Following, articles that address some of the topics I presented:
Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas: Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes.
Wichita TIF projects: some background: Tax increment financing disrupts the usual flow of tax dollars, routing funds away from cash-strapped cities, counties, and schools back to the TIF-financed development. TIF creates distortions in the way cities develop, and researchers find that the use of TIF means lower economic growth.
Local governments in Kansas are again seeking expanded power to seize property.
In Kansas, officials of many city governments feel they don’t have enough power to deal with blight. This year, as in years past, there is legislation to expand the power of cities to seize property. 12
John Todd, along with Paul Soutar, made a video to explain the bill and the surrounding issues. It’s just five minutes in length. View it below, or click here to view at YouTube. Todd’s written testimony to the Kansas Legisalture has photographs and examples. It may be viewed here.
Presently, tools are in place. Cities already have much power to deal with blight and related problems. Last year Todd and I, along with others, had a luncheon meeting with a Kansas Senator who voted in favor of expanding cities’ powers. When we told him of our opposition, he asked questions like, “Well, don’t you want to fight blight? What will cities do to fight blight without this bill?” When we listed and explained the many tools cities already have, he said that he hadn’t been told of these. This is evidence that this bill is not needed. It’s also evidence of the ways cities try to increase their powers at the expense of the rights of people. 3
The Governor’s veto. A similar bill passed the legislature in 2016. Governor Brownback vetoed that bill, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition.” 4
The Governor’s veto provoked a response from Wichita government officials. It let us know that they are not as respectful of fundamental rights as was Brownback. 5
For example, in remarks from the bench, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said there is no intent to be “aggressive in taking people’s property.” 6 But expanding the power of government — aggression, in other word — is what the bill does. Otherwise, why the need for the bill with its new methods and powers of taking property?
And once government is granted new powers, government nearly always finds ways to expand the power and put it to new uses. Even if we believe Meitzner — and we should not — he will not always be in office. Others will follow him who may not claim to be so wise and restrained in the use of government power.
Government expands and liberty recedes. Government continuously seeks new ways to expand its powers through enabling concepts like blight. Did you know the entire suburban town of Andover is blighted? 7 Across the country, when governments find they can take property with novel and creative interpretations of blight, they do so. 8
It’s easy to sense the frustration of government officials like Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell. In his remarks, he asked opponents of SB 338 “what they would do” when confronted with blight. That is a weak argument, but is advanced nonetheless. Everyone has the right — the duty — to oppose bad legislation even if they do not have an alternate solution. Just because someone doesn’t have a solution, that doesn’t mean their criticism is not valid. This is especially true in this matter, as cities already have many tools to deal with blight.
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.
Wichita City Manager Robert Layton held a discussion titled “What are Wichita’s Strengths and Weaknesses: A Conversation for a Positive Community and City Agenda” at the February 26, 2016 luncheon of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Notes were taken by an assistant and can be viewed here.
View below, or click here to view in high definition at YouTube. Videography and production by Paul Soutar.
Jeffrey A. Tucker, Director of Digital Development at the Foundation for Economic Education, talks about his new book, “Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.” The book is an explanation of how Bitcoin type cryptocurrencies work as a “peer to peer” innovative payment network and an alternative exchange system. Tucker gave the presentation October 2, 2015, at the Wichita Pachyderm Club. View below, or click here to view in high definition at YouTube. Videography by Paul Soutar.
Watchdog reporter at Pachyderm. This Friday (May 18th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Paul Soutar, Reporter for Kansas Watchdog, speaking on “The evolution of journalism and how the new media empowers citizens.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … The club has an exceptional lineup of future speakers as follows: On May 25th: Ron Estes, State Treasurer of Kansas, speaking on “A report from the Kansas Treasurer.” … On June 1st: Gary Oborny, Chairman/CEO Occidental Management and Real Estate Development, CCIM Designated member of the Storm Water Advisory Board to the City of Wichita, speaking on “What is the economic impact of EPA mandates on storm water quality in Wichita?”
Koch = big oil?Politico: “The Koch brothers have an unlikely ally in the war of words with their liberal adversaries: the nation’s journalistic fact-checkers. Both The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog and the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org have dinged critics of David and Charles Koch in recent weeks for referring to the billionaire brothers as Big Oil. Why? Because Koch Industries’ business interests extend well beyond the company’s involvement in petroleum refining and other oil-based operations. And while no corporate midget, the company isn’t anywhere near as big as true oil giants like ExxonMobil. ‘So even if all of Koch Industries’ revenues came from its refining business — which they do not — they would still be a fraction of the revenues of the companies that actually represent ‘Big Oil,” the FactCheck.org critique read.” More at Fact-checkers and Kochs’ ‘Big Oil’. Another example of how facts don’t get in the way of Koch critics. Or try For New York Times, facts about Kochs don’t matter.
Economic freedom. Why does the political left criticize Charles and David Koch? In the following video from last year, Koch Industries CEO and board chairman Charles G. Koch explains the principles of economic freedom, something that he and David Koch have worked to advance for many years. These principles, according to Koch, include private property rights, impartial rule of law, free trade, sound money which reduces boom and bust cycles, and a small and limited government. These principles are good for everyone, I should add, including those currently at the bottom of the economic ladder.
We aren’t Greece … yet. “Once again, Greece finds the international community questioning its ability to pay its debts. Default and an exit from the Euro Zone (or countries which share the Euro as a common currency) threatens on the horizon. Here in the U.S., we face high debts and have a lowered credit rating due to Washington’s inability to agree on deficit reduction. Just how alike are our two nations?” An infographic from Bankrupting America explains.
When government pays, government controls. Although most liberals would not admit this, it sometimes slips through: When government is paying for our health care, government then feels it must control our behavior. The Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman provides an example of this, when she wrote in a blog post about Kansas relaxing its smoking ban: “Especially with Medicaid costs swallowing up the state budget, lawmakers should be discouraging smoking, not accommodating more of it.”
The moral case for capitalism. “Two main charges are typically marshaled against capitalism: it generates inequality by allowing some to become wealthier than others; and it threatens social solidarity by allowing individuals some priority over their communities. … Capitalism does allow — and perhaps even requires — inequality. Because people’s talents, skills, values, desires, and preferences vary and because of sheer luck, some people will be able to generate more wealth in a free-enterprise system than others will; inequality will result. But it is not clear that we should worry about that. … If you could solve only one social ill — either inequality or poverty — which would it be? Or suppose that the only way to address poverty would be to allow inequality: Would you allow it? … More by James R. Otteson in An Audacious Promise: The Moral Case for Capitalism at the Manhattan Institute.
Funding pet projects without earmarks. Wonderful! While this plan still relies on government to some degree, it is largely voluntary, which is the direction we need to steer things. “There is a creative workaround that allows funds to flow to those prized pet projects: a commemorative coin bill.” Read more at Heritage Action for America.
Harm of taxes. In introducing the new edition of Rich States, Poor States, authors Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore explain the importance of low taxes. “Barack Obama is asking Americans to gamble that the U.S. economy can be taxed into prosperity. That’s the message of his campaign for the Buffett Rule, which raises income-tax rates on millionaires to a minimum of 30%, and for the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. He wants to raise the highest income tax rate by 20%, double the rate on capital gains, add a new 3.8% tax on all capital earnings, and nearly triple the dividend tax rate. All this will enhance “economic efficiency,” insists a White House economic report. As for those who disagree, says President Obama, they’re just pushing “the same version of trickle-down economics tried for much of the last century. … But prosperity sure didn’t trickle down.” Mr. Obama needs a refresher course on the 1920s, 1960s, 1980s and even the 1990s, when government spending and taxes fell and employment and incomes grew rapidly.” More in the Wall Street Journal at Laffer and Moore: A 50-State Tax Lesson for the President: Over the past decade, states without an income levy have seen much higher growth than the national average. Which state will be next to abolish theirs?
Role of prices. Prices convey information more accurately and efficiently than any centralized organization — such a government. It provides a, well, automatic mechanism for adjusting to the changes in the world, changes which happen every day, and even every minute. Sometimes we may not like the information that price signals are sending, but they represent the truth. Daniel J. Smith of Troy University explains in this video from LearnLiberty.org, a project of the Institute for Humane Studies: “Why are prices important? Prof. Daniel J. Smith of Troy University describes the role that prices play in generating, gathering, and transmitting information throughout the economy. Information about the supply and demand of different goods are dispersed among different buyers and sellers in an economy. Nobody has to know all this dispersed information; individuals only need to know the relative prices. Based on the simple information contained in a price, people adjust their behavior to account for conditions in supply and demand, even if they are unaware of that information.”
The Sedgwick County Commission will decide Wednesday whether to give a consortium of South Central Kansas governments and organizations broad control over community planning funded by a federal grant and based on a United Nations agenda.
The Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Consortium for Sustainable Communities seeks to implement a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD) for South Central Kansas.
REAP’s application for a federal grant said the plan will “provide an overall vision and commitment for sustainable growth in South Central Kansas. The RSPD will provide goals, strategies, and action steps to support that vision. Specifically, that RPSD will create a regional integrated transportation, housing, air quality and water infrastructure plan that aligns federal resources and provides for sustainable development and resources (fiscal, human and capital) to support our economic centers.‘
Much of the language and goals of sustainable communities grants reflect the goals of the U.N.’s Agenda 21, a global environmental agenda for the 21st century revealed at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.
Agenda 21 is a comprehensive framework for global, national and local action aimed at improving environmental equality through massive changes in how resources are consumed and allocated.
According to Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21), a December 2011 UN review of implementation of Agenda 21, “Achieving greater equity requires a significant reduction in consumption by industrialized countries.”
Another inconvenient fact is that if the Canadian oil is not sold to the U.S., it will be sold to and consumed in China. If we are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change, it should be noted that it doesn’t matter where the greenhouse gases are produced. The effect is worldwide. But as we know, the radical environmental movement cares nothing for facts in their war on capitalism and human progress.
Facts Refute Environmentalist Claims About Keystone XL Pipeline
Protesters are gathering on the Wichita State University campus this weekend for a Sierra Club-sponsored Occupy Koch Town protest against the Keystone XL oil pipeline and Koch Industries, Inc. Koch and its subsidiaries are involved in a wide array of manufacturing, trading and investments including petroleum refining and distribution.
Many Keystone XL opponents have focused on Koch, claiming its Flint Hills Resources Canada subsidiary’s status as an intervener in the regulatory approval process in Canada proves Koch is a party to the pipeline project. Keystone XL would carry petroleum from Canadian oil sands to the U.S. Gulf coast.
In a Jan. 25 House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, California U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-District 30, demanded that the Koch brothers, Charles and David, or a representative of Koch Industries appear before the committee to explain their involvement in the pipeline.
Philip Ellender, president of Koch Cos. Public Sector, which encompasses legal, communication, community relations and government relations, responded to Waxman on a Koch Industries website:
Koch has consistently and repeatedly stated (including here, here, here, and here) that we have no financial interest whatsoever in the Keystone pipeline. In addition, this fact has been verified by TransCanada’s CEO here.
Russ Girling, CEO of TransCanada, owner and builder of the Keystone pipelines, addressed criticism of the pipeline and supposed collusion with the Koch brothers in a Nov. 1 conference call to discuss TransCanada’s earnings. “I can tell you that Koch (Industries Inc.) isn’t a shipper and I’ve never met the Koch brothers before.”A March 2010 document from Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) approving the pipeline does not mention Koch or its subsidiary, Flint Hills Resources Canada, on any of its 168 pages.
The report does note that on June 16, 2009, TransCanada Corporation became the sole owner of the Keystone Pipeline System, acquiring ConocoPhillips’ interest in the pipeline.
A map of the existing Keystone and planned Keystone XL pipelines shows that Koch’s two refineries in the 48 contiguous states at Pine Bend, Minn., and Corpus Christi, Texas, are not on or near the pipeline routes. Koch also has a refinery in North Pole, Alaska.
Koch does have substantial interests in Canadian oil though, including the thick oil sands mined in Alberta. Those interests are precisely why Flint Hills Resources Canada requested intervener status in the pipeline approval process in 2009.
Critics have claimed that statement is a smoking gun proving Koch is a party to the pipeline or will benefit from its construction.
Greg Stringham, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) vice president of markets and oil sands, told KansasWatchdog, “Their intervention itself is not a trigger that says aha, they have a commercial interest or are a shipper on this pipeline.”
The US Legal, Inc. definitions website says an intervener is, “A party who does not have a substantial and direct interest but has clearly ascertainable interests and perspectives essential to a judicial determination and whose standing has been granted by the court for all or a portion of the proceedings.”
US Legal, Inc. provides free legal information, legal forms and help with finding an attorney for the stated purpose of breaking down barriers to legal information.
Stringham said anyone — business, organization or individual — can be an intervener in NEB regulatory proceedings as long as they can show some potential impact, good or bad, from the proposed action. “Then they make a decision whether they’re going to actively engage through evidence and cross examination or whether they’re just there for interest, to get materials and monitor the situation.”
Like Koch, Stringham said CAPP is an intervener in the pipeline approval process, because the pipeline will have a direct impact on the Canadian oil market. Stringham said:
The fact that it’s an intervention for interest does not mean that there is a financial ownership or shipping interest. It’s really to make sure that they understand what’s going on in the process and that they have some connection to the project that can be either positive and beneficiary or potentially negative to them. That’s why I believe Koch has intervened in this process.
The Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, Inc.; Marathon Oil Corp. and Britain’s oil giant BP are also among the 29 interveners in the pipeline application. So is the environmental activist organization Sierra Club.
Keystone XL would compete with the Enbridge pipeline that carries the thick bitumen oil from Hardisty, Alberta, for delivery to Koch’s Pine Bend, Minn., refinery. If supplies prove insufficient for both pipelines, Stringham said, Koch could be at a competitive disadvantage since it is not a shipper on the Keystone pipelines.
The National Energy Board’s approval document noted:
Keystone XL shippers have indicated that they are seeking competitive alternatives, and by providing access to a new market, Keystone XL would be expanding shipper choice. The Board places considerable weight on the fact that Keystone XL shippers have made a market decision to enter into long-term shipping arrangements negotiated through a transparent competitive process. New pipelines connecting producing regions with consuming regions change market dynamics in ways that cannot easily be predicted.
What’s been left out of the ferocious debate over the pipeline, however, is the prospect that if President Obama allows a permit for the Keystone XL to be granted, he would be handing a big victory and great financial opportunity to Charles and David Koch, his bitterest political enemies and among the most powerful opponents of his clean economy agenda.
Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olsen, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, highlighted the political dimension of attacks on the Kochs and recent attempts to compel their testimony before Congress.
When Joseph McCarthy engaged in comparable bullying, oppression and slander from his powerful position in the Senate, he was censured by his colleagues and died in disgrace. “McCarthyism,” defined by Webster’s as the “use of unfair investigative and accusatory methods to suppress opposition,” will forever be synonymous with un-Americanism.
In this country, we regard the use of official power to oppress or intimidate private citizens as a despicable abuse of authority and entirely alien to our system of a government of laws. The architects of our Constitution meticulously erected a system of separated powers, and checks and balances, precisely in order to inhibit the exercise of tyrannical power by governmental officials.
Market and environmental realities
Canada produces about 2.7 million barrels of oil per day with about 1.6 million going to the United States. “About a million of that comes from the oil sands,” Stringham said. “All of that moves through the existing pipeline systems.”
Two Kansas refineries, the Holly Frontier refinery in El Dorado and National Cooperative Refinery Association’s facility in McPherson, refine Canadian oil, including from oil sands, delivered over existing pipelines.
With or without the Keystone XL, oil from Canada’s oil sands will continue to go to markets, according to Stringham. “We have been investigating a number of alternatives. Keystone XL clearly is the most direct route to get to the gulf coast and that’s why the market really spoke up and said this is what we want,” he said.
He said Canada’s oil market is looking at diverse opportunities beyond the United States. “We are looking to the West Coast, which could move it on to tankers. We looked at Asia, it is one of the options, but once it gets to the West Coast, it can also move to the California market,” he said.
Stringham said a proposal for Enbridge to build a pipeline carrying oil to the West Coast has more than 4,000 interveners.
Occupy Koch Town promotional materials say they’ll also protest against the Kansas Policy Institute. KPI helped launch KansasWatchdog.org in 2009 but is no longer affiliated with this site.
Wichita City Council. The Wichita City Council this week considers two items of interest. Spirit AeroSystems will ask for $15 million in IRBs. Spirit will purchase the bonds itself. It will receive a property tax exemption for ten years and exemption from sales tax. No dollar amount is given for the value of the exemptions. … Then, Southfork Investment LLC, a group headed by Jay Maxwell, is asking for the formation of a new tax increment financing (TIF) district. This item, if the council approves, will set December 6 as the date for a public hearing. The vote to form the district would be taken then. … According to city documents, the project is near 47th Street South and I-135. It is planned for 50 acres and one million square feet of retail, hotel, restaurants and office space. For comparison, Towne East Square has slightly less than 1.2 million square feet of space. There will be a medical park on an additional 22 acres. … It appears that all the TIF financing will be pay-as-you go, which is a recent revision to the Kansas TIF law. No bonds would be sold. Instead, the increment in property tax would be refunded to the developer as it is paid. There’s also a joining of TIF and special assessments, where TIF revenue will be used to pay special assessment taxes. … Only a simply majority vote is needed to form the TIF district after the December 6 public hearing. There will have to be redevelopment plans approved after that, and those require a two-thirds majority. Sedgwick County and USD 259, the Wichita public school district each may pass ordinances objecting to the formation of the district. Sedgwick County did that regarding the Save-A-Lot TIF last year, and that project went ahead, despite the claims of the developer that TIF was necessary. USD 259 Superintendent John Allison has recently stated that the school district would not be participating in the formation of TIF districts in the future, as they lose revenue. This will be the first test of that. In 2008 John Todd and I testified that the district should not agree to the formation of a TIF district because of the lost revenue. Officials assured us that the Kansas school finance formula held them harmless, and it didn’t matter if a TIF district was formed. … There will also be a community improvement district (CID) with an additional sales tax of one cent per dollar. … As always, the agenda packet is available at Wichita city council agendas.
Crony capitalism. The Occupy Wall Street protests, as well as the group that protested against Koch Industries on Saturday, seem to be opposed to capitalism. Their efforts would be better directed against business specifically, or crony capitalism in particular. There’s a huge difference. Capitalism is a system of absolute respect for property rights and free exchange in free markets. As Tom G. Palmer wrote in his introduction to the recently-published book The Morality of Capitalism, “Indeed, capitalism rests on a rejection of the ethics of loot and grab.” … As for free markets and enterprise Milton Friedman explained that business is not always in favor: “The great virtue of free enterprise is that it forces existing businesses to meet the test of the market continuously, to produce products that meet consumer demands at lowest cost, or else be driven from the market. It is a profit-and-loss system. Naturally, existing businesses generally prefer to keep out competitors in other ways. That is why the business community, despite its rhetoric, has so often been a major enemy of truly free enterprise.” Even one liberal New York Times columnist realizes this, as did Nicholas D. Kristof when he recently wrote “But, in recent years, some financiers have chosen to live in a government-backed featherbed. Their platform seems to be socialism for tycoons and capitalism for the rest of us. They’re not evil at all. But when the system allows you more than your fair share, it’s human to grab. That’s what explains featherbedding by both unions and tycoons, and both are impediments to a well-functioning market economy.” Kristof goes on to explain that capitalism means the freedom to fail as well as succeed: “Capitalism is so successful an economic system partly because of an internal discipline that allows for loss and even bankruptcy. It’s the possibility of failure that creates the opportunity for triumph. Yet many of America’s major banks are too big to fail, so they can privatize profits while socializing risk.” … While most want more regulation on Wall Street and banks, I think that it’s impossible for government to write effective regulations. Instead, markets — if allowed to work — provide the most effective regulation: if you fail, you fail. It’s as simple as that. But George W. Bush gave a bailout, and Barack Obama has followed along. The Dodd-Frank banking regulations, for example, make “too big to fail” an explicit policy.
Kansas pensions. Do we know the true magnitude of Kansas’ unfunded pension problem? Do we want to know? Perhaps not, writes Paul Soutar at Kansas Watchdog: “Even though taxpayers in the rest of America eventually may find out what public pensions really cost them, Kansas school accounting practices and the way school retirement is funded may let school districts avoid reporting the true cost of district employee pensions. Some estimates show the unfunded actuarial liability of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System will more than double from its current official $8.3 billion based on optimistic assumptions to more than $20 billion using the more realistic calculations.” The full story is School Districts May Get to Dodge Accounting Rules on Pensions . … State Budget Solutions, in a recent report (Report reveals aggregate state debt exceeds $4 trillion) made similar findings, writing that our unfunded pension liability is $21.8 billion, well over twice as high as the numbers used by most official sources. The difference: “The AEI figures estimate how large public pension liabilities would be if states used private sector market-valuation methods.” In other words, the real world.
Global economics to be discussed in Wichita. This week’s meeting (November 4th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Chris Spencer, Vice President, Regional Sales Manager Oppenheimer Funds, speaking on “Goliath vs Goliath — The global battle of economic superpowers.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club Upcoming speakers: On November 11th: Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and Jim Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” … On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?” … On November 25th there will be no meeting.
Progress, or not. Today’s Wichita Eagle carries a letter that laments the jobs lost due to self-serve checkout lanes, online bill payment, online banking, and online reservation services. Concluding, the letter asks readers to “consider how many jobs could be saved if all of us stopped demanding immediate service or answers.” This reminded me of a recent column by Donald J. Boudreaux, commenting on similar remarks by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). He wrote: “Fred Barnes reports in the Weekly Standard that you refuse to use computerized checkout lanes at supermarkets (“Boneheaded Economics,” Oct. 24). As you — who are described on your website as ‘progressive’ — explain, ‘I refuse to do that. I know that’s a job or two or three that’s gone.’ Overlooking the fact that you overlook the lower prices on groceries made possible by this labor-saving technology, I’ve some questions for you: Do you also avoid using computerized (‘automatic’) elevators, riding only in those few that still use manual elevator operators? Do you steer clear of newer automobiles equipped with technologies that enable them to go for 100,000 miles before needing a tune-up? I’m sure I can find for you, say, a 1972 Chevy Vega that will oblige you to employ countless mechanics. Do you shun tubeless steel-belted radial tires on your car — you know, the kind that go flat far less often than do old-fashioned tires? No telling how many tire-repairing jobs have been destroyed by modern technology-infused tires. Do you and your family refuse flu shots in order to increase your chances of requiring the services of nurses and M.D.s — and, if the economy gets lucky and you and yours get seriously ill, also of hospital orderlies and administrators? Someone as aware as you are of the full ramifications of your consumption choices surely takes account of the ill effects that flu shots have on the jobs of health-care providers. You must, indeed, be distressed as you observe the appalling amount of labor-saving technologies in use throughout our economy. It is, alas, a disturbing trend that has been around for quite some time — since, really, the invention of the spear which destroyed the jobs of some hunters.”
Business and politics. We often hear that government should be run like a business. But the two institutions are entirely different, explains Burton Folsom: “The differences between business and politics, however, is where our focus needs to be. In business, you hire people with your profits to make and sell your product. With those jobs, your employees earn money, spend money, and thereby create other jobs by their demand for houses, cars, iPhones, and household products. Wealth expands, new entrepreneurs get new ideas for products to make, and, if society is free, it becomes prosperous. In politics, you do hire people to run your campaigns and your administration once you’re in office; you do sometimes dole out jobs to build highways, snoop on business, or run the IRS. But almost all of those jobs require other people’s money (i.e. tax dollars) to continue. They take money out of the economy. For example, the jobs created by the Justice Department to check on the trading practices of corporations, the jobs created by the agriculture department to interact with farmers, or the thousands of jobs created to bring trillions of tax dollars each year to Washington are all jobs that take wealth out of the private sector. Looked at this way, the jobs created in business are the productive jobs, the ones that create wealth and give us the thousands of choices we enjoy in breakfast cereal, cars, clothes, and houses. By contrast, each job created in the political class subtracts a job that could be continued or created in the private sector.” … More at The Difference between Business and Politics.
Wichita city leaders too cozy with developers? Yesterday I participated in a KAKE Television news story where I explained the need for pay-to-play laws in Wichita and Kansas. These laws generally restrict officeholders from participating in votes or activities that would enrich their campaign contributors. In the story I said “What I, and some of my political allies object to, is what is happening in plain sight: In that there is a relatively small group of people — and their spouses and people who work at their companies — who regularly contribute to a wide variety of city council members, both political liberals and political conservatives, because they know that they are going to be coming to the city council and asking for taxpayer money.” Officeholders and the developers who contribute deny there is a connection between contributions and votes. Curiously, these developers generally don’t make contributions to school board members, county commissioners, state legislators, or federal representatives. Actually, it’s not so curious: It’s primarily the Wichita City Council that is able to vote to give them money. I would say the contributors are acting rationally. … If there is no connection between contributions and votes or consideration, there should be no problem in getting the council to agree to some form of pay-to-pay law for Wichita. An example is a charter provision of the city of Santa Ana, in Orange County, California, which states: “A councilmember shall not participate in, nor use his or her official position to influence, a decision of the City Council if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, apart from its effect on the public generally or a significant portion thereof, on a recent major campaign contributor.” … KAKE correspondent Deb Farris reported that Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer doesn’t look at the list of campaign contributors. I wonder: does he send thank you letters to his contributors? … Video and story at Wichita City Leaders Too Cozy With Developers?
Obama economic strategy questioned. This year’s Nobel prize in economics went to Thomas J. Sargent of New York University and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and Christopher A. Sims of Princeton University. In its reporting, the Wall Street Journal explained (A Nobel for Non-Keynesians: People’s expectations about government policy make it difficult for officials to affect the economy in the ways they intend to): “The Swedish economists announcing the award emphasized, correctly, the importance of Messrs. Sargent’s and Sims’s thinking about the role people’s expectations play in economic decision making and the larger economy. But what they failed to mention is that their work has also offered empirical evidence that the school of thought known as Keynesian economics — which believes that government can turn a flagging economy around with the right combination of fiscal ‘stimulus’ (generally government spending) and monetary policy — is fallible.” In further explanation, the Journal writes: “One of Mr. Sargent’s key early contributions, along with University of Minnesota economist Neil Wallace, was the idea that people’s expectations about government fiscal and monetary policy make it difficult for government officials to affect the economy in the ways they intend to. If, for example, people get used to the Federal Reserve increasing the money supply when unemployment rises, they will expect higher inflation and will adjust their wage demands higher also. The result: The lower unemployment rate that the Fed was trying to achieve with looser monetary policy won’t happen. This conclusion was at odds with the Keynesian model, which dominated economic thinking from the late 1930s to the early 1970s. The Keynesian model posited a stable trade-off between inflation and unemployment.” The 1970s however, saw stagflation — both high unemployment and high inflation at the same time, a danger that some feel will grip us in the near future. Keynesianism, of course, is the basis of the economic policy of President Barack Obama and the reason why the economy has not recovered. … While these economists worked on national economies, does the theory of rational expectations apply to state and local governments, meaning that it is very difficult for local government officials to micro-manage their economies through intervention? I think so.
Public vs. private. One of the curious statements in Rhonda Holman’s Sunday Wichita Eagle editorial (Say ‘no’ to naysayers, October 9, 2011) was where she wrote of the “crowds increasingly assembling downtown for concerts and events.” Curious because not long ago she begrudgingly realized the cool down at the Intrust Bank Arena, writing: “Intrust Bank Arena’s strong performance during its inaugural year of 2010 couldn’t last. And it didn’t.” (Make case for arena, August 19, 2100 Wichita Eagle) I don’t know if these two editorials are at odds with each other. … I have noticed one downtown Wichita venue that seems to have a lot of concerts, that being the Orpheum Theater. That venue doesn’t suffer from government genesis and ownership as does the arena, although the arena’s management is in the hands of the private sector. As part of its restoration the Orpheum may qualify for historic preservation tax credits, a government spending program that I oppose. That subsidy, if obtained, is quite small compared to the total taxpayer funding of the arena.
Kansas tax policy. Several news outlets have reported on how hard Kansas state officials are working on crafting a new state tax policy. That worries me. The best tax policy is one that is simple and fair to all. The more tax policy is worked on, the more likely it is to contain measures designed to manage the behavior of people and business firms. This would be a continuation of the conceit that the state can manage economic growth, and contrary to the concepts of economic dynamism for Kansas, where fertile ground is created for all companies.
Petition drive is on. Last Friday citizen activists started the petition drive to give the people of Wichita a chance to vote on crony capitalism or free markets. See Our Downtown Wichita (motto: “Limited government and free markets in Downtown Wichita benefit everyone. Centralized planning and crony capitalism benefit only a few.”) for more information.
Kansas education scores mixed. From Kansas Reporter: “Kansas students’ performance on reading and math proficiency improved for the 11th consecutive year, according to Kansas State Department of Education’s latest State Report Card for schools released Tuesday. Some 87.6 percent of the students tested turned in scores in the top three of five performance levels for reading and 84.7 percent achieved similar scores in math. But two other performance yardsticks show different results. Statewide Kansas test scores on ACT college entrance exams, which are averaging 22 points out of a perfect 36, have been flat for the past five years. … Most Kansas statewide reading, writing and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, tests have changed little since 2000, according to the U.S. Education Department, which counts the test results as the broadest national measure of how school systems compare state by state. ‘Fourth-grade math tests have improved significantly, but that’s about it,; said Arnold Goldstein, program director for the federal Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.” Complete story on Kansas Reporter at Kansas education scores proved mixed picture of schools’ success.
Kansas gas wells appraisals. Some Kansas counties use different methods of gas well valuation for tax purposes, writes Paul Soutar in Kansas Watchdog: “The method used to appraise the tax value of gas wells in Stevens County is ‘not correct or appropriate’ according to a report commissioned for Stevens County and released at their latest meeting. The method is or has been used for at least nine years, possibly since the early 1990s, in nine Southwest Kansas counties covering much of the Hugoton gas field, the ninth highest producing field in the U.S. in 2010.” … The complete investigate report is at Report Says Gas Well Appraisal Method ‘Not Correct or Appropriate’.
Lieutenant Governor in Wichita. This week’s meeting (October 14th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, M.D. speaking on “An update on the Brownback Administration’s ‘Roadmap for Kansas’ — Medicaid Reform” … Upcoming speakers: On October 21st: N. Trip Shawver, Attorney/Mediator, on “The magic of mediation, its uses and benefits.” … On October 28th: U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, speaking on “Spending battles in Washington, D.C.” … On November 4th: Chris Spencer, Vice President, Regional Sales Manager Oppenheimer Funds, speaking on “Goliath vs Goliath — The global battle of economic superpowers.” … On November 11th: Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and James Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” … On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?”
Urban renewal. “The goal was to replace chaotic old neighborhoods with planned communities.” Planned by government, that is, with all the negatives that accompany. The fascinating video from Reason.tv is titled The Tragedy of Urban Renewal: The destruction and survival of a New York City neighborhood. Its introduction reads: “In 1949, President Harry Truman signed the Housing Act, which gave federal, state, and local governments unprecedented power to shape residential life. One of the Housing Act’s main initiatives — “urban renewal” — destroyed about 2,000 communities in the 1950s and ’60s and forced more than 300,000 families from their homes. Overall, about half of urban renewal’s victims were black, a reality that led to James Baldwin’s famous quip that “urban renewal means Negro removal. … The city sold the land for a token sum to a group of well-connected Democratic pols to build a middle-class housing development. Then came the often repeated bulldoze-and-abandon phenomenon: With little financial skin in the game, the developers let the demolished land sit vacant for years.”
WICHITA — Budget Director Steven J. Anderson outlined how he and his boss, Gov. Sam Brownback, would like to improve the fiscal affairs and economic recovery in Kansas. But Anderson admitted the effort isn’t likely to win him many friends.
His presentation to the Wichita Pachyderm Club Friday included much for fiscal conservatives to like, including efforts to reduced state spending, lower income tax rates and make state government more efficient. But some planned initiatives probably won’t sit too well with a portion of the Republican base.
Anderson said he thinks the Fair Tax, a proposal that relies on a sales or consumption tax and eliminates virtually all other taxes and exemptions, would not work politically. “From a strictly numbers perspective it’s very viable,” he said.
“When you talk about the Fair Tax you gore about everybody. Twenty percent of the GDP in this country is non-profits. Do we really want to take the charitable deduction away from your churches?” One audience member said yes as Anderson continued. “I think the hue and cry becomes really high and pitchfork and torch sales go up all over town when you talk fair or flat tax.”
Anderson also said he prefers to keep the 19 percent sales tax increase, from 5.3 to 6.3 cents on the dollar) enacted by the 2010 Legislature. “That isn’t wildly popular among some members of my party,” Anderson said. Repealing the tax increase was high on the priority list for many freshmen legislators.
Anderson would use the extra sales tax revenue to offset reductions in income tax rates. “I believe income tax is an economic inhibitor and sales tax is a measure of economic activity.”
Senate Bill 1, which would cap state spending and use sales tax revenue to reduce income tax rates, passed the House and is likely to get another shot in the Senate next year. Opponents of SB1 argue that sales taxes place a greater burden on the poor who spend a higher percentage of their income on necessities.
Recent experience shows that improving the state’s fiscal health and competitiveness will not be as simple as cutting one tax and increasing another.
In August 2009 QuikTrip demolished a store in Kansas then built a new one on the same property just a few feet to the east so the store, cash registers, and gasoline tanks are on the other side of the state line in Kansas City, Mo. The company said it pays lower taxes, has a better regulatory environment and has more customers who save money on gasoline taxes, sales taxes and cigarette taxes. Kansas loses an estimated $1.4 million in tax revenue each year because of the move.
Anderson said by keeping the state’s income tax rates where they are and cutting the state sales tax back to 5.3 percent the state would get more gas stations, but if the state has no income tax it would be more likely to lure businesses just as Texas and other states with no income tax have done. “I’d rather have the corporate headquarters.”
Anderson said he advised Brownback to focus on the state’s customers in addressing fiscal reform. “We all know that a business doesn’t survive if it can’t keep its customers. What has happened in Kansas in the last decade? If you’ve seen the latest census you know. Our customers, our citizens, have voted with their feet and left the state. I am probably an example of that. I had greater opportunity moving to Oklahoma.”
Anderson, a Kansas native and graduate of Fort Hays State University, has an accounting practice in Edmond and worked for Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating from 1999 to 2002 in the Office of State Finance. He moved back to Kansas to work with Brownback.
“When the state thinks they can raise taxes and outwit business they make a bad mistake,” Anderson said. “Business knows how to deal with that. They either leave the state or they adjust their operations.”
Brownback wrote the foreword to “Rich States, Poor States,” an annual evaluation of economic competitiveness among the states published by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). “When you read it you will understand where we are going to go. He is very plain that we intend to cut income taxes and we intend to cut them a lot.”
One of Brownback’s early initiatives was creation of Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZ). The program offers individuals income tax exemptions for up to five years and up to $15,000 in student loan forgiveness for moving into one of 50 rural counties.
“Part of the reason why we did that was to show those that were on the fence that if you will move to what they consider the hinterlands — of course, being from Western Kansas, I don’t consider it that — for zero income tax, they certainly will jump across the Missouri border into Kansas. It’s been a real success so far and we aren’t a month into it yet.”
Anderson’s presentation addressed complaints that Brownback’s team is doing too much or too little.
Newly elected fiscal conservatives and their supporters have said Brownback didn’t move fast enough on reforms during the 2011 Legislative session. Anderson said Brownback’s team is continuing to explore data that was not available during the transition and is finding additional opportunities for reforms he expects to be unveiled soon.
Anderson also said reforms must not be stalled by projections of economic improvement based on improving income tax revenue. He said about $100 million in recent income tax revenue is from capital gains tax paid by filers who chose to sell investments now rather than after a feared federal capital gains tax increase.
As of publication time, the Kansas Department of Revenue has not replied to a KansasWatchdog request that they verify or deny Anderson’s claim.
“We actually are running behind on every revenue source,” Anderson said. “I think that should trouble us when we look down to Oklahoma who just cut taxes again. They just put $219 million in their rainy day fund. I think the proof is in the pudding. Cutting taxes works.”
Two recent articles — one national in scope, the other covering only Kansas — tell us why our budgets are so bloated and why the private sector is struggling to survive.
Kansas Watchdog reports “In February more than one in five non-farm employees in Kansas worked for government.” This is government all levels. Why is this a problem? Reporter Paul Soutar explains:
Malcolm Harris, a professor of finance at Friends University in Wichita, said the level of government employment is an indicator of a bigger problem, “It tells me that we’ve got a lot of our resources going into government.”
“Government spending squeezes resources that might be available for increasing productivity,” Harris said. “It makes us less competitive.”
Harris said Kansas and the U.S. need to be more competitive in order to increase exports and reduce our trade imbalance.
Later Moore highlights the decline of America’s manufacturing tradition at the expense of more government: “Even Michigan, at one time the auto capital of the world, and Pennsylvania, once the steel capital, have more government bureaucrats than people making things.”
Moore finds that since government has been hiring, and since rarely is anyone fired or laid off from a government job, many college graduates want to work for government: “Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.”
Moore notes that productivity in government is measured differently than in the private sector: “But education is an industry where we measure performance backwards: We gauge school performance not by outputs, but by inputs. If quality falls, we say we didn’t pay teachers enough or we need smaller class sizes or newer schools. … The same is true of almost all other government services. Mass transit spends more and more every year and yet a much smaller share of Americans use trains and buses today than in past decades. One way that private companies spur productivity is by firing underperforming employees and rewarding excellence. In government employment, tenure for teachers and near lifetime employment for other civil servants shields workers from this basic system of reward and punishment. It is a system that breeds mediocrity, which is what we’ve gotten.”
Moore also uncovers a paradox of government employees: “Public employees maintain that they are underpaid relative to equally qualified private-sector workers, yet they are deathly afraid of competitive bidding for government services.”
Education reformer to speak in Kansas. Next week the Kansas Policy Institute hosts education reform expert Dr. Matthew Ladner at several events in Kansas. In Wichita, he will speak at a free breakfast event on Tuesday January 25th. Information on that event and those in Topeka and Overland Park can be found at Kansas Policy Institute Upcoming Events. Ladner, of the Goldwater Institute, will speak on the topic “Good to Great — Lessons for Kansas from Florida’s education revolution.” Florida has been at the forefront of education reform in recent years, according to a study by EducationNext. Kansas, on the other hand, ranks very low in studies that look at education reform among the states. An invitation to the Wichita event is here. RSVPs are requested by January 20th.
Schools’ funding claims questioned. “Much of the increase in state spending for schools since 2005 has accumulated in cash reserve funds rather than being spent in classrooms, according to an analysis of unencumbered cash reserves held by districts.” The Kansas Watchdog story by Paul Soutar continues: “Carryover cash in accessible district funds has increased by $306 million since 2005, the year the Kansas Supreme Court’s Montoy decision went into effect. Cash in these funds grew to about $743 in 2010, up $187 million since 2008. The carryover, or unencumbered cash, is money appropriated in previous years but not spent and with no claims against it for unpaid bills or other obligations. The cash accumulates in more than 30 distinct funds.” … The balances in these funds rise when money is not spent as fast as it is put in. School districts argue that they need some fund balances — and they do — but the growing balances, year after year for most districts, undermines the claims of school spending advocates.
Kansas schools rated. “Kansas elementary and secondary schools rose one spot in a new national performance ranking, but are still below the U.S. average and many other states, the publishers of Education Week reported this week. The publication’s 15th annual ‘Quality Counts’ survey of how precollegiate schools are faring across the nation, ranks Kansas’ performance 37th in the nation, up one place from last year’s assessment, but still lower than the national average.” The Kansas reporter story mentions state school board member Walt Chappell and his concern that Kansas’ state-controlled student achievement scores — which show rapidly rising performance — may not be valid or reliable: “Even so, the Education Week rankings and others like them are important, said Walt Chappell, a state board of education member who in the past has expressed skepticism about claims of educational excellence that he believes don’t square with students’ college entrance exams or the state’s double digit high school dropout rates. At the very least, ‘here is another outside observer taking another look at our schools and telling us there is room for improvement,’ Chappell said.”
Insurance costs on the rise in Kansas. From Kansas Reporter: “Health insurance premiums have gone up 5 to 7 percent in Kansas because of the federal Patient Affordable Care Act, an underwriters’ group official told lawmakers Thursday.” Mandates for increased coverage are seen as a cause.
Kansas lags in charter schools. It won’t be a surprise to regular readers of this site, but Kansas is way behind most states in taking advantage of charter schools. This is a school reform measure that, while not perfect and doesn’t succeed in all cases, provides a way to increase opportunity for often the most disadvantaged students. It also increases opportunity for those students who don’t directly use them. Paul Soutar takes a look at how Kansas earns such a poor evaluation regarding charter schools in his article Weak Charter School Law Works Against Taxpayers’ Interests.
Bureaucrats Gone Wild in Cancun. Global warming alarmists are meeting, and Americans for Prosperity is there to keep an eye on them. AFP says: “The United Nations Climate Change Conference is meeting in Cancun, Mexico from November 29 — December 10, 2010 where bureaucrats will work to transfer wealth and technology from developed to developing nations by raising the cost of traditional energy. But before these international bureaucrats get to ‘work’, they decided to throw a lavish party for themselves.” A news headline spotlighted in a video produced by AFP reads “Cancun climate change summit: scientists call for rationing in the developed world. The video is here: Bureaucrats Gone Wild in Cancun. AFP is taking its Hot Air Tour there. There are two ways to view this event: online, or by attending a watch party. There’s one in Wichita Thursday evening. Click on Hot Air Tour: Live from Cancun for more information and to register.
Obama federal employee pay freeze — or not.President Barack Obama has been praised for instituting a pay freeze for federal employees. But the freeze may not be all it seems to be. Vincent Vernuccio of the Competitive Enterprise Institute reports: “President Obama’s proposal of a pay freeze for federal employees is a small step towards curbing government spending. However, a closer look shows there is less to it than meets the eye. In fact, many federal employees will still see their salaries increased. While Obama’s plan would stop the annual across-the-board cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all federal workers, it will not stop workers from getting raises altogether. The freeze will not affect pay raises for job classification upgrades. As an official at the Office of Management and Budget told Federal News Radio, ’employees will still be eligible for step increases.'” The full analysis is at the Daily Caller in Federal workers will still receive raises despite pay freeze.
The moral case against spreading the wealth. From The Moral Case Against Spreading the Wealth by Leslie Carbone: “After two years, the results of President Obama’s wealth-spreading policies have confirmed centuries of economics, political philosophy, and common sense: Forced wealth redistribution doesn’t make things good for everybody; it makes things worse, both fiscally and morally.” Carbone explains the two reasons: Government-mandated wealth distribution does create prosperity, and it’s not a legitimate function of government. On the type of behavior we’d like to see in people, she writes: “Wealth redistribution discourages the virtuous behavior that creates wealth: hard work, saving, investment, personal responsibility.” After explaining other problems that progressive taxation — wealth redistribution — causes, she sounds a note of optimism: “Through Tea Parties and popular protests, millions of Peters and Pauls, and Joe the Plumbers are rejecting what F.A. Hayek so aptly called the fatal conceit of paternalistic government. Decades of federal expansion have demonstrated what history, economics, philosophy, and common sense have told us all along: People, working through the market, are the engines of prosperity, both moral and financial — but only if we get government out of their way.” Leslie Carbone is the author of Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case for Tax Reform. That book expands on the ideas presented in this article.