Recently Kansas Policy Institute, along with Americans for Prosperity and Kansas Chamber of Commerce, held a series of briefings for candidates for the Kansas Legislature. The presentations in Wichita were recorded, and are available as follows:
What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan. KPI President Dave Trabert spoke on the reality and myths of the state’s tax plan. Click here to view at YouTube.
Kansas K-12 Education Spending and Achievement. KPI President Dave Trabert spoke on K-12 education spending and achievement. Click here to view.
Medicaid Expansion. Melissa Fausz, a senior policy analyst with Americans for Prosperity, spoke about Medicaid expansion. Click here to view.
Kansas Chamber Legislative Update. Eric Stafford, vice president of government affairs for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, spoke on the legislative process in Kansas. Click here to view.
Property Taxes. KPI President Dave Trabert spoke on property taxes in Kansas. Click here to view.
Kansas House District 93
J.C. Moore and John Whitmer. Moore did not attend.
District 93 is currently represented by John Whitmer. It covers a small part of southwest Wichita and areas west and south. Cities: Cheney, Clearwater, Goddard (part), Haysville (part), Mulvane (part), Viola and Wichita (part). Townships: Afton, Attica (part), Erie, Illinois (part), Morton, Ninnescah, Ohio, Salem, Viola and Waco(part). A map is here: www.kslegislature.org/li/m/pdf/district_maps/district_map_h_093.pdf
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Representative Susan Humphries, a Republican who represents district 99 (east Wichita and Andover), gives an update on Kansas legislative affairs. View below, or click here to view at youTube. Episode 199, broadcast June 9, 2018.
Reestablishing a Fundamental Principle of Democracy
Alan Cobb, Kansas Chamber President & CEO
The words of a recent guest editorial in the Lawrence Journal-World about the Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding were not surprising. It was a continuation of the intellectually shallow, fact-short screed about taxes, school finance, and the Kansas budget. Certainly, reasonable people can disagree about these issues, but partisans rarely adhere to that theorem. And thus, I thought I was reading something from a partisan staffer.
Alas, it was from a well-respected Wichita State University professor emeritus who I have known for decades.
I’ve not always agreed with Dr. H. Edward Flentje, but even when I disagreed with him, I found his arguments well-founded and reasonable. Not this time.
Now to the point. Dr. Flentje, probably intentionally, conflates with the 2012 tax cuts with the current and ongoing school finance litigation. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other. The current litigation was filed around the day the Sam Brownback was elected Governor. To say the focus of the current coalition is part of an effort to maintain those tax cuts is fanciful, to be charitable.
The 15-word clause in the Kansas State Constitution that is the center of all of this was enacted in 1966. It took only a few years for the first lawsuit to be filed, and Kansas has been in court ever since. This is madness. Brownback was not governor when the original litigation was filed some 30 years ago. The Kansas Legislature developed the current finance formula in the early 1990s under the duress of a Shawnee County District Court judge. Sam Brownback would not be governor for another 18 years. To continue to enact Brownback’s name must mean the author simply can’t argue the merits of the issue we currently face. This is disappointing.
Last December, the Kansas Chamber Board of Directors approved the following language to be a part of our 2018 Legislative Agenda:
Support a constitutional amendment for the democratically elected legislature to have exclusive authority to determine funding for schools in an effort to eliminate endless litigation over school funding.
In my role as President and CEO of the Kansas Chamber, I’ve traveled the state visiting business of all sizes. The consistent refrain I hear from business owners and managers is that the constant litigation has diminished the effectiveness of our educational institutions and their ability to prepare Kansas students for post-secondary careers and post-secondary education.
In addition, I’ve had multiple conversations with educators, teachers, superintendents, and building principals; many embarrassed about the constant litigation. They know that Kansas courts are the not the place to set our state’s education policy.
Ultimately this is about the process of how Kansas sets and finances education policy. We are competing not just with our neighboring states, but all 50 states and many countries across the globe. There is a worldwide competition for jobs.
Because we are in a constant struggle regarding how much Kansas spends on K-12 education, we have not had substantive conversations that we should about the effectiveness and efficacy of our education systems and how we properly prepare Kansas students for their lives after high school.
Improving our education systems takes place because of conversations between employers, students, parents, educators and those setting education policy: the legislature, the Governor, local boards of education and the State Board of Education.
These conversations simply cannot take place between all the interested parties mentioned and the state’s judicial branch.
The Chamber’s board of directors and members across the Kansas business community recognize the importance of a well-educated and trained workforce. But they also desire a competitive business climate. The endless litigation over school funding places the state at risk of being able to a balance of a competitive tax climate and providing for the essential services required outside of the K-12 education system.
The framers of our national and state constitutions understood that the power to tax and appropriate funds must be placed in the hands of the legislature-the governing body of the people. The Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding supports a constitutional amendment that will reestablish this fundamental principle of democracy and will end the continuous cycle of litigation.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, joins Bob and Karl to update us on happenings in the Kansas Legislature. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 192, broadcast April 14, 2018.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: John Todd explains how cities in Kansas are seeking additional power to seize property, and tells us why we should oppose this legislation. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 188, broadcast March 17, 2018.
There is a movement to increase the transparency of government in Kansas, but there’s much to be done, starting with attitudes.
One of the major economic development programs in Kansas is PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. 1 It provides benefits to companies when they expand their operations in Kansas, or sometimes when they merely threaten to leave. The recent expansion by Spirit AeroSystems is reported to benefit from $23.5 million in PEAK cash. 2
But finding out how much PEAK benefits are awarded each year is difficult, even though the state relies heavily on this program. It also appears that the Kansas Department of Commerce, the agency that awards and administers PEAK, isn’t aware of how many programs, and at what cost, have been authorized.
At one time a summary of PEAK data was readily available from the state. It covered fiscal years 2010 through 2015. 3 My inquiries late last year to the PEAK program manager for updated information were fruitless, despite many email and telephone messages. None were returned.
But a request to the interim director was answered. The answer is that the data through 2015 was a one-time effort, and there are no reports similar to that with recent data.
The fact that there is no recent data is remarkable. We must wonder if the Department of Commerce cares about things like this, because collecting this data as projects are awarded is not difficult. There aren’t many projects awarded. For the period 2010 through 2015, there were 68 PEAK projects awarded. And just a handful of data items need recording for each project.
But this isn’t done.
I made a request for recent data on PEAK awards, asking for the same data in the previous report: Company Name, Effective Date, Location (County), Proposed Annual Benefit, Benefit Term (Yrs), New or Retained Jobs, Project Payroll, and Additional Project Capital Investment. The response confirmed there is no simple report with the relevant data. I was offered the opportunity to purchase copes of all recent PEAK agreements, estimated to cost $750 to $1,200. Further, these documents would not contain all the data I asked for.
Who is managing?
As part of four initiatives to increase government transparency in Kansas, Governor Jeff Colyer told the legislature, “Third, I will implement performance metrics for Cabinet Agencies so Kansans can see how we perform.” 4 My experience with the Department of Commerce indicates there’s a long way to go. Agencies are not capturing and recording basic data.
Even if the Department of Commerce was capturing this data, there’s still much more analysis to perform. The data I asked for was simply the project parameters at the time PEAK benefits are awarded. The real question is this: Are the projected benefits actually realized?
There ought to be a law
There is a bill this year that would require several state agencies to report on the many programs they administer. It’s titled “HB 2753: An act concerning taxation; relating to income tax credits and sales tax exemptions; periodic review, reports to certain legislative committees.” 5
Kansas taxpayers might have thought this basic management of our tax-funded programs we already in place. It’s especially troubling in that the cost of this management is small. The fiscal note for the bill tells us these agencies already have the capacity to perform this work: “The Insurance Department, Department of Commerce, and Department of Revenue indicate that the administrative costs associated with implementing the provisions of HB 2753 would be negligible and could be absorbed within existing resources. Each agency would be responsible to collect and organize information regarding certain tax credits, incentives, and exemptions on a yearly basis.”
Local governments in Kansas are again seeking expanded power to seize property.
In Kansas, officials of many city governments feel they don’t have enough power to deal with blight. This year, as in years past, there is legislation to expand the power of cities to seize property. 12
John Todd, along with Paul Soutar, made a video to explain the bill and the surrounding issues. It’s just five minutes in length. View it below, or click here to view at YouTube. Todd’s written testimony to the Kansas Legisalture has photographs and examples. It may be viewed here.
Presently, tools are in place. Cities already have much power to deal with blight and related problems. Last year Todd and I, along with others, had a luncheon meeting with a Kansas Senator who voted in favor of expanding cities’ powers. When we told him of our opposition, he asked questions like, “Well, don’t you want to fight blight? What will cities do to fight blight without this bill?” When we listed and explained the many tools cities already have, he said that he hadn’t been told of these. This is evidence that this bill is not needed. It’s also evidence of the ways cities try to increase their powers at the expense of the rights of people. 3
The Governor’s veto. A similar bill passed the legislature in 2016. Governor Brownback vetoed that bill, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition.” 4
The Governor’s veto provoked a response from Wichita government officials. It let us know that they are not as respectful of fundamental rights as was Brownback. 5
For example, in remarks from the bench, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said there is no intent to be “aggressive in taking people’s property.” 6 But expanding the power of government — aggression, in other word — is what the bill does. Otherwise, why the need for the bill with its new methods and powers of taking property?
And once government is granted new powers, government nearly always finds ways to expand the power and put it to new uses. Even if we believe Meitzner — and we should not — he will not always be in office. Others will follow him who may not claim to be so wise and restrained in the use of government power.
Government expands and liberty recedes. Government continuously seeks new ways to expand its powers through enabling concepts like blight. Did you know the entire suburban town of Andover is blighted? 7 Across the country, when governments find they can take property with novel and creative interpretations of blight, they do so. 8
It’s easy to sense the frustration of government officials like Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell. In his remarks, he asked opponents of SB 338 “what they would do” when confronted with blight. That is a weak argument, but is advanced nonetheless. Everyone has the right — the duty — to oppose bad legislation even if they do not have an alternate solution. Just because someone doesn’t have a solution, that doesn’t mean their criticism is not valid. This is especially true in this matter, as cities already have many tools to deal with blight.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute joins Bob and Karl to discuss his new book What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan –- The Undoing of a Good Idea. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 186, broadcast March 3, 2018.
What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan
New Book Outlines Tax Lessons from Kansas “Experiment”
Tax relief opponents have repeatedly pointed to the 2012 Kansas tax plan as their primary example of why tax cuts do not work. But, other states like North Carolina, Indiana, and Tennessee contemporaneously, and successfully, cut taxes. What was different about the Kansas experience?
The answer to that question is multi-dimensional according to a new book from Kansas Policy Institute, entitled What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan — The Undoing of a Good Idea. The book covers the six years between the conception of Brownback’s tax cuts in 2011, the tax package being signed into law in 2012 and later repealed with the largest tax hike in state history in 2017. It documents the many mistakes that occurred, a toxic political undercurrent, and several unrelated economic circumstances that negatively impacted the budget and multiple misconceptions along the way.
Author and KPI president Dave Trabert says, “Much of what went wrong was avoidable. We hope citizens and legislators across the nation can learn from the mistakes made in Kansas as they strive to create the best path forward for everyone to achieve prosperity with lower taxes.”
The final chapter of the book is “Lessons Learned” and includes these big lessons:
Don’t cut revenue and increase spending.
Explain why tax relief is necessary (i.e., what are the consequences of not reducing the tax burden).
Develop a comprehensive plan to balance the budget on less tax revenue, with room for the unpredictable but inevitable misfortunes (like plummeting oil and farm commodity prices).
Have the right systems in place, including performance-based budgeting and a reliable revenue estimating process.
To ensure that lawmakers have this information as they work in statehouses around the country, nearly 8,000 complimentary copies are being distributed to every state legislator across the country in partnership with The Heartland Institute.
Danedri Herbert, an experienced journalist currently writing for the online publication “The Sentinel,” co-authored the book and former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma wrote the Foreword. Coburn writes, “This is a very important book, not only for state and national legislators who try to represent citizens instead of special interests, but also for taxing and spending watchdogs in the press and those involved with good government citizen activist groups.”
What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan is published by Jameson Books, Inc. and copies will be available on Amazon.
Trabert concludes, “Kansas could have successfully cut taxes as other states have done. The undoing of a very good idea—allowing citizens to keep more of their hard-earned money—gets to the crux of the serious state and national challenges we face: policy takes a back seat to politics. The efforts of many elected officials are not on solving problems in ways that create the best path forward for all Americans to achieve prosperity, but on maintaining and consolidating power.”
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The Sentinel’s Danedri Herbert joins Bob Weeks to discuss the upcoming gubernatorial debate, the Kansas Legislature’s website and transparency, and accountability in government. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 184, broadcast February 17, 2018.
Is the state’s leading expert on school funding truly knowledgeable, or is he untrustworthy?
Recent events have found Kansas Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis in the news regarding a possible mistake or misapplication of school funds. The school spending establishment has rushed to his rescue, with Kansas National Education Association, Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents Association, and American Federation of Teachers Kansas issuing a joint statement. Dale Dennis, says the statement, is “the best friend public education and the kids of Kansas have had.” He is described as “the most trustworthy, honest, and respected advocate for children and schools.”
Consider, however: The goals of these institutions are more spending on schools, less accountability for schools, and stamping out any movement towards school choice. And Dale Dennis accommodates this, especially more spending. This is the basis of the complaint, that he authorized more spending than the legislature intended in statute.
No matter how this dispute resolves, Dale Dennis is not trustworthy and honest. Below is a description of a speech he gave to the Hutchinson Rotary Club last year. He portrayed a number called “base state aid per pupil” as all that the state spends on schools. The reality is that the state spends much more. Presenting base state aid as though it was all the state spends is misleading. It’s a lie.
Base state aid is a fairly low figure and it has not kept up with inflation. But total state (and local) spending is much higher and has risen. This is why Dale Dennis is not trustworthy and honest. This is fake government.
But because Dennis is willing to paint Kansas school finances untruthfully and in a way that makes it look like spending is low and has declined, the public school spending establishment loves him. They cite his figures. And then: Who can argue with the Kansas Department of Education Deputy Commissioner?
What can argue with Dennis are the facts. Here’s how to refute Dale Dennis: View spending numbers from the Kansas State Board of Education.
Following, from April 2017, analysis of Dale Dennis and his speech to the Hutchinson rotary Club.
Fake government spawns fake news
Discussions of public policy need to start from a common base of facts and information. An episode shows that both our state government and news media are not helping.
A recent Hutchinson News article1 started with this:
Once you wake up to where Kansas was in 1992 at funding schools and what it needs to do to get caught up, said the Kansas Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis, it’s a shocker.
In 1992, base state aid per pupil was $3,600. That amount, taking into account the Consumer Price Index, would be the equivalent of $6,001.12 in 2013. Base state aid, however, has been frozen at $3,852 since 2014-15.
“The numbers are shocking, shocking,” Dennis told the Hutchinson Rotary Club at its Monday luncheon meeting at the Hutchinson Town Club.
Why is a speech by a government bureaucrat, as covered in a major newspaper, important? It illustrates two problems we face in understanding, discussing, and debating important matters of public policy.
First, can government be truthful and accurate? Dale Dennis — the state’s top official on school finance — certainly knows that the numbers he presented do not accurately characterize the totality of school spending in Kansas. But the problem is even worse than that. To use base state aid as the indicator of state spending on schools is deceptive. It’s deceptive in that, after adjusting for inflation, base state aid has declined. But total state aid to school districts has increased.
Base state aid is a false indicator of total spending on schools by the state. It’s fake — fake government. And for a newspaper to uncritically present this as news illustrates the second problem we face.
Background on base state aid and school spending
Base state aid per pupil — the statistic Dennis presented — is an important number.2 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.3
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. 4
While this may seem like a technical discussion that doesn’t make a difference, it’s very important, because some of the weightings are large. 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.
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.)
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.)
What have we learned?
We’re left wondering a few things:
Did Deputy Superintendent Dale Dennis tell the audience that base state aid is just part of the school funding landscape, and not reflective of the big picture? Did he tell the audience that total state aid to schools has increased, and increased substantially? If so, why wasn’t it mentioned in the article?
If Dale Dennis did not tell the audience these things, what conclusions should we draw about his truthfulness?
Why didn’t the Hutchinson News article explain to readers that base state aid is not an accurate or total indicator of total state spending on schools?
What is the duty of reporters and editors? We’re told that experienced journalists add background and context to the news — things that the average reader may not know. (This article is designated as “Editor’s Pick” by the Hutchinson News.)
By the way, the Wichita Eagle, on its opinion page, cited in a positive and uncritical manner the Hutchinson News article.5 This is notable as the writer of the Eagle piece, opinion editor Phillip Brownlee, was a certified public accountant in a previous career. This is someone we should be able to trust to delve into numbers and tell us what they mean. But that isn’t the case.
Whatever your opinion on the level and trend of school spending, we need to start the discussion from a common base of facts and information. From this episode, we see that both our state government and news media are not helping.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Vice president and policy director of Kansas Policy Institute James Franko joins Karl Peterjohn to discuss Governor Brownback’s State of the State Address for 2018. Topics include schools and Medicaid expansion. Bob Weeks hopes to be back next week. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 179, broadcast January 13, 2018.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Representative John Whitmer joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to discuss current issues in state government, and why he supports Wink Hartman for governor. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 173, broadcast November 18, 2017.
A look at actual spending on Kansas highways, apart from transfers.
When we look at actual spending on Kansas roads and highways, we see something different from what is commonly portrayed. Kansas Department of Transportation publishes a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report that details spending in four categories. These figures represent actual spending on roads and highways, independent of transfers to or from the highway fund.
For fiscal year 2017, when ended June 30, 2017, spending on three categories (Maintenance, Preservation, and Modernization) was nearly unchanged from the year before, while spending on the category Expansion and Enhancement fell by 31 percent.
For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2017 totaled $738.798 million. That’s down 14 percent from $857.133 million the year before, and up from a low of $698.770 million in fiscal 2010.
Again, these are dollars actually spent on highway programs. A common characterization of the way Kansas government is funded is called “robbing the bank of KDOT.” To the extent that characterization is accurate, there is a separate line item titled “Distributions to other state funds” that holds these values. It appears in the nearby table. A chart shows sales tax distributions from the general fund to KDOT, and transfers from KDOT.
Many also criticize Kansas government for slashing highway spending, letting our roads crumble. While total spending on these four programs has been falling (after adjusting for inflation), the decline is minor compared to the hysterical claims of those with vested interests in more government, and especially highway, spending.
Kansas law specifies how much sales tax revenue is transferred to the highway fund. Here are recent rates of transfer and dates they became effective: 1
July 1, 2010: 11.427%
July 1, 2011: 11.26%
July 1, 2012: 11.233%
July 1, 2013: 17.073%
July 1, 2015: 16.226%
July 1, 2016 and thereafter: 16.154%
A nearby chart shows the dollar amounts transferred to the highway fund from sales tax revenue. In 2006 the transfer was $98.914 million, and by 2016 it had grown to $514.519 million.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Ron Ryckman joins hosts Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss current governmental affairs in Kansas. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 162, broadcast August 20, 2017.