Tag Archives: Kansas legislature

Articles about the Kansas legislature, both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Rich States, Poor States, 2107 edition

In Rich States, Poor States, Kansas improves its middle-of-the-pack performance, but continues with a mediocre forward-looking forecast.

In the 2017 edition of Rich States, Poor States, Utah continues its streak at the top of Economic Outlook Ranking, meaning that the state is poised for growth and prosperity. Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance rankings, and after falling sharply in the forward-looking forecast, continues at the same level.

Rich States, Poor States is produced by American Legislative Exchange Council. The authors are economist Dr. Arthur B. Laffer, Stephen Moore, who is Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Project for Economic Growth at The Heritage Foundation, and Jonathan Williams, who is vice president for the Center for State Fiscal Reform at ALEC.

In addition to the printed and pdf versions of Rich States, Poor States there is now an interactive web site at www.richstatespoorstates.org.

Rich States, Poor States computes two measures for each state. The first is the Economic Performance Ranking, described as “a backward-looking measure based on a state’s performance on three important variables: State Gross Domestic Product, Absolute Domestic Migration, and Non-Farm Payroll Employment — all of which are highly influenced by state policy.” The process looks at the past ten years.

Looking forward, there is the Economic Outlook Ranking, “a forecast based on a state’s current standing in 15 state policy variables. Each of these factors is influenced directly by state lawmakers through the legislative process. Generally speaking, states that spend less — especially on income transfer programs, and states that tax less — particularly on productive activities such as working or investing — experience higher growth rates than states that tax and spend more.”

Economic outlook ranking for Kansas and nearby states. Click for larger.
For economic performance (the backward-looking measure), Kansas ranks twentieth. That’s up from twenty-seventh last year.

In this year’s compilation for economic outlook, Kansas ranks twenty-sixth, up one position from the previous year, but down from eighteenth and fifteenth the years before. In 2008, the first year for this measure, Kansas was twenty-ninth.

Kansas compared to other states

A nearby chart shows the Economic Outlook Ranking for Kansas and some nearby states, shown as a trend over time since 2008. The peak of Kansas in 2013 is evident, as is the decline since then.

Why Kansas fell

Kansas fell in the Economic Outlook Ranking from 2013 to 2016 and moved by just one position in 2017. To investigate why, I gathered data for Kansas from 2008 to 2017. The nearby table shows the results for 2017 and the rank among the states, with the trend since 2008 shown. A rank of one is the best ranking. For the trend lines, an upward slope means a decline in ranking, meaning the state is performing worse.

There are several areas that account for the difference.

The most notable change is in the measure “Recently Legislated Tax Changes (per $1,000 of personal income)” Kansas fell four positions in rank. By this measure, Kansas added $2.66 in taxes per $1,000 of personal income, which ranked forty-sixth among the states. This is a large change in a negative direction, as Kansas had ranked seventh two years before.

For the state liability system, Kansas ranks nineteenth, when it was fifth two years ago.

Kansas remains one of the states with the most public employees, with 669.8 full-time equivalent employees per 10,000 population. This ranks forty-eighth among the states.

Kansas has no tax and spending limits, which is a disadvantage compared to other states. These limitations could be in the form of an expenditure limit, laws requiring voter approval of tax increases, or supermajority requirements in the legislature to pass tax increases.

How valuable is the ranking?

Correlation of ALEC-Laffer state policy ranks and state economic performance
Correlation of ALEC-Laffer state policy ranks and state economic performance
After the 2012 rankings were computed, ALEC looked retrospectively at rankings compared to actual performance. The nearby chart shows the correlation of ALEC-Laffer state policy ranks and state economic performance. In its discussion, ALEC concluded:

There is a distinctly positive relationship between the Rich States, Poor States’ economic outlook rankings and current and subsequent state economic health.

The formal correlation is not perfect (i.e., it is not equal to 100 percent) because there are other factors that affect a state’s economic prospects. All economists would concede this obvious point. However, the ALEC-Laffer rankings alone have a 25 to 40 percent correlation with state performance rankings. This is a very high percentage for a single variable considering the multiplicity of idiosyncratic factors that affect growth in each state — resource endowments, access to transportation, ports and other marketplaces, etc.

Rich States, Poor States compilation for Kansas. Click for larger version.

Kansas cigarette tax collections

Effective July 1, 2015, the tax on cigarettes in Kansas rose by $0.50 per pack, going from $0.79 to $1.29 per pack. For the three years prior to that date cigarette tax collections averaged about $7.5 million per month. Since then collections has averaged about $11.1 million per month. But, as the chart shows, the trend is down. For February 2017 collections were $8.7 million, almost exactly the same as the month before the tax hike took effect.

Click for larger.

Cargill subsides start forming

Details of the subsidy programs used to keep Cargill in Wichita are starting to take shape.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider one of the (potentially many) subsidy programs offered to keep Cargill in Wichita.

Cargill Protein Group is currently located at 151 N. Main. The plan is for Cargill to purchase and demolish the Wichita Eagle building at 825 E. Douglas, then build a new office building in its place. The subsidy program to be considered this week is the Industrial Revenue Bond program1. The city won’t be lending Cargill money. Instead, IRB’s are a (convoluted) method whereby local governments are able to forgive the payment of property taxes. For the case of Cargill, city documents state the tax forgiveness could be worth $1,359,531 per year.2 This would be shared by these taxing jurisdictions, 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

Of note, the city is in a hurry to handle this matter. Pending legislation would reduce the amount of property tax able to be exempted.3

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.

Not the entire subsidy package

The action to be considered this week is likely just a portion of total subsidy package. For example, at one time it was speculated that the City of Wichita would build a parking garage and let Cargill use it as their own. With a proposed capacity of 750 parking spots, this would cost many millions.4

Now, the city plans to let Cargill construct the garage, and the city will, according to city documents, “purchase a parking easement from Cargill to obtain public access to the parking structure Cargill will complete as part of this project.” It sounds like the city will rent spaces in the garage. It will be interesting to see the rate the city will agree to pay.

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.5 (Well, only 95 percent goes back to Cargill. The state keeps five percent.)


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. http://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  2. City of Wichita. Council agenda packet for April 18, 2017.
  3. Kansas Legislature. SB 146: Continuation of 20 mill statewide levy for schools and property tax exemption of certain portion of property used for residential purposes from such levy. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/sb146/.
  4. Recently the city paid $4.73 million (not including change orders) to build a downtown garage with 270 parking spaces, a cost of about $17,500 per stall. Applying that to a 750 stall garage results in a cost of $13.1 million).
  5. Weeks, Bob. In Kansas, PEAK has a leak. http://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-peak-leak/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson joins Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss legislative issues and politics. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 147, broadcast April 16, 2017.

Shownotes

From Pachyderm: Kansas legislative update

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Members of the Kansas Legislature from the Wichita area briefed members and guests on happenings in the Kansas Senate and House of Representatives. Recorded April 14, 2017. Members appearing, in order of initial appearance, are:

WichitaLiberty.TV: Health care in Kansas and taxes in Sedgwick County

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn discuss health care in Kansas and taxes in Sedgwick County. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 146, broadcast April 9, 2017.

Shownotes

Kansas House voting on Medicaid expansion

Here’s a table of the three votes taken in the Kansas House of Representatives in February and April on HB 2044, titled “Establishing the KanCare bridge to a healthy Kansas program and providing medicaid reimbursement for clubhouse rehabilitation services.” Medicaid expansion, in other words. This expansion is a key part of Obamacare, but not all states have not adopted the plan.

Vote 3 on April 3 was to override the governor’s veto. 84 votes are required for a successful override.

If you’re interested in contacting your legislators on this issue, click on House Roster and Senate Roster.

To find the district numbers you live in, use Locate Your Polling Place, which is part of Vote Kansas.

Kansas House voting on Medicaid expansion

There has been another vote on this bill, and the table has been updated. Click here.

Here’s a table of the two votes taken in the Kansas House of Representatives in February on HB 2044, titled “Establishing the KanCare bridge to a healthy Kansas program and providing medicaid reimbursement for clubhouse rehabilitation services.” Medicaid expansion, in other words. This expansion is a key part of Obamacare, but not all states have not adopted the plan.

If you’re interested in contacting your legislators on this issue, click on House Roster and Senate Roster.

To find the district numbers you live in, use Locate Your Polling Place, which is part of Vote Kansas.

Kansas Senate voting on Medicaid expansion

Here’s a table of the two votes taken in the Kansas Senate this week on HB 2044, titled “Establishing the KanCare bridge to a healthy Kansas program and providing medicaid reimbursement for clubhouse rehabilitation services.” Medicaid expansion, in other words. This expansion is a key part of Obamacare, but not all states have not adopted the plan.

Reporting on this issue from The Sentinel is at Senate Advances Medicaid Expansion Proposal.

If you’re interested in contacting your legislators on this issue, click on House Roster and Senate Roster.

To find the district numbers you live in, use Locate Your Polling Place, which is part of Vote Kansas.

Highway budget cuts and sweeps in Kansas

A public interest group makes claims about Kansas roads and highways that are not supported by data. It’s not even close.

Excerpt from fundraising email. Click for larger.
A fundraising email sent by Save Kansas Coalition makes claims about Kansas roads and highways that readers will recognize as a few of the standard complaints common among Kansas spending and taxation advocates. It’s charitable, though, to call them complaints, because they are actually outright lies.

“Budget cuts and sweeps from the Bank of KDOT have decimated our state’s transportation infrastructure investments.” Decimate means “to reduce drastically” or “to cause great destruction or harm to.”1

Total spending on major road programs in Kansas. Click for larger.
Spending on major road programs in Kansas. Click for larger.
Reading that, you might think that spending has been cut by — how much? 10 percent? That doesn’t sound like decimating. 50 percent? 75 percent? That’s more like what decimating means.

So what is the story on Kansas Department of Transportation spending? Nearby is a chart. It shows amounts of money actually spent on road and highway programs, according to KDOT’s annual financial reports. SKC is correct, partially. There have been sweeps from KDOT to the general fund. Those are not a good idea, even though they’ve been practiced for many years. But as shown nearby and in more detail at Spending on roads in Kansas spending has not declined. It been up and down a little, but is higher than it was in 2007 and 2008, before the recession.

In particular, spending on maintenance has been fairly level until dipping a bit in 2016. Spending on preservation rose rapidly until dipping, also in 2016. It’s still twice as high as in the pre-recession years of 2007 and 2008.

Does this sound like spending has been decimated?

Transfers from sales tax to Kansas highway fund. Click for larger.
By the way, there are sweeps from sales tax to the highway fund. Nearby is another chart showing how much sales tax was transferred to the highway fund. In 2006 the transfer was $98,914. In 2016 it was $517,698, an increase of $418,784 or 423 percent.

SKC also writes: “Whereas we formerly maintained 1200 miles of roadway each year, the state now can only afford 200 miles of upkeep. That means road repair once every 50 years!”

Each year KDOT publishes a list of the road projects underway. I’ve obtained this data in machine-readable form for five years, and I present the relevant data in a nearby table.

(A few definitions: According to KDOT, “The Preservation program protects the public’s investment in its highway system by maintaining the ‘as built’ condition of roads and bridges. Projects in this group range from roadway surfacing rehabilitation and bridge repairs to pavement and bridge replacement.”2 For Modernization, KDOT says “Projects under this program are designed to enhance safety and/or improve roadways by adding shoulders, flattening hills, straightening curves and upgrading intersections on already existing roadways.”3)

While SKC isn’t specific in what it means by “maintained” or “upkeep,” it’s possible it is referring to the category “Non-Interstate Resurfacing (PMS 1R).” As you can see in the table, the number of miles in the program has risen for the past three years, and is far above the 200 miles SKC claims we can afford.

The claims made by Save Kansas Coalition don’t add up. Ironically, SKC’s website promises “A willingness to engage in meaningful discussion, in-depth research and critical analysis is vital to the health of the Kansas economy.” But nothing in the record of relevant data supports these claims — unless SKC has secret data it isn’t willing to share.

Sum of KDOT projects, selected categories, measured in miles. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decimate.
  2. Appendix to the Kansas Department of Transportation’s 2016 Annual Report.
  3. ibid

Kansas revenue estimates

Kansas revenue estimates are frequently in the news and have become a political issue. Here’s a look at them over the past decades.

A favorite criticism of liberals and progressives across the nation is that in Kansas, actual revenues to the state’s general fund have fallen short of projections, month after month. Reading most newspaper reports and editorials, one might think that these negative variances are a new phenomenon, and one relished by the Left. As many as a dozen articles on this topic have appeared in the New York Times in the past two years.

The revenue estimates in Kansas are produced by a body known as the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group. It consists of one member each from the Division of the Budget, Department of Revenue, Legislative Research Department, and one consulting economist each from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Wichita State University.

As described: “This group meets each spring and fall. Before December 4th, the group makes its initial estimate for the budget year and revises the estimate for the current year. By April 20th, the fall estimate is reviewed, along with any additional data. A revised estimate is published, which the Legislature may use in adjusting expenditures, if necessary.”1

The estimates are important because the legislature and governor are required to use them when formulating budgets and spending plans. If the estimates are high, meaning that revenue is less than expected, it’s possible that the legislature or (more likely) the governor will need to make spending cuts. (The other alternative is that leftover funds from prior years may be used, if available.)

If, on the other hand, the estimates are too low, meaning that revenue is higher than expected, the state has collected too much tax revenue. In this case, the state should refund the excess to taxpayers. Some states do that, notably Colorado, although residents may vote to let the state keep the excess.

Some states have true rainy day funds, and the excess revenue might be used to build that fund’s balance. In a true rainy day fund, the fund’s balances can be spent only during specific sets of circumstances.

But in Kansas, the excess revenue is simply called the “ending balance” and is available to spend at the legislature’s whim. That’s what happened in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, when the state spent $340 million and $308 million, respectively, of the ending balance rather than cut spending.

What has been the history of the revenue estimates compared to actual revenue? First, know that making these estimates is not easy. Some of the inputs to the process include the inflation rate in future years, interest rates in future years, and the prices of oil and natural gas in the future. If someone knew these values with any certainty, they could earn huge profits by trading in futures markets.

The state makes the revenue estimates available.2 I’ve presented the results since 1975 in a chart at the end of this article. For each year, two numbers are presented. One it the difference from the Original Estimate and actual revenue. The other is the difference from the Adjusted Final Estimate and actual revenue.

We can see that in fiscal years 2014 and 2016, the variance of the estimates is negative, meaning that revenue was lower than the estimates. The magnitude of these variances, however, is not out of line with the magnitude of the variances of other years, either positive or negative.

In fact, the negative variances — revenue shortfalls, in other words — in the periods 2002 to 2003 and 2009 to 2010 were generally much larger in magnitude than those of recent years. This is of interest as Duane Goossen, who was the budget director during these periods, is a prominent critic of the recent revenue shortfalls. Evidently, he has forgotten the difficulty of creating these estimates.

While Goossen along with newspaper reporters and editorialists use the negative revenue estimate variances as a political weapon against the governor and conservatives, it is in the interest of the people of Kansas that revenue estimates be as accurate as possible. In an effort to produce more accurate revenue estimates, Governor Brownback created a commission to study the issue. That group released its report in October.3

Kansas revenue estimate errors. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Consensus Revenue Estimating Group. Available at budget.ks.gov/cre.htm.
  2. Kansas Division of the Budget. State General Fund Receipt Revisions for FY 2016 and FY 2017. May 2, 2016. Available at: budget.ks.gov/files/FY2017/CRE_Long_Memo_April2016.pdf. Also Kansas Legislative Research for 2016 figures.
  3. Governor’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Working Group. Final Recommendations. Available at budget.ks.gov/files/FY2017/cre_workgroup_report.pdf.

During Sunshine Week, here are a few things Wichita could do

The City of Wichita says it values open and transparent government, but the city lags far behind in providing information and records to citizens.

The City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. 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.”

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.” (But he has wondered if the city could conduct business with fewer public hearings.)

But the reality of obtaining information and records from the City of Wichita is far different from the claims of its leaders. 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.”

But there has been little, perhaps no, improvement in the data and information made available to citizens.

The city’s attitude

Despite the proclamations of mayors and manager, the city needs a change of attitude towards government transparency. Here’s perhaps the most glaring example of how the city goes out of its way to conduct public business in secret.

Citizen watchdogs need access to records and data. The City of Wichita, however, has created several not-for-profit organizations that are controlled by the city and largely funded by tax money. The three I am concerned with are the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Visit Wichita (the former Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau), and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, now the Greater Wichita Partnership. Each of these agencies refuses to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act, using the reasoning that they are not “public agencies” as defined in the Kansas law that’s designed to provide citizen access to records.

The city backs this interpretation. When legislation was introduced to bring these agencies under the umbrella of the Kansas Open Records Act, cities — including Wichita — protested vigorously, and the legislation went nowhere.

Recently the City of Wichita added a new tax to hotel bills that may generate $3 million per year for the convention and visitors bureau to spend. Unless the city changes its attitude towards citizens’ right to know, this money will be spent in secret.

Another example of the City of Wichita’s attitude towards citizens and open government took place at a Kansas Legislature committee hearing. I had asked for email to or from a certain official for a certain period of time. The response from the city was that my request would encompass some 19,000 email messages, and the city denied the request as too burdensome. Fair enough.

But Dale Goter, the city’s lobbyist at the time, told legislators that my request for 19,000 emails was an example of abuse of the Kansas Open Records Act, citing it as evidence as to why reform was not needed. But I did not request 19,000 email messages. I made a request for messages meeting a certain criteria, and I had no way of knowing in advance how many email messages this would entail. The City of Wichita denied this request as burdensome, so there was either no cost or very little cost to the city. No harm, no foul.

Still the City of Wichita used this incident — and a similar incident involving the Kansas Policy Institute — as reasons that the Kansas Open Records Act needs no reform. This illustrates a problem with the attitude of Wichita city government towards citizens’ right to know.

This attitude may be noticed by the citizenry at large. Survey respondents were asked to rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.” The results are shown in the nearby chart created from data in the most recent version of the Wichita Performance Measure Report. The numbers are the percent of respondents giving “excellent” or “good” as their response to the question.

Citizens rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement."
Citizens rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.”

The report says this performance is “much below” a benchmark set by the National Research Center National Citizen Survey.

Website

An important way governments communicate with their subjects is through their websites. Wichita moved to a new website early in 2013. With the launching of the new City of Wichita website, the city has actually taken a step backwards in providing information to citizens.

Something that had been very useful is missing and hasn’t been replaced: MyWichita.

mywichita_logo

As described here, MyWichita was a useful service. By using it, you could receive email notices of new press releases, city council agendas and minutes, district advisory board agenda and minutes, agendas and minutes of other boards, and other items. Using MyWichita was much easier than having to check multiple sections of the city’s website looking for newly-released agendas, minutes, etc.

This email reminder service was very valuable. It’s a basic customer service feature of many commercial and governmental websites. But MyWichita didn’t survive the conversion to the new website, and there’s nothing that replaces its function. When I asked about this missing functionality, the city said it was working on a replacement that should be available in a month or two. It’s been several years since I asked.

Spending data

Many governmental agencies post their checkbooks on their websites. Sedgwick County does, and also the Wichita school district. Not so the City of Wichita.

Until a few years ago, Wichita could supply data of only limited utility. What was supplied to me was data in pdf form, and as images, not text. It would be difficult and beyond the capability of most citizens to translate the data to a useful format. Even if someone translated the reports to computer-readable format, I don’t think it would be very useful. This was a serious defect in the city’s transparency efforts.

Now, if you ask the city for this data, you’ll receive data in an Excel spreadsheet. This is an improvement. But: You must pay for this data. The city says that someday it will make check register data available. See Wichita check register for the data and details on the request.

Legal notices

Kansas law requires that local government agencies publish legal notices for a variety of topics. Presently these are published in the Wichita Eagle at great cost to taxpayers. These notices could also be published on the city’s website, where they could be searched and archived. This would increase the usability of these documents at very little cost to the city. See Towards government transparency in Wichita: Legal notices.

Publish fulfilled requests

When governmental agencies like the City of Wichita fulfill records requests, they could also publish the records on their websites. Most of the time the records are supplied electronically, so this is an additional simple (and low cost) step that would leverage the value of the city’s effort.

Leveraging our lobbyists

What do lobbyists, including taxpayer-funded lobbyists, do in Topeka? One thing they do is testify before committees, in both verbal and written form. Another thing they do is to prepare reports for the clients, advising them on upcoming legislation, analyzing how it affects them, and what the prospects for the bill might be. They also meet with legislators and their clients, which are your elected officials.

Here’s a proposal that will help citizens make best use of their taxpayer-funded lobbyists:

I see nothing in the Kansas Open Records Act that allows local governmental units in Kansas to refuse to disclose these documents: testimony, reports by lobbyists to their government clients, and the lobbyists’ calendars (or billing records for contract lobbyists). Instead of making citizens ask for these records, possibly paying fees to obtain what they’re already paying for, why don’t local governments post these documents immediately on their websites?

Citizens could then benefit from the activities of the lobbyists they’re paying for. They could learn more about legislation as it works its way through the process. Citizens could judge whether the positions taken by the government lobbyists they’re paying for are aligned with their policy preferences.

If the actions taken by taxpayer-funded lobbyists are truly in the public interest, you’d think that cities, counties, and school boards would already be making this information easily available. In any case, there should be no resistance to starting this program.

Economic development transparency

For several years, the Kansas city of Lawrence has published an economic development report letting citizens know about the activities of the city in this area. The most recent edition may be viewed here.

The Lawrence report contains enough detail and length that an executive summary is provided. This is the type of information that cities should be providing, but the City of Wichita does not do this.

It’s not like the City of Wichita does not realize the desirability of providing citizens with information. In fact, Wichitans have been teased with the promise of more information in order to induce them to vote for higher taxes. During the campaign for the one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax in 2014, a city document promised this information regarding economic development spending if the tax passed: “The process will be transparent, with reports posted online outlining expenditures and expected outcomes.” (This is what Lawrence has been doing for several years.)

The “Yes Wichita” campaign promised, “Reports will be measured and reported publicly.” (But “Yes Wichita” was a campaign group and not an entity whose promises can be relied on, and can’t be held accountable for failure to perform.)

These are good ideas. The city should implement them even though the sales tax did not pass. If it’s good for citizens to have this type of information if the sales tax had passed, it’s good for them to know in any circumstance, because the city (and other overlapping governmental jurisdictions) still spends a lot on economic development.

Where are our documents?

Government promotes and promises transparency, but finds it difficult to actually provide.

During the campaign for the one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax in 2014, a city document promised this if the tax passed: “The process will be transparent, with reports posted online outlining expenditures and expected outcomes.” The “Yes Wichita” campaign promised “Reports will be measured and reported publicly.”

Why is this information not available in any case? Is the city’s communications staff overwhelmed and have no time to provide this type of information? During the sales tax campaign Wichita city staff had time to prepare news releases with titles like “City to Compete in Chili Cook-off” and “Jerry Seinfeld Returns to Century II.”

Wichita Facebook page example 2015-09-14 aSince then the city has hired additional communications staff, adding a Strategic Communications Director. Now, while the city’s Facebook page has some useful information, there is also time to promote Barry the Bison playing golf.

Now Wichitans have to wonder: Was transparency promised only to get people to vote for the sales tax? Or is it a governing principle of our city? I think I know the answer.

Here’s an example. A few years ago as Sedgwick County was preparing and debating its budget, I wanted to do some research on past budgets. But on the county’s website, the only budgets available were for this year and last year. There was nothing else.

11-Sedgwick County FinancialsSo I asked for budgets and other financial documents. I received them on CD. Then I created a shared folder using Google Drive and uploaded the documents. Now, these documents are available to the world. They can be found using a Google search. Oh, and here’s something a little ironic. These old budgets had been on the Sedgwick County website at one time. Someone made the decision to remove them.

Creating this depository of budget documents cost nothing except a little bit of time. Well, if you have a lot of data to share, you might have to pay Google a little, like ten dollars per month for each agency or person. But it is so simple that there is no excuse for the failure of agencies like Wichita Transit to make documents like agendas and minutes available. You don’t need specialized personnel to do this work. All you need is the will and desire to make the documents available.

Here’s another example of how simple it can be to achieve transparency. These days live and archived video of governmental meetings is commonplace. Commonplace, that is, except for the Wichita public schools. If you want to see a meeting of the Wichita school board, you must either attend the meetings, or view delayed broadcasts on cable TV. There’s a simple and low-cost way to fix this. It’s called YouTube.

When the Sedgwick County Commission was faced with an aging web infrastructure for its archived broadcasts, it did the sensible thing. It created a YouTube channel and uploaded video of its meetings. Now citizens can view commission meetings at any time on desktop PCs, tablets, and smartphones. This was an improvement over the old system, which was difficult to use and required special browser plug-ins. I could never get the video to play on my Iphone.

Wichita public schools  YouTubeThe Wichita school district could do the same. In fact, the district already has a YouTube channel. Yes, it takes a long time to upload two or three hours of video to YouTube, but once started the process runs in the background without intervention. No one has to sit and watch the process.

I’ve asked why the district does not make video of its meetings available archived online. The district responded that it “has a long-standing commitment to the USD 259 community of showing unabridged recordings of regular Board of Education meetings on Cox Cable Channel 20 and more recently AT&T U-verse Channel 99.” The meetings are broadcast seven times starting the day after each meeting. Two of the broadcasts start at 1:00 am.

Showing meetings delayed on cable TV is okay. It was innovative at one time. But why aren’t meetings shown live? What if you can’t watch the meeting before it disappears from the broadcast schedule after a week? What if you don’t want to pay cable television bills? What if you want to watch meetings on your computer, tablet, or smartphone? I don’t think the fact that meetings are on cable TV means they can’t also be on YouTube.

There are two elements of irony here, if that is the correct term. One is that earlier this year the Wichita school district considered hiring a marketing firm to “gauge its reputation and suggest new branding strategies.” Here’s an idea: Act as though you care about people being able to view the district’s board meetings.

Recently the Wichita school district raised property taxes. The mill levy will rise by 2.86, an increase of about five percent from its present level. The projected cost is an additional $33 per year for a home worth $100.000. That is quite a large increase. That’s bad. What’s also bad is the district’s lack of respect for taxpayers. As I’ve just told you, it’s difficult to view a meeting of the school board, which is a sign that the district prefers to operate in the shadows as much as possible. The board will raise your taxes, and at the same time keep it difficult for you to see them do it.

Just for the sake of completeness, let’s not let the state of Kansas off the hook. Currently, the proceedings of the Kansas Senate and House of Representatives are not available on video. The audio is broadcast on the internet, but it’s live only. No archiving. You must listen live, or figure out some way to record it on your own.

But for eight dollars per month the legislature could make its audio proceedings available to listen to at any time. For eight dollars per month at least one podcast hosting company offers an unlimited plan. Unlimited storage, and unlimited bandwidth. That is just what is needed. And since the audio of the proceedings of the House and Senate is broadcast on the internet, it must pass through a computer somewhere. That computer could also be recording the audio. Once recorded, the process of uploading the audio to the podcast host is a trivial procedure.

But neither Kansas legislative chamber records their proceedings, according to the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House. I asked. Recordings of sessions are not available because they are not made. It would be simple to record audio of the Kansas House and Senate and make it available for anyone to listen to at any time. It is almost without cost. It would have great benefit.

All these levels of government say they value open records and transparency. But let me ask you: Do you think they really mean it?

In Kansas, the war on property rights

John Todd makes an appearance on The Voice of Reason with Andy Hooser to talk about proposed legislation in Kansas that would be harmful to private property rights. View below, or click here to view on YouTube. Recorded on March 16, 2017.

For more information on this important issue, see In Kansas, the war on blight continues: 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.

Lessons from Kansas tax reform

What can the rest of the nation learn from our experience in Kansas? Come to think of it, why haven’t we learned much?

Economists from American Legislative Exchange Council have looked at Kansas and derived some lessons from our state’s struggle with tax reform. The document is titled Lessons from Kansas: A Behind the Scenes Look at America’s Most Discussed Tax Reform Effort. A few remarks and quotations:

It may be difficult for us in Kansas to see how the rest of the country views our state. But it’s all about the struggle between those who want more government, and those who want more private sector activity: “… it is clear to most observers of state policy at this point Kansas was, and continues to be, a flashpoint in debates about state tax policy. That flashpoint has served as something of a proxy war between big government advocates and those who would prefer to shrink the size and scope of state government.”

While taxes were cut, the state failed to make the other needed reform: “Spending reductions necessary to implement the plan were eschewed in favor of other tax increases, making any honest judgement of the original plan’s success or failure impossible.”

On the 2012 plan, was it all for business pass-throughs, or for everyone? “Enacted an estimated $4.5 billion in tax relief over five years, about 80 percent of which was for individuals and 20 percent for business pass-through income.”

We have to remember the failure of the legislative process in 2012 and the next year: “It is important to note at this point that the revenue increasing offsets included in the 2013 tax plan were nowhere near as comprehensive as the revenue raising offsets in Governor Brownback’s original 2012 tax reform proposal. It was this discrepancy in revenue raising offsets and the failure to rein in state spending that would ultimately lead to revenue problems for Kansas down the road.”

Credit downgrades are a sign of a mismatch between revenues and expenses. Those who want more spending say the downgrades are caused by a lack of revenue, but we could have cured the mismatch by reforming spending, too: “Contrary to this popularly reported narrative, Moody’s cited much more than just recent tax cuts as the rationale for a downgrade, specifically failure to reduce spending to offset tax cuts, pension liabilities and state debt.

The purpose of tax cuts? Let us keep more resources in the productive private sector: “It is certainly true that in the years following the tax reductions, Kansas did experience lower revenue collections, even lower than what had been projected. But, part of the goal of the Kansas tax reform was to reduce the amount of money taken in by state government and enhance the resources available to the private sector. Importantly, however, was the resistance to any meaningful spending reductions. Even as the 2012 tax reductions were projected to let Kansans keep $4.5 billion more of their own money, the state increased spending in 2012 by $432 million.”

Would more taxes help the Kansas economy? “In a late 2012 literature review on this topic, William McBride, former Chief Economist for the Tax Foundation, found that of 26 peer-reviewed academic studies since 1983, only three fail to find a negative effect on economic growth from taxes.”

The 2015 legislative session: “A block of legislators held out for reductions in the cost of government rather than tax increases but they were unable to get a majority. … The final plan that passed both houses and was signed by Governor Brownback included two main tax increases. The state raised the cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack and increased the sales tax rate from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent. The two tax increase proposals added up to $384 million in new state revenue and were bolstered by $50 million in spending cuts, although there was still a net increase in spending.”

Our legislature failed the people of Kansas: “The first lesson to glean from the Kansas experience is that politics affects policy. The final reforms that passed in 2012 were not the reforms that anybody wanted. Specific tax reform ideas are easily diluted and changed, and without the political will to fix imperfect reforms, unintended consequences can be difficult to avoid.”

Then, politicians should be so boastful. Don’t overpromise. (Ask Barack Obama about that. He said if we don’t pass the ARRA stimulus bill, the unemployment rate would rise above a certain level. Well, the stimulus passed, the unemployment rate went above that level, and it was several years before it fell below. In other words, unemployment was worse with the stimulus than Obama said it would be without the stimulus.) “The second important lesson that can be learned from the Kansas experience is economic growth resulting from bold tax reductions takes time. Governor Brownback’s previous comments about the Kansas tax reforms being ‘a shot of adrenaline’ to the state’s economy continued to hound him throughout the ups and downs of revenue and economic reports. Setting expectations too high or too early can make pushing forward with future reforms nearly impossible, while setting unrealistic expectations can lead to the unwinding of sound economic reforms.”

Finally: “Even though the tax reductions improved economic growth, the lack of commensurate spending reductions led to trouble for the state’s budget. Budget shortfalls and tough negotiations about possible tax increases mean uncertainty for businesses and families, which can hamper some of the positive economic effects of decreasing taxes.”

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Director of Budget Shawn Sullivan

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Director of Budget Shawn Sullivan joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to explain issues related to the Kansas budget. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 142, broadcast March 12, 2017.

Shownotes

WichitaLiberty.TV: James Franko of Kansas Policy Institute

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: James Franko of Kansas Policy Institute joins Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss education in Kansas and the state budget. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 141, broadcast March 5, 2017.

Shownotes

For some, the Kansas tax increase wasn’t big enough

Some Kansas Senators were refreshingly honest about a recent tax bill: They’re coming back for more.

On February 17, 2107, the Kansas Senate voted to pass 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.

The vote prevailed 22 to 18. Governor Brownback vetoed the bill. The House overrode the veto, but the Senate did not, with 24 senators voting to override the veto. Two-thirds, or 27 votes, were required.

In explanations of the February 17 vote, some Kansas Senators were honest about their beliefs and their future plans. Which are: First, the bill didn’t raise enough money to suit them. Second: Despite the passage of the bill, they’re coming back for more. (These remarks were made before the Governor’s veto.) Here’s Lynn Rogers, joined by two other senators (emphasis added):

Mr Vice President: This bill does not solve Kansas’ budget problem. It is the best start we have seen in 4 years. But it does not address our borrowing from the Bank of KDOT or KPERS, nor does it address our school finance needs. I appreciate adding the 3rd bracket and closing the LLC loophole. However, the weight of the bill is still on the backs of middle class families. Many of us campaigned on a platform of “fixing Topeka.” Kansans overwhelmingly asked us to work together. I was sorely disappointed in yesterday’s behavior. I am willing to support this as the best we have today. But I warn us all, we will have to return to this chamber to readdress our fiscal state. — LYNN ROGERS
Senators Faust-Goudeau and Francisco request the record to show they concur with the “Explanation of Vote” offered by Senator Rogers on Sub HB 2178.

Also, Marci Francisco, again joined by two others (emphasis added):

Mr. Vice President: I initially voted “Pass” but change my vote to “AYE” on Sub HB 2178. I appreciate the work done in the House to craft a tax bill to eliminate the non-wage income “loophole”, repeal the future formulaic income tax reductions, and second tier for married individuals filing jointly and earning over $30,000 at 5.25%, higher than the current rate of 4.6%. It sets the third tier for married individuals earning over $100,000 at 5.45%, only .2% higher and a full percentage point less than it was in 2012, putting more of the burden on low and middle income Kansans. It continues to make our Kansas tax form complicated because it does not reinstate the deductions for mortgage interest and property tax allowed for on the federal tax form. The bill does not raise enough revenue to balance the current budget. None the less, I vote “AYE” to support this as a first step in this legislative session. I also pledge to continue to work on proposals to bring fairness to the Kansas tax structure and an appropriate amount of revenue to the state. — MARCI FRANCISCO
Senators Kelly and Pettey request the record to show they concur with the “Explanation of Vote” offered by Senator Francisco on Sub HB 2178.

Vote-switching in the Kansas House of Representatives

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.

Kansas general fund

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.

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Notes

  1. Kansas Division of the Budget. The Governor’s Budget Report Volume 1, Fiscal Year 2018. http://budget.ks.gov/.
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.
  4. ibid.

Kansas teachers union versus students

There’s no surprise that a labor union would support its members over all other considerations, even Kansas schoolchildren.

Kansas National Education Association, the Kansas teachers union, wants to restore due process rights to teachers.

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,2 3 4 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.


Notes

  1. “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/.
  2. Center for Public Education. Teacher quality and student achievement: Research review. http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Staffingstudents/Teacher-quality-and-student-achievement-At-a-glance/Teacher-quality-and-student-achievement-Research-review.html.
  3. RAND Corporation. Teachers Matter: Understanding Teachers’ Impact on Student Achievement. http://www.rand.org/education/projects/measuring-teacher-effectiveness/teachers-matter.html.
  4. Hanushek, Eric. Teacher Quality. http://hanushek.stanford.edu/publications/teacher-quality.