In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Radio talk show host Andy Hooser joins Bob Weeks to discuss millennials, issues in Kansas state government, and the Donald Trump Presidency. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 151, broadcast May 21, 2017.
A video explaining the Kansas budget is accurate in many aspects, but portrays a false and harmful myth regarding school spending.
A popular video explaining the Kansas budget deserves scrutiny for some of the data presented. The video is available at the Facebook page of Loud Light.
The presentation makes a few good points. For example, the video is correct in that the sales tax is a regressive tax, affecting low-income households in greater proportion. During the capaign for a Wichita city sales tax in 2014 I analyzed Census Bureau data and found that 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.1 2
The video also rightly notes that Kansas is now, and it has in the past under other legislatures and governors, inadequately funding KPERS, the state employee pension plan.
Interestingly, the video praises Kansas for its early adoption of “progressive economics.” I think the narrator meant “progressive taxation,” as the video shows Kansas adopting an income tax in 1933. How has that worked for Kansas? There are a variety of ways to look at the progress of Kansas compared to the nation, but here’s a startling fact: For the 73rd Congress (1933 to 1935) Kansas had seven members in the U.S. House of Representatives. (It had eight in the previous session.) Today Kansas has four members, and may be on the verge of losing one after the next census. This is an indication of the growth of Kansas in comparison to the nation.
The narrator states, “Kansas Department of Transportation is mostly funded by restricted revenue like fuel tax.” This was true at one time. But starting in 2011 KDOT has received more funding from sales tax than motor fuel tax.3 The gap is getting wider, as can be seen in the nearby chart. (By the way, there are proposals to increase the motor fuel tax. This tax is just like the sales tax, affecting low-income households greatest.)
The greatest problem in this video is its explanation of state spending on K through 12 schools. This is important, as the video correctly notes that this spending is half of the general fund budget. In introducing this section, the narrator notes “budget report gamesmanship that’s created a rhetorical paradox,” conceding it is “technically” true that education spending is at record levels.
The video then shows a chart titled “State Aid Per Pupil.” The chart starts with a value a little over $6,000 in 1993, declining to about $4,000 in 2013, then staying at that level. The citation is “Governor’s Budget Report” from the Kansas Division of Budget, and at the end of the video there is the explanation, “All financial data in this video is inflation adjusted to January 2017.”
A more accurate title for the chart is “Base State Aid Per Pupil.” That’s the actual name for the component of school spending that the video displays. This is important because base state aid is only the starting point for determining spending. Actual state aid to schools is much higher.
Base state aid per pupil — the statistic the video presents — is an important number.4 It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula used before the 2015-2016 (fiscal 2016) school year, and something like it may be used in a new formula. 5
Base state aid, however, is not the only important number. To calculate the funding a school district receives, weightings are added. If students fall into certain categories, weightings for that category are added to determine a weighted enrollment. That is multiplied by base state aid to determine total state aid to the district. 6
While this may seem like a technical discussion that doesn’t make a difference, it’s very important. Some of the weightings are large and have increased by large amounts. The at-risk weighting, intended to cover the additional costs of teaching students from low-income families, started at five percent in 1993. In other words, for every student in this category, a school district received an extra five percent of base state aid. The value of this weighting has risen by a factor of nine, reaching 45.6 percent starting with the 2008-2009 school year.7
So in the nearby chart that I prepared using data adjusted for inflation in 2016, we see base state aid per pupil on a downward trend, just as the video shows. But I also plotted total state aid per pupil, which includes weightings. This number is on a mostly upward trend.
The weightings have a large effect on school funding. For example: During the 2004-2005 school year, base state aid was $3,863 and the at-risk weighting was ten percent. An at-risk student, therefore, generated $4,249 in state funding. (Other weightings might also apply.)
Ten years later base state aid was $3,852 — almost exactly the same — and the at-risk weighting was up to 45.6 percent. This generates funding of $5,609. For a district that qualified for the maximum high-density at-risk weighting, an additional $404 in funding was generated. (These numbers are not adjusted for inflation.)
So even though base state aid remained (almost) unchanged, funding targeted at certain students rose, and by a large amount.
Over time, values for the various weightings grew until by 2014 they added 85 percent to base state aid. A nearby chart shows the growth of total state aid as compared to base state aid. (Starting in fiscal 2015 the state changed the way local tax dollars are counted. That accounts for the large rise for the last year of data in the chart. For school years 2016 and 2017, block grants have replaced the funding formula, so base aid and weightings do not apply in the same way.)
All this determines state aid to schools only. There is also local aid and federal aid.
The questions Kansans should ask are these: Why doesn’t this video explain that “base state aid per pupil” is not the same as “state aid per pupil?” And why not explain that total state aid per pupil is much higher than base state aid, and has been rising over the long term?
- Weeks, Bob. Wichita sales tax hike would hit low income families hardest. Analysis of household expenditure data shows that a proposed sales tax in Wichita affects low income families in greatest proportion, confirming the regressive nature of sales taxes. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-sales-tax-hike-hit-low-income-families-hardest/. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Kansas sales tax has disproportionate harmful effects. Kansas legislative and executive leaders must realize that a shift to consumption taxes must be accompanied by relief from its disproportionate harm to low-income households. https://wichitaliberty.org/taxation/kansas-sales-tax-has-disproportionate-harmful-effects/. ↩
- Kansas Department of Transportation. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2016. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Kansas school weightings and effects on state aid. In making the case for more Kansas school spending, the focus on base state aid per pupil leaves out important considerations. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-weightings-and-effects-on-state-aid/. ↩
- For the fiscal 2016 and 2017 school years, the formula was replaced by block grants. ↩
- Amendments to the 1992 School District Finance And Quality Performance Act and the 1992 School District Capital Improvements State Aid Program (Finance Formula Components), Kansas Legislative Research Department, May 20, 2014
- There’s also the high-density at-risk weighting. Starting with the 2006-2007 school year districts with a high concentration of at-risk students could receive an extra weighting of four percent or eight percent. Two years later the weightings were raised to six percent and ten percent. (This formula was revised again in 2012 in a way that may have slightly increased the weightings.) ↩
Should Kansans accept the results of a public opinion poll when little is known about it?
Recently American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network released results of a poll regarding Medicaid expansion in Kansas. What ACS CAN wants us to know is that 82 percent of Kansans favor expansion.
But before we accept these results, we need to know that ACS CAN will not release the full results of the survey, as other organizations have done.
This year Kansas Center for Economic Growth conducted a poll. It released the full results.2 From this release, we learned that one of the questions was so vague as to be open to many different interpretations.3
But ACS CAN, despite multiple requests to several contacts, will not release the full results of the poll, as other public policy advocacy groups have done.
It would be unfair to conclude that ACS CAN has something to hide, or that the poll was constructed in a way to be misleading. Conversely, it is not wise to give much weight to this poll when we know so little about it.
- Kansas Hospital Association. Public Opinion Poll: Medicaid Expansion and Access to Health Care in Kansas. Available at http://www.kha-net.org/communications/mediareleases/public-opinion-poll-medicaid-expansion-and-access-to-health-care-in-kansas_102768.aspx. ↩
- Kansas Center for Economic Growth. Results of Kansas statewide poll. Available at http://realprosperityks.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/TSPolling_KCEG_KansasStatewide_PublicReleasePacket_2017.03.30-final-1.pdf. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Kansans are concerned about the level of state spending on schools. A public opinion poll asks whether Kansans are concerned about school spending, but leaves us wondering why they are concerned. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansans-concerned-level-state-spending-schools/. ↩
- See, for example Kansans say no to more taxes at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansans-say-no-taxes/, Poll: Wichitans don’t want sales tax increase8 at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/poll-wichitans-dont-want-sales-tax-increase/, and *New survey: Kansans remain misinformed regarding k-12 finance at https://kansaspolicy.org/new-survey-kansans-remain-misinformed-regarding-k-12-finance/. ↩
- American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Poll: Kansas Voters Overwhelmingly Support Medicaid Expansion. Available at https://www.acscan.org/releases/poll-kansas-voters-overwhelmingly-support-medicaid-expansion. ↩
- “Uninsured Kansans earning less than sixteen thousand dollars a year do not have access to any affordable healthcare coverage options. Kansas lawmakers are considering taking action that would provide these low?income residents access to coverage that would include primary care, preventive screenings, diagnostic testing, and cancer treatment services through the state’s KanCare program. The federal government would cover most of the cost to cover these state residents. Do you favor or oppose Kansas accepting the federal funds to increase access to healthcare coverage for thousands of hardworking Kansans through the state’s KanCare program?” Results at https://wichitaliberty.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ACS-Kansas-Medicaid-poll-2017-exp-poll.pdf. ↩
By Karl Peterjohn
The budget deadlock has begun at the Kansas statehouse. The legislature cannot leave Topeka until they have approved the next biennial state budget that will begin July 1. Usually, this includes the governor’s signature on that legislation. That might not happen this year. That’s the issue.
Governor Brownback is not willing to fund a multi-year, multi-billion spending bill demanded by the liberal legislative majorities in both houses. Earlier this year he vetoed a record-breaking income tax hike scheme. So far, the governor has been successful in having his vetoes sustained.
The pressure is going to be applied for the governor’s fiscally responsible Republican allies opposed to income tax hikes.
The powerful government employee spending lobbies, headed by arguably, the most powerful lobby in this state, the KNEA teachers’ union, that spending priorities for the reliably liberal Democrats in the legislature along with a large number of other self-described, “progressives,” or “moderates,” big spending Republicans now hold sizable majorities in both houses of the Kansas legislature. However, the bi-partisan spending factions are short of the two-thirds majorities required to override Governor Brownback’s repeated vetoes. The spending lobbies have come close, and did override the governor’s pass a record-breaking income tax hike proposal in the Kansas house, but that override effort ultimately failed by three votes in the senate.
The other powerful spending lobbies among the road contractors, hospitals, and the most powerful appointed body: ethically flawed and disciplined Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, Lawton Nuss, and his fellow band of black-robed lawyers on the Kansas Supreme Court continue to try and force massive state spending hikes. Several members of this court, including Nuss, represented school districts and school finance litigation issues before joining the court.
Massive tax hikes will be required to fund this spending spree. Spending estimates indicate the increases proposed would be $2.25 billion over five years according to State Representative John Whitmer. Expanding Obamacare under the guise of Medicaid expansion could be even more expensive after the first few years.
What is different with earlier Kansas budget battles besides another zero on the cost? In this digital age we are in, everything seems to have moved digitally into a win/lose, up/down, on/off configuration.
The lawyers on Kansas’ top court with their school funding edicts, will all be providing pressure and using the leftstream Kansas news media to try and push a handful of Republican legislators to shift their votes, so everyone can go home with a huge income tax hike. Sadly, this destructive tax hike is unlikely to be successful in funding all of the proposed state spending proposals.
This is the big spenders’ dream scenario for the next state budget.
The scenario for fiscally responsible legislators and Governor Brownback is less clear. In the analog days of the 20th century, when people looked for win-win, instead of zero-sum games where every winner means there must be a loser, compromise was the answer.
To his credit, Governor Brownback has expressed a willingness to compromise. Brownback has supported and signed smaller excise tax hike bills in recent years. He continues to be blasted by liberal media critics in the editorial pages across the state. These tax hikes tried to reach a legislative compromise that allowed a continued growth in state spending. This spending growth was being driven by the perpetual school finance lawsuits.
There is another solution if the legislative deadlock continues, and there is a recent and nearby example for Kansas elected officials to consider: let the people decide. The Kansas Constitution has a provision that, “…all political power in this state is inherent in the people.” This is in the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
How would empowering Kansans work?
In 2016, in our neighboring state to the south, Oklahoma, the state spending lobbies convinced the legislature to place a one cent sales tax hike on the statewide ballot. In November 2016 Oklahoma voters decided the fate of this sales tax hike. It was rejected by the voters.
A compromise between Governor Brownback and his fiscally conservative GOP legislative allies on one side could be reached with the larger number of Democrat and Republican tax hike advocates in the legislature using this “let the people decide,“ approach. Kansas taxpayers need to have a say in the massive new spending schemes appearing at the statehouse.
The tax hike advocates can place their proposal for raising state taxes/spending on either the August or preferably the November 2017 election ballot where a statewide referendum could be held. Both sides could make their case to voters. All political power is inherent in the people, and letting the voters decide would certainly be preferable to having appointed lawyers in black robes setting state fiscal policy with big-spending legislators as their willing accomplices.
Karl Peterjohn is a former journalist and served two terms as a Sedgwick County commissioner between 2009-17. He advocated on behalf of Kansas taxpayers as the executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network between 1992-2009.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Policy Institute Dave Trabert joins Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss the Kansas economy, budget, and schools. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 149, broadcast April 30, 2017.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.)
- Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/. ↩
- City of Wichita. Council agenda packet for April 18, 2017. ↩
- 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/. ↩
- 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). ↩
- Weeks, Bob. In Kansas, PEAK has a leak. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-peak-leak/. ↩
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.
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:
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.
- Kansas House voting on Medicaid expansion
- Kansas Senate voting on Medicaid expansion
- Expanding Medicaid in Kansas. Expanding Medicaid in Kansas would be costly, undoubtedly more costly than estimated, has an uncertain future, and doesn’t provide very good results for those it covers.
- Sedgwick County to consider raising debt limit
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.
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.
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.
A public interest group makes claims about Kansas roads and highways that are not supported by data. It’s not even close.
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
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?
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.
- Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decimate. ↩
- Appendix to the Kansas Department of Transportation’s 2016 Annual Report. ↩
- ibid ↩
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
- Consensus Revenue Estimating Group. Available at budget.ks.gov/cre.htm. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Governor’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Working Group. Final Recommendations. Available at budget.ks.gov/files/FY2017/cre_workgroup_report.pdf. ↩
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.”
“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.
The report says this performance is “much below” a benchmark set by the National Research Center National Citizen Survey.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Since 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.
So 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.
The 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?
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.
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.”
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.
- Kansas Division of the Budget. Includes the Governor’s Budget Report for this year and past years.