present it as a single pdf file for ease of handling. I combined the files and formed an index using PDF Split and Merge Basic, which is free and open source. I shared the file using Google Drive, a free service, or very inexpensive if additional storage is required. I can’t tell you how much time it took to accomplish this task, as I was interrupted several times during the process. If pressed, I’d estimate no more than ten or fifteen minutes.
You may access this document here. I can’t tell you how much time it took to accomplish this task, as I was interrupted several times during the process. If pressed, I’d estimate no more than ten minutes.
Kansas governments are trying — again — to expand their powers to take property to the detriment of one of the fundamental rights of citizens: private property rights.
Last year cities in Kansas lobbied for a bill that would expand their powers to take property from its lawful owners, all in the name of saving neighborhoods from “blight.” Governor Brownback vetoed that bill, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition.”1
The governor further explained: “The broad definition of blighted or abandoned property would grant a nearly unrestrained power to municipalities to craft zoning laws and codes that could unjustly deprive citizens of their property rights. The process of granting private organizations the ability to petition the courts for temporary and then permanent ownership of the property of another is rife with potential problems.”
The bill introduced this year is SB 31, titled “Rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities.”2 It is a slightly modified version of SB 338, the bill from last year.It deserves opposition for the same multitude of reasons. Last year John Todd summarized the reasons for opposition:
Senate Bill 338 appears to provide local governmental units with additional tools that they don’t need to “take” properties in a manner that circumvents the eminent domain statutes that private property rights advocates fought so hard to achieve in 2006.
The total lack of compensation to the property owner for the deprivation or taking of his or her property is missing in the bill.
Allowing a city or their third party take possession of vacant property they do not own and have not obtained legal title to is wrong.
Please take a look at a comparison between a free-market private sector solution as contrasted to a government mandated program to achieving affordable housing and the impact highly subsidized government housing solutions are having on adjacent home owners.
This year’s bill is a “committee bill,” meaning that no legislator was willing to be a named sponsor. We might call this the “Longwell-Meitzner bill,” as these two Wichita City Council members were particularly disappointed that the governor of Kansas blocked their power grab.3
Of note, Todd and I, along with others, had a luncheon meeting with a Kansas Senator who voted for last year’s bill. 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.
Following, John Todd’s testimony opposing SB 31. His exhibits are available via a link at the end of the testimony.4
January 26, 2017
Senator Elaine Bowers, Chair
Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government
Subject: MY OPPOSITION to Senate Bill No. 31 scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Committee on January 26, 2017
Dear Senator Bowers and members of the Senate Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Committee,
I OPPOSE the passage of Senate Bill No. 31 of 2017 since it is basically a slightly modified and expanded version of the Senate Bill No. 338 of 2016 that Governor Sam Brownback correctly vetoed. I see no new provisions in the 2017 bill that gives citizens any additional private property protection; rather, it strengthens local authorities “unmitigated power in determining which properties should be seized, allowing localities to write their own rules. It also cedes to municipalities the power to select which private organizations receive control of the property.”
This quote is from an e-mail the Governor’s office issued in announcing his Veto of the 2016 bill (see copy attached). A “Message from the Governor” dated April 11, 2016 provides his excellent reasoning for the Veto, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition (see copy attached).
Shortly after starting my career in the real estate business in 1976 I acquired my first rehab house. It was located in the Old Orchard area of Wichita that everyone considered one of the most economically challenged and difficult neighborhoods to work with in town. I paid the seller nearly $20 thousand her dilapidated house that included three vacant single family building lots. It cost me in the range of $10 thousand to rehabilitate the house that included repairing a caved in concrete block basement wall. I sold the rehabilitated house and the lot it was on for the $30 thousand I had invested in the transaction and wound up with the vacant lots free and clear. I sold the three lots to a builder for $9 thousand cash and he subsequently built three new affordable entry level homes on them.
Now let’s take a look at this private sector transaction:
The seller of the house received cash for her property through a mutually agreed upon transaction without coercion (no eminent domain) involved.
I rehabilitated the house and sold it to a young couple for their first home.
The builder who purchased the 3 vacant lots built three new houses that he sold to owner occupant homeowners.
The builder provided construction jobs and purchased building materials from local vendors.
The Orchard neighborhood saw immediate improvement and felt the benefits of economic uplift.
The City, County, and School District tax base was expanded providing with one rehabilitated and three new houses thus providing additional tax revenue to fund fire, police, public safety, and money to educate our children.
I paid Federal and state taxes on the profit I made in the transaction and I suspect the builder did too.
There was no need for government subsidies of any nature for this private sector transaction to work.
Now in contrast, let’s take a look at how our local government has been handling similar neighborhood opportunities. Please take a look at the attached Building Blocks Infill Project Area map to discover what has been happening in a predominantly African American neighborhood community in Wichita.
The vacant green rectangles are dozens of vacant lots where houses once stood that were bulldozed by the city.
The owners of these houses were paid $0 for the houses that were taken by the city’s bulldozer
In my judgment, many if not a majority of these bulldozed houses had economic value and offered the potential for rehabilitation and the creation of low-cost entry level housing. (See exhibit A)
The city charged the property owner $8 – $10 thousand for bulldozing charges leaving the owner with a vacant lot that was left to produce high weeds and collect trash.
Most of the owners let their vacant lots go back for taxes and many were sold for $100 or less and they received $0 for their properties.
Thus the existing and potential tax base was lost as well as the wonderful opportunity for clean low-cost affordable entry level home ownership that is part of the American dream.
Some of the most vulnerable and economically challenged property owners of our city rightly feel helpless in the face of this devastation.
Now local governmental officials are asking you for additional powers through Senate Bill No. 31 to “deal” with this problem.
They want the power to seize unoccupied houses without compensating the owners anything for their property.
They want to empower non-profit (non-taxpaying) organizations of their choice to seize unoccupied houses without compensating the owners for their property.
The non-profits involved in the redevelopment of this neighborhood community with the exception of Habitat for Humanity rely heavily on tax subsidies for wealthy taxpayers and generous Federal subsidies in the range of $50 thousand for each house built and sold.
I hear talk of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to finance redevelopment in this community. The TIF program is simply a diversion of tax revenue that needs to go to city, county, and school district treasuries and not flow back to developers.
I see nothing in Senate Bill No. 31 that does anything to promote private sector redevelopment.
Is there a private sector solution? I say YES and I see it happening. Private sector investors, contractors and homeowners are stepping up and seizing opportunity (See Exhibit B). This economic uplift is healthy for the neighborhood community, expands the tax base, and offers an opportunity for investor/contractor profit in some cases or low-cost affordable home homeownership in others.
The rehabilitation of existing houses and redevelopment on vacant “infill” is best achieved by the private sector and not by government planners or their favored non-profit entitles.
The taking of property by local government without compensation is wrong. I believe that was what Governor Brownback was saying in his veto message, “Government should defend and protect the property rights of all citizens, ensuring that the less advantaged are not denied the liberty to which ever other citizen is entitled.”
I urge you to OPPOSE passage of Senate Bill No. 31!
John R. Todd
A Kansas Citizen
The exhibits referred to are available in pdf form. Click here.
The law of Kansas civil asset forfeiture is among the worst in the nation, and demands reform.
Civil asset forfeiture is a process whereby law enforcements takes and keeps a person’s property merely because they are suspected of a crime. No criminal conviction is required, and the property is often kept without regard to the outcome of the case, if charges are even filed.
The Institute for Justice has a comprehensive report titled Policing for Profit. The report provides this summary of the current law in Kansas:
Kansas has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country, earning a D-. State law requires only a preponderance of the evidence in order to establish a connection between property and a crime, thus making the property forfeitable. Individuals bringing an innocent owner claim bear the burden of proving that they were not involved in any criminal activity to have their seized property returned. Furthermore, Kansas law enforcement agencies keep 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds. Although the Kansas attorney general has ruled that forfeiture funds may only be used for special law enforcement projects and not to meet normal operating expenses, this still provides considerable incentive to seize.
Each Kansas law enforcement agency must deposit its forfeiture proceeds into a special law enforcement trust fund maintained by its budgetary authority — such as a city council or the state Legislature — and make annual reports to that authority. Unfortunately, state law does not require that these reports be standardized or filed with a central entity, meaning that obtaining an accurate picture of all forfeiture activity in the Sunflower State would require submitting a Kansas Open Records Act request to every law enforcement agency or budgetary authority in the state and then compiling those records. This process does not hold law enforcement agencies accountable, nor does it provide the public with any understanding of forfeiture activity in the state.
This is an area of Kansas law that desperately needs reform. Following, testimony I will deliver regarding HB 2018, introduced by Representative Gail Finney of Wichita.
Testimony to House Committee on Judiciary as proponent of House Bill 2018, concerning the Kansas standard asset forfeiture act.
January 24, 2017
Representative Blaine Finch, Chair
House Judiciary Committee
Dear Representative Finch and committee members,
I am concerned that current law regarding civil asset forfeiture in Kansas creates incentives that are contrary to justice. In order to punish citizens, the state should first obtain a conviction of a crime. But the asset forfeiture law in Kansas allows punishment before conviction, and punishment even if no criminal charges are filed or successfully prosecuted. This punishment is the seizing of assets without regard to criminal guilt.
This ability to seize assets without a criminal conviction creates incentives for “policing for profit,” which is the title of an exhaustive report from the Institute for Justice at ij.org. The first recommendation in this report is “Lawmakers should eliminate any financial incentive for law enforcement to seize property.” HB 2018, by requiring a criminal conviction before assets are seized, is a good first step towards reform of this important area of Kansas law.
Critics of school choice say there is no accountability outside the traditional public schools. Here are the standards Kansas used to hold its schools accountable.
Are non-traditional public schools held properly accountable? Do charter schools and private schools escape the accountability standards states use for their traditional public schools, particularly in Kansas?
A standard argument against school choice is that charter schools and private schools are not held accountable. Underlying this argument is the assumption that parents have neither the time nor technical expertise to properly evaluate the schools their children attend. Only those with special training can do this, goes the argument.
This argument is troubling because it is often directed at parents of minority children, or parents who are from low-income households, or parents who may not be highly educated. Besides being elitist and bigoted, it doesn’t recognize the poor job that Kansas state education officials have done holding public schools accountable. Fortunately, Kansas school officials have corrected this, but it doesn’t make up for the years that Kansas purposefully used low standards to evaluate students, and told us students were doing well.
For years Kansas schools have used low standards to evaluate students. That is, Kansas was willing to say students are “proficient” at a much lower level of performance than most other states. Worse than that, during the 2005 to 2009 time period, Kansas actually weakened its standards.1 Coincidentally, this was during the time that Kansas courts ordered more spending in Kansas schools, and the legislature generally complied.
The new Kansas standards, however, are more in line with those of other states, and present a more truthful assessment of Kansas schoolchildren.
This is the finding of the EducationNext report After Common Core, States Set Rigorous Standards.2 EducationNext is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform.
The report compares the proportion of students considered “proficient” on states’ own exams with that of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” The EducationNext report explains:
Data from both the NAEP and state tests allow for periodic assessments of the rigor of each state’s proficiency standards. If the percentage of students identified as proficient in any given year is essentially the same for both the NAEP and the state exams, we can infer that the state has established as strict a proficiency standard as that of the NAEP. But if the state identifies a higher percentage of students as proficient than the NAEP, we can conclude that the state has set its proficiency bar lower than that of the NAEP.
From 2003 to 2013 the Kansas standards were weak, earning letter grades ranging from “C” to “D” in the EducationNext reports. In another similar study, the Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales series from National Center for Education Statistics, Kansas standards were also found to be low compared to other states. NCES is part of the United States Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. It has not yet examined the 2015 NAEP and state exam scores.
Now, after comparing Kansas state assessments to the 2015 NAEP exam, Kansas earns a grade of “A” from EducationNext for the strength of its standards.
This grade of “A” does not reflect the performance of Kansas schoolchildren on tests. Instead, it means that the state has raised the definition of proficient to a higher level. A presentation by Kansas State Department of Education to the Kansas State Board of Education explains the relationship of the new standards to the former:
The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than the previous Kansas Standards. The Mathematics test is more demanding than even the ACT and taken a year earlier. The assessment is also more demanding than the NAEP assessment. Kansas takes seriously the current issues of college dropout and remediation rates and feels higher standards are necessary to help remedy the problem.34
Kansas is not alone in making a change, according to the EducationNext report:
The results are striking: The last two years have witnessed the largest jump in state standards since they were established as part of the federal accountability program. Overall, 36 states have strengthened their standards since 2013, while just 5 have loosened them, and 7 have left their standards essentially unchanged.
This is a refreshing change for Kansas. It means that after many years of evaluating students with weak standards and low expectations, Kansas now has reasonable standards.
But who do we hold accountable for the years of having low standards and further weakening them, while at the same time telling us Kansas students were performing well on tests?
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Co-host Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks discuss technological progress, confirmation hearings, whether Kansas will trim spending or raise taxes, and Kansas fiscal nightmares. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 135, broadcast January 22, 2017.
Kansas non-profit executives work to deny low-income families the school choice opportunities that executive salaries can afford.
Kansas Association of School Boards
Executives and annual salaries 1
John Heim, Executive Director $182,471
Donna Whiteman, Assistant Executive Director $120,041
Brian Jordan, Assistant Executive Director $106,568
Douglas Moeckel, Deputy Executive Director $109,425
David Shriver, Assistant Executive Director $103,845
These executives can afford to send their children to any school.
Kansas National Education Association
Executives and annual salaries 2
Mark Farr, President $118,314
Claudette Johns, Executive Director $149,553
Kevin Riemann, Executive Director $139,327
David Schnauer, General Counsel $142,630
Marjorie Blaufuss, Staff Counsel $123,584
Anthony White, Uniserv Director $119,782
Burle Neely, Uniserv Director $116,559
Gregory Jones, Uniserv Director $117,559
These executives can afford to send their children to any school.
All the above lobby vigorously against any form of school choice.
Can this family afford school choice? Probably not. It is these minority children and children from low-income families that most need school choice. The cruel irony is that the highly paid executives work to deny school choice to these families.
A common complaint in Kansas is that class sizes have been rising. While pupil-teacher ratio is not the same measure as class size, the question is this: If Kansas has a low pupil-teacher ratio, but class sizes are (purportedly) large and rising, what are these teachers doing?
In the chart of pupil-teacher ratios over time, we see that while the ratio in Kansas rose for the 2015 school year, the trend over time is down, meaning that the number of teachers has increased faster than enrollment. The ratio for 2015 is the same as for 2008, and lower than the years before then.
Also, note the position of Kansas compared to other states. The pupil-teacher ratio in Kansas is lower than in most states.
This data is available in an interactive visualization. You may select different views of the data, and filter for specific states and time frames. Click here to access the visualization.
Those who want to be informed of the happenings of the Kansas Legislature have these resources available.
The Legislature’s site at kslegislature.org has rosters of members, lists of committees, lists of bills, journals (the daily record of proceedings in each chamber), and calendars (the plan for the day, along with topics for upcoming committee meetings).
A useful feature is the “Current Happenings” link for both the House and Senate. This has a link to the bills that have seen movement in some way each day. The page for each bill is generally useful, too, with the steps in the bill’s history, along with links to the bill text, fiscal and supplemental notes, and other material. Fiscal notes — prepared by the Division of Budget — estimate the financial impact of a bill, while the supplemental notes — prepared by Kansas Legislative Research Department — contain background and explanatory information. When attempting to understand legislation, the fiscal and supplemental notes are very useful.
New this year is the menu item “Committee Bill Hearings” on the “Committees” tab.
Of note, the Legislature’s site has for several years held an icon promising an RSS feed. But nothing is behind the link. Also, there is still an icon representing a link, but it does nothing.
Audio and video
Both the House and Senate broadcast audio of their proceedings. But you must listen live, as the broadcasts are not made available to the public in any other way. It would be exceedingly simple to make these past broadcasts available to the public, as explained here. But the legislature does not retain audio recordings of sessions.
As of this writing, the Kansas Legislature does not make available video of its proceedings.
Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) has many documents that are useful in understanding state government and the legislature. This agency’s home page is www.kslegresearch.org. Of particular interest:
Kansas Legislative Briefing Book. This book’s audience is legislators, but anyone can benefit. The book has a chapter for major areas of state policy and legislation, giving history, background, and explanations of law. In some years the entire collection of material has been made available as a single pdf file, but not so this year. Contact information for the legislative analysts is made available in each chapter. The most recent version can be found on the Publications page. The version for 2017 is available here.
Of note, versions of the briefing book from years past are useful. KLRD doesn’t provide links to these old documents, but they are available. The search feature of the page (top right corner) will find these documents. It forms a Google site-specific search which looks like this: “site:www.kslegresearch.org summary of legislation.” The same works for old versions of other KLRD documents.
Kansas Fiscal Facts. This book, in 124 pages, provides “basic budgetary facts” to those without budgetary experience. It provides an overview of the budget, and then more information for each of the six branches of Kansas state government. There is a glossary and contact information for the fiscal analysts responsible for different areas of the budget. This document is updated each year. The most recent version can be found on the Publications page.
Legislative Procedure in Kansas. This book of 236 pages holds the rules and explanations of how the Kansas Legislature works. It was last revised in November 2006, but the subject that is the content of this book changes slowly over the years. The direct link is Legislative Procedure in Kansas, November 2006.
How a Bill Becomes Law. This is a one-page diagram of the legislative steps involved in passing laws. The direct link is How a Bill Becomes Law.
Summary of Legislation. This document is created each year, and is invaluable in remembering what laws were passed each year. From its introduction: “This publication includes summaries of the legislation enacted by the 2016 Legislature. Not summarized are bills of a limited, local, technical, clarifying, or repealing nature, and bills that were vetoed (sustained).” The most recent version can be found on the Publications page. For 2016, this document also summarizes the special session.
Legislative Highlights. This is a more compact version of the Summary of Legislation, providing the essentials of the legislative session. The most recent version can be found on the Publications page.
Kansas Tax Facts. This book provides information on state and local taxes in Kansas. The most recent version can be found on the Publications page.
Kansas Register. From the Kansas Secretary of State: “The Kansas Register is the official state newspaper. This publication provides a wide range of information such as proposed and adopted administrative regulations, new state laws, bond sales and redemptions, notice of open meetings, state contracts offered for bid, attorney general opinions, and many other public notices.” The Register is published each week, and may be found at Kansas Register.
A look at actual spending on Kansas highways, apart from transfers.
When we look at actual spending on Kansas roads and highways, we see something different from what is commonly portrayed. Kansas Department of Transportation publishes a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report that details spending in four categories. These figures represent actual spending on roads and highways, independent of transfers to or from the highway fund.
Spending on “Preservation” has been rising, but fell last year.
Spending on “Expansion and Enhancement” has been rising.
Spending on “Maintenance” has been level, with a small decline.
Spending on “Modernization” has declined, then rose.
For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2016 totaled $857.133 million. That’s down from $932.666 million the year before, and up from a low of $698.770 million in fiscal 2010.
Again, these are dollars actually spent on highway programs. A common characterization of the way Kansas government is funded is called “robbing the bank of KDOT.” To the extent that characterization is accurate, there is a separate line item titled “Distributions to other state funds” that holds these values. It appears in the nearby table.
Sales tax revenue to the highway fund
Kansas law specifies how much sales tax revenue is transferred to the highway fund. Here are recent rates of transfer and dates they became effective:1
July 1, 2010: 11.427%
July 1, 2011: 11.26%
July 1, 2012: 11.233%
July 1, 2013: 17.073%
July 1, 2015: 16.226%
July 1, 2016 and thereafter: 16.154%
A nearby chart shows the dollar amounts transferred to the highway fund from sales tax revenue. In 2006 the transfer was $98.914 million, and by 2016 it had grown to $517.698 million.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Co-host Karl Peterjohn joins Bob Weeks to discuss Karl’s service as county commissioner, the new session of the Kansas Legislature, and choosing a successor to Congressman Mike Pompeo. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 134, broadcast January 15, 2017.
Proposals in the Kansas budget for fiscal year 2018 are more evidence of why defined-benefit pension plans are incompatible with the public sector.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has proposed delays in funding KPERS, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The delays are in both directions. The state intends to break a past promise to pay, and also to skip some future payments.
A memo from KPERS summarizes recent history and the proposed changes: “Last fiscal year, the State delayed its fourth quarter payment for School employer contributions with a promise to pay it in Fiscal Year 2018 with interest. The Governor is recommending the State not pay this contribution and skip one quarterly payment each year through FY19. In addition, the Governor recommends extending the time to pay down KPERS’ existing unfunded actuarial liability by 10 years.”1
Many will criticize the proposed reduction in funding KPERS as stealing from KPERS. That really isn’t true. KPERS has plenty of money to pay current retirees their promised benefits. The above memo also says that those near retirement won’t be affected.
But what about younger employees who may not retire for 20 or 30 years? Will they receive their promised benefits?
The answer is yes, almost certainly. Their retirement benefits are in the form of a contract, and it is very unlikely that the state will break those contracts.
So: Is KPERS being robbed? Stolen from?
No. It’s future Kansas taxpayers who will be mugged. They will have to pay the unfunded liabilities accumulated by not only the current governor and legislature, but by past governors and legislatures too. I explain in more detail in my recent article No one is stealing* from KPERS. (The asterisk notes that there is stealing in a way, but from future taxpayers.)
Further: It is entirely foreseeable that this is happening. In 2015 the state issued $1 billion in bonds to address a portion of the KPERS unfunded liability. This made the unfunded liability ratio look better, and the governor and Republicans continually boast of this. But debt has simply been shifted from one balance sheet to another. The same taxpayers that will eventually pay.
This is one of the reasons why government should not offer defined-benefit pension plans. Because of the long time horizons involved, it’s easy to delay and postpone dealing with problems. Or, legislators are prone to make risky investment decisions as Kansas did in 2015 by $1 billion in bonds and transferring the proceeds to KPERS. This was — is — a risky maneuver, and it has led to undesirable behavior that was entirely predictable.
The plan was that the state would borrow $1 billion, and invest it. If the state earned more in investment returns than the interest cost on the bonds, the state wins. Barry Poulson, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor at the University of Colorado — Boulder has written on the danger of borrowing to shore up state pension funds, as Kansas has done. He explained there is the “lack of nexus between the investment of the bond proceeds and payments for unfunded liabilities in the plan.” This means that the borrowed funds may be used for current spending rather than for correcting the KPERS unfunded liability.2
Paulson explains: “If legislators see that additional funds are available to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan they may choose to allocate less general fund money to meet these pension obligations.” What Poulson warned of happened in Kansas in 2016. Now, the governor proposes even more: Pushing off KPERS contributions to the future so that more money is available for spending on other stuff now.
In a way, it’s surprising that groups who advocate for public employees are upset with this. (See, for example, here from KNEA.) Instead, they should be grateful. KPERS benefits are unlikely to be cut for any retirees. But underfunding KPERS today means there is more money available for public employees and the agencies that employ them. In reality, these groups simply want higher taxes now.