Tag Archives: Kansas legislature

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

The plan to raise your taxes that can’t be found

A coalition of Kansas advocacy groups wants to raise your taxes, but the plan is difficult to find.

On Wednesday a coalition of groups presented their plan to balance the Kansas budget and provide more tax revenue to spend. But — this plan can’t be found at any of the participating groups’ websites. So as a service to these groups, (Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Kansas Action for Children, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Kansas-National Education Association) I present a scanned version of the plan. Maybe one of the groups will send me a digital original.

Click here to view the plan.

Decoding Duane Goossen

The writing of Duane Goossen, a former Kansas budget director, requires decoding and explanation. This time, his vehicle is “Rise Up, Kansas.”

Duane Goossen was Kansas budget director from 1998 to 2010.1 He is critical of the administration of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and recent sessions of the Kansas Legislature. It’s useful to examine his writings so that Kansans may become aware of the ramifications of his recommendations, and how during his years as budget director he was unable to adhere to the principles he now advocates. Following, some language from his recent article Rise Up, Kansas.

Goossen: “This marks the beginning of a hopeful new chapter in the Kansas story. It also presents a desperately needed opening for comprehensive tax reform.”

Comprehensive tax reform. That sounds good, as “reform” has a positive connotation. It means change for the better. But in this case reform means raising taxes, and by a lot. In fact, advocates of tax increases generally won’t say by how much they want to raise taxes.

As an example, in May a coalition of spending groups called for what they termed “Option 4.” It would eliminate all tax cuts enacted since 2012. This action would reinstate the tax on pass-through business income — the so-called “LLC loophole.” But this would also raise income taxes wage income, as those tax rates also were reduced in 2012. For example, income tax rates for a married family earning up to $30,000 would rise to 3.50 percent from the current 2.70 percent. That’s an increase of 30 percent in the income tax rate. For other income levels the increase is greater.2

A spokesperson for the Option 4 coalition argued that rolling back the tax cuts could increase revenue to the state by $1 billion. By the way, the Option 4 coalition did not call for the rollback of the sales tax increase passed in 2015. I should qualify that with apparently, as no handouts explaining Option 4 can be found. In addition, an audio recording of the press conference has been removed.

Members of the Option 4 coalition included Shannon Cotsoradis of Kansas Action for Children, Bob Totten from the Kansas Contractors Association, Rebecca Proctor of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Mark Desetti from the Kansas National Education Association.3

With the exception of the pass-through business income tax, failing to be specific about whose taxes will be raised by how much is characteristic of spending groups. In fact, these spending groups generally shy away from using the term tax. Look at these examples of language from Goossen’s article:

  • damage to state finances
  • hemorrhage revenue
  • can’t start healing while still in triage mode
  • fix our structural revenue imbalance
  • broaden the tax base
  • means reviewing our entire tax code
  • modernizing all revenue sources
  • get our fiscal house back in order
  • begin with commonsense basics
  • new priorities
  • recover the opportunities we lost
  • senseless era of crisis
  • begin restoring those opportunities
  • rise above the political fray
  • find courage to make difficult decisions
  • imagine the possibilities

Commonsense basics. Who could be against that? Yet each of these terms is a call for more and higher taxes.

Goossen: “Three credit rating downgrades”

The Kansas credit rating has declined. In making this decision, Moody’s mentioned “revenue reductions (resulting from tax cuts) which have not been fully offset by recurring spending cuts.4 So Kansas has a decision: Offset revenue reductions with higher taxes or spending cuts. Moody’s doesn’t care which is chosen, but Goossen and the spending coalition does.

KPERS funded ratio through 2014Of note, Moody’s mentions another problem: “an underfunded retirement system for which the state is not making actuarially required contributions.” This is an ongoing problem, as the nearby chart illustrates. The funding ratio of the Kansas retirement plan has deteriorated for many years, including the years when Duane Goossen was Kansas budget director. (Recently Kansas has improved the funding ratio of KPERS, but it did that by borrowing funds, which was an unwise decision. Because of the borrowing, Kansas has delayed schedule KPERS contributions, which effectively pays for current spending with long-term debt.5)

Moody’s also mentioned “In recent years the state has appropriated funds from or shifted costs to the State Highway Fund to help balance the general fund budget.” This too, is an ongoing problem.6 “Raiding the Bank of KDOT” has been a problem for many years, including the years when Duane Goossen was Kansas budget director.

Goossen: “It will likely take a generation to fully recover from this horrible experiment.”

Spending in Kansas. Click for larger.
Spending in Kansas. Click for larger.
Goossen is not specific as to the nature of the damage. Generally, a claim of slashed state spending is made. But it’s difficult to see the purported decline. Some programs may have been cut, but overall, spending is level or climbing, as can be seen in the nearby chart.7 Additionally, in comparison to other states Kansas spends a lot, and continues to.8

Goossen: “lifting the burden the Brownback plan forced onto our lowest-earning Kansans.”

Yes, we should sharply reduce or eliminate the sales tax on groceries. It affects low-income households most severly.9

Goossen: “And it means establishing a responsible state savings account.”

Kansas General Funding ending balance. Click for larger.
Kansas General Funding ending balance. Click for larger.
Kansas doesn’t have what some states have, which is a true rainy day fund that is governed by statute as to when contributions must be made and when the fund may be used. Instead, Kansas has a simple requirement for an ending balance of 7.5 percent, which the state has regularly ignored for decades. Low ending balances are a hallmark of Kansas government, including the years when Duane Goossen was Kansas budget director. In fact, in one year his budget had a negative ending balance.10


Notes

  1. Goossen, Duane. Kansas Budget Blog. http://www.kansasbudget.com/.
  2. Kansas Policy Institute. *Option 4: Soak the poor. https://kansaspolicy.org/option-4-soak-poor/.
  3. Hancock, Peter. Session resumes with call for total repeal of Brownback tax cuts. Lawrence Journal-World, April 27, 2016. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2016/apr/27/session-resumes-call-total-repeal-brownback-tax-cu/.
  4. Moody’s Investors Service, Inc. Moody’s downgrades Kansas issuer rating to Aa2 from Aa1, notched ratings to Aa3 from Aa2 and KDOT highway revenue bonds to Aa2 from Aa1; outlook stable. April 30, 2014. https://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-downgrades-Kansas-issuer-rating-to-Aa2-from-Aa1-notched–PR_298383.
  5. Weeks, Bob. This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/we-must-eliminate-defined-benefit-public-pensions/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-transportation-bonds-economics-worse-than-told/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Kansas government spending. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-government-spending-2/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Spending in the states, per capita. Interactive visualization. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/spending-states-per-capita-2/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Kansas sales tax has disproportionate harmful effects. https://wichitaliberty.org/taxation/kansas-sales-tax-has-disproportionate-harmful-effects/.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Kansas General Fund. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-general-fund-2/.

From Pachyderm: 2016 general election analysis

Voice for Liberty radio logo square 02 155x116From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: A panel discussion on the results of the 2016 general election. Panelists were:

  • Mark Kahrs, Member of Kansas House of Representatives and Kansas Republican National Committeeman
  • Clayton Barker, Executive Director, Kansas Republican Party
  • Mark Dugan, Dugan Consulting Group

This audio presentation was recorded on November 11, 2016.

Mark Dugan, Clay Barker, and Mark Kahrs
Mark Dugan, Clay Barker, and Mark Kahrs

How would higher Kansas taxes help?

Candidates in Kansas who promise more spending ought to explain just how higher taxes will — purportedly — help the Kansas economy.

Are low taxes important to an economy, especially a state economy? When the Tax Foundation looked at the issue, it concluded this: “In this review of the literature, I find twenty-six such studies going back to 1983, and all but three of those studies, and every study in the last fifteen years, find a negative effect of taxes on growth.”1

Per-capita tax collections, Kansas and nearby states. Click for larger.
Per-capita tax collections, Kansas and nearby states. Click for larger.
Many of these studies concerned the national economy and taxes, but some looked at state taxes. When we look at Kansas, we see that Kansas already taxes and spends quite a lot, compared to other states. Nearby is a chart showing per-capita state tax collections in Kansas and Colorado.2

State and Local Government Employee and Payroll. Click for larger.
State and Local Government Employee and Payroll. Click for larger.
Looking at other data, I found that considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.3

State and local government employment and costs, selected states. Click for larger.
State and local government employment and costs, selected states. Click for larger.
From another source of data, I found this: “In the visualization, you can see that Kansas spends quite a bit more than nearby states. Of special interest is Minnesota, which is often used as an example of a high-tax state, and a state with excellent schools and services. But Minnesota spends barely more than Kansas, on a per-person basis. What about Colorado? It seems that Kansans often look to Colorado as a state full of bounty. But Kansas outspends Colorado. Same for New Mexico, Wisconsin, Texas, and — especially — Missouri.”4

Please don’t argue that the economic health of a state is determined by its budget, that is, whether it is balanced or not. And if you want to argue that Kansas has borrowed money through the highway fund and spent it in the general fund: That’s true, and we should not do that. But that action allowed Kansas to keep spending, much like borrowing allows the federal government to keep spending more that it raises through taxes.

Some argue that if the state taxes more, it can spend more, and therefore the economy expands. But: The money taken from Kansans is money that they can’t spend. And if one wants to argue that government spends more carefully and efficiently than do private individuals spending their own money — well, give it a try. Empirically, not many people believe this.

And isn’t government spending the purpose of taxation? Nearby are figures showing Kansas general fund spending. You can see that for two years Kansas spent much more than it collected in revenue, using a large ending balance as the source of funds. If one believes in the Keynesian theory of fiscal effects — which most liberals and progressives do — this “deficit” spending spared spending cuts and therefore boosted the Kansas economy.

Kansas General Fund spending, showing large deficits of revenue compared to spending in 2014 and 2015.
Kansas General Fund spending, showing large deficits of revenue compared to spending in 2014 and 2015.

Regarding the spending cuts that some claim: Have there been severe spending cuts in Kansas? While some programs have been trimmed, overall state spending continues on a largely upward trend (for all funds spending) or remains mostly flat (for general fund spending), after accounting for population and inflation.5

kansas-per-capita-spending-adjusted-for-cpi-2016-10

Kansas revenue estimate errors. Click for larger.
Kansas revenue estimate errors. Click for larger.
We also hear that the Kansas economy is in bad shape because tax revenue has fallen short of estimates. This is not a good indicator of economic health. Instead, it illustrates the difficulty of economic forecasting. Moreover, the negative estimate variances — revenue shortfalls, in other words — in 2002 to 2003 and 2009 to 2010 were generally much larger in magnitude than those of recent years.6 Remember how the Obama administration told us that without the 2009 stimulus package unemployment would rise to a certain level? Well, the stimulus bill passed, we spent the money, and unemployment was higher than what the administration said it would be without the stimulus. And for a long time, too.7

We also hear that transfers from KDOT — the highway fund — have hurt Kansas, especially in construction jobs. Our state’s two largest newspapers recently editorialized on this matter.8 They correctly reported that Kansas construction jobs were down. But it wasn’t highway construction jobs that caused the loss of jobs, except for a very small portion.

KDOT spending on major road programs. Click for larger version.
KDOT spending on major road programs. Click for larger version.
Furthermore, the state has continued to spend on highway programs, without regard to transfers from the highway fund. When we look at actual spending on roads, we see something different from what is often told. KDOT’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows spending in the categories “Preservation” and “Expansion and Enhancement” has grown rapidly over the past five years. Spending in the category “Maintenance” has been level, while spending on “Modernization” has declined. For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2015 totaled $932,666 million, up from a low of $698,770 in fiscal 2010.

We should not borrow money, place it in the highway fund, and then transfer the funds to the general fund, as the state has done for many years. But actual spending on highways has risen, nonetheless.

So: Just how will higher taxes help the Kansas economy?


Notes

  1. McBride, William. What Is the Evidence on Taxes and Growth? Tax Foundation, 2012. http://taxfoundation.org/article/what-evidence-taxes-and-growth.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Tax collections by the states. Interactive visualization. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/tax-collections-states-2/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. State and local government employee and payroll. Interactive visualization. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/state-local-government-employee-payroll/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Kansas, a frugal state? Interactive visualization. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/kansas-frugal-state/
  5. Weeks, Bob. Kansas government spending. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-government-spending-2/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas revenue estimates. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-revenue-estimates/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Brownback and Obama stimulus plans. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/brownback-and-obama-stimulus-plans/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Topeka Capital-Journal falls for a story. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-news-media/topeka-capital-journal-falls-story/.

Kansas Democrats: They don’t add it up — or they don’t tell us

Kansas Democrats (and some Republicans) are campaigning on some very expensive programs, and they’re aren’t adding it up for us.

A sampling of campaign literature from Kansas Democratic candidates in south and west Wichita for the Kansas Legislature1 reveals several common threads:

  • Few will identify themselves as Democrats.
  • Eliminating the LLC loophole is popular.
  • Eliminating or reducing sales tax on food is popular.
  • Eliminating the 2015 sales tax increase is popular.
  • Fully funding schools is popular.
  • None of these show the cost of these ideas, nor do they offer ideas on how to pay for these things, except for eliminating the LLC loophole.

What will these things cost? Here’s some figures.

LLC loophole and food sales tax: This year a bill was proposed in the Kansas Legislature to restore taxation of non-wage business income, that is, to eliminate the so-called “LLC loophole.” It would also reduce the sales tax on food from 6.5 percent to 2.6 percent. The fiscal note for this bill estimated an increase in tax revenue to the state of $260.9 million from the non-wage business income, and a loss of revenue to the state of $234.1 million for the sales tax reduction.2

Extrapolating the food sales tax figures implies that eliminating the sales tax on food would mean a loss of revenue to the state of $435 million, assuming no change in consumer behavior.

Rollback general sales tax: In 2015 when the legislature voted to raise the statewide sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.50 percent on July 1, 2015, it was estimated that revenue to the state would increase by 164.2 million. For fiscal year 2017, by 186.7 million.3

(By the way, the tax on cigarettes was increased by an estimated $40.39 million. If we’re rolling back sales tax increases, we should roll back this 50 cent per pack increase, too. I haven’t seen any advocates for this.)

Fully funding schools: Who knows what “full funding” really means? The Kansas Supreme Court believes it — and it alone — has the ability to put a number on this. A consensus seems to be developing at around $450 million per year in additional school funding is what the court may order.

Adding up the costs (using some numbers a few years old): $260.9 million – $435 million – $164.2 million – $450 million equals -$1,310.1 million in changes to annual general fund revenue. ($-1,350.5 million if we want to be fair to smokers.)

This is the proposed change to Kansas general fund revenue that these candidates omit from their campaigns. It is the amount by which taxes must be raised, or spending be cut (or a combination of taxes and cuts). Some of these numbers are estimates that could be off by a lot. There can be some quibbling, such as reducing the food sales tax instead of eliminating it, which will change the numbers. But there’s no doubt that the plans Kansas Democrats propose will cost a lot of money.

Total revenue to the general fund in 2016 was $6,073.4 million. Major sources include:
Income taxes (individual, corporate, financial institution): $2,640.8 million
Excise taxes (sales, compensating use, cigarette, liquor, severance): $2,927.7 million

So if the state wanted to raise spending by, say, $1.310 billion dollars, it would have to raise income taxes by 49.7 percent, or excise taxes by 44.7 percent. Or a combination. Either way, that’s a lot.

When you see candidates for the Kansas Legislature — Democratic and Republican — mention these programs, ask if they know how much they will cost. Ask whose taxes will be raised or whose programs will be cut.

And ask this really important question: Just how will all this make Kansas a better state?

  1. Photographs of a number of pieces may be viewed in this folder at Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHskMJfGNc.
  2. Kansas Legislature. HB 2444. Eliminating the business non-wage income tax exemption and reducing the sales tax rate on food. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2015_16/measures/hb2444/.
  3. Kansas Legislature. Revenue Enhancements and Other Provisions; Senate Sub. for HB 2109, as amended by House Sub. for SB 270 and HB 2142. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2015_16/measures/documents/summary_hb_2109_2015.pdf.

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 under 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 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 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.
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.

Video in the Kansas Senate

A plan to increase visibility of the Kansas Senate is a good start, and needs to go just one or two steps farther.

The Kansas Republican Senatorial Committee has released a plan to make Kansas better. One plank concerns transparency, specifically this: “Under our plan, legislative meetings and Senate proceedings will be public and streamed live online for public viewing.”1

This is a good idea, and one that should have, and could have, been implemented long ago. But it doesn’t go quite far enough. The problem is that many people who might want to watch the proceedings can’t do so at the time the Kansas Senate meets. We need to have archived video.

This would require the Senate to capture the video rather than simply streaming it. Then, the video must be made available somewhere. YouTube is an obvious choice, and it is free.

Then, to make the experience complete, the Senate needs to make documents available to the public as they are made available to legislators. An example is an amendment to a bill that the chamber is debating.

A related matter is the availability of testimony in the Kansas Legislature. Specifically, the written testimony and informational presentations provided to committees would be of interest and value to citizens. Most committees — perhaps all — require conferees to supply a pdf or Microsoft Word version of their testimony in advance of the hearing. These electronic documents could be placed online before the committee hearing. Then, anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone could have these documents available to them.

On the Kansas Legislature website, each committee has its own page. On these committee pages there are links for “Committee Agenda,” “Committee Minutes,” and “Testimony.” But in most cases there is no data behind these links. In February 2015 I investigated and found that only about one-third of standing committees in the Kansas Legislature were providing written testimony online.2

Since then, several committees have used the commercial file-sharing service Dropbox to make testimony and documents available to everyone. This is a reasonable way to accomplish an important goal.


Notes

  1. betterkansasplan.com. Transparency in Government. Available at betterkansasplan.com/better/#1475545628382-66e77cef-bde5.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Availability of testimony in the Kansas Legislature. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/availability-testimony-kansas-legislature/.

Kansas and Arizona schools

Arizona shows that Kansas is missing out on an opportunity to provide better education at lower cost.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau tells us this:1

Total Spending Per Pupil:
Arizona: $7,528. Kansas: $9,972.

Spending on Instruction Per Pupil:
Arizona: $4,091. Kansas $6,112.

This data is from the school year ending in 2014, which is the most recent data from the Census Bureau that includes data from all states in a comparable fashion.

So how do Arizona and Kansas Students compare? A nearby table holds data from the 2015 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” This is a snapshot of a larger interactive visualization.2

For each state, I show the data for traditional public schools and for charter schools. (As Kansas has very few charter schools, there is no data for this category.) Kansas scores exceed Arizona scores in only one instance.

Arizona embraces charter schools and other forms of school choice. In 2014, 17.8 percent of Arizona public schools were in charter schools. Kansas has a law that allows for charter schools, but it is designed to make charters difficult to form and run. Plus, the Kansas public school community fights against charter schools. As a result, only 0.5 percent of Kansas students are in charter schools.3

Can Kansas learn from Arizona with its lower costs and higher student achievement?

Kansas and Arizona test scores. Click for larger.
Kansas and Arizona test scores. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Public Education Finances: 2014. Table 8: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by
    State: Fiscal Year 2014. Available at census.gov/library/publications/2016/econ/g14-aspef.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. The nation’s report card and charter schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/education/nations-report-card-charter-schools/.
  3. Author’s compilation of data from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD). Available here.

School choice and funding

Opponents of school choice programs argue the programs harm traditional public schools, both financially and in their ability to serve their remaining students. Evidence does not support this position.

The prevalent argument is that charter schools and other school choice programs drain funds from public schools. That is, if a public school student chooses to attend a charter or private school, and if the money follows the student to the other school, the public school district loses money that it otherwise would have received. Therefore, the public school district is worse off, and so too are its students.

A rebuttal is that since a public school has shed the responsibility for schooling the student, its costs should fall correspondingly. This would be true if all the costs of a public school are variable. Some costs are fixed, however, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly — in the short run, that is. An example is the cost to maintain a classroom. If a school has one less student than the year before, it still requires the same support for utilities. One or several fewer students doesn’t mean that fewer teachers are needed.

Public schools and their lobbyists, therefore, argue that school choice programs are a financial burden to public schools. Under school choice programs, they say, public schools lose students and their accompanying funding, but the public schools retain their fixed costs.

The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts (cover)The question, then, is what portion of a school’s costs are variable, meaning costs that schools can adjust quickly, and what portion are fixed, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly? Benjamin Scafidi, professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, has examined schools looking for the answer to this question. His paper The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts, published by EdChoice (formerly The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice), holds answers to these questions.

The first question is this: What is the relation of school choice programs to school districts’ variable costs? Scafidi has endeavored to determine the breakdown between variable and fixed costs in each state. In Kansas, for the 2008 – 2009 school year, total spending per student was $11,441. Of that, Scafidi estimates $3,749, or 32.8 percent, were fixed costs. Variable costs were $7,692, or 67.2 percent. Since then spending has risen, but there’s no reason to think the allocation of costs between fixed and variable has changed materially. For the school year ending in 2015 total spending per student was $13,1241. That implies fixed costs per student of $4,305 and variable costs per student of $8,819.

Now, how much money would a public school lose if a student chose to attend a school other than the traditional public schools? For Kansas this question is complicated by recent changes in the way public schools are funded. Prior to the school year ending in 2016, Kansas used a school funding formula that started with a figure called “base state aid per pupil.” For 2015 the value was $3,852, and that is the starting point for calculating state spending per student.

In a recent presentation on this topic, Scafidi said: “Any school choice program where about $8,000 per student or less, on average, follows the child to the school of his or her choice, improves the fiscal situation of the public school district, on average, and students who remain in public schools have more resources available for their education.” Considering only base state aid per pupil, a typical Kansas school district, which has variable costs of $8,819 per student, has its fiscal situation improved when it loses a student and the accompanying $3,852 in state funding.

Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Many Kansas students, however, trigger much more funding due to weightings that compensate for the purported higher costs of some situations. The largest weighting in Kansas, based magnitude, is the “at-risk” weighting. It adds 45.6 percent to base state aid. So if a Kansas public school loses such a student and weighting, it loses $5,608 in funding. That is far less than its variable costs of $8,819. State funding for Kansas schools in the school year ending in 2015 was $8,5672 per student, still less than school districts’ variable costs.

I asked Scafidi what is the dividing line between variable and fixed costs? The answer is that within two or three years, schools should be able to adjust their fixed costs to be in line with their needs. This is in line with the economic and accounting reality that says in the long run, all costs are variable.

Can school districts adjust their costs quickly in response to changing enrollments? This may be a problem for the very smallest districts, those with just one or two teachers per grade, Scadifi concedes. In his paper, Scafidi illustrates two examples of districts in Georgia with just over 1,000 students making adjustments. In Kansas, there are 286 school districts. Of these, 207 have enrollment of less than 1,000 students, but only 20 percent if the state’s students are in these small districts.

School districts often dispute the contention that they are able to reduce their variable costs rapidly in response to enrollment changes. Scafidi notes that if school districts say they cannot reduce costs when they lose students, the implication is that all of their costs are fixed. If that is true, then schools should not receive additional funding when enrollment rises. If all their costs truly are fixed, the total cost of running a school district does not change with enrollment — either up or down.

Going forward in Kansas

Kansas is in the process of formulating a new school financing method. For the school years ending in 2016 and 2017 the state has used a block grant method, whereby state funding to school districts was frozen at the 2015 level with some increases programmed into the law. Current law anticipates a new funding formula being passed in the 2017 legislative session and applied to the school year ending in 2018.

One of the most important goals for the new funding method should be transparency and flexibility. The prior school finance formula was criticized as being complex and difficult to understand. For example, in June the Kansas Legislature held a special session in order to increase school funding in response to a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court. But, more than half of the higher funding the Wichita school district received went to property tax reduction, rather than being spent on schools.3 Citizens have trouble understanding how increasing state school funding means a reduction in property tax instead of more teachers or schoolbooks. This illustrates a problem with transparency in the prior funding formula.

Remaining students

We have seen that school choice programs do not harm the finances of local school districts. The second question concerns the quality of education for the students who remain in public schools.

To answer this question, we must recognize the wide variation of teacher efficacy. Some are very good, and some very poor. Further, the difference between good and bad is large. Eric A. Hanushek and others have found that very good teachers routinely produce 1.5 years of gain in achievement during an academic year. Bad teachers produce 0.5 years of gain.4 If a student is unfortunate enough to experience ineffective teachers two or three years in a row, the student may be so far behind as to never catch up.

What does this have to do with school choice programs? If public schools have to downsize due to students lost for any reason — including school choice programs — this gives public schools an opportunity to shed their least effective teachers. This means that students who remain in public schools have a higher likelihood of experiencing the most effective teachers.


Notes

  1. Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District. Available at www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/School-Finance/Budget-Information/Total-Expenditures-by-District.
  2. ibid.
  3. Lowry, Brian. Kansas schools will stay open as court OKs funding fix. Wichita Eagle, June 28, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/local/education/article86508017.html.
  4. Hanushek and Rivkin. Teacher Quality. Available here.

From Pachyderm: Martin Hawver on Kansas Politics

Voice for Liberty radio logo square 02 155x116From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Martin Hawver briefed members and guests on the state of Kansas politics. Judge Phil Journey provided the introduction. Recorded August 19, 2016.

Hawver is the dean of Kansas Statehouse press corps, having covered the beat longer than any current Statehouse reporter — first for 17 years as a Statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal and since 1993 for Hawver’s Capitol Report, for which he is the primary reporter/writer. He also writes a column syndicated to Kansas newspapers, is interviewed about Kansas government and politics on TV and radio shows, and is a speaker for seminars and conventions.

Hawver’s Capitol Report is owned by Martin and his wife Vickie Griffith Hawver, who met and married while both worked at the Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper. Their website is havernews.com.

WichitaLiberty.TV: A variety of topics, with some good news, but a lot of bad news

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita’s economic development, Sedgwick County spending, editorials ignoring facts, your house numbers, Kansas governors, taxpayer-funded political campaigns, and the nature of economic competition. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 127, broadcast August 21, 2016.

WichitaLiberty.TV: The State of Kansas

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Jonathan Williams helps us understand what’s right — and wrong — with Kansas. Williams is Vice President for the Center for State Fiscal Reform at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Shownotes

  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
  • Rich States, Poor States, ninth edition. This volume holds the most recent state-by-state rankings.
  • Rich States, Poor States, eighth edition. This volume holds Chapter 4, titled “Lessons from Kansas: A Behind the Scenes Look at America’s Most Discussed Tax Reform Effort.”

A National Perspective on Kansas Fiscal Policy

Jonathan Williams, Vice President in charge of the Center for State Fiscal Reform at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), addressed a luncheon gathering of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on July 22, 2016, presenting “A National Perspective on Kansas Fiscal Policy.” View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Videography by Paul Soutar.

Say no to Kansas taxpayer-funded campaigning

Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.

As reported by the Wichita Eagle, it is perfectly allowable for some Kansas state government employees to work on political campaigns.1

Can you spot the taxpayer-paid state employees on the campaign trail? The Wichita Eagle says there are two. (Click for larger)
Can you spot the taxpayer-paid state employees on the campaign trail? The Wichita Eagle says there are two. (Click for larger)
Not all Kansas state government employees can work on campaigns while being paid by taxpayers. Only personal staff members of elected officials can. But this can be quite a large number of people. The Eagle reports that Governor Sam Brownback has 21 personal staff members.

It’s not only the governor that has taxpayer-paid employees on the campaign trail. The Eagle also reports that a member of Senate President Susan Wagle‘s office has been on the campaign trail.

That senate employee, along with an employee of the governor’s office, were spotted campaigning for Gene Suellentrop. His Facebook page seemed pleased with their participation, again according to Eagle reporting:

Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, who is seeking the vacant seat in Senate District 27, posted a photo of himself and 10 campaign door walkers on Facebook last month with a message saying, “The Suellentrop for Senate crew! Coming soon to your door step.”

The photo, posted on June 14, a Tuesday, includes Ashley Moretti, a member of Brownback’s staff, and Eric Turek, who works for Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

“Those two showed up late that afternoon on their own, I have not requested any help from any leadership,” Suellentrop said in an e-mail. “They were sure happy to get into a picture of our winning campaign.”

The first question the taxpayers of Kansas ought to ask is this: If these taxpayer-paid staff members have time to work on political campaigns, who is doing the work of the people of Kansas in their absence? What tasks are postponed so that these staff members can work on campaigns?

The answer to this question, I’m afraid, is that there are too many staff members.

The second question we should ask is this: Why is this practice allowed? There is a ruling from the ethics commission that allows this use of personal staff. Which leads to the third question: Why hasn’t the legislature passed a law to prohibit this practice?

The answer to that last question, I’m afraid, is that the ruling class protects its own. For example, there is an organization known as the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Its job is to re-elect Republican senate incumbents. It doesn’t say this, but that is what it does. This is representative of the attitude of the political class. Once most officeholders have been in office a few years, they comfortably transition to the political class. Thereafter, their most important job is their re-election campaign, followed closely by the campaigns of their cronies.

This is why you see Brownback and Wagle lending taxpayer-funded staff to the Suellentrop campaign. Should he be elected to the Kansas Senate, well, how can’t he be grateful?

Here’s what needs to happen.

First, this process must stop. Even though it is allowable, it is not right. We need leaders that recognize this. (Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty.)

Second. The trio of Suellentrop, Brownback, and Wagle need to reimburse Kansas taxpayers for the salaries of these staff for the time spent working on campaigns. (We should not blame the staff members. It’s the bosses and rule makers that are the problem.)

Third. Brownback and Wagle need to send staff to work for Suellentrop’s Republican challenger to the same degree they worked on the Suellentrop campaign. Either that, or make a contribution of the same value of the campaign services these taxpayer-funded Kansas state government workers supplied. Any other candidate in a similar situation — that of having taxpayer funds used to campaign against them — should receive the same compensation.

Now, some may be wondering how is this different from the governor endorsing senate candidates in 2012. It’s one matter for an officeholder to endorse a candidate. It’s an entirely different matter to send taxpayer-paid staff to work on campaigns. I hope that didn’t happen in 2012.

Fourth. Apologies to Kansas taxpayers are in order, as is a quick legislative fix. And, a reduction in personal staff members, as — obviously — there are too many.

Finally, thanks to the Eagle’s Bryan Lowry for this reporting.


Notes

  1. Lowry, Bryan. Taxpayer-funded campaign staff can knock at Kansans’ doors. Wichita Eagle, July 17, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article90179637.html.

From Pachyderm: Kansas Senate Candidates

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Republican primary candidates for Kansas Senate were invited to participate in a forum. Candidates invited were:

  • In Kansas Senate District 25: William Eveland and Jim Price. (map)
  • In Kansas Senate District 26: Byron C. Dunlavy and Dan Kerschen. Dunlavy did not attend. (map)
  • In Kansas Senate District 28: Jo L. Hillman and Mike Petersen. Hillman did not attend. (map)

This is an audio presentation recorded on July 15, 2016.

WichitaLiberty.TV: News media, hollow Kansas government, ideology vs. pragmatism

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: New outlets for news, and criticism of the existing. Is Kansas government “hollowed out?” Ideology and pragmatism. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 124, broadcast July 17, 2016.

Shownotes

Candidate forum: Kansas Senate and Sedgwick County Commission

The Sedgwick County Republican Party held a candidate forum. Invited were candidates for Kansas Senate, district 27, and Sedgwick County Commission, district 3. Candidates are:

  • In Senate district 27: Lori Graham and Gene Suellentrop
  • In Sedgwick County Commission district 3: David Dennis and Karl Peterjohn.

This is an audio presentation recorded on July 14, 2016.

David Dennis, gleeful regulatory revisionist

David Dennis, candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, rewrites his history of service on the Kansas State Board of Education.

In 2012 the Lawrence Journal-World reported this regarding a meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education: “Board chairman David Dennis of Wichita said the state needs more information on home schools to ensure that children are being taught. … Dennis suggested perhaps the board should propose legislation to increase the state reporting requirements for home schoolers.”1 Other newspapers published similar reports.

Now, Dennis is a candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission. At a candidate forum held by the Wichita Pachyderm Club on June 10, I asked Dennis about regulation of homeschools. Was that representative of his stance towards homeschooling and regulation?

In his response, Dennis said the board never sent a recommendation to the Legislature. But that wasn’t the question that I asked. Here is a transcription of my question.

“This week the Wichita Eagle reported that as part of the effort to retain Cargill in Wichita that the City of Wichita will appoint an ombudsman to help shepherd Cargill through the labyrinth is the word they use of business processes and regulations in Wichita. Which seems to me to be tantamount that regulation in Wichita is burdensome. So for all candidates, I would ask, how do you feel about that? What can you do to streamline regulation? And for you, Mr. Dennis, I’m particularly concerned because as a member of the State Board of Education you proposed that the board recommend the Kansas Legislature pass regulations regarding the performance of home schools. So I’m wondering if that’s indicative of your philosophy toward a free market in education and regulation in general.”

In his response to this question, Dennis made a point of “correcting me,” contending that the Kansas State Board of Education never sent such a recommendation to the Legislature. He said it again for emphasis, thereby “correcting” me twice.

Initially, I was confused by his answer. I thought perhaps I had misstated the premise of my question. But after listening to the recording, I realized that I asked the question precisely as I had intended. I said that Dennis proposed that the board recommend regulation to the Legislature, not that the board actually made such a proposal to the Legislature.

Perhaps, I thought, David Dennis didn’t hear my question correctly. So I followed up by email, including a link to an audio recording of the exchange, the same recording that appears at the end of this article. He stood by his response.

I don’t like calling anyone a liar. I’m willing to allow that people misspoke, or didn’t understand the question, or had an episode of faulty recollection, or that they changed their position over time. So maybe this episode doesn’t represent David Dennis lying. Perhaps three newspaper reporters incorrectly reported what Dennis said during the board of education meeting.2 3

But David Dennis was gleeful in “correcting” me in public. Twice. And in a forum where debating the speakers is not part of the culture.

Maybe Dennis’s response wasn’t a lie. But it was deceptive. It was evasive. It was characteristic of someone who is supremely confident in himself, even when he is wrong.

Perhaps this confidence is useful when serving as a military officer, as Dennis did. But it isn’t evidence of humility, and that’s something we need in our public servants.

Following is an excerpt from the candidate forum containing my question and the response from the candidates. A recording of the entire meeting as available at From Pachyderm: Sedgwick County Commission candidates. The participating candidates were Dennis and his opponent Karl Peterjohn in district 3, and Michael O’Donnell, the Republican candidate in district 2. (Only Republican candidates were invited.)


Notes

  1. Rothschild, Scott. State board discusses home-schooling requirements. Lawrence Journal-World, August 14, 2012. Available at www2.ljworld.com/news/2012/aug/14/state-board-discusses-home-schooling-requirements/.
  2. Associated press in Topeka Capital-Journal. Kansas education board looks into home schooling concerns. August 14, 2012. Available at cjonline.com/news/2012-08-15/kansas-education-board-looks-home-schooling-concerns.
  3. Tobias, Suzanne Perez. Kansas education official’s comment riles home-schooling parents. Wichita Eagle, August 18, 2012. Available at www.kansas.com/news/article1097490.html.

Kansas Supreme Court: Making law, part 3

Do the justices on the Kansas Supreme Court make new law? Yes, and here is another example.

A paper by Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware explains the problem with the undemocratic method of judicial selection process used in Kansas.1

The question is whether judges are simply arbitrators of the law, or do they actually participate in the lawmaking process? In his paper, Ware presents eleven examples of judges on the two highest Kansas courts engaging in lawmaking. Here, Ware explains one case:2

May a convicted criminal defendant pursue a legal malpractice action against this criminal-defense attorney without first obtaining any post-conviction relief? No, he may not, the Kansas Supreme Court held in Canaan v. Bartee, adopting what is known as the “exoneration rule.” In so holding, the Kansas Supreme Court acknowledged that it was making law. The Canaan court said that “Whether a plaintiff must be exonerated in postconviction proceedings before bringing a legal malpractice action against his criminal defense attorney is an issue of first impression in Kansas.” The court discussed earlier Kansas cases and concluded that they did not resolve the issue: “Thus, we are left to decide whether we will apply the exoneration rule in legal malpractice actions in Kansas.”

The Canaan court reviewed decisions from courts around the country and noted that most adopted the exoneration rule but some did not. The court also summarized what it candidly called “Policy Reasons Behind the Exoneration Rule.” The Canaan court’s punchline was: “After consideration of these authorities, the varying policy justifications, and the shortcomings of the various approaches, we find the majority view persuasive. We hold that before Canaan may sue his attorneys for legal malpractice he must obtain postconviction relief.”

Who considered “varying policy justifications” in deciding what Kansas law should be? Was it the Kansas Legislature? No, it was the judges on the Kansas Supreme Court did. As in all the examples discussed above, when it comes to the exoneration rule Kansas law is what it is because high court judges chose for that to be law based on what they considered “persuasive.” (emphasis added)

For more on this topic, see As lawmakers, Kansas judges should be selected democratically: While many believe that judges should not “legislate from the bench,” the reality is that lawmaking is a judicial function. In a democracy, lawmakers should be elected under the principle of “one person, one vote.” But Kansas, which uses the Missouri Plan for judicial selection to its highest court, violates this principle.


Notes

  1. Ware, Stephen J. Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study. Available at papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2129265.
  2. Id. at 31.

Kansas Supreme Court: Making law, part 2

Do the justices on the Kansas Supreme Court make new law? Yes, and here is an example.

A paper by Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware explains the problem with the undemocratic method of judicial selection process used in Kansas.1

The question is whether judges are simply arbitrators of the law, or do they actually participate in the lawmaking process? In his paper, Ware presents eleven examples of judges on the two highest Kansas courts engaging in lawmaking. Here, Ware explains one example:2

Does the state have a legal duty to control the conduct of parolees to prevent harm to other persons or property? When the Kansas Supreme Court confronted this question in Schmidt v. HTG, Inc., it noted a split of authority in other states. For example, a Washington court held that, yes, “a parole officer takes charge of the parolees he or she supervises despite the lack of a custodial or continuous relationship” and this had the effect of imposing liability on the state. However, the Kansas Supreme Court “reject[ed]” this rule and said “The better-reasoned and more logical approach is that taken in [a Virginia case] which held that state parole officers did not take charge” of a parolee in the relevant sense.

So Kansas law on this topic … was made, not by the legislative or executive branches, but by the judges on the Kansas Supreme Court. In Schmidt, … the lawmaking judges did not pretend that they were compelled by the legislature or anyone else to choose one possible legal rule over another possible legal rule. Instead, the judges decided which view was “better-reasoned” and then made that view the law. (emphasis added)

For more on this topic, see As lawmakers, Kansas judges should be selected democratically: While many believe that judges should not “legislate from the bench,” the reality is that lawmaking is a judicial function. In a democracy, lawmakers should be elected under the principle of “one person, one vote.” But Kansas, which uses the Missouri Plan for judicial selection to its highest court, violates this principle.


Notes

  1. Ware, Stephen J. Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study. Available at papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2129265.
  2. Id. at 31.