Tag Archives: Sedgwick county government

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.