Tag Archives: Sedgwick county government

Letter to Kansas Legislators regarding Sedgwick County arena tax

January 25, 2005

Dear Senator or Representative:

I am writing to express my opposition to the legislature granting Sedgwick County the authority to raise its county-wide sales tax in order to fund the proposed downtown Wichita arena.

I realize that the voters in Sedgwick County voted for the tax. Still, I believe there is ample reason why you should vote against the tax.

The primary reason is that the idea of the arena came about so fast in the summer that there was little thought given to the underlying issues. The Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University produced a study showing a large positive economic impact for a downtown arena. I found much academic research that showed otherwise, that taxpayer-funded facilities such as the proposed downtown Wichita arena rarely live up to their expectations, and instead become a burden on the taxpayers. I also uncovered the fact that the WSU study was flawed in that it omitted important factors such as depreciation, the accounting for which is now required by Government Accounting Standards Board Statement 34. Incredibly, the CEDBR at WSU was not aware of this requirement when they prepared the study that was used to promote the economic benefit of the proposed arena. They admitted this when I called it to their attention.

Thus, what is presented as an economic boon for all the people instead becomes the county as a whole subsidizing the interests of a few.

I presented my findings to many news outlets in Wichita, but there was little interest. Because I experienced such resistance to my message I started a website, the “Voice for Liberty in Wichita.” It is located at wichitaliberty.org. Much of the research I uncovered is posted there. As an example I am enclosing an article that I recently wrote. It is based on what was found to happen in Pulaski County, Arkansas (Little Rock), when they built an arena funded in part by taxpayers.

I would be happy to provide you with any additional information that I can.

Thanking you in advance for your time,

Bob Weeks

Guest post: The Sedgwick County Downtown Arena Sales Tax

(It has been suggested that the following message, which I have sent as email to all Kansas State Senators and Representatives, may be of interest to you.

The article, as written and sent, does contain some minor inaccuracies, both in fact and in interpretation; but this merely shows that those of us who relied on the Wichita Eagle, my primary news source, for information prior to the arena tax vote were denied needed information and were, probably deliberately, given false, incomplete, and/or misleading information. I have made no effort to update it since a week or two after the election.

John A. Robinson
Wichita, KS)

The Kansas Legislature will be asked soon to approve a special sales tax for construction of a Downtown Arena in Wichita.

The recent “Arena Vote” in Wichita is a classic example of an election rigged by special interests, and does not represent an informed consent of the people of Wichita and Sedgwick County.

A vote was taken approximately a year prior to this vote in which the people of Wichita voted NOT to build a “downtown arena.” A main reason for the failure to support such a construction in that vote was the almost total inability of those favoring the arena to provide verifiable information in support of their claims that an arena would “do great things for Wichita,” a complete lack of any assessment of adverse related effects, denial, without examination, of any and all obvious problems, and a total lack of any coherent PLAN for the proposed arena. Those advocating this project were essentially unable to demonstrate that they had the best interests of the people of the community in mind, and made it clear that their real objective was their own personal profit and interest.

The people of Wichita voted NO to a downtown arena.

Subsequent to that vote, in which Wichita rejected the “arena,” the special interests who wanted one made NO EFFORT to respond to objections to the previous proposal. They made NO EFFORT to develop and show to the people any new plan for what was to be built, where it would be placed, how traffic and parking would be addressed, what REAL economic benefit the community could expect, and what REAL costs would be incurred.

They simply decided they didn’t like the result of that vote, and decided to take another one and get a different result.

Instead of examining the need, costs, and benefits, of their “plan” the special interests who favored the arena for their own personal gain determined that they “only needed about 15% more votes.” They did an apparently accurate assessment of what specific demographic groups would likely vote blindly for their “party place” if they could get them to vote, and could “work up enough enthusiasm.” It was perhaps also of interest that as persons not previously inclined to vote, their major demographic group, principally young college students, would be unlikely to affect any “substantive issues” affecting their other interests.

Very shortly before the election, a SINGLE announcement was made that “one of the County Commissioners” had talked to the Mayor, and the Mayor decided he was in favor of “the downtown arena.” No reason for the change in the mayor’s position was ever offered to the public, but “The Mayor is in favor of the Arena” became a slogan for the campaign.

Almost immediately, the extortionist threat was advanced by a County Commissioner that failure to vote for the Arena would mean a permanent and burdensome property tax. No substantiation for this claim was ever provided, but it was repeated incessantly.

Those with special interest, and intent to profit (or profiteer) from the arena, appeared with a “war chest” of several hundred thousand dollars a very few weeks before the election. They sponsored a few “pep rallies” at which they repeated their “the arena will be great” slogans, their “the mayor wants it” and their extortionate lie that “it’s already been decided that property taxes will go up if you vote against it.” By carefully refusing to offer any PLAN for examination, they made it difficult for more rational persons to speak against their campaign, simply because there was nothing to object to. Any objection was met with “that’s not part of our plan,” and couldn’t be countered since THERE WAS NO PLAN.

By appearing, unexpected, fully funded and organized at the last minute, they forclosed any opportunity for competing opinions to organize, fund, and carry out any effective counter campaign. It must be assumed, from the unexplained “instant switch” to favor of the arena that City and County officials were aware of and/or part of this plan to “silence the opposition.”

The “pep rallys” were well attended by those profiteers who wanted the arena, and were carefully advertised and “pushed” to the selected demographic groups that they had chosen to get the few votes needed to “vote their way.”

At NO TIME during this campaign was there EVER any discussion of what they planned to do, what other things would be affected, exactly how much it would cost, or what the peripheral impacts on the community would be and how they would be handled.

During the campaign, there was no discussion of a “plan” because there WAS NO PLAN. The entire campaign was based on “lets have a party.” The astonishingly large turnout for this election was ENTIRELY the result of a well funded, well planned recruitment of carefully selected groups likely to vote for the result that the “Arena Interests” wanted.

The threat to raise property taxes, made by the one “interested” Co. Commissioner, was clearly only for publicity. It was based on the costs to renovate the existing Colliseum, but it was never revealed whether, or how, the plans for the Colliseum would change if the arena was approved. It SPECIFICALLY was not revealed that those making this pseudo-plan fully intended the complete demolition of the Colliseum if the arena was approved. Since the Colliseum would compete with “their” arena, they have obviously decided, without consulting the public, that it will be demolished. NO SUGGESTION of any alternative use will be considered. THEY DO NOT HAVE PUBLIC APPROVAL TO DEMOLISH THE COLLISEUM.

Immediately after the election (less than two weeks) it was announced that the “arena plan” would “require cost estimates” for the demolition of the Colliseum. The people were NEVER given the choice of whether to find alternative use for the Colliseum, and were never told that DEMOLISHING the Colliseum was part of the “plan.” If it was part of the “arena plan,” the failure to have in hand an estimate of this major cost is only one more indication that THERE WAS NO PLAN EXCEPT FOR PROFIT FOR A FEW SPECIAL INTERESTS.

The passage of this “tax approval” was obtained by carefully selecting a demographic group susceptible to false and misleading publicity, massive publicity based on “let’s have a party,” false and misleading claims about fictitious benefits, vague but cheerful promises that “everything will be wonderful,” blatent lies, distortions, and mistruths bordering on extortion, and willful concealment of the “real” intent of those pushing the arena.

A physician who lies to a patient in order to get permission for a questionable procedure would not be likely to get by with an “informed consent” defense of his malpractice. This vote for the “arena tax” DOES NOT REPRESENT THE INFORMED CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE.

The Legislature should NOT APPROVE this tax. To do so is to reward EXTORTION by the persistent special interests who continue to believe they have a “right” to take whatever they want from the people as long as “they’ve got a good lie.”

Personal Observation:

The announcement that “the mayor is in favor of the arena” was made by the County Commissioner who “visited the mayor.” The Commissioner was not named in that report, and has not been clearly identified in the few subsequently published reports. So far as has been reported in the Wichita Eagle, my prinicipal source of local news, the mayor never appeared to publicly affirm his change in opinion about the arena. No explanation for his change in position has been published. Given the frequency with which he freely commented on city government and was quoted in local news, it is also noteworthy that since that announcement there have been NO REPORTS of his existence or of any participation in the affairs of the city.

Given the potential impact on the City of Wichita and on Sedgwick County, it would be reasonable that the news should be full of plans and analyses of the Arena; but the ONLY substantive report in the Wichita Eagle has been a rather weakly stated “The VOTE is OVER, shut up and take it” in one masthead editorial. “Opinion Line” comments, a feature of the Eagle, have contained the same terse “The Vote Passed, Shut Up and Take It” at approximately 2-day intervals since the election; but NO SUBSTANTIVE NEGATIVE COMMENTS have been published in the same column.

The Mayor and the Wichita Eagle, have been effectively SILENCED, whether by coercion or by collusion, on this matter.

Historical Note:

When Kellogg Avenue (US 54 Highway) was paved through the middle of Wichita in the 50’s, our public officials yielded to Cronyism and at the demand of the “special interests” in “Downtown Wichita” refused to make it a throughway. For nearly 50 years Wichita contended with 23 stoplights in a stretch of about 10 miles of what should have been a major trafficway. Since they made it impossible to travel conveniently between the East and West sides of town on that trafficway, major traffic flow continued through the downtown, at densities which required removal of all on-street parking, a maze of one way streets, and significant deterioration of road surfaces, never maintained, of most of the downtown area. Due to the high traffic densities diverted through the downtown, it was impossible to stop and do business there. By yielding to the “special interests,” they KILLED the downtown as a place of business.

For more than 50 years, our “leaders” have come up with one plan after another to “save” a downtown that IS DEAD so far as the majority of the people of this community are concerned. They have done so at the expense of other parts of the city, and at the expense of the community as a whole.

We have a “pretty” walkway along the side of the river, a few garish “art works” and have already dumped millions into “saving downtown” with subsidies for empty hotels and “startup money” for “botique shops” and bars. We have good hotels and motels, adquate for any visible needs, OUTSIDE the downtown area, but they get no support, and are ignored by our “planners.” This all for the benefit of the half dozen commissioners who meet “downtown,” the owners of the empty hotels “downtown,” the lawyers who wish to be near the courthouse “downtown,” and a whole lot of drunks who frequent the overpriced bars that would not exist “downtown” without frequent infusions of City Bond money.

In the meantime, half our city population is required to traverse the “Big Ditch” in fewer than a dozen traffic lanes twice daily, because Wichita cannot afford improvements to major traffic arteries “until we finish saving downtown.” Our tapwater occasionally STINKS because we can’t afford proper treatment until “we finish saving downtown.” We truck our trash out of state, because special interests must be placated who object to every plan for disposal. We can’t recycle with our trash, because special interests believe it will reduce their profitable trash service. We can’t have a beer at a neighborhood bar because the subsidized “entertainment” downtown has driven most of them out of business or very close to it.

Once again, by carefully selecting “which of the people to survey,” by whipping up enthusiasm with a selected minority demographic, and by concealing their intent from the population at large, the Council got the answer they wanted; but it IS NOT THE INFORMED CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. IT IS A FRAUD. IT IS EXTORTION.

It is a rigged election, bought and paid for, by special interests, with the cooperation of City and County officials. A vote was taken, and ignored. A vote was RIGGED, bought and paid for, and should be ignored by the Legislature.

They are asking to DOUBLE the city sales tax. Not a trivial action. A vote for this tax will make it very much more difficult to ask for additional sales tax if a need for additional school funding is determined to exist.

There is no tyranny like the tyranny of a rigged “democratic election.”

Please VOTE NO to the Sedgwick County Arena Sales Tax.

John A. Robinson
Wichita, KS 67218

Prepare for sales tax-induced job effects now

Collecting the sales tax to pay for the downtown Wichita arena may produce unintended consequences.

A paper titled “An Assessment of the Economic Impact of a Multipurpose Arena” by Ronald John Hy and R. Lawson Veasey, both of the University of Central Arkansas, (Public Administration & Management: An Interactive Journal 5, 2, 2000, pp. 86-98) looked at the effect of jobs and economic activity during the construction of the Alltel Arena in Pulaski County, Arkansas. This arena cost $50 million. It was funded in part by a one percent increase in the county sales tax for one year (1998). The sales tax generated $20 million.

In the net, considering both jobs lost and jobs gained due to sales tax and construction effects, workers in the wholesale and retail trades lost 60 jobs, and service workers lost 52 jobs. There was a net increase of 198 jobs in construction.

The fact that jobs were lost in retail should not be a surprise. When a sales tax makes nearly everything sold at retail more expensive, the supply curve shifts to the left, and less is demanded. It may be difficult to estimate the magnitude of the change in demand, but it is certain that it does change.

Workers in these sectors, should the sales tax increase take effect, may want to reconsider their career plans. How many retail and service workers can make the transition to construction work is unknown. It is certain, however, that when workers lose their jobs it imposes benefits costs on the government — and the taxpayers.

The population of Pulaski County in 2000 was 361,474, while Sedgwick County’s population at the same time was 452,869, so Sedgwick County is a somewhat larger. Our sales tax will last 2.5 times as long, and our proposed arena is about three times as expensive. How these factors will impact the number of jobs is unknown, but I feel that the number of jobs lost in Sedgwick County in retail and services will be larger that what Pulaski County experienced.

It is interesting to note that the authors of this study, while measuring a positive net economic impact for the Alltel Arena, make this conclusion:

“The primary reason for this positive economic impact is that the state of Arkansas contributed $20 million to the construction of the arena. As a result, the economic impact of building the arena in Pulaski County is greater than it would be if the county had funded the arena by itself. A vast majority of the jobs that will be created will be in the service sector that frequently offers lower wages than jobs in other sectors of the economy.”

The proposed downtown Wichita arena does not have the advantage of having 40% of its cost paid for by outsiders. It may be that we feel even more strongly the negative impacts of the sales tax.

The leadership of our local government officials regarding the downtown Wichita arena

It is clear that our local government leaders want a downtown arena in Wichita. Just read their remarks in the Wichita Eaglenewspaper. Since the Sedgwick County Commission has promised that they will proceed with renovation of the Kansas Coliseum if the downtown arena vote fails, it is in their interest to make the Coliseum renovation option look as bad as possible. In my opinion, they’ve done a pretty good job of this.

If you do the math on what it costs to borrow $55 million, paying it back at $6.1 million a year for 20 years, the interest rate is 9.17%, which is a terribly high interest rate for a government to pay. Yet, if we believe the county commissioners, they are ready to pay this much if we don’t agree to the arena.

Arena supporters cite economic benefit to the community as a reason to build the downtown arena, and they concede no such benefit is likely near a renovated Coliseum. Yet they are willing to spend millions there if we don’t give them a downtown arena.

Arena supporters cast the Coliseum renovation in the worst possible light. Consider a homebuyer who just bought a $100,000 home, financing it at 5% for 30 years. The total payments would be about $193,000. Do these people, having just bought the $100,000 home, go about saying they just moved into a $193,000 home? Of course they don’t. The total financed cost, to be sure, is an important fact, and a bad financing decision is a handy fact for arena supporters to use as they portray the Coliseum renovations in the worst possible light.

Arena supporters claim that there are only two decisions, the new downtown arena or the renovation of the Coliseum. Framing the debate this way, especially when one decision outcome is so distasteful, is a good strategy for downtown arena supporters to use, but not good public policy.

The Sedgwick County Commission has said that if the downtown arena fails, Coliseum renovation will start. We, as the citizens of Sedgwick County, should not allow this coercion to affect our decision on the downtown arena. We do not have to stand for this type of bad government.

Local government officials as downtown Wichita arena advocates

Kansas Attorney General Opinion 93-125 deals with “the use of public funds to promote or advocate a governing body’s position on a matter which is before the electorate.” In its summary, it states “However, public funds may be expended to educate and inform regarding issues to be voted on by the electorate.”

Our local government leaders, especially the Sedgwick County Commission and the Mayor of Wichita, are leading what they term the “educational effort” to get out the facts about the proposed downtown arena. I would suggest, however, that their effort is hardly educational, as they readily admit their preference, and little or no information about criticism or alternatives is to be found. On the Sedgwick County website, for example, there are no opposing viewpoints to be found. The only alternative to the downtown arena is the renovation of the Kansas Coliseum, which is portrayed as an unwise choice.

On two television shows, Sedgwick County Commissioner Ben Sciortino wore a “Vote Yea” polo shirt.

From an editorial by Phillip Brownlee, published in the Wichita Eagle on September 5, 2004: “If the plan is to pass, city and county elected officials — supported by business leaders — must continue their strong leadership and high-profile support for the arena.”

It has also been shown that some of the financial contributors to the “Vote Yea” campaign are funded by taxpayers.

A public or private arena in downtown Wichita, which is desirable?

Image what our town could be like if the downtown arena in Wichita vote fails and the county commissioners put aside for a moment their plans for the renovation of the Kansas Coliseum.

Suppose, instead, that arena supporters, along with those who would vote yes for the sales tax and anyone else who wants to, formed a corporation to build and own an arena.

Instead of having paid taxes to government, arena supporters would be investors. They would own something: their shares in the arena. They would have the pride and responsibility that comes with ownership. They would have a financial stake in its success. Even taxpayer-funded arena opponents might see merit in investing in a local business rather than paying taxes.

Instead of politicians and bureaucrats deciding what the people of our town want and need, a privately owned arena would be subject to the guidance and discipline of markets. It would either provide a valuable service to its customers and stay in business, or it would fail to do that and it would go out of business. Governments do not have such a powerful incentive to meet the needs of their constituents.

Instead of the bitter feelings dividing this town over the issue of a taxpayer-funded arena and other perceived governmental missteps, the arena corporation would act in the best interests of its shareholders and customers. Even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be the public’s business, because after all, the corporation is formed of private individuals investing their own money.

When individuals invest in an arena they are nurturing the virtues of investment, thrift, industry, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship, Wichita having an especially proud tradition of the last. There is nothing noble about politicians spending someone else’s money on projects like a downtown arena, or a renovated Kansas Coliseum for that matter.

At this time in our town we have a chance to let private initiative and free markets work, or we can allow government to continue to provide for us in ways that few seem truly satisfied with. Writing about a public utility in England that was transferred to private enterprise, economist John Blundell observed:

When it was “public” it was very private. Indeed, it was totally captured by a small band of bureaucrats. Even members of Parliament struggled to find out what was going on. No proper accounts were produced, and with a complete lack of market signals, managers were clueless as to the correct course to take. The greatest casualty was a lack of long-term capital investment.

Now it is “private” and very public. Not just public in the sense of open, but also in the sense of accountable directly to its shareholders and customers. Copious reports and accounts are available and questioning citizens will find their concerns taken very seriously indeed.

If we allow the government instead of private enterprise to build a new arena or to renovate the Kansas Coliseum, this is the opportunity we lose.