Tag Archives: Kansas state government

Articles about Kansas, its government, and public policy in Kansas.

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.

Gary Sherrer and Kansas Policy Institute

A former Kansas government official criticizes Kansas Policy Institute.

I wouldn’t normally use a Facebook comment in a public way, but the comment was left in public, to a post on my Facebook profile. Plus, the writer is a former Kansas government official. He’s Gary Sherrer, who has been Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of Commerce, and Chair of the Kansas Board of Regents.

From the author's Facebook profile, starting December 2, 2016. Click for larger.
From the author’s Facebook profile, starting December 2, 2016. Click for larger.
Sherrer had criticized the truthfulness of Kansas Policy Institute, claiming he “could write an essay” on his criticism of KPI. Upon my suggestion for him to do so, he offered two criticisms.

First, Sherrer wrote this: “They count KAPERS payments that in the past were direct state payments. Now they send them to the school districts and within hours transfer them back to the state yet it shows as increased revenue in the local budget. Same $s just an accounting trick.”

This is a standard argument of Kansas public school spending advocates, which is that because of a change in the way teacher retirement funds (KPERS contributions) are handled, it looks like the state is spending more on schools, when in fact it is not.

In response, Kansas Policy Institute noted this: “According to Dale Dennis, KPERS funding was last sent directly to KPERS in 2004; it has since been sent directly to school districts included in reported school funding totals.”1

Dale Dennis is Deputy Commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education and head of Fiscal and Administrative Services.

Wichita Public Schools, State Revenue by Source, KPERS ContributionsEven though Dennis is the state’s top education finance official, we don’t have to rely solely on him to illustrate changes in KPERS payment accounting. Information from the Wichita public school district2 shows the same. Here I’ve plotted the funding sent by the state of Kansas to USD 259 for KPERS contributions. As Dennis indicated, in 2005 the Wichita school district started receiving money from the state for KPERS. Prior to that year it received none.

So if anyone wants to claim that KPERS payment accounting has been changed in order to be deceptive, why don’t we ask former governor Kathleen Sebelius why it happened under her watch?

Additionally, the argument that the KPERS funds are held by school districts for just hours or minutes is trivial. If the state allowed school districts to hold the funds for two days, two weeks, two months — would that make any meaningful difference? Instead, school districts ought to be thankful that the taxpayers of the state of Kansas cover part of employee retirement costs. But we don’t hear those thanks, just complaints.

Sherrer is correct on one thing: There are people in government who may be touting increased KPERS payments as increased school spending. Two things: KPERS spending is school spending. If not that, what is it? Second, these people are not Kansas Policy Institute. KPT takes efforts to separate KPERS spending from other school spending.3

Here’s something else from Sherrer: “Anther example- local property taxes collected for schools was always sent directly to the school district- after all it is local not state tax $s. Now the local sends it to the state, then it is sent to school districts. Again, same dollars but trick accounting to make it look like increased state spending.”

I’ve never seen KPI make the claim that Sherrer makes. Others may make it, but KPI takes steps to adjust figures for this change.4

Finally, Sherrer writes: “When is Kansas Policy going do do research on the financial disaster called the Kansas budget?” Well, KPI has done this, providing a detailed roadmap. In my reporting on KPI’s plan, I wrote:

The State of Kansas has implemented tax reform that reduces the tax burden for Kansans. A remaining challenge that has not yet been tackled is spending reform, that is, aligning Kansas state government spending with a smaller stream of tax revenue. Critics of tax reform say the Kansas budget is a mess or a train wreck, pointing to projections of large deficits before long. Tax increases or service cuts will be required to balance the budget, contend critics.

In a policy brief released today, Kansas Policy Institute presented a plan for bringing the budget in balance while retaining low tax rates (and future reductions) and accommodating projected future spending needs for Medicare and schools.

You can more about the plan at For Kansas budget, balance is attainable.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. State school board member should practice what he preaches. https://kansaspolicy.org/state-school-board-member-practice-preaches/.
  2. USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds, and USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2007, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds.
  3. For example, see Dorsey, David. Non-KPERS funding sets another per-pupil record in 2015-16. https://kansaspolicy.org/non-kpers-funding-sets-another-per-pupil-record-in-2015-16/.
  4. For example, see Parkes, Patrick. State school funding ranks high in Kansas. https://kansaspolicy.org/state-school-funding-ranks-high-in-kansas/.

Government schools’ entitlement mentality

If the Kansas personal income grows, should school spending also rise?

Kansas Policy Institute has noticed something about the Kansas public school spending establishment, in particular Kansas Association of School Boards. KPI president Dave Trabert wrote “KASB published a three-part series last week, making the case that school funding and other government spending hasn’t kept up with the growth in personal income.”1 KASB believes that if Kansans’ personal income rises, so too should school spending, and in proportion.

This is not the first time KASB has made this argument. Last year I wrote “If Kansas personal income rises but the school spending establishment doesn’t get its cut, something is wrong, they say.”2

I also wrote: “Another indication of the perversity of this argument is that spending less of a share of our income to obtain a product or service is usually viewed as an advancement, not a situation to be cured. For example in 1929, American households spent 23.4 percent of disposable personal income on food. In 2013 it was 9.8 percent. This is a good thing.”

Read the complete article from KPI at Government’s Entitlement Mentality — Part 1.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. Government’s Entitlement Mentality — Part 1. https://kansaspolicy.org/governments-entitlement-mentality-part-1/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. For Kansas schools, a share of your income is the standard. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-schools-share-income-standard/.

Decoding the Kansas teachers union

Decoding and deconstructing communications from KNEA, the Kansas teachers union, lets us discover the true purpose of the union.

Here, we look at a dispatch from Kansas National Education Association’s “Under the Dome” newsletter from March 14, 2013. It may be found here. The topic of this day was a charter school bill. Kansas has a law that allows charter schools, which are public schools that operate outside many of the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools. But the Kansas law is written in a way that makes it difficult to form a charter school, and as a result, Kansas has very few charter schools.

KNEA, the teacher union in Kansas, says: Rep. Ed Trimmer noted that a study provided by the proponents (anti-public school “think tank” Kansas Policy Institute) reported that the worst performing charter schools are in states that have multiple charter school “authorizers” — just like this bill.

This sentence holds much of the key to understanding the motives of the teachers union, and the rest of the public school spending lobby. First, they use the term “anti-public school.” This lets us know that for all the bluster coming from the teachers union and its allies about the importance of education and Kansas schoolchildren, it is only public schools that interest them. The simple reason is that in private schools and charter schools, the teachers aren’t union members. It is those union members that the union cares about. Other schools where teachers can work free of the union and its influence are competition to the union.

The use of “think tank” lets us know that the union doesn’t think Kansas Policy Institute is deserving of respect. KPI uses government data to show the true state of Kansas public education, so naturally the teachers union needs to suppress the tellers of truth.

By the way, I don’t think KPI is “anti-public school.” KPI advocates for school choice, to be sure, but school choice programs comfortably co-exist with public schools in many states. And — let’s remind the teachers union that charter schools are public schools.

Then the use of “authorizers” in quotes: Charter school authorizers oversee the charter schools they authorized. In Kansas, the only charter school authorizers are local school boards, and they have shown very little willingness to authorize charters. Here’s what is interesting: In some states with good charter school laws, authorizers must hold their charter schools accountable. In Denver, for the 2011 school year, 25 percent of the charters seeking renewal were closed.1 (There, charters are reauthorized every third year.) That type of accountability is rarely seen in the traditional public schools, where poor-performing schools live on, year after year.

The teachers union says: The Committee reconvened at 1:30 to get a special presentation by anti-public school zealot Dave Trabert of the “think tank” Kansas Policy Institute. Trabert sold his usual snake oil denouncing Kansas public schools as failing most students and thoroughly confused the committee with his talk of NAEP, NCLB, RTTT, state assessments, cut scores and the performance of Texas schools compared to Kansas.

See? The teachers union doesn’t like to talk about the performance of Kansas schools. Anyone who presents the data is denounced. It’s easy to see why. The U.S. Department of Education, through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), conducts the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) every other year. Known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” it is “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”2 The important thing to remember is that the test is not under the control of states. It is the same in all states, and allows for state-to-state comparisons. (More about this in a moment.)

Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Click for larger.
Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Click for larger.
Nearby is a chart showing performance on the NAEP test. It presents data for grade four reading over time, divided by major categories of race. It shows the percent of students scoring at the level of Basic or better, and on a separate scale, at Proficient or better.

Looking at the first column of data, labeled “All Students,” we can see that Kansas performs better than Texas in every year. It is this finding that the teachers union and its allies use to promote the goodness of Kansas schools.

Aggregated data like this can hide some underlying truths. Look at the third column, reporting scores for black students. For “At or above Proficient,” Kansas and Texas students perform nearly the same. For Basic or better, Texas has the clear advantage in most years.

Similar investigation reveals that for Hispanic students, Texas and Kansas score nearly the same. For white students, Texas scores better than Kansas in each year.

So which schools are better in fourth grade reading, Kansas or Texas? If you were the parent of a young black child learning to read, Texas is doing a better job. For that matter, if you were the parent of a young white child learning to read, Texas has been doing a better job than has Kansas.

(By the way, Texas spends less on its schools than Kansas, on a per-pupil basis.3)

(These charts are derived from an interactive visualization of NAEP scores that I developed. You may access it here to conduct your own investigations.)

We can see why the teachers union demeans and demonizes those who present data like this.

The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
Why are NAEP scores important? Doesn’t the State of Kansas have its own tests? The answer is yes, Kansas has its own tests. And until recently these tests — the standards that the state used to measure achievement — were very weak. That is, Kansas was willing to say students are “proficient” at a much lower level of performance than most other states. In some cases, just a handful of states had lower standards than Kansas. But now the new Kansas standards are more in line with those of other states, and present a more truthful assessment of Kansas schoolchildren. Not surprisingly, scores on the new tests are lower.4

In the past, the teachers union and its allies used the (generally good) performance on these very weak Kansas tests to conclude that Kansas schools were performing well. But that was a lie.

The teachers union says: He was joined via Skype by noted ideological researcher Matthew Ladner. Ladner, who greatly admires Jeb Bush and Florida schools was brought to Kansas by Trabert and KPI once before. Only back then his presentation was colored by the fact that he won a “Bunkum Award” from the National Educational [sic] Policy Center (NEPC). The NEPC, located at the University of Colorado is a national consortium of education researchers and academicians who review the reports of think tanks to make sure it is based on sound research standards.

First, Florida schools perform well on the NAEP, relative to Kansas. If you need convincing, use the visualization of NAEP scores referenced above to compare Florida and Kansas. You’ll find many cases where Florida does better than Kansas.

(By the way, Florida spends less than Kansas on schools, on a per-pupil base.3 This is the real problem the teachers union and its allies have with Florida and Texas: These states spend less than Kansas.)

Now: What is the National Education Policy Center (NEPC)? Just like the Kansas teachers union says, it reviews the reports of think tanks. And when it does, its criticisms are routinely shredded when placed under scrutiny. (Example criticism of one NEPC writer: “His review is deeply flawed and significantly misrepresents our data and findings.6) Almost all the reports it finds to be faulty are published by conservative/libertarian think tanks, although I did see a Brookings Institute report criticized.

Here’s something else: The Kansas teachers union and its allies vigorously attempt to discredit KPI because of its purported funders. If that is a valid concern or criticism, consider this. NEPC’s funders include the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.7 Teachers unions funding research to discredit non-union schools. Who could have figured?

Now we ask this: Should we hold the Kansas teachers union to the same standards it expects of others?


Notes

  1. Colorado League of Charter Schools.
  2. National Assessment of Educational Progress. About. Available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/SSF/2014/00A08.
  4. Weeks, Bob. After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/after-years-of-low-standards-kansas-schools-adopt-truthful-standards/.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/SSF/2014/00A08.
  6. Jim Kessler, Tess Stovall, and Dee Dee Dolan. A Response to the National Education Policy Center: “NEPC review is fatally flawed.” http://www.thirdway.org/memo/a-response-to-the-national-education-policy-center-nepc-review-is-fatally-flawed.
  7. National Education Policy Center. Support. http://nepc.colorado.edu/support.

Kansas benefits from foreign trade

The Kansas economy benefits greatly from foreign trade, and we should oppose restrictions on trade.

Bryan Riley of Heritage Foundation has contributed an extensive analysis of the benefits foreign trade brings to Kansas. Riley is Jay Van Andel Senior Policy Analyst in Trade Policy at Center for Trade and Economics (CTE).

Riley notes three ways that foreign trade benefits Kansas:

  • Imports provide competitive products for Kansas consumers and manufacturers.
  • Exports benefit Kansas farmers and aerospace workers.
  • Foreign investment supports thousands of Kansas jobs.

He recommends: “The state’s congressional delegation can best advance the interests of Kansans by opposing protectionist policies and working to remove barriers to international trade and investment.” Specifically:

These benefits are threatened by U.S. trade barriers that protect politically well-connected companies from competition while driving up prices and threatening jobs in Kansas industries reliant on international trade.

The state’s congressional delegation can best advance the interests of Kansans by opposing protectionist policies and working to remove barriers to international trade and investment.

The danger to Kansas, and to the entire country, is that President-Elect Donald J. Trump campaigned on a platform of renegotiating trade agreements and imposing high tariffs if favorable agreements were not obtained. This is the opposite of free trade.

Concluding, Riley projects a bright future for Kansas — if trade increases:

Kansas is positioned to prosper from continued growth in trade with the rest of the world as trade barriers are reduced. Physical barriers, such as the limits imposed by canals and ports unable to handle modern cargo ships, and governmental barriers, like limits on shipping and the use of imported inputs, are falling across the globe. The state’s congressional delegation should take the lead in making sure that government-constructed impediments to trade and prosperity fall as well.

Riley’s paper at Heritage is Trade and Prosperity in the States: The Case of Kansas. He also appeared on WichitaLiberty.TV earlier this year to discuss trade and its importance. See WichitaLiberty.TV: Heritage Foundation’s Bryan Riley on free trade.

Kansas school spending: Visualization

An interactive visualization of revenue and spending data for Kansas school districts.

The accompanying visualization holds both nominal dollar amounts and amounts adjusted to reflect 2016 dollars. Data includes state aid, local aid, federal aid, and total spending for each school district, both total and per pupil. The visualization includes both tables and charts.

Kansas school spending, entire state, through 2016. Click for larger. This is an example from the visualization.
Kansas school spending, entire state, through 2016. Click for larger. This is an example from the visualization.
For the school year ending in 2016, total spending per pupil was $13,015. This is down from an inflation-adjusted $13,222 for 2015, a decline of 1.56 percent. Considering state funding only, per-pupil funding for 2016 was $8,540, down from an inflation-adjusted $8,631 for 2016, a decline of 1.05 percent.

Kansas Policy Institute has spending data without KPERS (retirement) spending at Non-KPERS funding sets another per-pupil record in 2015-16.

Spending and revenue data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Inflation-adjusted data calculated using Consumer Price Index, all items, 1982-84=100 (series CUUR0000SA0) from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price level used for 2016 is for the first half of 2016. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Click here to open the visualization in a new window.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Bud Norman and the election

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Bud Norman was a reporter for many years at the Wichita Eagle, covering a variety of beats including Kansas state government. Today he is a novelist, freelance writer, and author of the blog The Central Standard Times, subtitled “A view from the middle of America.” You can read it at centralstandardtimes.com, and also sign up for the daily email. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 133, broadcast November 13, 2016.

Shownotes

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

In Sedgwick County, Norton’s misplaced concern for an industry

In the campaign for Sedgwick County Commission, the incumbent Tim Norton touts his experience, judgment, “intellectual stamina, thirst for data and feedback,” and his efforts in economic development. Following, from January 2013, an example of how uninformed he is regarding basic facts about the Kansas economy.

In Sedgwick County, Norton’s misplaced concern for an industry

kansas-gdp-by-industry-for-2010Expressing concern about a large industry that he said is important to Sedgwick County and Kansas, Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton spoke in favor of the need for comprehensive government planning. He cited the commonly-held belief that humans, with their desire for large suburban home lots, are depleting the stock of available farmland.

Specifically, Norton said “Agribusiness is the third largest economic driver in our community, in our region.”

But is this true? Using 2010 figures from the Kansas Statistical Abstract, these are the largest industries in Kansas in terms of gross domestic product:

Agriculture ranks below many other industries, contributing 3.7 percent of Kansas Gross Domestic Product. In most years agriculture would rank even lower, but because of high farm prices in recent years, it ranks higher than it has.

Norton also expressed concern that humans with large home lots would deplete the land available for agriculture. But he need not worry, as I show in Saving farms from people.

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.

Topeka Capital-Journal falls for a story

The editorial boards of two large Kansas newspapers have shown how little effort goes into forming the opinions they foist upon our state.

Here’s a quote from a recent opinion piece in the Topeka Capital-Journal, the second-largest newspaper in Kansas: “If the past year is any indication, Totten is right about the harmful effects of KDOT sweeps on the construction industry in our state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between July 2015 and July 2016, Kansas lost 4,400 construction jobs — a 7.3 percent decline. This means Kansas ranked 49th in the country for construction job growth.” 1

Here, the newspaper argues that transferring money from the state’s highway fund has led to a loss of construction jobs in the state. Fortunately, there are some institutions and people in our state that will actually look at statistics to see what they mean. And if the editorial board of the Capital-Journal had done this, they would have realized they were fed a line of hooey by a self-interested lobbyist. You see, the “Totten” the newspaper cited as an authority is Bob Totten, Executive Vice President of Kansas Contractors Assocation.2 His job is to agitate for as much spending as possible to benefit his members. It matters not if the spending is wise or needed. The members of Kansas Contractors Association would happily build the proverbial bridge to nowhere, as long as they were paid.

The Capital-Journal was not alone in believing what Totten told them. The editorial board of the Wichita Eagle did, too. It wrote a similar editorial, telling Kansans “Over the past six years, Brownback and the Legislature have taken $2.7 billion in transportation funding to help pay other state bills, Totten said. The loss of this funding has meant fewer projects and fewer jobs.”3

The statistics that are cited deserve further investigation, which is what Kansas Policy Institute did in its article Media and highway contractors mislead again. KPI’s Dave Trabert reported this:

Had the Eagle bothered to examine Mr. Totten’s claim, they would have learned that only 2 percent of the construction job decline was attributable to highway construction and that the loss of 100 jobs is less than 1 percent of total highway jobs.

In addition to learning that Mr. Totten was grossly exaggerating, they would have learned that employment for construction of new homes and non-residential buildings showed very nice growth and the real problem is in specialty trade contractors for non-highway projects.

I verified these statistics and reported them in my article Kansas construction employment. I built an interactive visualization that anyone can use to explore this data.

The upshot is that Kansas highway construction jobs declined slightly, but the bulk of the job loss in construction was in other types of construction. Not in highway construction, as the highway construction lobbyist told Kansas editorial writers.

This is a sad episode in Kansas newspaper journalism. The editorial boards of two newspapers — one the state’s largest — accepted as true the claims of a lobbyist, apparently without spending a moment in verification. Both newspapers have staffs of reporters, some of which I’m sure are capable of accessing the Bureau of Labor Statistics to gather a few statistics and perform an independent investigation.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, it appears that these two newspapers accepted the claims of the Kansas Contractors Association at face value because it fit the editorialists’ world view — that view being that Sam Brownback is bad, state spending on everything has been slashed, and the only thing to do is raise taxes.

That’s an opinion, which is what newspaper editorial boards produce. Now Kansans know just how uninformed are these opinions.


Notes

  1. Topeka Capital-Journal. Editorial: KDOT sweeps continue to harm our state. September 13, 2016. Available at cjonline.com/opinion/2016-09-13/editorial-kdot-sweeps-continue-harm-our-state.
  2. Kansas Contractors Assocation. Meet the Staff. Available at www.kansascontractors.org/aboutthekca/professionalstaff/.
  3. Highway fund raids affecting jobs. Wichita Eagle. August 31, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article98922052.html.

Kansas, a frugal state?

Is Kansas a frugal state, compared to others?

frugal-kansas-on-facebook-2016-10-12-excerptOn Facebook, a person wrote “We were already a frugal state …” (I’ve obscured the name to protect the uninformed.)

Is this true? What is the state and local government spending in Kansas, on a per-person basis? How does it compare to other states?

Every five years the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a census of governments. In its own words: “The Census of Governments identifies the scope and nature of the nation’s state and local government sector; provides authoritative benchmark figures of public finance and public employment; classifies local government organizations, powers, and activities; and measures federal, state, and local fiscal relationships.”1

I’ve gathered data from the 2012 census of governments — which is the most recent — and made it available in an interactive visualization. Nearby is a snapshot from the visualization, showing Kansas and nearby states, and a few others. (Using the visualization, you may select your own set of states to compare.)

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.

So: Is Kansas a frugal state? It doesn’t seem it is.

Click here to access and use the visualization.

State and local government employment and costs, selected states. Click for larger.
State and local government employment and costs, selected states. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Census of Governments. Available at www.census.gov/govs/cog/.

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 government spending

Kansas government spending, starting in 1967. Total spending and per capita spending, adjusted for inflation. Also spending as percent of Kansas GDP.

Sources of data:
* Kansas Fiscal Facts 2016
* 2016 and 2017 are approved figures, not actual spending
* 2015 and beyond population are my estimates
* CPI is Consumer Price Index – All Urban Consumers, CUUR0000AA0
* 2016 and later GDP is estimated

Click charts for larger versions.

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

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

kansas-spending-as-percent-of-private-sector-gdp-2016-10

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.

Kansas tax receipts

Kansas tax receipts by category, presented in an interactive visualization.

The Kansas Division of the Budget publishes monthly statistics regarding tax collections. These figures have been gathered and are presented in an interactive visualization. In the visualization, there are these available tabs:

Table.s: A table of data. For each month the two data items supplied by the state are the actual value and the estimated. This table also holds the computed variance, or difference, between the actual value and the estimated value. A positive number means the actual value was greater than the estimated value.

Collections: Shows monthly collections for each component. Because monthly numbers vary widely, this data is presented as the moving average of the previous 12 months.

Annual Change: Shows the change from the same month of the previous year. A positive value means the value for this month is greater than the same month last year.

Estimates: The Governor’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Working Group provides monthly estimates. This chart shows the variance, or difference, between the actual value and the estimated value. A positive number means the actual value was greater than the estimated value.

Running Total Estimates: This is the cumulative sum of the estimate variances, reset to zero at the start of each fiscal year (July 1).

Running Total Change from Prior Year: This is the cumulative sum of the monthly changes from the prior year, reset to zero at the start of each fiscal year (July 1).

For the past two years, individual income tax collections have been relatively flat. There are variations each month, but overall the trend is slightly up. Corporate income tax collections are on a slight downward trajectory.

Retail sales tax and compensating use tax have been mostly rising for two years. A higher sales tax rate took effect on July 1, 2015, with the rate rising from 6.15 percent to 6.50 percent.

Cigarette taxes have risen rapidly since July 2015 when higher tax rates on these products took effect. The same trend is present in the tobacco products tax.

Severance taxes — tax collected on natural gas and oil as it is extracted from the ground — have been on a downward trend as prices for these produces have fallen. This is a sizable tax. In June 2014 collections of this tax were running at about $143 million per year. For September 2016, the rate is $22 million annually.

Click here to use the visualization.

Source of data is Kansas Division of the Budget.

Selecting judges in Kansas

Appellate court judges make new law, and Kansas has the most elitist and least democratic supreme court selection system in the country.

What is the substantive difference between these two systems?

A) A state’s chief executive appoints a person to be a judge on the state’s highest court. Then the state’s senate confirms or rejects.

B) A nation’s chief executive appoints a person to be a judge on the nation’s highest court. Then the nation’s senate confirms or rejects.

Perhaps there is a difference that I’m not smart enough to see. I’m open to persuasion. Until then, I agree with KU Law Professor Stephen Ware and his 2007 analysis of the way Kansas selects Supreme Court judges as compared to the other states.1 That analysis concludes that “Kansas is the only state in the union that gives the members of its bar majority control over the selection of state supreme court justices.”

Ware has made other powerful arguments in favor of discarding the system Kansas uses: “In supreme court selection, the bar has more power in Kansas than in any other state. This extraordinary bar power gives Kansas the most elitist and least democratic supreme court selection system in the country. While members of the Kansas bar make several arguments in defense of the extraordinary powers they exercise under this system, these arguments rest on a one-sided view of the role of a judge.”2

Judges, Ware says, make law, and that is a political matter: “Non-lawyers who do not know that judges inevitably make law may believe that the role of a judge consists only of its professional/technical side and, therefore, believe that judges should be selected entirely on their professional competence and ethics and that assessments of these factors are best left to lawyers. In short, a lawyer who omits lawmaking from a published statement about the judicial role is furthering a misimpression that helps empower lawyers at the expense of non-lawyers, in violation of basic democratic equality, the principle of one-person, one-vote.”3

Kansas exhibits a pattern of selecting governors from alternate political parties.
Kansas exhibits a pattern of selecting governors from alternate political parties.
For Kansas progressives and Democrats to oppose Kansas adopting the same system that has enabled Barack Obama to appoint two liberal justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, with perhaps more to come — don’t they realize that Kansas will (likely) have a Democratic governor someday? As Clay Barker noted, for the last 50 years, no Kansas governor has been followed by a successor of the same party (except for Mark Parkinson filling the remainder of a term after Kathleen Sebelius resigned). If that pattern holds — and there’s no guarantee that it will — the next Kansas governor will be a Democrat.

Superficially, it doesn’t seem to make sense for Kansas Democrats to oppose the governor making judicial selections while supporting the President of the United States having the same power. It does make sense, however, when we realize that Kansas Democrats are comfortable with the state’s bar selecting the judicial nominees that the governor may consider. (Which gives truly useful and enjoyable bars a bad name.) Lawyers, especially lawyers that take an active role in politics, tend to be Democrats, and progressive Democrats at that. If the Kansas bar was dominated by constitutional conservatives, would Kansas Democrats feel the same?

I’m not claiming that the motives of conservative Kansas Republicans are pure. Will they change their stance on the desirability of the governor appointing Supreme Court judges if there is a Democratic governor? I don’t know, but I have a suspicion.

Defenders of the current Kansas system claim that the system is based on merit, not politics. To which we must note that this year the Kansas Supreme Court was reversed by the United States Supreme Court. It wasn’t even close, with justices voting eight to zero that the Kansas court was wrong in its application of the law. (The other Supreme Court justice said “I do not believe these cases should ever have been reviewed by the Supreme Court.) If we’re relying on our state’s bar to select competent judges, we’re making a mistake.

  1. Ware, Stephen J., Selection to the Kansas Supreme Court. Fed-soc.org. Available at: http://www.fed-soc.org/publications/detail/selection-to-the-kansas-supreme-court.
  2. Ware, Stephen J., The Bar’s Extraordinarily Powerful Role in Selecting the Kansas Supreme Court (September 25, 2009). Kansas Journal of Law & Pubic Policy, Vol. 18, No. 3, p. 392, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1478660.
  3. Ware, Stephen J., Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study (August 3, 2012). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2129265.

VIDEO: KPERS payments and Kansas schools

There is a claim that a recent change in the handling of KPERS payments falsely inflates school spending. The Kansas State Department of Education says otherwise. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Click here for more about this topic.

GetTheFactsKansas launched

From Kansas Policy Institute and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, a new website with facts about the Kansas budget, economy, and schools.

GetTheFactsKansas.com aims to provide Kansans with factual information about our state. Sometimes this is in short supply, so this effort is welcome.

get-the-facts-kansas-logoAs an example, when explaining school spending, the site notes: “At $13,124 per-pupil, 2015 marked the third consecutive year of record-setting funding according to the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE). And if the Department’s estimates hold, another new record will be set when the 2016 final results are reported. Record funding is not the result of accounting changes; emails from KSDE confirm that no accounting changes impacted state or district funding totals for more than ten years. There was a correction effective in 2015 when the state-mandated 20 mills of property tax began being properly recorded as State Aid instead of Local Aid, but there would have been an increase in State Aid without that change.”

Information like this rebuts two arguments that Kansas progressives use. First, that the increase in school spending is due to a recent change in the way KPERS payments are reported. But, there has been no change in ten years. Second, that the shift in the reporting of local property taxes is used to falsely inflate state spending. As KPI notes, even after adjusting for this change, state funding of schools has risen.

Access the website at GetTheFactsKansas.com and follow its Facebook page at Get The Facts Kansas.