Tag Archives: Sam Brownback

In Kansas, the war on blight continues

Kansas governments are trying — again — to expand their powers to take property to the detriment of one of the fundamental rights of citizens: private property rights.

Empty lots in northeast Wichita. Click for larger version.
Last year cities in Kansas lobbied for a bill that would expand their powers to take property from its lawful owners, all in the name of saving neighborhoods from “blight.” Governor Brownback vetoed that bill, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition.”1

The governor further explained: “The broad definition of blighted or abandoned property would grant a nearly unrestrained power to municipalities to craft zoning laws and codes that could unjustly deprive citizens of their property rights. The process of granting private organizations the ability to petition the courts for temporary and then permanent ownership of the property of another is rife with potential problems.”

The bill introduced this year is SB 31, titled “Rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities.”2 It is a slightly modified version of SB 338, the bill from last year.It deserves opposition for the same multitude of reasons. Last year John Todd summarized the reasons for opposition:

  • Senate Bill 338 appears to provide local governmental units with additional tools that they don’t need to “take” properties in a manner that circumvents the eminent domain statutes that private property rights advocates fought so hard to achieve in 2006.
  • The total lack of compensation to the property owner for the deprivation or taking of his or her property is missing in the bill.
  • Allowing a city or their third party take possession of vacant property they do not own and have not obtained legal title to is wrong.
  • Please take a look at a comparison between a free-market private sector solution as contrasted to a government mandated program to achieving affordable housing and the impact highly subsidized government housing solutions are having on adjacent home owners.

This year’s bill is a “committee bill,” meaning that no legislator was willing to be a named sponsor. We might call this the “Longwell-Meitzner bill,” as these two Wichita City Council members were particularly disappointed that the governor of Kansas blocked their power grab.3

Of note, Todd and I, along with others, had a luncheon meeting with a Kansas Senator who voted for last year’s bill. 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.

Following, John Todd’s testimony opposing SB 31. His exhibits are available via a link at the end of the testimony.4

January 26, 2017

Senator Elaine Bowers, Chair
Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government

Subject: MY OPPOSITION to Senate Bill No. 31 scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Committee on January 26, 2017

Dear Senator Bowers and members of the Senate Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Committee,

I OPPOSE the passage of Senate Bill No. 31 of 2017 since it is basically a slightly modified and expanded version of the Senate Bill No. 338 of 2016 that Governor Sam Brownback correctly vetoed. I see no new provisions in the 2017 bill that gives citizens any additional private property protection; rather, it strengthens local authorities “unmitigated power in determining which properties should be seized, allowing localities to write their own rules. It also cedes to municipalities the power to select which private organizations receive control of the property.”

This quote is from an e-mail the Governor’s office issued in announcing his Veto of the 2016 bill (see copy attached). A “Message from the Governor” dated April 11, 2016 provides his excellent reasoning for the Veto, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition (see copy attached).

Shortly after starting my career in the real estate business in 1976 I acquired my first rehab house. It was located in the Old Orchard area of Wichita that everyone considered one of the most economically challenged and difficult neighborhoods to work with in town. I paid the seller nearly $20 thousand her dilapidated house that included three vacant single family building lots. It cost me in the range of $10 thousand to rehabilitate the house that included repairing a caved in concrete block basement wall. I sold the rehabilitated house and the lot it was on for the $30 thousand I had invested in the transaction and wound up with the vacant lots free and clear. I sold the three lots to a builder for $9 thousand cash and he subsequently built three new affordable entry level homes on them.

Now let’s take a look at this private sector transaction:

  1. The seller of the house received cash for her property through a mutually agreed upon transaction without coercion (no eminent domain) involved.
  2. I rehabilitated the house and sold it to a young couple for their first home.
  3. The builder who purchased the 3 vacant lots built three new houses that he sold to owner occupant homeowners.
  4. The builder provided construction jobs and purchased building materials from local vendors.
  5. The Orchard neighborhood saw immediate improvement and felt the benefits of economic uplift.
  6. The City, County, and School District tax base was expanded providing with one rehabilitated and three new houses thus providing additional tax revenue to fund fire, police, public safety, and money to educate our children.
  7. I paid Federal and state taxes on the profit I made in the transaction and I suspect the builder did too.
  8. There was no need for government subsidies of any nature for this private sector transaction to work.

Now in contrast, let’s take a look at how our local government has been handling similar neighborhood opportunities. Please take a look at the attached Building Blocks Infill Project Area map to discover what has been happening in a predominantly African American neighborhood community in Wichita.

  1. The vacant green rectangles are dozens of vacant lots where houses once stood that were bulldozed by the city.
  2. The owners of these houses were paid $0 for the houses that were taken by the city’s bulldozer
  3. In my judgment, many if not a majority of these bulldozed houses had economic value and offered the potential for rehabilitation and the creation of low-cost entry level housing. (See exhibit A)
  4. The city charged the property owner $8 – $10 thousand for bulldozing charges leaving the owner with a vacant lot that was left to produce high weeds and collect trash.
  5. Most of the owners let their vacant lots go back for taxes and many were sold for $100 or less and they received $0 for their properties.
  6. Thus the existing and potential tax base was lost as well as the wonderful opportunity for clean low-cost affordable entry level home ownership that is part of the American dream.
  7. Some of the most vulnerable and economically challenged property owners of our city rightly feel helpless in the face of this devastation.

Now local governmental officials are asking you for additional powers through Senate Bill No. 31 to “deal” with this problem.

  1. They want the power to seize unoccupied houses without compensating the owners anything for their property.
  2. They want to empower non-profit (non-taxpaying) organizations of their choice to seize unoccupied houses without compensating the owners for their property.
  3. The non-profits involved in the redevelopment of this neighborhood community with the exception of Habitat for Humanity rely heavily on tax subsidies for wealthy taxpayers and generous Federal subsidies in the range of $50 thousand for each house built and sold.
  4. I hear talk of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to finance redevelopment in this community. The TIF program is simply a diversion of tax revenue that needs to go to city, county, and school district treasuries and not flow back to developers.

I see nothing in Senate Bill No. 31 that does anything to promote private sector redevelopment.

Is there a private sector solution? I say YES and I see it happening. Private sector investors, contractors and homeowners are stepping up and seizing opportunity (See Exhibit B). This economic uplift is healthy for the neighborhood community, expands the tax base, and offers an opportunity for investor/contractor profit in some cases or low-cost affordable home homeownership in others.

The rehabilitation of existing houses and redevelopment on vacant “infill” is best achieved by the private sector and not by government planners or their favored non-profit entitles.

The taking of property by local government without compensation is wrong. I believe that was what Governor Brownback was saying in his veto message, “Government should defend and protect the property rights of all citizens, ensuring that the less advantaged are not denied the liberty to which ever other citizen is entitled.”

I urge you to OPPOSE passage of Senate Bill No. 31!

Sincerely,
John R. Todd
A Kansas Citizen

The exhibits referred to are available in pdf form. Click here.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Governor Brownback steps up for property rights. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/governor-brownback-steps-property-rights/.
  2. SB 31. Rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/sb31/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/wichita-revealing-discussion-property-rights/.
  4. Todd, John. Exhibits on Blight in Wichita. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MMzFYZDQxRTRJb1U/view?usp=sharing.

Again, KPERS shows why public pension reform is essential

Proposals in the Kansas budget for fiscal year 2018 are more evidence of why defined-benefit pension plans are incompatible with the public sector.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has proposed delays in funding KPERS, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The delays are in both directions. The state intends to break a past promise to pay, and also to skip some future payments.

A memo from KPERS summarizes recent history and the proposed changes: “Last fiscal year, the State delayed its fourth quarter payment for School employer contributions with a promise to pay it in Fiscal Year 2018 with interest. The Governor is recommending the State not pay this contribution and skip one quarterly payment each year through FY19. In addition, the Governor recommends extending the time to pay down KPERS’ existing unfunded actuarial liability by 10 years.”1

Many will criticize the proposed reduction in funding KPERS as stealing from KPERS. That really isn’t true. KPERS has plenty of money to pay current retirees their promised benefits. The above memo also says that those near retirement won’t be affected.

But what about younger employees who may not retire for 20 or 30 years? Will they receive their promised benefits?

The answer is yes, almost certainly. Their retirement benefits are in the form of a contract, and it is very unlikely that the state will break those contracts.

So: Is KPERS being robbed? Stolen from?

No. It’s future Kansas taxpayers who will be mugged. They will have to pay the unfunded liabilities accumulated by not only the current governor and legislature, but by past governors and legislatures too. I explain in more detail in my recent article No one is stealing* from KPERS. (The asterisk notes that there is stealing in a way, but from future taxpayers.)

Further: It is entirely foreseeable that this is happening. In 2015 the state issued $1 billion in bonds to address a portion of the KPERS unfunded liability. This made the unfunded liability ratio look better, and the governor and Republicans continually boast of this. But debt has simply been shifted from one balance sheet to another. The same taxpayers that will eventually pay.

This is one of the reasons why government should not offer defined-benefit pension plans. Because of the long time horizons involved, it’s easy to delay and postpone dealing with problems. Or, legislators are prone to make risky investment decisions as Kansas did in 2015 by $1 billion in bonds and transferring the proceeds to KPERS. This was — is — a risky maneuver, and it has led to undesirable behavior that was entirely predictable.

The plan was that the state would borrow $1 billion, and invest it. If the state earned more in investment returns than the interest cost on the bonds, the state wins. Barry Poulson, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor at the University of Colorado — Boulder has written on the danger of borrowing to shore up state pension funds, as Kansas has done. He explained there is the “lack of nexus between the investment of the bond proceeds and payments for unfunded liabilities in the plan.” This means that the borrowed funds may be used for current spending rather than for correcting the KPERS unfunded liability.2

Paulson explains: “If legislators see that additional funds are available to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan they may choose to allocate less general fund money to meet these pension obligations.” What Poulson warned of happened in Kansas in 2016. Now, the governor proposes even more: Pushing off KPERS contributions to the future so that more money is available for spending on other stuff now.

In a way, it’s surprising that groups who advocate for public employees are upset with this. (See, for example, here from KNEA.) Instead, they should be grateful. KPERS benefits are unlikely to be cut for any retirees. But underfunding KPERS today means there is more money available for public employees and the agencies that employ them. In reality, these groups simply want higher taxes now.


Notes

  1. Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Governor’s Budget Proposal & KPERS Shortfall. https://www.kpers.org/pdf/govbudgetproposalmember_statement.pdf.
  2. Weeks, Bob. This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/we-must-eliminate-defined-benefit-public-pensions/.

Holding politicians to their boasts and promises

There are useful lessons we can learn from the criticism of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, including how easy it is to ignore inconvenient lessons of history.

Tax cuts in Kansas were promised by Governor Brownback to be a “shot in the arm” for the Kansas economy. Opponents of the governor and tax cuts take great delight in reporting the generally anemic growth of the Kansas economy since then. Month after month, the tax cuts are condemned by Kansas newspaper editorial writers and the governor’s detractors.

I don’t think it’s a particularly strong form of argument to defend someone by showing how someone else is equally as bad — or worse. Similarly, criticizing someone for their fixation on A while they ignore the equally bad B: We need to know why they ignore B. Have they forgotten B? Do they not have time to write about B? Or do they ignore B because the fact of B is inconvenient to their ideology or their criticism of A? But I see that not everyone shares these ideals, and even so, perhaps we can learn something.

Many people remember that President Barack Obama warned that the unemployment rate would rise to a high level without a stimulus program. I can’t find that he mentioned a specific number that the unemployment rate would rise above. But in January 2009 two Obama administration officials, including Christina Romer (who would become chair of the Council of Economic Advisers) wrote a paper estimating what the national unemployment rate would be with, and without, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, commonly known as the stimulus.1 That plan passed.

The Romer paper included a graph of projected unemployment rates. The nearby chart from e21 took the Romer chart and added
actual unemployment rates. (The accompanying article is Revisiting unemployment projections. That chart and article were created in 2011. I’ve updated the chart to show the actual unemployment rate since then, as black dots. The data shows that the actual unemployment rate was above the Obama administration projections — with or without the stimulus plan — for the entire period of projections.

The purpose of this is not to defend Brownback by showing how Obama is even worse. (Disclosure: Although I am a Republican, I didn’t vote for Brownback for governor.) Instead, we ought to take away two lessons: First, let’s learn to place an appropriately low value on the promises and boasts made by politicians.

Then, let’s recognize the weak power government has to manage the economy for positive effect. Indeed, the lesson of the Obama stimulus is that it made the unemployment rate worse than if there had been no stimulus — at least according to the administration projections.

And, there is one more lesson to learn about our state’s newspaper reporters and editorial writers, but I think you’ve discovered that already.

Unemployment with and without stimulus through 2014-01


Notes

  1. Romer, Christine, and Bernstein, Jared. The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment plan. https://www.economy.com/mark-zandi/documents/The_Job_Impact_of_the_American_Recovery_and_Reinvestment_Plan.pdf.

Year in Review: 2016

Here are highlights from Voice for Liberty for 2016. Was it a good year for the principles of individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas?

Also be sure to view the programs on WichitaLiberty.TV for guests like journalist, novelist, and blogger Bud Norman; Radio talk show host Joseph Ashby; David Bobb, President of Bill of Rights Institute; Heritage Foundation trade expert Bryan Riley; Radio talk show host Andy Hooser; Keen Umbehr; John Chisholm on entrepreneurship; James Rosebush, author of “True Reagan,” Jonathan Williams of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); Gidget Southway, or Danedri Herbert; Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education; and Congressman Mike Pompeo.

January

Kansas legislative resources. Citizens who want to be informed of the happenings of the Kansas Legislature have these resources available.

School choice in Kansas: The haves and have-nots. Kansas non-profit executives work to deny low-income families the school choice opportunities that executive salaries can afford.

Kansas efficiency study released. An interim version of a report presents possibilities of saving the state $2 billion over five years.

Wichita Eagle Publisher Roy Heatherly. Wichita Eagle Publisher Roy Heatherly spoke to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on January 15, 2016. This is an audio presentation.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states. Kansas ranks near the top of the states in having a low pupil-teacher ratio.

Kansas highway conditions. Has continually “robbing the bank of KDOT” harmed Kansas highways?

Property rights in Wichita: Your roof. The Wichita City Council will attempt to settle a dispute concerning whether a new roof should be allowed to have a vertical appearance rather than the horizontal appearance of the old.

Must it be public schools? A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association exposes the attitudes of the Kansas public school establishment.

Kansas schools and other states. A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association makes claims about Kansas public schools that aren’t factual.

After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. In a refreshing change, Kansas schools have adopted realistic standards for students, but only after many years of evaluating students using low standards.

Brownback and Obama stimulus plans. There are useful lessons we can learn from the criticism of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, including how easy it is to ignore inconvenient lessons of history.

February

Spending and taxing in Kansas. Difficulty balancing the Kansas budget is different from, and has not caused, widespread spending cuts.

In Sedgwick County, choosing your own benchmarks. The Sedgwick County Commission makes a bid for accountability with an economic development agency, but will likely fall short of anything meaningful.

This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. Actions considered by the Kansas Legislature demonstrate — again — that governments are not capable of managing defined-benefit pension plans.

Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. The economic details of a semi-secret sale of bonds by the State of Kansas are worse than what’s been reported.

Massage business regulations likely to be ineffective, but will be onerous. The Wichita City Council is likely to create a new regulatory regime for massage businesses in response to a problem that is already addressed by strict laws.

Inspector General evaluates Obamacare website. The HHS Inspector General has released an evaluation of the Obamacare website HealthCare.gov, shedding light on the performance of former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

Kansas highway spending. An op-ed by an advocate for more highway spending in Kansas needs context and correction.

Brookings Metro Monitor and Wichita. A research project by The Brookings Institution illustrates the poor performance of the Wichita-area economy.

March

Wichita: A conversation for a positive community and city agenda. 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.

In Kansas, teachers unions should stand for retention. A bill requiring teachers unions to stand for retention elections each year would be good for teachers, students, and taxpayers.

In Kansas, doctors may “learn” just by doing their jobs. A proposed bill in Kansas should make us question the rationale of continuing medical education requirements for physicians.

Power of Kansas cities to take property may be expanded. A bill working its way through the Kansas Legislature will give cities additional means to seize property.

Wichita TIF district disbands; taxpayers on the hook. A real estate development in College Hill was not successful. What does this mean for city taxpayers?

Kansas and Colorado, compared. News that a Wichita-based company is moving to Colorado sparked a round of Kansas-bashing, most not based on facts.

In Wichita, the phased approach to water supply can save a bundle. In 2014 the City of Wichita recommended voters spend $250 million on a new water supply. But since voters rejected the tax to support that spending, the cost of providing adequate water has dropped, and dropped a lot.

Wichita Eagle, where are you? The state’s largest newspaper has no good reason to avoid reporting and editorializing on an important issue. But that’s what the Wichita Eagle has done.

April

Wichita on verge of new regulatory regime. The Wichita City Council is likely to create a new regulatory regime for massage businesses in response to a problem that is already addressed by strict laws.

Wichita economic development and capacity. An expansion fueled by incentives is welcome, but illustrates a larger problem with Wichita-area economic development.

Rich States, Poor States, 2106 edition. In Rich States, Poor States, Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance, and fell sharply in the forward-looking forecast.

In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights. Reaction to the veto of a bill in Kansas reveals the instincts of many government officials, which is to grab more power whenever possible.

‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ … oops! An event in Wichita that made national headlines has so far turned out to be not the story news media enthusiastically promoted.

Wichita doesn’t have this. A small Kansas city provides an example of what Wichita should do.

Kansas continues to snub school choice reform that helps the most vulnerable schoolchildren. Charter schools benefit minority and poor children, yet Kansas does not leverage their benefits, despite having a pressing need to boost the prospects of these children.

Wichita property tax rate: Up again. The City of Wichita says it hasn’t raised its property mill levy in many years. But data shows the mill levy has risen, and its use has shifted from debt service to current consumption.

AFP Foundation wins a battle for free speech for everyone. Americans for Prosperity Foundation achieves a victory for free speech and free association.

Kansas Center for Economic Growth. Kansas Center for Economic Growth, often cited as an authority by Kansas news media and politicians, is not the independent and unbiased source it claims to be.

Under Goossen, Left’s favorite expert, Kansas was admonished by Securities and Exchange Commission. The State of Kansas was ordered to take remedial action to correct material omissions in the state’s financial statements prepared under the leadership of Duane Goossen.

May

Spirit Aerosystems tax relief. Wichita’s largest employer asks to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.

Wichita mayor’s counterfactual op-ed. Wichita’s mayor pens an op-ed that is counter to facts that he knows, or should know.

Electioneering in Kansas?. An op-ed written under the banner of a non-profit organization appears to violate the ban on electioneering.

Wichita city council campaign finance reform. Some citizen activists and Wichita city council members believe that a single $500 campaign contribution from a corporation has a corrupting influence. But stacking dozens of the same $500 contributions from executives and spouses of the same corporation? Not a problem.

In Wichita, more sales tax hypocrisy. Another Wichita company that paid to persuade you to vote for higher taxes now seeks to avoid paying those taxes.

Wichita student/teacher ratios. Despite years of purported budget cuts, the Wichita public school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.

June

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.

Regulation in Wichita, a ‘labyrinth of city processes’. Wichita offers special regulatory treatment for special circumstances, widening the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

They really are government schools. What’s wrong with the term “government schools?”

July

Kansas City Star as critic, or apologist. An editorial in the Kansas City Star criticizes a Kansas free-market think tank.

State and local government employee and payroll. Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.

Kansas government ‘hollowed-out’. Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.

In Wichita, Meitzner, Clendenin sow seeds of distrust. Comments by two Wichita city council members give citizens more reasons to be cynical and distrusting of politicians.

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

Say no to Kansas taxpayer-funded campaigning. Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.

Roger Marshall campaign setting new standards. Attacks on Tim Huelskamp reveal the worst in political campaigning.

Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce on the campaign trail. We want to believe that The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and its PAC are a force for good. Why does the PAC need to be deceptive and untruthful?

August

Which Kansas Governor made these proposals?. Cutting spending for higher education, holding K through 12 public school spending steady, sweeping highway money to the general fund, reducing aid to local governments, spending down state reserves, and a huge projected budget gap. Who and when is the following newspaper report referencing?

Wichita Business Journal editorial missed the news on the Wichita economy. A Wichita business newspaper’s editorial ignores the history of our local economy. Even the history that it reported in its own pages.

Sedgwick County Health Department: Services provided. Sedgwick County government trimmed spending on health. What has been the result so far?

School staffing and students. Trends for the nation and each state in teachers, administrators, and students, presented in an interactive visualization.

Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2015 is $4.1 million. The depreciation expense of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita recognizes and accounts for the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to pay for the arena.

School spending in the states. School spending in the states, presented in an interactive visualization.

September

Kansas construction employment. Tip to the Wichita Eagle editorial board: When a lobbying group feeds you statistics, try to learn what they really mean.

Wichita has no city sales tax, except for these. There is no Wichita city retail sales tax, but the city collects tax revenue from citizens when they buy utilities, just like a sales tax.

CID and other incentives approved in downtown Wichita. The Wichita City Council approves economic development incentives, but citizens should not be proud of the discussion and deliberation.

Cost per visitor to Wichita cultural attractions. Wichitans might be surprised to learn the cost of cultural attractions.

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

The nation’s report card and charter schools.
* An interactive table of NAEP scores for the states and races, broken down by charter school and traditional public school.
* Some states have few or no charter schools.
* In many states, minority students perform better on the NAEP test when in charter schools.

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

October

Public school experts. Do only those within the Kansas public schooling community have a say?

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

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.

Kansas, a frugal state?. Is Kansas a frugal state, compared to others?

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.

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.

Kansas school fund balances.
* Kansas school fund balances rose significantly this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.
* Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.
* The interactive visualization holds data for each district since 2008.

In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud. A downtown Wichita project receives a small benefit from the city, with no mention of the really big money.

Wichita, give back the Hyatt proceeds. Instead of spending the proceeds of the Hyatt hotel sale, the city should honor those who paid for the hotel — the city’s taxpayers.

Kansas Democrats: They don’t add it up — or they don’t tell us. Kansas Democrats (and some Republicans) are campaigning on some very expensive programs, and they’re aren’t adding it up for us.

November

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

Decoding the Kansas teachers union. Explaining to Kansans what the teachers union really means in its public communications.

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

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

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

Government schools’ entitlement mentality. If the Kansas personal income grows, should school spending also rise?

December

Wichita bridges, well memorialized. Drivers on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita are happy that the work on a small bridge is complete, but may not be pleased with one aspect of the project.

Gary Sherrer and Kansas Policy Institute. A former Kansas government official criticizes Kansas Policy Institute.

Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief. Several large employers in Wichita ask to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.

Economic development incentives at the margin. The evaluation of economic development incentives in Wichita and Kansas requires thinking at the margin, not the entirety.

The Wichita economy, according to Milken Institute. The performance of the Wichita-area economy, compared to other large cities, is on a downward trend.

State pension cronyism. A new report details the way state pension funds harm workers and taxpayers through cronyism.

In Wichita, converting a hotel into street repairs. In Wichita, it turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets.

In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent. Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens’ right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week.

Decoding Duane Goossen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goossen: “Three credit rating downgrades”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notes

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

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback on myths and reality

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback addressed a luncheon gathering at the Wichita Pachyderm Club to set the record straight on what he called myths. Recorded on October 14, 2016.

Myths

  • The Kansas tax plan is failing.
  • Kansas schools have been cut.
  • State employee pensions are severely underfunded.
  • Kansas highways are crumbling.
  • Welfare numbers are down because we are kicking people off.
  • Vulnerable Kansans aren’t being served.
  • Kansans are fleeing to Missouri.

View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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.

From Pachyderm: Radio Host Joseph Ashby

Voice for Liberty radio logo square 02 155x116From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Radio Host Joseph Ashby, host of The Joseph Ashby Show. His talk focused on the administration of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. Bob Weeks provided the introduction. This is an audio presentation recorded on August 26, 2016.

Shownotes

Say no to Kansas taxpayer-funded campaigning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what needs to happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notes

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

WichitaLiberty.TV: Charter schools in Kansas, and a victory for speech and association

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas has essentially no charter schools. Here’s why we need them. AFP Foundation scores a victory for free speech and association. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 120, broadcast June 5, 2016.

Shownotes

HB 2615 is a Bi-Partisan Healthcare Solution that Governor Sam Brownback should Support

By Andrew Brown, Foundation for Government Accountability

This site recently published an extensive critique of HB 2615, a bill that would protect doctors and health care professionals providing free charity care and reward them with a minor licensing incentive, and the author encouraged Gov. Brownback to veto the bill. Mr. Weeks has graciously allowed me, as a supporter who worked on behalf of HB 2615, to issue a response to his article. I truly appreciate the opportunity to present another side.

I agree that we do need to reconsider and reform occupational licensure across the board and we absolutely should expect medical professionals to stay current in their field. And while Continuing Medical Education credits are one way, they aren’t the only way to achieve that goal. In fact, Kansas already allows doctors to receive CME credits for a range of non-educational activities.

What’s more important though is the stifling effects abusive medical malpractice lawsuits which often benefit lawyers more than patients can have on the amount of free care doctors and health care professionals are willing to give. This means doctors and others offer less charity than they otherwise would while our low-income neighbors struggle to get access to the health care services they need. HB 2615 seeks to change this by reducing government barriers and freeing medical professionals to provide high-quality care to those who need it most.

HB 2615 doesn’t increase regulations on medical professionals, but eases the burden of existing continuing education regulations and rewards them for giving their time and talents to voluntarily serve those who can’t afford care. It also extends liability protections provided by the Kansas Tort Claims Act to medical professionals who choose to volunteer serving those in need so that the fear of a frivolous lawsuit doesn’t stand in the way of doing good.

Although Kansas currently requires physicians to participate in 50 hours of continuing medical education annually (which they often pay for out of their own pockets), the law divides continuing education hours into two categories.

Category I hours are the kind we typically think of when it comes to continuing education — the structured, academic lectures or workshops where physicians get up to speed on the latest medical research and techniques. 1 Every Kansas physician is required to earn 20 hours of Category I credit each year. 2 This doesn’t change with HB 2615.

The remaining 30 hours, then, may be earned from Category II, which is considerably more flexible. 3 A physician can earn Category II hours in a number of ways like “participating in journal clubs,” having “patient-centered discussions with other health care practitioners,” and (my personal favorite) “using searchable electronic databases in connection with patient care activities.” 4 The hours that physicians would earn for charitable care provided under HB 2615 fall under Category II, meaning that they will still have to earn the same 20 hours of critical Category I hours in order to maintain licensure. If we allow physicians to earn Category II credits for writing journal articles or Googling a patient’s symptoms, why shouldn’t we reward them with a few Category II hours for voluntarily providing a child with an inhaler to provide relief from his asthma symptoms, or treating a mother’s high blood pressure?

HB 2615 is a proven bi-partisan solution that works to provide care to our friends and neighbors in need by reducing regulatory barriers and unleashing the power of charity to immediately improve access to quality medical care. In 1993, the state of Florida instituted the nation’s first volunteer health services program, which served as the model for HB 2615. Since that time, volunteers in the Sunshine State have provided more than $2.8 BILLION in care to those in need. Each year, nearly 500,000 free patient visits are provided by the state’s top medical professionals valued at more than $300 million. 5 All this happened not through a government program, but because the government recognized that the local community was better equipped to handle a problem, so it got out of the way.

While the data is impressive, HB 2615 is about changing lives. Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with a doctor in Orlando who has dedicated her career to providing volunteer medical services. She told me a powerful story of a truck driver who lost his job because of severe diabetes. Since he was unable to work, he did not have insurance to get the care he needed to get his diabetes under control. Fortunately, he lived in the community where this doctor worked and he was able to get the treatment and care he needed. Eventually, his health improved, which allowed him to go back to work. Thanks to the efforts of this doctor and the volunteer health services program, this man is now working, providing for his family, and has health insurance coverage so that he can stay healthy and working. HB 2615 would bring more stories like this to Kansas.

If Governor Brownback wants to chalk up another win for individual liberty, signing HB 2615 is the best way to do it. This action would send a message that Kansas not only trusts its medical professionals to care for the needs of medically indigent citizens, but that they are better able to provide this care than any government program or insurance company could ever dream.

Andrew Brown is an attorney and Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability.


Notes

  1. K.A.R. 100-15- 4(b)
  2. K.A.R. 100-15- 5(a)(1)(A)
  3. Id.
  4. K.A.R. 100-15- 4(c)
  5. Patrick Ishmael and Jonathan Ingram, “Volunteer Care: Affordable Health care without Growing Government,” The Foundation for Government Accountability, Oct. 27, 2015, available at thefga.org/download/Volunteer-Care-Research-Paper.pdf.

Another bill Kansas Governor Sam Brownback should veto

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has another opportunity to promote and protect individual liberty by blocking expansion of an ever-growing regulatory state.

It took a bit of legislative wrangling, but on Sunday May 1 HB 2615 passed the Kansas Senate by a vote of 40 to zero, and the Kansas House of Representatives by 115 to seven. In its final form, the bill allows physicians and dentists to satisfy a portion of their continuing education requirements by providing charity care to medically indigent persons.1

This bill provides an opportunity to examine and reconsider the purpose of occupational licensure. Most fundamentally: In the case of physicians and dentists, we trust them with our health, our very lives. Can’t we trust them to do whatever they believe is necessary to stay up-to-date in their field without the government requiring a specific number of hours of continuing education? By the way, how does the state of Kansas know how many hours of continuing education are necessary to stay current? Is it the same in all branches of medicine and dentistry? That’s what the Kansas regulations imply.

In Kansas, physicians must participate in 50 hours of continuing medical education annually. This education requirement is satisfied by participating in “activity designed to maintain, develop, or increase the knowledge, skills, and professional performance of persons licensed to practice a branch of the healing arts.”2

But HB 2615 will let physicians satisfy 20 hours of this requirement by providing 40 hours of health care to needy people. Having doctors perform routine medical care — doing their daily job, in other words — doesn’t seem likely to advance the “knowledge, skills, and professional performance” of doctors, which is the stated goal of the regulation.

We have, therefore, a regulation that has a plausibly reasonable purpose — ensuring that physicians and dentists are up-to-date in professional knowledge — instead being used by the state to “encourage” them to provide free labor.

Charity is good. It’s wonderful. It’s why I regularly engage in charitable activity. But it isn’t charity when government is forcing you to do something. I have a feeling that many healthcare professionals already provide much charitable care. But now Kansas wants them to enter into an agreement with the Secretary of Health and Environment to provide gratuitous services if they want credit for performing care as a way to avoid continuing education requirements. Again: If continuing medical education is necessary, why let it be avoided by providing charity care? By allowing the performance of routine medical care to substitute for continuing education, isn’t the state creating a risk to physicians’ regular patients?

Governor Brownback has shown by his veto of SB 338 this year that he has the capacity to appreciate individual rights. In 2012 his veto of SB 353 shows he has an appreciation of the harm of burdensome regulation.

Now, Governor Brownback has another opportunity to promote individual liberty and block the expansion of an ever-growing regulatory state.


Notes

  1. “The bill would allow charitable healthcare providers and dentists to fulfill one hour of continuing education credit for performance of two hours of gratuitous service to medically indigent persons if the provider signs an agreement with the Secretary of Health and Environment (Secretary) to provide gratuitous services. Healthcare providers would be allowed to fulfill a maximum of 20 continuing educational credits through gratuitous service per licensure period, and dentists would be allowed to fulfill a maximum of 6 continuing educational credits through gratuitous service per licensure period.” Kansas Legislature. HB 2615, Fourth conference committee report brief, May 1, 2016. Available at www.kslegislature.org/li/b2015_16/measures/documents/ccrb_hb2615_03_may1.pdf.
  2. Kansas State Board of Healing Arts. K.A.R. 100-15. (2016). Ksbha.org. Available at http://www.ksbha.org/regulations/article15.shtml#kar100154.

In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights

Reaction to the veto of a bill in Kansas reveals the instincts of many government officials, which is to grab more power whenever possible.

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that justifies it.
— Frederic Bastiat

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill that gives cities additional means to take blighted property has produced reaction from local officials in Wichita. The bill is Senate Bill 338.

As has been noted in numerous sources, cities in Kansas have many tools available to address blight. 1 What is the purported need for additional power?

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.” 2 But expanding the power of government — aggression, in other words — 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.

In particular, government finds new ways to expand its powers through enabling concepts like blight. Did you know the entire suburban town of Andover is blighted? 3 Across the country, when governments find they can take property with novel and creative interpretations of blight, they do so. 4

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 often 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.

Proponents of SB 338 also make unfounded accusations about the motivation of opponents of the law. Because someone opposes this law, it doesn’t mean they are in favor of more blight. Those who fight for freedom and liberty are used to this. Advocating for the right to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that one is in favor of actually doing it.

The nature of rights

Much of the discussion this issue concerns the rights of people who live near blighted property. People do have certain rights, but rights have limits. Regarding property, Roger Pilon writes: “Thus, uses that injure a neighbor through various forms of pollution (e.g., by particulate matter, noises, odors, vibrations, etc.) or through exposure to excessive risk count as classic common-law nuisances because they violate the neighbor’s rights. They can be prohibited, with no compensation owing to those who are thus restricted.” 5

Note that Pilon mentions “excessive risk” as something that injures a neighbor. Some of the activities the city wants to control are things like drug dealing, drug usage, and prostitution that may take place on blighted property. And, I suppose it is a risk to have gangs dealing drugs out of the house across the street, blighted or not. But these activities are illegal everywhere, and there are many laws the city can use to control these problems. There is no need for new laws.

It is important to draw a bright line as to where property rights end. Pilon: “By contrast, uses that ‘injure’ one’s neighbor through economic competition, say, or by blocking ‘his’ view (which runs over your property) or offending his aesthetic sensibilities are not nuisances because they violate no rights the neighbor can claim. Nor will it do to simply declare, through positive law, that such goods are ‘rights.'” 6

In today’s world, however, where new rights are seemingly created from thin air, people want to exercise their purported right to control how their neighbor’s property looks. But we have no such right, writes Pilon: “The principle, in fact, is just this: People may use their property in any way they wish, provided only that in the process they do not take what belongs free and clear to others. My neighbor’s view that runs over my property does not belong free and clear to him.” 7

Opposition in the Legislature

When the Kansas House of Representatives and Senate voted on this bill, several House members submitted explanations of their vote. In the Senate, David Haley filed a protest and message explaining his opposition to the bill. These statements follow.

Explanation of vote in the House of Representatives

MR. SPEAKER: I VOTE NO ON SB 338. KANSAS ALREADY HAS SUFFICIENT TOOLS IN PLACE TO ADDRESS BLIGHT. SB 338 circumvents our current eminent domain statutes by redefining “abandoned property” and by allowing our local governments to expeditiously confiscate, seize or destroy law abiding citizens’ private property without compensation, adequate notice, and a legal property title. This is an egregious overreach that deprives some citizens of their private property rights without sufficient due process and it will cause irreparable harm to our most vulnerable citizens that do not have the resources to protect their property.
— GAIL FINNEY, BRODERICK HENDERSON, RODERICK HOUSTON, BEN SCOTT, VALDENIA WINN, JOHN CARMICHAEL, KASHA KELLEY, BILL SUTTON, JERRY LUNN, CHARLES MACHEERS

Protest of Senator David Haley against Senate Bill 338

February 23, 2016

In Accordance with Article 2, Section 10 of the Constitution of Kansas, I, David Haley, a duly elected Senator representing the Fourth District of Kansas, herein PROTEST the action of this Legislature in the promulgation and passage of Senate Bill 338: An Act pertaining to Cities.

In my 23 years as a Kansas Legislator and as but one of only three attorneys in the Senate, this is the first PROTEST I have ever lodged on any measure of the thousands I have considered.

This Chamber now further denigrates real property rights to which every Kansan should be heir.

SB 338 which purports to grant authority to cities and nonprofit organizations to petition courts to possess vacant property for rehabilitation purposes will, simply, but legalize grand theft.

The Senate Commerce committee as is its charge (and not the Senate Local Government committee where, justifiably, similar language as SB 338 had over many years failed time and time again) recognizes and advances business and financial opportunities for our State.

First, the question of a city, redefining definitions of “abandonment” and “blight” as these terms apply to real property, land and or improvements, is the expertise of deliberations of a committee membership dedicated to the auspices of municipalities not the principles of profit.

The principles of real property ownership should always inure to the rights of the citizen not to a developer’s bottom line or even a desire to enhance appraised valuations for tax purposes.

Diabolical in its spawning, methodical and tenacious in its steady lurch forward, SB 338 adheres to two tiered definitions of “abandoned property;” both ingenuous and neither accurate. One definition of “abandoned property”: vacant for 365 days and having a “blighting influence” on surrounding properties; the other definition vacant for 90 days and 2 years tax delinquent.

There are numerous every day scenarios whereby a real property owner has in no way “abandoned” their property though that same property may be vacant for 90 to 365 days, be tax delinquent for 2 years or may have need of rehabilitation to conform to a local standard, real or perceived. But SB 338 alleges “abandonment” and triggers governmental intrusion, harassment and potentially leads to a taking of real property by the government for the benefit of an organization which profits from the taking and kick back higher taxes to the city.

“Commerce,” yes, but a shameful way to run a citizen responsive “Local Government.”

The specious argument in favor of this legislation portends neighborhood beautification, tax viability and repopulation of or demolition and rebuilding of older houses. By eradicating “blight,” the entire community, even the city, is greatly enhanced.

With that premise, I, David Haley, could not agree more.

Today, with no need for warping and putting into statute time-honored definitions of “blight” and “abandonment” or presupposes new postulates for passages of time periods to correlate to real property owners’ interests or genuine concern with their legally owned land(s), there are tools already available to every municipality to address blight. “Code enforcement” departments can post notice and bring to environmental and district court negligent property owners. Subsequent to insufficient response, steep fines and even jail time can be issued now. Today in current statute, a property with two or more years of delinquent property taxes may be sold by the Sheriff of each Kansas County in a “Delinquent Property Tax Sale” also known as a “Sheriff’s” sale or as property “sold on the Courthouse steps.” Again, these are current tools available to curb or cure blight and to put real property into fiscally responsive ownership.

The property rights of legal property owners should not be infringed upon by this Legislature.

Marginal or fragile property owners (traditionally average income or poor property owners attempting to hold on to inherited property or an entrepreneurial hope structure as often found in inner cities) will be set upon by keen-eyed, out of county based developers sheltered by an industrious “not-for-profit” which uses the city and district court as the leverage to harass and ultimately take the land, all in the name of “civic pride” or “community betterment.” Theft.

The late Kansas City, Missouri civil rights leader Bernard Powell (1947-1979) envisioned and warned of the transfer of inner city property back into the same hands of those who fled the same a half century or more ago to the sanctity of the suburbs. Bernard Powell predicted the day would come when government, and the tools they elect and hire, will work hand-in-hand with “robber barons” to turn those out; those who have despaired in neglected, under represented, often high crime, poorly educated neighborhoods, those who have weathered poverty, hard times, civic and civil harassment but yet held a real property interest, a “piece of the pie” … to force them out. Bernard Powell spoke of prosperity returning to the inner city and nothing being tendered to the people who had paid the price for the most sought after of land.

He called it government assisting the turning of the “ghetto into a goldmine.” How prophetic.

Here I sit, practically alone in my opposition to this expansion of eminent domain targeted at poorer property owners ill equipped to “fight City Hall,” in this Kansas Senate and watch this unfold. Again, SB 338 came out of the Commerce committee as well it should.

Government has redefined terms before to shape shift often dastardly need to justify ill deeds.

I remember efforts to redefine “blight” for economic purposes in another eminent domain taking for use in building the Kansas Speedway and Legends in Wyandotte County. Succinctly, the new definition of “blight” was the ability for exponentially more taxes to be levied against the future use of the land than that which the owner who it was being taken from could be expected to pay in its current use. Remnants of that economically fascist philosophy resonate in SB 338. As more people flee the “golden ghettos” of suburbia, the inner city “ghettos” will be repopulated and turned into “goldmines” at the expense I fear, once again, of the poor and unsuspecting. Ironically, we celebrated and honored some of our Korean and Vietnam War heroes today in the Senate Chamber. Was the freedom to own real property without fear of unwarranted government intrusion something for which they fought?

I protest the passage of Senate Bill 338 as is my Constitutional right as a Kansas State Senator under Article Two, Section 10 of the Kansas Constitution for reasons, beliefs afore-listed as well as others not so and hereby vow to continue to assist unnecessarily embattled real property owners in my home District as we together will face the challenges that this bill, when signed into law, will undoubtedly bring.


Notes

  1. Todd, John. Power of Kansas cities to take property may be expanded. Voice For Liberty in Wichita. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/power-kansas-cities-take-property-may-expanded/.
  2. Video. Wichita City Council speaks on blight. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-city-council-speaks-blight/.
  3. Weeks, B. (2012). Andover, a Kansas city overtaken by blight. Voice For Liberty in Wichita. Available at wichitaliberty.org/economics/andover-a-kansas-city-overtaken-by-blight/.
  4. Nicole Gelinas, Eminent Domain as Central Planning. (2015). City Journal. Available at www.city-journal.org/html/eminent-domain-central-planning-13253.html.
  5. Pilon, Roger. Protecting Private Property Rights from Regulatory Takings. (1995). Cato Institute. Available at www.cato.org/publications/congressional-testimony/protecting-private-property-rights-regulatory-takings.
  6. ibid
  7. ibid

Wichita City Council speaks on blight

Wichita City Council members speak in opposition to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s veto of Senate Bill 338, which would have given cities additional power to take property. April 12, 2016. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. For more on this issue, see Governor Brownback, please veto this harmful bill.

Governor Brownback steps up for property rights

Today Kansas Governor Sam Brownback vetoed Senate Bill 338. As explained by John Todd, this bill unnecessarily and dangerously increased the power of cities over private property rights. Thank you to the governor for understanding the harm of this bill and acting appropriately. Most of all, thank you to John Todd for recognizing the bill’s danger, for his committee testimony, and for his tireless work in helping inform the governor and his staff about this bill.

Following, the governor’s veto message:

The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition. It has long been considered essential to our basic understanding of civil and political rights. Property rights serve as a foundation to our most basic personal liberties. One of government’s primary purposes is to protect the property rights of individuals.

The purpose of Senate Bill 338, to help create safer communities, is laudable. However, in this noble attempt, the statute as written takes a step too far. The broad definition of blighted or abandoned property would grant a nearly unrestrained power to municipalities to craft zoning laws and codes that could unjustly deprive citizens of their property rights. The process of granting private organizations the ability to petition the courts for temporary and then permanent ownership of the property of another is rife with potential problems.

Throughout the country, we have seen serious abuse where government has broadened the scope of eminent domain, especially when private development is involved. The use of eminent domain for private economic development should be limited in use, not expanded. Senate Bill 338 opens the door for serious abuse in Kansas. Governmental authority to take property from one private citizen and give it to another private citizen should be limited, but this bill would have the effect of expanding such authority without adequate safeguards.

Kansans from across the political spectrum contacted me to discuss their concerns that this bill will disparately impact low income and minority neighborhoods. The potential for abuse of this new statutory process cannot be ignored. Government should protect property rights and ensure that the less advantaged are not denied the liberty to which every citizen is entitled.

There is a need to address the ability of municipalities and local communities to effectively maintain neighborhoods for public safety. However, Senate Bill 338 does much more. Though I am vetoing this bill, I would welcome legislation that empowers local communities to respond to blight and abandoned property that does not open the door to abuse of the fundamental rights of free people.

Kansas support for higher education

How does Kansas state support for higher education compare to other states?

In the Wichita Eagle, Chapman Rackaway contributes a satirical look at Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his handling of Kansas government. And, the governor deserves many of Rackaway’s jabs. But there is something that needs clarification, which is the contention that Kansas is a backwater state when it comes to higher education funding, at least compared to Washington state. (Chapman Rackaway: How about Brownback as K-State president?, April 8, 2016.)

Rackaway writes: “That Washington State could pay [departing Kansas State University president Kirk] Schulz so much more is unsurprising to anyone paying attention to states’ budget priorities.” He goes on to write that Kansas government has not prioritized higher education funding, and that Washington state recently committed to additional higher education support.

There are organizations that collect and present data on this topic. State Higher Education Executive Officers Association publishes a report titled State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) study 1 The figures used below are for the most recent year for which data is available.

According to this report, in fiscal year 2014, Kansas appropriated $5,648 per FTE. Washington’s figure is $5,700, or 0.9 percent more than Kansas. Over the past five years, Kansas appropriations per FTE fell by 15.8 percent. In Washington they fell by 20.6 percent. (Table 5)

For fiscal year 2013, higher education support per capita in Kansas was $342. In Washington, it was $197. The same table also reports higher education support per $1000 of personal income. In Kansas the figure is $7.70, and in Washington, $4.13. For Kansas, these two figures are 132 percent and 133 percent of the national average. (Table 10)

From these two data points — and these are not the only ways to compare — I think we can conclude that Kansas appropriates nearly as much as does Washington, on a per-student basis.

Further, Kansans are much more generous in supporting its public universities, when measured by per-capita contribution. (Calling Kansans generous with their taxes is a falsehood, as taxation has nothing to do with generosity, except the generosity of politicians with money that belongs to other people.)


Notes

  1. State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) study. Available at www.sheeo.org/sites/default/files/project-files/SHEF%20FY%202014-20150410.pdf.

Opinion: GOP economics devastated Kansas

An op-ed on the Kansas economy needs context and correction.

An op-ed about the Kansas economy needs a few corrections before the people of Illinois get a wrong impression of Kansas. The article is Opinion: GOP economics devastated Kansas, published in the Alton (Illinois) Telegraph. The author is John J. Dunphy.

First, Dunphy refers to Sam Brownback as the “Tea Party” governor of Kansas. As far as I know, the tea party favors reducing not only taxation, but spending too. Given the choice, Brownback preferred raising taxes rather than cutting spending. Not very tea party-like.

Dunphy: “Moderate Republicans who voiced objections to such extremist politics were targeted by the Tea Party and voted out of office in 2012. With the legislature now dominated by True Believers, Brownback was able to pass the largest tax cut in Kansas history.” I’ll leave it to others to judge whether the legislators voted into office in 2012 classify as “True Believers.” (My opinion is that True Believers are scarce in the Kansas Legislature.) But I do know this: The tax cuts were passed during the 2012 legislative session, which ended months before the 2012 primary elections. There seems to be a timing issue here.

Dunphy: “With such drastically-reduced revenue, Kansas had to cut social services.” Except Kansas spending has continued to climb, although there have been a few cuts here and there.

Dunphy: “Rather than admit that slashing taxes created a disaster …” Tax cuts allow people to keep more of what is rightfully theirs. That is not a disaster. That is good.

Dunphy: “Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Although most Republicans choose to ignore it, George H.W. Bush said as much while campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination in 1980.” Contrary to this assertion (made during a political campaign, and we know how much those are worth), the administration and policies of Ronald Reagan ushered in the The Great Moderation, a period of sustained economic growth.

Governor Brownback, please veto this harmful bill

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback should veto a bill that is harmful to property rights, writes John Todd. For more about this issue, see Power of Kansas cities to take property may be expanded.

Senate Bill 338 has been passed by the Legislature and is now on its way for Governor Sam Brownback to consider. The Governor should veto this bill. This bill gives cities, in conjunction with their preferred nonprofit organizations, the ability to take possession of unoccupied residential houses that the property taxes are currently paid in full. This bill will clearly place vulnerable senior citizens and less affluent property owners in the position of being victimized.

Cities in Kansas have all the powers they need to deal with property issues through current law. Over the past few years, the City of Wichita has bulldozed hundreds of houses for housing code violations. Enhancing the power of cities and their appointed nonprofit redevelopment organizations to take privately owned properties they do not own without compensation is wrong.

I urge Governor Brownback to veto this bill!

John Todd
Wichita

Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told

The economic details of a semi-secret sale of bonds by the State of Kansas are worse than what’s been reported.

The late realization last year that the Kansas Department of Transportation had issued $400 million in long-term bonds — largely under the radar — has been met with appropriate levels of indignation by some editorial writers. An example is Dr. Edward Flentje who wrote:

Right-wing Republican lawmakers have operated under the radar to suspend all statutory limits on highway debt, and that unprecedented authority was recently used to issue record-breaking levels of long-term debt to pay for their reckless income tax cuts this year and next.

Six lines buried deep in a 700-page appropriation bill last spring gave the Kansas Department of Transportation unlimited authority to issue debt, and in early December, without public disclosure, the agency used that authority to issue $400 million in highway bonds. (H. Edward Flentje: Debt limits suspended to pay for tax cuts, Wichita Eagle, December 18, 2015)

A few notes: The Secretary of Transportation has, in the past, been given broad — but maybe not “unlimited” — authority to issue bonds and borrow money. The series 2012C bonds were issued with this statement: “The 2010 Act Amendments authorized the Secretary to issue highway revenue bonds so long as the Secretary certifies that, as of the date of issuance of any such bonds, the maximum annual debt service on all Outstanding Bonds and on such bonds proposed to be issued will not exceed 18% of Revenues projected for the then-current or any future Fiscal Year.”

In 2010 Kansas had a Democrat for a governor, which should caution us to not make this issue too political. As far as borrowing from the “Bank of KDOT,” it’s been done before, as explained in 2015 by KDOT. 1 And, payments on these loans have been deferred or not made.

Instead of politicizing the issue, let’s concentrate on the facts and merits. And when looking at the Series 2015B bonds, there is plenty to criticize.

KDOT outstanding bonds, showing interest-only issues. Click for larger version. Does not include Series 2015B bonds.
KDOT outstanding bonds, showing interest-only issues. Click for larger version. Does not include Series 2015B bonds.
First, the state will not pay any principal on these bonds until 2026. Until then the state will pay only the interest on the $400 million, which is $20 million per year. Then, starting in 2026, the state will make 11 annual payments of various amounts towards the principal. In all, KDOT’s schedule shows the state will pay $282,494,750 in interest on a loan of $400 million.

I don’t think that most Kansans would appreciate the state borrowing so much money for such a long time without making any effort at retiring the principal. But before we politicize: The KDOT Series 2010A bonds ($325 million, dated September 1, 2010) don’t require principal payments until 2032. (These bonds are “Buy America Bonds,” a program of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the federal government will pay 35 percent of the interest.) The plan, as outlined in KDOT’s official statement, is that starting in 2032 the state will make five annual payments of between $61 million and $69 million, totaling $325 million, and then the bonds will be retired. 2

There’s even more to criticize about the 2015B bonds. The actual proceeds the state will receive from the bonds (after costs of issuance and the underwriters’ discount) is $488,242,912. How, you may be asking, can the state issue $400 million in bonds but receive $488 million when it sells them? The answer is an “original issue premium” of about $89 million.

To explain: Bonds similar to these ought to yield in the range of 2.00 percent to maybe 2.75 percent. But, KDOT is paying 5.00 percent interest. Therefore, bond buyers are willing to pay more than the face value (the $400 million) for these bonds, because they will be earning higher-than-market interest. 3 In fact, these bonds were sold at premiums ranging from 119 percent to 126 percent. Meaning that for every $1.00 worth of bonds bought (representing money the state must repay), the state actually received from $1.19 to $1.26. 4

That sounds like a good deal for the state, but in exchange for the premiums, the state pays much higher interest. There are several different ways of looking at this, but the upshot is that the state is receiving additional money now in exchange for paying a higher interest rate for many years. About $89 million in extra interest, which increases the actual cost of these bonds beyond what we thought.

(Again, before we politicize, the state under a Democratic governor has done the same.)

The allure of borrowing large sums and spending now is not limited to transportation bonds. The state is currently using the recent $1 billion in proceeds from KPERS bonds as a rationale to skip KPERS contributions this year, and also suspend a rule that most proceeds from the same of surplus property goes to KPERS. See This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions.


Notes:

  1. FY 2002 Loan to State General Fund. The 2002 Legislature borrowed $94.6 million from the State Highway Fund for the State General Fund and directed that the funds were to be repaid to the State Highway Fund by June 30, 2003. The 2003 Legislature deferred the repayment of the $94.6 million loan into four equal annual installments beginning prior to June 30, 2007. In addition, the 2003 Legislature directed that the State Highway Fund transfer to the State General Fund $30.6 million for activities of the State Highway Patrol and the 2003 Legislature directed that this transfer also be repaid in four equal annual installments beginning prior to June 30, 2007. The first repayment installment was made in June 2007 and the second in June 2008. The 2009 Legislature delayed the June 2009 repayment to June 2011 and the 2010 Legislature eliminated the language authorizing the June 2011 repayment. At this time, there is no authorization for the final two repayments. The Department’s projections included in this Official Statement do not include receiving the final two repayments.
  2. EMMA (Electronic Municipal Market Access), $325,000,000 State of Kansas Department of Transportation Taxable Highway Revenue Bonds, Series 2010A at emma.msrb.org/EA407275-EA318568-EA714328.pdf.
  3. A bond will trade at a premium when it offers a coupon rate that is higher than prevailing interest rates. Investopedia at www.investopedia.com/terms/p/premiumbond.asp.
  4. EMMA (Electronic Municipal Market Access), $400,000,000 State of Kansas Department of Transportation Highway Revenue Bonds Series 2015B at emma.msrb.org/IssueView/IssueDetails.aspx?id=EP369775.

This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions

Actions considered by the Kansas Legislature demonstrate — again — that governments are not capable of managing defined-benefit pension plans.

The Kansas Legislature is considering a bill that will allow Governor Sam Brownback to defer making payments to KPERS, the state’s defined-benefit pension system for public employees. The deferred payments would be made up in future years, although there is really no mechanism to enforce this.

Also, the bill considers eliminating the requirement that when the state sells surplus property, that 80 percent must be used to reduce the unfunded actuarial pension liability of KPERS. There is also a moratorium on employer contribution to KPERS Death and Disability fund, which is much smaller than the retirement fund.

KPERS funded ratio through 2014That unfunded liability is a big problem. It refers to the difference between what KPERS expects to pay compared to the revenue it expects to receive. In recent years the Kansas pension fund has been among the worst in the country, based on the funded ratio. The nearby charts shows the trend of this funded ratio through 2014, the latest date for KPERS valuation reports.

Last year the state issued $1 billion in bonds to address a portion of the unfunded liability. While this helps KPERS, it simply means that the state owes another billion dollars on a different balance sheet. But it’s the same taxpayers that will eventually pay.

Barry Poulson, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor at the University of Colorado — Boulder has written on the danger of borrowing to shore up state pension funds. As explained below, there is the “lack of nexus between the investment of the bond proceeds and payments for unfunded liabilities in the plan.” This means that the borrowed funds may be used for current spending rather than for correcting the KPERS unfunded liability.

He further explains: “If legislators see that additional funds are available to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan they may choose to allocate less general fund money to meet these pension obligations.”

This is what is happening in Kansas. The borrowing of a billion dollars has let legislators and the governor feel — incorrectly — that there is breathing room, and that the state can slack off making the contributions it should be making this year. This is highly irresponsible and reckless.

Following, from Dr. Paulson:

A major flaw in the proposed issuance of pension obligation bonds is the lack of nexus between the investment of the bond proceeds and payments for unfunded liabilities in the plan. The experience in other states is that sometimes bond proceeds are earmarked for other state expenditures. The most egregious example of this problem is the state of Illinois which issued $10 billion in pension obligation bonds and then used the proceeds to meet current expenditures rather than to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan.

Even if the state of Kansas would not commit this form of fraud on the taxpayers the fungible nature of state funding makes it impossible to guarantee the nexus between bond proceeds and the payment for unfunded liabilities in the pension plan. If legislators see that additional funds are available to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan they may choose to allocate less general fund money to meet these pension obligations. The state has not allocated the annual required contribution (ARC) to KPERS for several decades and is not projected to do so for the foreseeable future. Legislators continue to promise pension benefits without allocating the funds required to meet these obligations. We should expect this moral hazard to be even greater with the issuance of pension obligation bonds.

Even if the proceeds of pension obligation bonds could be set aside in a lock box and earmarked to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan the state must still address the accumulation of unfunded liabilities in the defined benefit plan. Without fundamental structural change, including shifting public employees to some form of defined contribution pension plan, these unfunded liabilities will continue to accumulate. Legislators should not be diverted from this difficult task by non-reforms, such as the issuance of pension obligation bonds.