Tag Archives: Smoking bans

Kansas fiscal policy is stifling the state’s economy

Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute explains that Kansas economic policies are leading to the growth of government at the expense of private sector economic activity. Separately, KPI released figures showing that it will be very difficult for the state to meet the revenue projections made for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2011. Kansas tax collections in March were below projections, meaning even more trouble balancing the current year budget.

State Fiscal Policy is Stifling the Kansas Economy

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute.

Kansas’ fiscal policy has stifled the state’s economy for more than a decade and the effects are now being severely felt. Policy debates are often thought of in terms of party identification but the dividing line in Kansas is about the size and role of government; specifically, limited government versus large, expanding government. Most major policy debates really come down to whether government or taxpayer interests take precedent.

For example, last year’s 19 percent sales tax increase was designed to allow government spending to increase by more than $200 million. Efforts to instead have government operate more efficiently were rebuffed by the demand for higher revenues, even though both academic studies of the proposed sales tax increase concluded it would cost thousands of jobs. The February employment report from the Kansas Department of Labor confirms those predictions.

Kansas employmentKansas employment

Kansas continues to lose private sector jobs, while government jobs increase. The adjacent table shows a loss of 12,100 private sector jobs over the last year; you have to go back to 1997 to find fewer jobs in February. To fairly compare February employment to the July implementation of the sales tax, we have to use seasonally adjusted data from the U.S. Department of Labor. On that basis, there are 23,200 fewer private sector jobs since the sales tax increase.

There’s been talk of repealing the sales tax but opponents say it would make it harder to balance the state budget. That’s true, but it can be done by having government operate more efficiently, eliminating programs no longer deemed effective, and treating government employees the same as all other taxpayers. Others oppose repealing the sales tax because they’d rather retain it and use the revenue to begin reducing income tax rates. The March to Economic Growth Act (MEGA) would restrict the growth in state revenue and ease the tax burden but opponents are concerned about the impact on government. Never mind that Kansas has one of the highest state and local tax burdens in the country (number 19 according to the Tax Foundation and getting worse) and that jobs and population are migrating to states with lower tax burdens.

Last year’s smoking ban was another fine example of putting government interests first, with state-owned casinos getting an exemption. Opponents of an effort to remove that exemption say it would cost state-owned casinos millions of dollars in lost revenue and reduce state tax revenues. Bar owners said the same thing last year but their concerns were dismissed.

And then there’s the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS). The debate over resolving a KPERS deficit of at least $9.3 billion is perhaps the most egregious example of fiscal policy favoring government growth. KPERS is one of the worst funded plans in the country and provides benefits many times greater than received by most private sector workers. Fully funding it will have catastrophic impact on taxpayers and the economy, but even minor benefit reductions are vehemently opposed. Even a proposal to reduce benefits for employees not yet hired can’t get off the ground.

Continuing to strip taxpayers of their economic freedom so that we can sustain and grow government will eventually cause the state’s economy to implode, as governments in California, Illinois and many nations are currently experiencing. This isn’t theory, it’s history — and we should avoid repeating it.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday November 4, 2010

The future of politics is here, now. After noting how California reached way back to the past to elect a governor, Denis Boyles writes in National Review Online about the future, and how it’s being made right here: “If you want to see the bright and shining politics of the future, you have to go to the country’s heartland, and specifically to Kansas, a place most Democrats only know from Thomas Frank’s liberal folklore. There, the election has yielded two new congressmen — Mike Pompeo and the remarkable Tim Huelskamp — who were not created by the Tea Party movement because their politics were already ahead of that helpful wave. Here‘s a local paper’s coverage. Pompeo is a natural leader, while Huelskamp is something even more — an inspiration, maybe. (He’s briefly sketched in Superior, Nebraska). Mark these guys. Politically, they’re how it’s going to be.”

Schools hope we won’t notice. Kansas Reporter tells of the new Kansas school funding lawsuit, filed on Election Day. Schools must have hoped that news of the filing would get swamped by election day news, which is what happened. The remedy asked for is more money, which has been shown not to work very well in terms of improving student performance … but it makes the education bureaucracy happy. I would suggest that students sue the Kansas State Department of Education for the inadequate education many have received. For a remedy, ask for things that have been shown to work: charter schools and widespread school choice.

Kansas House Republicans. Yesterday I reported that Republicans gained 15 seats in the Kansas House of Representatives. Double-checking revealed that I had made a data entry error. The actual number of Republican gains is 16, for a composition of 92 Republicans and 33 Democrats.

Kansas House Conservatives. In the same article it was noted that since some Kansas House Republicans — the so-called moderates or left-wing Republicans — vote with Democrats more often than not, there was a working caucus of about 55 conservatives. It is thought that conservatives picked up four seats in the August primary, bringing the number to 59. With most of the Republicans who defeated Democrats expected to join the conservative cause, it appears that conservatives now fill over 70 seats, constituting a working majority in the 125-member Kansas House of Representatives. Conservatives do not enjoy a majority of votes in the Kansas Senate, however.

Local smoking bans still wrong. As noted in today’s Wichita Eagle, there might be a revisiting of the relatively new Kansas statewide smoking ban. Incoming Governor Sam Brownback believes that such decisions should be left to local governments, presumably counties or cities in this case. For those who believe that the proper foundation for making such decisions is unfoundering respect for property rights — plus the belief that free people can make their own decisions — it doesn’t matter much who violates these property rights.

GOP: Unlock the American Economy Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal on spending and what Congress really needs to do: “It is conventional wisdom that what voters, tea partiers and talkers want the Republican Party to do is cut the spending. … Getting the spending under control matters a lot.” But Henninger says controlling spending is not enough: “The new GOP has to find an identity beyond the Beltway power game, a way to make the nation’s most important activity not what is going on in Washington, as now, but what is done out in the country, among the nation’s daily producers and workers. The simplest way for the Republican Party to free itself and the economy from this unending Beltway hell is by reviving a core belief of one of the country’s most successful presidents: If the government will get out of the way, Ronald Reagan argued, there’s no limit to what the American people can achieve.” Government getting out of the way was one of freshly-minted Congressman Mike Pompeo’s campaign themes. National figures are warning Republicans that they have one chance to get things right in Washington or risk losing the support they won in this election. And Pompeo urged his supporters, more than once, to hold him accountable in Washington. Maybe Raj Goyle might want to linger in Wichita for a few years to see how things work out.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday October 28, 2010

Final fourth district forum. Last night’s debate or forum between all four candidates running for the Kansas fourth Congressional district was the last such event before Election Day. Hosted by KSN Television and moderated by John Snyder, all four candidates appeared: Reform Party candidate Susan Ducey, Democrat Raj Goyle, Republican Mike Pompeo, and Libertarian Shawn Smith. Goyle used almost every question as an opportunity to launch an attack on Pompeo, particularly on the issue of outsourcing of jobs. No dummy — he did go to Harvard law school, after all (so did Pompeo) — Goyle used some clever and creative license to morph nearly every question into these attacks. Pompeo largely ignored Goyle’s attacks but still got in a few digs at him. … Ducey and Smith kept to their principled arguments of limited government and free markets and avoided attacks on each other and the two major party candidates. Ducey, particularly, referred to the constitutionality of programs several times and her belief in states’ rights. Smith’s belief in the superiority of free markets was crystal clear. In his final statement, he referred to the “road to serfdom.” … For those who have been following the campaigns of the two major party candidates, not a lot of new information was presented in the forum. The real news, I think, is the competent and credible performances of the two minor party candidates, Ducey and Smith. They did well in terms of their presentation. Most importantly, if you believe in individual liberty, limited government, and free markets, these two candidates deserve your serious consideration.

Kansas Republicans in control. KWCH Television and SurveyUSA released new polling showing Republicans firmly in the lead for Governor, Secretary of State, and Treasurer. The only race that is close is for Attorney General, where challenger Derek Schmidt leads incumbent Stephen Six 50 percent to 42 percent. Of this race, the pollster commented: “Incumbent Attorney General Steve Six remains the Kansas Democrat with the best chance of keeping his job, but even he trails his rival Republican Derek Schmidt by 8 points, unchanged from the previous poll. Schmidt led by 20 points when polling began in August, but has led in single-digits since. 20% of Republicans cross-over to vote for Six. Independents in this contest break for the Democrat. There continues to be volatility in this race; among seniors, typically the most stable and reliable voters, the lead has changed 4 times in 4 polls.” Interestingly, all three Democratic incumbents — Six, McKinney, and Biggs — have large advantages in fundraising over their Republican challengers.

Tweet of the day. @bob_weeks: Government cake was pretty good at Wichita’s National Center for Aviation Training ribbon cutting ceremony.

Smoking ban now fiscal issue. Today’s Wichita Eagle editorial by Rhonda Holman laments the fact that there’s a possibility the Kansas statewide smoking ban might be overturned. Holman has never respected the property rights-based argument against smoking bans, nor the individual responsibility argument. Now she raises the financial argument for the ban: “Yet in Kansas, the momentum among leaders risks going the wrong way — against public health and the recognition that government has a fiscal responsibility to ban public smoking.” The fiscal responsibility Holman cites comes from the fact that the state pays a lot of the costs of health care, and if fewer people smoke, the state could save money. Perhaps. Next year, I expect Holman to use the same arguments in favor of a ban on alcoholic beverages, salty foods, sugary soda pop, cheeseburgers, and anything else that will increase health care costs. Seriously. By the way, this government regulation of behavior often does not work and produces unintended consequences, as in the recent findings that bans on texting while driving have increased accident rates in some states. Holman supported the Kansas texting ban for safety reasons.

Many more have voted. As of yesterday in Sedgwick County, 39,000 mail ballots have been returned, and 6,300 people had voted in person. Since there are about 260,000 registered voters in the county, 18 percent of all possible voters have already voted. But looking at likely voters — in the 2006 midterm election 118,258 ballots were cast — perhaps 40 percent of likely voters have already voted. In the 2008 general election — a presidential election year — 194,688 ballots were cast, so using that denominator, 24 percent of likely voters have voted.

A reason to vote early. Yesterday this column discussed reasons why voters may want to wait until close to Election Day to vote. But there is one reason for voting as early as possible. If you don’t want voter contact — telephone calls, mailings, people knocking on your door — voting early might reduce the number of contact attempts. This is because campaigns, if they want, can receive a list of voters who have returned their ballots each day. Savvy campaigns will then cross these voters off their lists so they don’t waste effort contacting those who have already voted. To make this work well, you’d want to get everyone in your household to vote early.

Vote machine “malfunctions” reported. There have been several reports that at advance voting locations in Wichita, when the machine flipped to display the page for U.S. Congress, one candidate’s name was already checked, just as if the voter had touched it already. The voters were able to un-check that vote and vote for their intended candidate. I suggested to the tipster that she have people take still photographs, perhaps using a smartphone, of each screen as the voting machine presented it. But an even better solution that would eliminate all source of doubt is this: As you vote, use your smartphone to take video of the entire process. This, I believe, would produce strong evidence of voting machine irregularities, if it is happening.

Wichita Eagle voter guide. Click here. You can get a list of the candidates, along with their responses to questions, customized for your address.

Outside spending cuts both ways. Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle: “White House adviser David Axelrod went after the Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, calling its $75 million campaign ‘a threat to our democracy.’ But as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the public employees union AFSCME is spending $87.5 million on 2010 campaigns.”

Kansas House could shift. It’s often mentioned that Republicans have large margins in both the Kansas House of Representatives and Senate. In the House, however, there’s a working body of about 55 reliably conservative members. The other Republicans — moderates, they’re called — will vote with Democrats for things like sales tax increases. This could change, however. It’s thought by some that conservatives picked up four seats in the August primary election, getting the House up to 59 reliable conservative votes. 63 votes are needed to have a majority and pass a bill. Can conservatives pick up more seats next Tuesday? Might the prospect of a conservative majority and a conservative governor flip a few moderate Republicans? We may know on Wednesday — or maybe not.

Ballotpedia to have election night coverage. The website Ballotpedia will have election night coverage focusing on ballot issues, state legislative contests, and state attorney general races. Did you know that voters will be electing 6,125 state legislators next week? See What to expect from Ballotpedia election coverage on November 2 for details on the coverage.

Report voter fraud, by phone. American Majority Action has developed and released a voter fraud app for smartphones. Describing it, AMA says “This free, cutting edge system will enable voters to take action to help defend their right to vote. Whether you’re a campaign junkie, or just want a better America, Voter Fraud will help you report violations at the election booth and serve to uphold the democratic process.” I downloaded it for my iPhone.

Waiting for Superman. The Kansas Policy Institute will host a free screening of Waiting for Superman on Thursday November 4th. Of the film, the Wall Street Journal wrote: “The new film ‘Waiting for ‘Superman'” is getting good reviews for its portrayal of children seeking alternatives to dreadful public schools, and to judge by the film’s opponents it is having an impact. Witness the scene on a recent Friday night in front of a Loews multiplex in New York City, where some 50 protestors blasted the film as propaganda for charter schools.” In Kansas, the Wichita Eagle printed an op-ed penned by the education bureaucracy status quoSharon Hartin Iorio, dean of the Wichita State University College of Education in this case — to inoculate Wichitans against the effects of what I am told is a powerful film. Let’s hope this film gets Kansans to thinking about public schools in our state, as Kansas is way behind the curve on innovation, compared to other states. The film will be shown at 7:00pm at the Warren Theatre East (11611 E. 13th St.). KPI asks that you RSVP by Tuesday, November 2 to James Franko at [email protected]. Space is limited.

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for June 25, 2010.

Public sector grows along with KPERS dependency

(Kansas Liberty) “Between April 2008 and April 2010, the private sector in Kansas has experienced an overall loss in jobs of approximately 5.89 percent, while the public sector has experienced an overall gain in employment of approximately .83 percent. … As the public sector and its salaries continue to grow, so does the dependence on the state’s pension plan, KPERS.”

Kansas working toward implementing aspect of Obamacare

(Kansas Liberty) “The Kansas Department of Insurance is working with the federal government to create a temporary high-risk insurance pool, in accordance with regulations set forth by the new federal health-care law. High-risk insurance pools are designed to provide coverage for residents with pre-existing conditions who are unable to find coverage elsewhere. The temporary high-risk pool will operate until 2014, when the law prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions.”

Budget cuts hit small towns harder, KC Fed reports

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas government’s continuing financial jam may threaten the economic recovery of the state’s small town and rural communities, according to a new analysis published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.”

Researchers debate number of student dropouts

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – By one count, slightly more than one in 100 students drop out of school; by another count, only 75 students out of 100 actually receive diplomas. Trying to figure out the number of students in Kansas who have graduated high school, versus the number that have dropped out before graduation is tricky and confusing business.”

Info about Ethics Commission meeting not found by attending

(Kansas Watchdog) “On Tuesday the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission held their monthly meeting in Topeka. The agenda for the meeting was a bit curious: The plan was for a 15-minute session that started at 11:45, followed by a 30-minute session 90 minutes later.”

Business Owners Ask Kansas Courts to Stop Smoking Ban

(Kansas Watchdog) “Owners of private clubs and bingo operations have asked the courts to stop the statewide smoking ban (HB2221) from taking effect July 1. Attorney Tuck Duncan Friday filed a motion to intervene in a temporary injunction sought by Michael Merriam to stop implementation of the ban while courts hear claims that the ban violates various U.S Constitutional rights.”

Tiahrt and Moran Trade Shots Over Support for Federal Bailouts

(State of the State KS) “The Tiahrt (R) and Moran (R) campaigns traded shots Wednesday over the issue of government bailouts with Tiahrt firing the first shot saying Moran was misleading voters when Moran said claimed he never voted for a bailout.”

Opinion by Senate President Stephen Morris – The 2010 Legislative Session: Keeping Our Promises to Kansans

(State of the State KS) “The 2010 Legislative Session is now officially history. When this chapter of the Kansas story is written, it will go down as perhaps the most significant since the Great Depression. In fact, the challenges facing lawmakers this year were unprecedented. As we enter the election season, you may hear a lot of misinformation about what actually happened in Topeka this year; I would like to set the record straight.”

Response by Americans For Prosperity to Opinion Article by Senate President Steve Morris

(State of the State KS) “The recent letter to the editor submitted by Senate President Stephen Morris caught my attention. He claims passing the largest sales tax increase in Kansas history was the ‘only responsible way’ to address the budget shortfall. A shortfall he blames on an ‘economic crisis.'”

Kansas smoking ban discussed on Kansas Week

On the KPTS public affairs television program Kansas Week, the recently-passed Kansas smoking ban was at issue. Bob Weeks is in the Wichita studio along with host Tim Brown. Stephen Koranda, Kansas Public Radio Statehouse Bureau Chief, is in the Topeka studio.

Additional coverage of the meeting of smoking ban opponents is at Kansas smoking ban opponents meet in Wichita. More coverage of smoking bans is here.

Kansas smoking ban opponents meet in Wichita

A group primarily composed of business owners met in Wichita on Thursday to discuss the recently passed Kansas smoking ban and what might be done to overturn it or mitigate its damage to business.

Phillip Bradley of Kansas Licensed Beverage Association briefed the group on the current status of the smoking ban and what types of action might be possible in the future.

Bradley told the group that it’s nearly impossible to get a new bill through the Kansas Legislature at this time. The greatest chance for action is to have an amendment added to a bill that’s already in conference. He mentioned SB 454 as a possibility, adding that it’s being made into a “Christmas tree,” meaning that many interests are attempting to add to the bill.

There are three issues related to the smoking ban that can gain traction with legislators, Bradley said. The first is that the state exempted state-owned casinos from the smoking ban.

The second is the “ten foot rule,” which says that smoking is not allowed within ten feet of “any doorway, open window or air intake” of a building, except for those buildings (like state-owned casinos) that are exempt from the smoking ban. This is a problem for downtown areas or malls where businesses may be in close proximity to each other, and to sidewalks and outdoor patios where smoking is permitted.

The third relates to treating similar classes unequally in the law. Private clubs that were in existence before January 1, 2009 can be exempted from the smoking ban. Private clubs formed after that date, however, are subject to the smoking ban.

Bradley explained some of the difficulties involved in understanding legislative action. The so-called “gut-and-go,” for example, is where a bill that is passed by one chamber — say the Senate — is stripped of its content by the other chamber, the House of Representatives in this example. The original text of the bill is replaced with new text, which might refer to a totally different topic. The reformulated bill — passed by the House, even though it now refers to a totally new and possibly entirely different subject — goes back to the Senate as having already been passed by that body.

Representative Brenda Landwehr, a Republican who represents parts of northwest Wichita and who is chair of the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee, addressed the group and offered advice as to how to influence legislators. She recommended personal telephone calls to legislators explaining how the smoking ban will impact their businesses. If legislators say studies show that smoking bans have no impact on business, she suggested callers ask legislators why the state exempted its state-owned casinos from the smoking ban. “People don’t understand the amount of money that bars bring to this state,” she added.

Landwehr said that the state-owned casinos, being exempt from the smoking ban, are competition to already-existing bars near the casinos, both existing and those that may open in the future.

She advised the group that legislators generally respond first to people who live in the district they represent.

Ali Issa, owner of Heat Cigar and Hookah Lounge in Wichita, where the meeting took place, urged the group to take action. Expressing the concern that the smoking ban is harmful to business, he said “Our goal is to stay in business.” He urged the group to make calls to legislators and spread the message through social media like Facebook.

A question asked by some business owners asked about the possibility of gathering signatures on petitions. As Kansas has no initiative and referendum process, it’s not possible to force votes on state laws through this process. Petitions, however, can powerfully express the sentiment of the public.

It was mentioned that under a conservative Kansas governor — presumably Sam Brownback — the smoking ban might not survive. But Sheila Martin, a Hutchinson business owner and activist in the smoking ban issue, said that many people will be out of business by the time Brownback becomes governor in January 2011.

The group plans to hold a public meeting soon to bring attention to this issue.

A website has been established to support the efforts of business owners. It may be accessed at Kansas Right to Choose.

Other coverage of this meeting is at Business group will fight state’s smoking ban.

Kansas governor to face smoking ban protesters in Salina

A group of citizens who don’t agree with Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson’s decision to sign the statewide smoking ban bill is planning a protest in Salina.

The governor will sign the smoking ban bill on Monday at 3:30 pm at the Salina Public Library. It’s a ceremonial signing, as the actual bill was signed earlier today.

Wichita legislative forum highlights differences in approach to government spending

Yesterday over 200 people packed a room at Wichita State University to attend a forum of Wichita-area Kansas state legislators. The meeting was chaired by Representative Steve Brunk, a Republican who represents Bel Aire and parts of far northeast Wichita.

One of the topics underlying much of the meeting was the subject of tax cuts to business. Proponents of government spending say the state has given up too much revenue by granting tax cuts.

Sometimes, in case of the business franchise tax, the state levies a tax simply for existing. This tax is being phased out over a five-year period starting in 2007. Government spending interests — including Governor Mark Parkinson — want to reinstate this tax, however.

There are sometimes disagreements as to what a “cut” means. In his opening remarks, Representative Jim Ward, a Democrat who represents parts of southeast Wichita and is also assistant minority leader, referred to a recent $95 million tax cut given to business, saying this is not a good thing to do when the state needs more tax revenue. Representative Brenda Landwehr, a Republican who represents parts of northwest Wichita, disagreed with Ward’s characterization.

The program referred to is an expansion of a program that lets companies keep their employees’ Kansas withholding taxes when new jobs are created. Proponents of these types of economic development incentives that are granted through the tax system argue that without the incentive, no jobs would be created, so there would be no new taxes to collect. Therefore, the program is without cost. They also often argue that the new jobs create other economic activity that is taxed, and this is a source of revenue for the state.

There is ample evidence, however, that these targeted economic development incentives often do not work as intended.

In answering one question, Landwehr referred to the Health Care Freedom Act. This possible amendment to the Kansas Constitution would allow Kansas to opt out of certain areas of possible federal health care legislation, such as the requirement that citizens purchase health insurance. Landwehr said that the issue goes back to what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights really say. Freedom and liberty are two key words, she said. “If government decides that they should be the one dictating to you what company your health issuance should be with, what benefits you should have or not have, we’re going to have less providers. … We need to be able to make these decisions ourselves.”

Addressing the number of uninsured in Kansas, Landwehr said that over half are the “invincibles” — young people 18 to 30 years old who choose not to purchase health insurance. Another segment are the underinsured.

On the recently-passed statewide smoking ban, Brunk read a question that asked “Why is smoking not bad for you in state-owned bars?” Brunk remarked that the questioner probably meant state-owned casinos, to the amusement of the audience. I thought to myself if the state can own casinos, why not bars? And if the state owned bars and taverns, would the smoking ban apply to them?

Rep. Landwehr criticized the smoking ban based on liberty, freedom, and property rights. She also mentioned problems with the bill regarding how the casino floor air — where smoking is allowed — would be kept separate from the air in the rest of the building. Representative Geraldine Flaharty, a Democrat who represents parts of south-central Wichita, said that the health issues of smoking overrode these issues.

Education, however, was the topic of interest to many in the audience.

Representative Joe McLeland, a Republican who represents parts of west Wichita and who is chairman of the House Education Budget Committee, said that education funding is a tough issue. He mentioned the large unencumbered fund balances in Kansas school districts, mentioning specifically that the Wichita school district has $252 million in its fund balances as of December. “Schools have a lot of money,” he said to disapproval of the large number of school spending advocates in the audience.

McLeland said that schools routinely transfer unspent money from the general fund — which can’t be carried forward to the next year — to other funds. These other funds generally fall into the category of restricted funds. Schools continually remind everyone that money in these restricted funds can’t be spent with the same degree of flexibility that money in unrestricted funds can. This is part of an effort by schools to treat restricted funds — which according to recent Wichita school district presentations are 59.5% of the district’s spending — as though they don’t exist and shouldn’t be counted as part of school spending.

McLeland said that this week he will introduce legislation that will reduce the number of funds from 27 to five and will prohibit transferring general fund dollars to restricted funds, including capital building funds.

McLeland also said that state law requires school districts to spend 65% of their budgets in the classroom. Since the state average is about 55%, McLeland said schools are not following this law.

Uniform accounting is a new law passed recently, McLeland said. With 293 school districts in the state, each reporting numbers differently, it is difficult to compare budgets.

McLeland also referred to the voluntary efficiency audits that school districts could participate in. The Derby school district is the only local school district that participated. The audit found that Derby instructional services spending was above average for its peers, but teacher salaries were below the peer average. McLeland said that the reason for this surprising finding couldn’t be determined due to the lack of standard accounting and reporting.

Representative Judy Loganbill, a Democrat who represents parts of east and southeast Wichita and who is also a Wichita school teacher, asked the rhetorical question “how often do you visit a school?” She mentioned the battle between unencumbered and encumbered funds. “Approximately 60 percent of a school’s budget must go to certain places. It has to. … What’s left over is where we get the unencumbered funds. … When you’re looking at your unencumbered funds, that’s where your salaries come from.”

She also mentioned the difficulty of determining what constitutes spending in the classroom. Things like transportation, utilities, books, materials — all are essential to schools, she said. She also mentioned the need to produce highly qualified and educated students to lead us into the next generation. She said that businesses don’t come into our state because of the employee withholding tax break discussed above, but because of quality of life issues like schools, good roads, and safe neighborhoods.

After a short break so that many of the legislators could leave to attend a funeral of a former legislator, Representative Kasha Kelley of Arkansas City gave an overview of the Kansas budget and the budget process.

A question to her referenced the large number of unemployed in Kansas. If tax breaks to business are such a good deal, why are there so many unemployed? Rep. Jim Ward expressed similar sentiment earlier. A proper answer to this question is that yes, there are large numbers of unemployed in Kansas at this time. Our unemployment rate is lower than the nation’s, however, and we should be grateful for that. Furthermore, we don’t know what our jobs situation would be if taxes on business had not been reduced. Since taxes in all forms are a drag on jobs creation, it is certain that there would be fewer jobs in Kansas if not for some tax reductions.

Also, some of the tax breaks given are quite small in relation to the state budget. In 2007, which is when the franchise tax reductions started, that tax brought in about $4.6 million. To place this number in some context, in February alone the state fell $71 million short of projected revenue.

Another questioner who identified himself as a former family business owner and a teacher for 12 years questioned the effectiveness of tax abatements and breaks on job creation.

One questioner criticized the state’s economic forecasts, calling for an honest assessment, perhaps by different company. It has been the case that over the past year or so, actual revenues have been significantly less than forecast. Brunk responded that the projections are developed by economists from state universities. It should be noted that economic forecasting is very difficult, and very few people foresaw the tremendous decline in the nation’s and state’s economies. If someone could forecast these things with certainty, they could make trades in financial markets that would generate very high returns.

Analysis

Regarding the claim that business tax cuts are costing the state too much lost revenue: The problem with this analysis is that it presumes that the government has first claim on the income of businesses — and people too, for that matter. Those who believe in the principle of self-ownership, meaning that people own themselves and the things they produce, have a problem with this attitude.

I fully agree with the critics of targeted tax breaks. The state, as do all governments, has a poor record of being able to choose which companies or class of companies should benefit from special tax treatment and subsidy. A report by the Division of Legislative Post Audit from 2008 found that “it’s difficult to accurately assess the results of economic development expenditures.” Overall, the report was skeptical of the expenditures on economic development and its ability to produce jobs.

The school spending lobby, hungry for more tax dollars, refuses to acknowledge simple facts. The existence of the unspent fund balances is vigorously disputed, even though Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis has said that schools can use these funds if they want. This is contrary to school spending advocate and Kansas school board member David Dennis in his flawed Wichita Eagle op-ed.

The schools also have no explanation for why the unspent balances in the funds grow rapidly, from $74 million to $94 million over the last four years for the Wichita school district. Instead, the schools would rather be left alone and unaccountable. Hopefully some initiatives in the legislature, such as the common accounting requirements, will lead to greater transparency and accountability.

The school spending lobby must also face the fact that the Kansas state achievement tests, which show large increases in school performance, are almost certainly fraudulent, as is the case in most states. The link between the huge increase in Kansas school spending and these test scores is used as an argument not to cut schools spending.

We also saw again the school spending lobby’s claim that restricted funds don’t count, as though schools are totally hamstrung when it comes to this money.

The contentiousness in the audience between the school spending lobby and the rest of the audience should lead us to question why we turn over such an important matter to government.

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for March 5, 2010.

Teacher Tenure Under Review In Effort to Reduce School Costs

(State of the State KS) “A House committee heard testimony on a bill Wednesday that would lengthen the period of time public school teachers must work to five years before eligible for tenure.”

KPERS Committee Considers Early Retirement for Employees To Save Money

(State of the State KS) “The House KPERS committee considered a bill Tuesday that would encourage early retirement for some government workers to save costs.”

Kansas Democrats Focus on 2010 Elections at Washington Days

(State of the State KS) “Kansas Democrats gathered to celebrate and campaign at Friday and Saturday’s Washington Days in Topeka.”

Smoking ban proponents pull out bag of tricks to get bill passed, casino exemption included

(Kansas Liberty) “In the near future, Kansas residents will be forced to comply with a statewide smoking ban, which has received the support of both chambers of the Kansas Legislature. Today, the House voted 68-54 to concur with the conference committee agreement reached between select members of the House and the Senate.”

Day-care bill puts too much government in the home, opponents say

(Kansas Liberty) “Tammi Hill, owner of the Peace of Mind Home Child Care Center in Olathe, has been brought to tears of frustration over a new piece of legislation which is currently in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. Senate Bill 447 would create several new restrictions for day care providers, including regulations on how long children can take using the bathroom, how long a provider can speak with a parent, and how long a provider can spend with any inspector that may drop by the ensure the care center is in compliance with regulations.”

Cigarette tax increases reported to bring negative outcomes

(Kansas Liberty) “Americans for Prosperity-Kansas has launched a new web page dedicated to informing Kansas residents about how an increased cigarette tax could cost the state revenue, instead of bringing in additional revenue as suggested by the Democrats.”

Wichita School Board Attempts to Explain Budget, Seeks Priorities

(Kansas Watchdog) “About 400 people attended a Board Night Out at Wichita’s West High School Monday evening. A similar number attended another forum at Wichita’s Southeast High School. USD259 Wichita Board of Education President Barbara Fuller, board member Lanora Nolan and Superintendent John Allison attended the West High gathering and offered their assessments of the decisions facing the district because of the ongoing state budget crisis.”

Tiahrt, Others Exonerated in Ethics Probe

(Kansas Watchdog) “The Associated Press is reporting that Kansas Congressman Todd Tiahrt has been exonerated in an ethics probe of his connections with defense lobbying firm PMA and its clients. The probe found no violations by Tiahrt or five other members of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The late John Murtha (D-Pa.) topped the list of who received large donations from PMA Group and its clients and steered earmarks to PMA clients.”

Kansas revenues sag deeper into crisis territory

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – February’s $71 million tax collection shortfall dropped Kansas revenues for the month deeper into budget crisis territory, legislative researchers reported Thursday.”

Kansas’ bid for federal school money rejected

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas’ first round application for a slice of $4.35 billion in new federal education stimulus money has been rejected, but education officials say they plan to try again in a second round next June. The Kansas State Department of Education said it learned Thursday that it is not among 16 finalists selected to receive grants under the Obama administration’s Race to the Top plan for educational reform.”

Kansas tax committee sends $169 million increase to House

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas House Taxation Committee members reluctantly voted Tuesday to raise $169 million in new taxes by requiring homeowners and renters to a pay 5.3 percent sales tax on their water, electric and natural gas bills that are now tax-exempt.”

Costly Kansas tax credit needs more money, panel told

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – A controversial business tax credit once flagged as a drain on Kansas’ budget needs more money to help create jobs in Kansas, backers told a Kansas House Taxation committee Wednesday. Opponents, however, argued that removing a state lid on Kansas Historical Preservation tax credits, which last year were lopped by more than half their previous levels, would perpetuate the inefficient use of taxpayer money and give the recipients an unfair advantage over competitors who aren’t similarly subsidized.”

Foster care system criticized, defended

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “Sadie Carpenter said no one ever told her why she and her husband weren’t allowed to adopt their great granddaughter. Marilyn Dilley said she and her husband were never told why they couldn’t adopt a boy they’d cared for as foster parents.”

AFP-Kansas launches website about tobacco taxes

Following is a press release from Americans for Prosperity, Kansas chapter.

TOPEKA, KAN. – The Kansas chapter of the grassroots group Americans for Prosperity is working to educate Kansans on the effects of tobacco tax increases on Kansas businesses by creating a new Web site, StopTheWarOnSmokers.Com.

Gov. Mark Parkinson last month proposed a cigarette tax increase of 55 cents per pack, raising the rate from its current 79 cents per pack to $1.34 per pack.

“History has shown us that raising the cigarette tax has not increased the revenues coming into the state over the long run,” said AFP-Kansas state director Derrick Sontag. “There may be an initial boost, but with nearby states like Missouri only adding a 17-cent tax per pack, more Kansas smokers are likely to cross the state line to purchase cigarettes.

“This means Kansas retailers are losing out on those sales, as well as the sales of other items smokers may purchase when buying tobacco products.”

Economist Patrick Fleenor of Fiscal Economics has prepared a study, “Masters of Tax Avoidance: Kansans and the Cigarette Excise, 1927-2009,” which outlines the state’s history of taxes on tobacco. It illustrates the problems the state runs into when taxes are raised too high on items such as cigarettes, and the lengths to which citizens will go to avoid paying that additional tax.

“In looking at our state’s history with cigarette taxes, it is apparent raising these taxes does not serve as a deterrent from smoking,” Sontag said. “It also makes little sense to try to raise revenues from cigarettes when just yesterday the Kansas Legislature approved a ban on smoking in public places.

“Additionally, we know the revenues have dwindled not long after the cigarette taxes increased in the past, so it’s simply unwise for our state government to depend on such an unreliable revenue stream.”

For more information on Kansas cigarette/tobacco taxes, or to read Fleenor’s study, visit www.stopthewaronsmokers.com.

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for February 22, 2010.

Proponents of bill want to force ‘charity’

(Kansas Liberty) “Kansas hospitals say they have been stepping up to the plate and helping individuals with their health bills, but left-wing organizations say the goodwill assistance needs to be required by law.”

Senate kills attempt to abolish death penalty

(Kansas Liberty) “The Kansas Senate deliberated today for several hours on whether to repeal the state’s death penalty. Much of the debate focused on how legislators’ religion played into their decision to either support or oppose the legislation and whether the families of victims sought the death penalty for offenders.”

Unelected SOS to make crucial appointment in 2010

(Kansas Liberty) “Because of the timing of former Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh’s resignation, the person Gov. Mark Parkinson appoints to replace Thornburgh will have the ability to make an appointment of his own, in addition to serving on the state’s three-member canvassing board.”

Kansas Senator Tom Holland Announces Democratic Bid For Governor

(State of the State KS) “Kansas Senator Tom Holland (D) announced his bid to become the next Governor of Kansas on Wednesday.”

Water Conservation Raises Concern of Stockpiling for Financial Gain

(State of the State KS) “A water conservation effort raised concerns over hording of water for financial gain when other businesses around the state could put the water to use.”

Tea Party Activists Vet Candidates at Winter Rally

(State of the State KS) “Republican and Libertarian candidates campaign for votes with Tea Party activists on Saturday in Wichita.”

Texting ban passes Senate

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “TOPEKA – The Kansas Senate has approved a ban on sending text messages and e-mails while driving. The Senate approved Senate Bill 351 by a margin of 34-6 after making the penalty for a first-time offense a $100 fine. Use of a hands-free cellular telephone while driving would not be an offense and e-mailing or texting would be allowed in emergencies.”

Child welfare hearings rescheduled

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “TOPEKA – Blame it on the blizzard. The chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee said he had to reschedule a series of hearings on child welfare issues because he couldn’t reach the featured speakers, both of whom work in Washington, D.C.”

Bankers see bleak job prospects for Kansans

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Prospects for Kansas’ and the Midwest’s struggling economies took a turn for the worse in February on bleaker jobs prospsects, according to a monthly survey of bank executives. The Rural Mainstreet Index, an economic barometer for small town economies in 11 Midwestern states, dropped to 36.6 in February from 41.1 in January, primarily because of an expected drop in new job opportunities, reports Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, one of the creators of of the monthly survey.”

Kansas needs stronger plan for tax breaks, audit finds

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas needs a stronger system for determining when to grant tax breaks to a wide variety of charities, public service groups, business development organizations and others, say two state audits released Wednesday.”

Audit: Redrawing court districts would save millions

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Crunching Kansas’ 31 state judicial districts into 13 potentially would save the state about $6.2 million annually, legislative auditors told the Kansas House Appropriations Committee Tuesday.”

Smoking Ban Advocate Says Some Claims Just Smoke

(Kansas Watchdog) “Opponents to a statewide total smoking ban say anti-tobacco advocates are playing a little loose with their facts. They have an unlikely ally in Michael Siegel, a medical doctor and professor of community health sciences at Boston University’s School of Public Health. He’s a long-standing anti-tobacco advocate, a proponent of smoking bans and a strong critic of bad science.”

Schools for Fair Funding Proceeds with Lawsuit; Permits No-notice Meetings

(Kansas Watchdog) “NEWTON – Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF) voted today to proceed with a lawsuit seeking an increase in state education funding. Today’s meeting was the first since the Kansas Supreme Court’s rejection last week of the group’s petition to reopen the Montoy case mandating increased funding for K-12 public education. The group also made several changes to its bylaws, including one that allows an expanded board of directors to hold unannounced meetings.”

Kansas Supreme Court Justice asks Ethics Commission for opinion

(Kansas Watchdog) “TOPEKA – On Wednesday Kansas Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier asked the Ethics Commission whether the retention election for the position of Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court was governed by the Kansas Campaign Finance Act. One member of the commission commented about the irony of a Supreme Court justice asking for an opinion in a legal matter.”

Government payrolls show continuing, long-term growth as private sector jobs decline

(Kansas Watchdog) “Kansas continues to lose private sector jobs as it adds more taxpayer-funded government jobs, a trend mirrored at the national level. The private sector lost 57,900 jobs between December 2007 and December 2009 while government added 3,200 jobs in Kansas according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Local government grew the most over the two years, adding 2,000 jobs for a total of 182,900 jobs in the state, followed closely by the federal government which added 1,900 jobs for a total of 26,000. State government jobs decreased by 700 to 53,100 jobs.”

Smoking ban advocate says some claims just smoke

In Kansas, accurate information is sometimes in short supply when talking about smoking bans. From Kansas Watchdog:

Opponents to a statewide total smoking ban say anti-tobacco advocates are playing a little loose with their facts.

They have an unlikely ally in Michael Siegel, a medical doctor and professor of community health sciences at Boston University’s School of Public Health. He’s a long-standing anti-tobacco advocate, a proponent of smoking bans and a strong critic of bad science.

In a story published Feb. 18 on his weblog, “The rest of the Story: Tobacco News Analysis and Commentary,” Seigel wrote, “It is irresponsible to disseminate conclusions that are not supported by any scientific evidence, especially if that information will be used to infringe upon the freedom, autonomy, and rights of individuals.”

Read the entire story at Smoking Ban Advocate Says Some Claims Just Smoke.

Additional coverage of recent legislative testimony on this issue is at Fuzzy “Facts” vs Freedom in Smoking Ban Debate and Smoking Ban Bill Causes Controversy in House Committee.

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for February 16, 2010.

Supreme Court denies motion to reopen Montoy case

(Kansas Liberty) “The Kansas Supreme Court decided today that it would not be reopening the Montoy school funding case. … Reopening the Montoy case would have saved the districts a significant amount of time and money.”

Committee considers school consolidation

(Kansas Liberty) “Small district complains that community economically relies on schools, Representative says towns should not solely rely on taxpayer dollars to function.”

Groups launch government transparency Web page

(Kansas Liberty) “Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute have teamed up to provide an online transparency tool that will allow Kansas residents to see exactly how the government uses their taxpayer dollars.”

Joe the Plumber Campaigns For 4th Dist. Candidate Jim Anderson

(State of the State KS) “Joe ‘The Plumber’ Wurzelbacher talks about his role in the 2008 Presidential election and why he is endorsing 4th Congressional District candidate Jim Anderson (R).”

Senate Education Debates Catastrophic Aid For School Districts

(State of the State KS) “The Senate Education Committee debated changes to catastrophic aid for school districts after claims jumped to $12 million in 2009 and are estimated to be $47 million this year.”

Rep. Jim Ward Discusses Education Funding and Budget Solutions

(State of the State KS) “Rep. Jim Ward (D) talks about budget options. He is the House Assistant Minority Leader.”

House panel rejects proposed tax-break moratorium

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas House Taxation committee members rejected a state panel’s recommended three-year moratorium on new sales, property and other tax exemptions.”

Sales tax plan hurts low income Kansans, critics say

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – A Kansas panel’s proposal to streamline sales tax exemptions in the state would hurt many of the state’s most fragile citizens, critics told state legislators.”

Supreme Court denies schools’ bid to reopen funding suit

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas’ Supreme Court Friday rejected a request by 74 Kansas schools to reopen a landmark school financing case and allow the schools to seek a reversal of recent state school funding cuts.”

House committee rejects moratorium on tax credits or exemptions

(Kansas Health Institute news service) “TOPEKA – The House Taxation Committee concluded hearings Tuesday on a bill that would repeal sales tax exemptions for non-profits and charities and eliminate the state exemption on the sale of residential utilities.”

People who lost state-funded social services tell their stories

(Kansas Health Institute news service) “TOPEKA – Daniel Perez is a single parent. His 18-year-old son, Danny, is severely autistic. When left alone, Danny will spend hours crinkling cellophane. ‘It’s what he likes to do,’ his father said.”

Government payrolls show continuing, long-term growth as private sector jobs decline

(Kansas Watchdog) “Kansas continues to lose private sector jobs as it adds more taxpayer-funded government jobs, a trend mirrored at the national level. The private sector lost 57,900 jobs between December 2007 and December 2009 while government added 3,200 jobs in Kansas according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).”

Fuzzy “Facts” vs Freedom in Smoking Ban Debate

(Kansas Watchdog) “There’s almost no debate that smoking is unhealthy, but there’s plenty of debate about whether and how to implement a statewide ban on smoking in public to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke. Interested citizens, lobbyists and speakers filled the Health and Human Services hearing room in the Docking building Wednesday.”

LPA School Consolidation Audit Points the Way for Savings

(Kansas Watchdog) “Monday’s Legislative Post Audit school consolidation report found the state could save as much as $138 million per year by consolidating smaller school districts. … Several district superintendents filed objections to the report, most citing a desire for local control of consolidation decisions and a desire to avoid the challenges of working with other districts. LPA auditors stated, ‘None of the issues they raised prohibit consolidation.'”

An inept Kansas smoking analogy

From last March.

In today’s Wichita Eagle, Wichita busybody Charlie Claycomb makes another inept analogy in an attempt to press his anti-smoking agenda statewide.

A while back he tried to compare a smoking section in a restaurant with a urinating section in a swimming pool. This is ridiculous to the extreme, as I show in the post It’s not the same as pee in the swimming pool.

Now in today’s letter in the Eagle, Claycomb says that although the United States Constitution gives us the right to bear arms, since that right is heavily regulated, government has license to regulate smoking, as smoking isn’t mentioned at all in the Constitution.

Here’s why this is another ridiculous analogy (without conceding whether the regulations on arms are justified or effective): A person in, say, a bar that’s carrying a gun can’t be detected as you enter the bar. You just can’t tell upon entering an establishment whether someone has a concealed gun and intends to cause harm to patrons. This is the case even if there’s a law prohibiting carrying guns into bars, and even if the bar has a “no guns” sign.

But you sure can tell if people are smoking.

Smoking ban supporters might argue that since there may be smoking in some establishments, my rights are being infringed since I can’t patronize those places without exposing myself to harmful smoke.

That’s true, except about rights being violated. There’s definitely no right in the Constitution to be able to go everywhere you want on your own terms.

“Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.” — John Stuart Mill

“Whenever we depart from voluntary cooperation and try to do good by using force, the bad moral value of force triumphs over good intentions.” — Milton Friedman

It’s not the same as pee in the swimming pool

A repeat of a column from 2008. Mark McCormick no longer writes for the Wichita Eagle. Recently that newspaper concluded that because Wichita’s smoking ban caused no economic harm, it was a good thing to do. Let’s hope this regulatory zeal doesn’t spread to other areas.

In a column in the February 27, 2008 Wichita Eagle (“Smoking ban issue not one to negotiate”), columnist Mark McCormick quotes Charlie Claycomb, co-chair of Tobacco Free Wichita, equating a smoking section in a restaurant with “a urinating section in a swimming pool.”

This is a ridiculous comparison. A person can’t tell upon entering a swimming pool if someone has urinated in it. But people can easily tell upon entering a restaurant or bar if people are smoking.

Besides this, Mr. McCormick’s article seeks to explain how markets aren’t able to solve the smoking problem, and that there is no negotiating room, no middle ground. There must be a smoking ban, he concludes.

As way of argument, McCormick claims, I think, that restaurants prepare food in sanitary kitchens only because of government regulation, not because of markets. We see, however, that food is still being prepared in unsanitary kitchens, and food recalls, even in meat processing plants where government inspectors are present every day, still manage to happen. So government regulation itself is not a failsafe measure.

Despite the doubts of nanny-state regulators, markets — that is, consumers — exert powerful forces on businesses. If a restaurant serves food that makes people ill, which do you think the restaurant management fears most: a government fine, or the negative publicity? Restaurants live and die by their reputation. Those that serve poor quality food or food that makes people ill will suffer losses, not as much from government regulation as from the workings of markets.

But I will grant that McCormick does have a small point here. Just by looking at food, you probably can’t tell if it’s going to make you ill. Someone’s probably going to need to get sick before the word gets out.

But you easily can tell if someone’s smoking in the bar or restaurant you just entered.

The problem with a smoking ban written into law — rather than reliance on markets and individual choice — is that everyone has to live by the same rules. Living by the same rules is good when the purpose is to keep people and their property safe from harm, as is the case with laws against theft and murder. But it’s different when we pass laws intended to keep people safe from harms that they themselves can easily avoid, just by staying out of those places where people are smoking.

For the people who value being in the smoky place more than they dislike the negative effects of the smoke, they can make that decision. McCormick and Claycomb want to deny people that choice.

This is not a middle-ground position. It is a position that respects the individual. It lets each person have what they individually prefer, rather than having a majority — no matter how lop-sided — make the same decision for everyone. Especially when that decision, as Claycomb stated in another Wichita Eagle article, will “tick off everybody.” Who benefits from a law that does that?

Kansas can’t afford a cigarette tax hike

This is a repost from 2008. The issues are the same, except this time it is Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson recommending an increase in cigarette taxes, and it is $.55 per pack instead of $.75.

Research & Commentary: Kansas Can’t Afford A Cigarette Tax Hike
By John Nothdurft, Legislative Specialist at The Heartland Institute

The Kansas Health Policy Authority’s recommendation to use a 75-cent cigarette tax increase to pay for health costs should be worrisome — not only to smokers, but also to non-smokers and fiscally responsible legislators as well.

The approach may seem appealing at first, but such tax increases are notoriously unpredictable and regressive. Funding a high-profile need such as health care with a cigarette tax increase is particularly hazardous because it ties an inherently unstable tax to an increase in government spending.

A big question mark hovers over how much revenue the proposed cigarette tax hike would actually bring into the state’s coffers. According to the Center for Policy Research of New Jersey, since that state’s cigarette tax was raised 17.5 cents two years ago, the state has actually lost $46 million in tax revenue.

Many other states have seen lower-than-projected revenue returns after cigarette tax hikes were put in place. This is a result of the general decline in tobacco use nationwide, cross-border shopping, Internet sales, smuggling, and other factors that are causing cigarette tax revenue streams to flatten.

If Kansas legislators were to hike cigarette taxes to fund health care programs, they soon would be stuck having to choose between rolling back the funding for health care or raising other taxes. A recent National Taxpayers Union study found legislators usually do the latter. “Taxpayers face a seven out of 10 chance of seeing another net annual tax hike within two years of a tobacco tax hike,” the group reported.

Cigarette tax increases also unduly burden low-income taxpayers and punish local businesses.

The following articles offer additional information on cigarette tax hikes.

Cigarette Tax Hikes Burn Hole in State Coffers
Gregg M. Edwards, president of the Center for Policy Research of New Jersey, an independent nonprofit organization that addresses public policy issues facing New Jersey, reports how his organization found that New Jersey brought in less revenue after its cigarette tax hike than was coming in before it was implemented.

Debunking the “Tax Thee, But Not Me” Myth: Five Reasons Why Non-Smokers Should Oppose High Tobacco Taxes
According to the National Taxpayers Union, “the per-capita state and local tax burden in high-tobacco tax states is 8 percent above the national average, while the general tax bill for residents of low-tobacco tax states is 15 percent below the national average.”

Poor Smokers, Poor Quitters, and Cigarette Tax Regressivity
Dr. Dahlia Remler, with the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, rebuts the argument that cigarette taxes are not regressive.

Tax Hikes Often Fail to Generate Expected Revenues
Economists warn tobacco taxes are an unpredictable source of revenue.

Six Reasons Not to Raise Tobacco Taxes
Economist Dr. William Anderson of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs outlines six pitfalls of higher cigarette taxes.

Tobacco: Regulation and Taxation through Litigation
Professor Kip Viscusi breaks down the social costs of smoking, taking into consideration a wide array of factors including health costs, sick leave, and the lower pension and nursing home care costs incurred by smokers.

Cigarette Tax Burns the Poor
David Tuerck, professor of economics and executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, outlines how cigarette taxes unfairly burden low-income earners.

Cigarette Taxes Are Fueling Organized Crime
Patrick Fleenor, chief economist for the Tax Foundation, shows high cigarette taxes have fueled organized crime and a profitable black market in New York.

Cigarette Tax Burnout
Last year Maryland increased its cigarette tax to $2 a pack in order to fund health care … but now the state’s budget is facing a billion-dollar shortfall. This article outlines the budget mess that always results when states rely on cigarette tax revenues even as smoking rates decline.

Smoking is healthier than fascism

There’s a Facebook group named Vote NO on Statewide Smoking Ban (Smoking is healthier than fascism). Started by Wichita activist Wendy Aylworth, the description of the group starts with the rallying cry “We must stop this tyranny of the majority!”

Yes, we must.

I’m tempted to tell you — like many people do when discussing matters of public policy — whether I smoke cigarettes. But does that matter?

It shouldn’t, because if it does, we shift the basis of policy decisions from “what is right and just and promotes freedom and liberty” to “what is my personal preference.” And there’s too much of that going on.

Smoking bans are only the start of increased government regulation of more and more aspects of our lives. These things can backfire. As government control becomes more pervasive, smoking ban busybodies may well find themselves coming under onerous regulation that they don’t like. Once started, it’s hard for government to stop.

We ought to remember the words of C.S. Lewis: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

For more articles from this site on smoking bans and the harm they cause, click here.

The myth of the smoking ban ‘miracle’

Supporters of comprehensive bans on smoking often point to research findings that heart attacks decrease when smoking bans are implemented. But is this true? Christopher Snowdon reports in Spiked online:

Tales of heart attacks being “slashed” by smoking bans have appeared with such regularity in recent years that it is easy to forget that there is a conspicuous lack of reliable evidence to support them. It is almost as if the sheer number of column inches is a substitute for proof.

Later on he concludes:

What is abundantly clear in each case is that the number of heart attack admissions has been falling for some time. Far from causing further dramatic cuts in heart attack rates, the bans had no discernible effect.

If we’re going to cite public health as a reason for smoking bans, let’s make sure we’re working with complete and reliable scientific evidence. Snowdon’s full article is The myth of the smoking ban ‘miracle’.

Kansas governor proposes taxes, smoking ban, green energy projects

Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson‘s State of the State address Monday proposed two new taxes, a comprehensive statewide smoking ban, and a cabinet team to promote green energy projects. He didn’t propose closing tax exemptions, and he made no mention of an available method that could help Kansas make it through a fiscal shortfall.

The complete text of the governor’s address, as prepared for delivery, is available at Protecting What We Have, Building for the Future.

What’s missing from the governor’s address is recognition that the state is sitting on hundreds of millions of unused cash that could be tapped to get the state through a tough spot. The Kansas Policy Institute has performed research and analysis that indicates that by spending down these fund balances, Kansas schools and agencies could continue delivering services without requiring a tax increase.

In his response to the governor, which was recorded before the governor spoke, Speaker of the House Mike O’Neil opposed tax increases. He didn’t mention the fund balances.

Instead of making use of an untapped resource, the governor proposed tax increases. In particular, the governor proposed taxes that fall hardest on poor and low income people.

His proposed cigarette tax falls hardest on low-income people, as they smoke proportionally more than high-income people, and spend proportionally more of their income on cigarettes.

The increase in sales tax again falls most harshly on low income people, as they spend nearly all their income. Wealthier people may save a lot of their income, and saving isn’t subject to sales taxes, at least not for now. Purchasers of stocks and bonds don’t pay sales tax.

Although the sales tax is proposed to last just three years (the bulk of it, anyway; two-tenths of a cent is proposed as a permanent tax to fund a highway plan), there is a definite risk that these taxes become permanent. The Intrust Bank Arena, which just opened in downtown Wichita, was funded by a temporary sales tax. That tax ended as scheduled, but there were those — including at least one officeholder — who wanted the tax to continue.

At the same time the governor proposes to raise money through increased taxation of cigarettes, he also proposes a comprehensive statewide smoking ban. This is at cross purposes. Does the governor want people to smoke or not?

It will also be interesting to see how comprehensive any proposed smoking ban legislation will be. The ban proposed last year exempted state-owned casinos like the one that recently opened in Dodge City.

The governor didn’t address eliminating the many tax exemptions, which the Secretary of Revenue is promoting as a way to raise perhaps $200 million per year in revenue.

The governor didn’t mention Schools for Fair Funding’s decision to sue the state for more school spending.

In his address, O’Neil said that Kansas families and businesses are struggling and making sacrifices.

While tax revenue to the state has fallen, demand for government spending has continued. Raising taxes now near the end of a recession, he said, is short-sighted and counterproductive. It is not prudent to raise taxes. “Raising taxes now in the middle of a severe recession would mean losing tax-paying businesses that are already struggling to survive.” Loss of these businesses and their employees would make the fiscal situation worse, he said.

This applies to either new taxes or to the elimination of tax incentives. Either would harm growth and reduce capital that businesses need. “Simply put: Kansas businesses can’t pay more unless they make more.” While a tax hike may be attractive in the sort term, increasing taxes is harmful in the long run.

O’Neil said it’s a false choice to either allow business to keep its money or fund government’s obligations. Business must be strong if government is to be fiscally sound. If business grows and prospers, the state’s fiscal situation will improve.

O’Neil said the 2010 legislature will thoroughly examine all spending to make sure that government is operating efficiently, and is spending only on those things necessary to fulfill the legitimate role of government.

He supported a budget stabilization process — by constitutional amendment if necessary. He said we should work towards using zero-based budgeting. More audits are needed, and he reminded us that Kansas used to have a state auditor.

On education funding, O’Neil said that when all sources of funding are considered, schools have been cut less than 1.5% on average, and schools are receiving more funding than in fiscal year 2008. The school funding lawsuit is irresponsible, he said. K through 12 education cuts have not been as severe as cuts to other state agencies.

Wichita-area legislators hear a variety of issues

Last night, members of the South-central Kansas legislative delegation heard from citizens in a meeting at the Sedgwick County Courthouse. The 2010 Kansas legislative session starts next week.

Greg Dye of Wichita spoke on the Bank of North Dakota. He says that Kansas should have such a state bank, which would require an amendment to the Kansas Constitution. He also said that states should seek to remove themselves from the control of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Several speakers, including Wichitan Mark Gietzen, who is president of the Kansas Coalition for Life, asked legislators to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. He thanked legislators for passing such a law, and said it was unfortunate that the governor vetoed that bill. He said that Planned Parenthood has plenty of funds, and taxpayer money should not be used to fund organizations that provide abortions.

Allegations of problems with the child protection system in Kansas is usually an issue at these meetings. One speaker said he spent time in jail because of false accusations of a Sedgwick County family law judge. It’s driven by money, he said, in that when a child is judged to be a “child in need of care” the state gets money.

Another speaker said that “every child is nothing but a dollar sign to the system” and made allegations of inappropriate postings on Facebook by SRS attorneys.

Marlene Jones spoke on child issues, citing the Kansas Legislative Post Audit study of 2009 that found that “58 percent of the social workers in Sedgwick County were being pressured by the Sedgwick County DA’s office to include distorted, falsified facts to remove children.” She referenced recent hearings in Topeka where SRS Secretary Don Jordan stated that Kansas’ reunification rate of children with parents is 25 percent, which Jordan also said is the same as the national average. But Jones said that according to HHS statistics, the national average is in fact 52 percent, making Kansas’ average less than half that. Jones said that Sedgwick County’s rate of reunification is only 15 percent. Families of the other 85 percent, therefore, are emotionally and financially destroyed trying to attempt to get their children back, “not knowing that there was never any possibility of that happening.” She urged accountability. There is video of Jones’ testimony.

Kip Schroeder of Wichita acknowledged the difficult job the legislators perform. Over the past ten years, he said, Kansas has lost 17,200 private sector jobs. During the same time Kansas added 20,200 public sector employees, which he said makes it difficult to maintain a balanced budget. He asked that legislators not raise taxes under any circumstances.

Judicial corruption was the topic of several speakers. A citizens’ grand jury, an ombudsman, or some type of outside entity is asked for as a way to investigate this alleged corruption. It’s requested that Jim Morrison, a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives from Colby and chair of the Government Efficiency and Fiscal Oversight Committee, be given subpoena power to compel testimony under oath.

One speaker suggested a constitutional amendment that would require citizen election of supreme court judges, saying that would cause attorneys and judges to expose each others’ corruption as part of a campaign for election.

Others allege that Blackwater contractors working for the CIA are in Wichita conducting illegal surveillance and killing people in Wichita hospitals, because they were fighting for justice.

Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute presented testimony about how Kansas can make it through the current financial situation without raising taxes or cutting essential services. His remarks may be read by clicking on Solution to Kansas budget crisis offered.

John Todd of Wichita asked legislators to forgo tax increases. “This is not a time to raise taxes on businesses and families that are struggling to pay their bills and trying to maintain their jobs. Economic recovery will come from the private sector, particularly small businesses that don’t need a rollback of hard-fought tax relief gained in previous legislative sessions.” He also recommended legislative approval of appointments to the Kansas Supreme Court, no seat belt requirements or smoking bans, and passage of the state sovereignty resolution (Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1615).

KCTU Television’s R.J. Dickens presented a colorful argument for a “real person law,” which would require companies to make it easier to talk to actual customer service persons on the telephone. “We have the right to contact with other human beings in a timely manner,” he said. He added that the Kansas Corporation Commission has fined Kansas utility companies for not answering telephones quickly enough.

Kelly Wendeln spoke on the topic of wind power versus coal generation of electricity. He named all the area legislators who voted against the expansion of the Holcomb Station coal-fired electric plant in Western Kansas.

Gordon Bakken asked legislators to legalize marijuana, saying that enforcement of the marijuana prohibition laws creates more problems than the drug itself.

Joel Weihe of Wichita spoke on downtown Wichita development and revitalization. He asked that legislators turn down requests for tax credits as a Wichita downtown development tool. He said that only a small number of developers benefit from these subsidies. Also the subsidies let government pick winners and losers, and therefore creates an unlevel playing field.

Other coverage is from the Wichita Eagle at Sedgwick Co. residents tell legislators not to raise taxes, Kansas Watchdog at Wichita-area Legislators Hear From Citizens Before Session Starts, State of the state Kansas at Kansas Legislators Hear Capitol Preview, KWCH at Kansas Lawmakers Hear From Citizens, and KAKE at Lawmakers Hear From Citizens Before Heading To Capitol.

Analysis

The attendance by legislators this year was noticeably lower than in recent years. There were some new voices in the audience this year, but many of the speakers are familiar to the legislators from previous appearances.

Some speakers in these forums and other similar situations demand that legislators “do their jobs” and work for the people, or something similar to that. The problem, however, is that there is a great diversity of opinion on what it means to “work for the people.”

The allegations of widespread corruption in Kansas state and local governments may contain a seed of merit. But sometimes people, after they’ve lost their cases in court or the legislature doesn’t agree with their positions or requests, declare corruption as the reason for their loss. Followers of this blog know that the city council, county commission, school board, Kansas legislature, and United States Congress rarely agree with the positions that I believe in and advocate. I believe that most of these politicians and officeholders are simply misinformed about issues, or that they don’t believe in freedom, liberty, and limited government as I do. It doesn’t mean they’re corrupt. They’re just wrong.