Tag Archives: Taxation

Beware of government arts spending

Art is too important to be dependent on politicians and injecting politics into anything inevitably tarnishes it, writes Lawrence W. Reed of Foundation for Economic Education.

Economist Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

While in Wichita Reed appeared on WichitaLiberty.TV in this episode. An abridged version of the following appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Beware of Government Arts Spending
By Lawrence W. Reed

While visiting Wichita in October, I learned that city government subsidies for the arts is a local, contentious issue. I’d like to offer a perspective: Don’t do it. Art is too important to be dependent on politicians and injecting politics into anything inevitably tarnishes it.

Proponents of art subsidies argue that because a large majority of people enjoy art and even personally engage in it, it’s therefore a government responsibility. But even larger majorities of people enjoy things like clothing, pets and good movies; this fact is actually an argument for government to butt out and stick to doing its proper duties.

Lawrence W. Reed
Lawrence W. Reed
Those “studies” that purport to show X return on Y amount of government arts spending are a laughingstock among economists. The numbers are cooked and almost never compared to alternative uses of tax money. Even less frequently do subsidy advocates consider what people might choose to do if their earnings weren’t taxed away in the first place.

Every interest group with a claim on the treasury argues that spending for its projects produces some magical “multiplier” effect. Routing other people’s money through politicians and bureaucracy is supposed to somehow magnify wealth, while leaving it in the pockets of those who earned it is somehow a drag. Assuming for a moment that such preposterous claims are correct, wouldn’t it then make sense to direct all income through the government?

What if “public investment” simply displaces a certain amount of private investment? Arts subsidy advocates never raise this issue, but I know that I personally am far less likely to make a charitable donation to something I know is on the dole than to something that depends on the good hearts of willing givers.

What if I, as a taxpayer, could keep what the government would otherwise spend on the arts and invest it in my child’s education and get twice the return than the government would ever get on the arts? The more that government takes, the less we can purchase of the things we value, including tickets to the theatre or a concert.

Money which comes voluntarily from the heart is more meaningful than money that comes at gunpoint (taxes). For that reason I don’t believe in either arts welfare or shotgun marriages. There’s an endless list of desirable, enriching things, very few of which carry a tag that says, “Must be provided by taxes and politicians.”

If we don’t rob Peter the worker to pay Paul the artist, perhaps Paul may have to become a better artist or a better marketer of his art, or perhaps find another profession entirely. Welcome, Paul, to the real world of willing customers and earning an honest living.

Decoding Duane Goossen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goossen: “Three credit rating downgrades”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notes

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

How would higher Kansas taxes help?

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

Are low taxes important to an economy, especially a state economy? When the Tax Foundation looked at the issue, it concluded this: “In this review of the literature, I find twenty-six such studies going back to 1983, and all but three of those studies, and every study in the last fifteen years, find a negative effect of taxes on growth.”1

Per-capita tax collections, Kansas and nearby states. Click for larger.
Per-capita tax collections, Kansas and nearby states. Click for larger.
Many of these studies concerned the national economy and taxes, but some looked at state taxes. When we look at Kansas, we see that Kansas already taxes and spends quite a lot, compared to other states. Nearby is a chart showing per-capita state tax collections in Kansas and Colorado.2

State and Local Government Employee and Payroll. Click for larger.
State and Local Government Employee and Payroll. Click for larger.
Looking at other data, I found that considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.3

State and local government employment and costs, selected states. Click for larger.
State and local government employment and costs, selected states. Click for larger.
From another source of data, I found this: “In the visualization, you can see that Kansas spends quite a bit more than nearby states. Of special interest is Minnesota, which is often used as an example of a high-tax state, and a state with excellent schools and services. But Minnesota spends barely more than Kansas, on a per-person basis. What about Colorado? It seems that Kansans often look to Colorado as a state full of bounty. But Kansas outspends Colorado. Same for New Mexico, Wisconsin, Texas, and — especially — Missouri.”4

Please don’t argue that the economic health of a state is determined by its budget, that is, whether it is balanced or not. And if you want to argue that Kansas has borrowed money through the highway fund and spent it in the general fund: That’s true, and we should not do that. But that action allowed Kansas to keep spending, much like borrowing allows the federal government to keep spending more that it raises through taxes.

Some argue that if the state taxes more, it can spend more, and therefore the economy expands. But: The money taken from Kansans is money that they can’t spend. And if one wants to argue that government spends more carefully and efficiently than do private individuals spending their own money — well, give it a try. Empirically, not many people believe this.

And isn’t government spending the purpose of taxation? Nearby are figures showing Kansas general fund spending. You can see that for two years Kansas spent much more than it collected in revenue, using a large ending balance as the source of funds. If one believes in the Keynesian theory of fiscal effects — which most liberals and progressives do — this “deficit” spending spared spending cuts and therefore boosted the Kansas economy.

Kansas General Fund spending, showing large deficits of revenue compared to spending in 2014 and 2015.
Kansas General Fund spending, showing large deficits of revenue compared to spending in 2014 and 2015.

Regarding the spending cuts that some claim: Have there been severe spending cuts in Kansas? While some programs have been trimmed, overall state spending continues on a largely upward trend (for all funds spending) or remains mostly flat (for general fund spending), after accounting for population and inflation.5

kansas-per-capita-spending-adjusted-for-cpi-2016-10

Kansas revenue estimate errors. Click for larger.
Kansas revenue estimate errors. Click for larger.
We also hear that the Kansas economy is in bad shape because tax revenue has fallen short of estimates. This is not a good indicator of economic health. Instead, it illustrates the difficulty of economic forecasting. Moreover, the negative estimate variances — revenue shortfalls, in other words — in 2002 to 2003 and 2009 to 2010 were generally much larger in magnitude than those of recent years.6 Remember how the Obama administration told us that without the 2009 stimulus package unemployment would rise to a certain level? Well, the stimulus bill passed, we spent the money, and unemployment was higher than what the administration said it would be without the stimulus. And for a long time, too.7

We also hear that transfers from KDOT — the highway fund — have hurt Kansas, especially in construction jobs. Our state’s two largest newspapers recently editorialized on this matter.8 They correctly reported that Kansas construction jobs were down. But it wasn’t highway construction jobs that caused the loss of jobs, except for a very small portion.

KDOT spending on major road programs. Click for larger version.
KDOT spending on major road programs. Click for larger version.
Furthermore, the state has continued to spend on highway programs, without regard to transfers from the highway fund. When we look at actual spending on roads, we see something different from what is often told. KDOT’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows spending in the categories “Preservation” and “Expansion and Enhancement” has grown rapidly over the past five years. Spending in the category “Maintenance” has been level, while spending on “Modernization” has declined. For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2015 totaled $932,666 million, up from a low of $698,770 in fiscal 2010.

We should not borrow money, place it in the highway fund, and then transfer the funds to the general fund, as the state has done for many years. But actual spending on highways has risen, nonetheless.

So: Just how will higher taxes help the Kansas economy?


Notes

  1. McBride, William. What Is the Evidence on Taxes and Growth? Tax Foundation, 2012. http://taxfoundation.org/article/what-evidence-taxes-and-growth.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Tax collections by the states. Interactive visualization. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/tax-collections-states-2/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. State and local government employee and payroll. Interactive visualization. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/state-local-government-employee-payroll/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Kansas, a frugal state? Interactive visualization. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/kansas-frugal-state/
  5. Weeks, Bob. Kansas government spending. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-government-spending-2/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas revenue estimates. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-revenue-estimates/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Brownback and Obama stimulus plans. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/brownback-and-obama-stimulus-plans/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Topeka Capital-Journal falls for a story. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-news-media/topeka-capital-journal-falls-story/.

Kansas Democrats: They don’t add it up — or they don’t tell us

Kansas Democrats (and some Republicans) are campaigning on some very expensive programs, and they’re aren’t adding it up for us.

A sampling of campaign literature from Kansas Democratic candidates in south and west Wichita for the Kansas Legislature1 reveals several common threads:

  • Few will identify themselves as Democrats.
  • Eliminating the LLC loophole is popular.
  • Eliminating or reducing sales tax on food is popular.
  • Eliminating the 2015 sales tax increase is popular.
  • Fully funding schools is popular.
  • None of these show the cost of these ideas, nor do they offer ideas on how to pay for these things, except for eliminating the LLC loophole.

What will these things cost? Here’s some figures.

LLC loophole and food sales tax: This year a bill was proposed in the Kansas Legislature to restore taxation of non-wage business income, that is, to eliminate the so-called “LLC loophole.” It would also reduce the sales tax on food from 6.5 percent to 2.6 percent. The fiscal note for this bill estimated an increase in tax revenue to the state of $260.9 million from the non-wage business income, and a loss of revenue to the state of $234.1 million for the sales tax reduction.2

Extrapolating the food sales tax figures implies that eliminating the sales tax on food would mean a loss of revenue to the state of $435 million, assuming no change in consumer behavior.

Rollback general sales tax: In 2015 when the legislature voted to raise the statewide sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.50 percent on July 1, 2015, it was estimated that revenue to the state would increase by 164.2 million. For fiscal year 2017, by 186.7 million.3

(By the way, the tax on cigarettes was increased by an estimated $40.39 million. If we’re rolling back sales tax increases, we should roll back this 50 cent per pack increase, too. I haven’t seen any advocates for this.)

Fully funding schools: Who knows what “full funding” really means? The Kansas Supreme Court believes it — and it alone — has the ability to put a number on this. A consensus seems to be developing at around $450 million per year in additional school funding is what the court may order.

Adding up the costs (using some numbers a few years old): $260.9 million – $435 million – $164.2 million – $450 million equals -$1,310.1 million in changes to annual general fund revenue. ($-1,350.5 million if we want to be fair to smokers.)

This is the proposed change to Kansas general fund revenue that these candidates omit from their campaigns. It is the amount by which taxes must be raised, or spending be cut (or a combination of taxes and cuts). Some of these numbers are estimates that could be off by a lot. There can be some quibbling, such as reducing the food sales tax instead of eliminating it, which will change the numbers. But there’s no doubt that the plans Kansas Democrats propose will cost a lot of money.

Total revenue to the general fund in 2016 was $6,073.4 million. Major sources include:
Income taxes (individual, corporate, financial institution): $2,640.8 million
Excise taxes (sales, compensating use, cigarette, liquor, severance): $2,927.7 million

So if the state wanted to raise spending by, say, $1.310 billion dollars, it would have to raise income taxes by 49.7 percent, or excise taxes by 44.7 percent. Or a combination. Either way, that’s a lot.

When you see candidates for the Kansas Legislature — Democratic and Republican — mention these programs, ask if they know how much they will cost. Ask whose taxes will be raised or whose programs will be cut.

And ask this really important question: Just how will all this make Kansas a better state?

  1. Photographs of a number of pieces may be viewed in this folder at Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHskMJfGNc.
  2. Kansas Legislature. HB 2444. Eliminating the business non-wage income tax exemption and reducing the sales tax rate on food. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2015_16/measures/hb2444/.
  3. Kansas Legislature. Revenue Enhancements and Other Provisions; Senate Sub. for HB 2109, as amended by House Sub. for SB 270 and HB 2142. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2015_16/measures/documents/summary_hb_2109_2015.pdf.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita and Kansas economics, and government investment

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita sells a hotel, more subsidy for downtown, Kansas newspaper editorialists fall for a lobbyist’s tale, how Kansas can learn from Arizona schools, and government investment. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 131, broadcast October 30, 2016.

Shownotes

Kansas revenue estimates

Kansas revenue estimates are frequently in the news and have become a political issue. Here’s a look at them over the past decades.

A favorite criticism of liberals and progressives across the nation is that in Kansas, actual revenues to the state’s general fund have fallen short of projections, month after month. Reading most newspaper reports and editorials, one might think that these negative variances are a new phenomenon, and one relished by the Left. As many as a dozen articles on this topic have appeared in the New York Times in the past two years.

The revenue estimates in Kansas are produced by a body known as the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group. It consists of one member each from the Division of the Budget, Department of Revenue, Legislative Research Department, and one consulting economist each from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Wichita State University.

As described: “This group meets each spring and fall. Before December 4th, the group makes its initial estimate for the budget year and revises the estimate for the current year. By April 20th, the fall estimate is reviewed, along with any additional data. A revised estimate is published, which the Legislature may use in adjusting expenditures, if necessary.”1

The estimates are important because the legislature and governor are required to use them when formulating budgets and spending plans. If the estimates are high, meaning that revenue is less than expected, it’s possible that the legislature or (more likely) the governor will need to make spending cuts. (The other alternative is that leftover funds from prior years may be used, if available.)

If, on the other hand, the estimates are too low, meaning that revenue is higher than expected, the state has collected too much tax revenue. In this case, the state should refund the excess to taxpayers. Some states do that, notably Colorado, although residents may vote to let the state keep the excess.

Some states have true rainy day funds, and the excess revenue might be used to build that fund’s balance. In a true rainy day fund, the fund’s balances can be spent only under specific sets of circumstances.

But in Kansas, the excess revenue is simply called the “ending balance” and is available to spend at the legislature’s whim. That’s what happened in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, when the state spent $340 million and $308 million, respectively, of the ending balance rather than cut spending.

What has been the history of the revenue estimates compared to actual revenue? First, know that making these estimates is not easy. Some of the inputs to the process include the inflation rate in future years, interest rates in future years, and the prices of oil and natural gas in the future. If someone knew these values with any certainty, they could earn huge profits by trading in futures markets.

The state makes the revenue estimates available.2 I’ve presented the results since 1975 in a chart at the end of this article. For each year, two numbers are presented. One it the difference from the Original Estimate and actual revenue. The other is the difference from the Adjusted Final Estimate and actual revenue.

We can see that in fiscal years 2014 and 2016, the variance of the estimates is negative, meaning that revenue was lower than the estimates. The magnitude of these variances, however, is not out of line with the magnitude of the variances of other years, either positive or negative.

In fact, the negative variances — revenue shortfalls, in other words — in 2002 to 2003 and 2009 to 2010 were generally much larger in magnitude than those of recent years. This is of interest as Duane Goossen, who was budget director during these periods, is a prominent critic of the recent revenue shortfalls. Evidently he has forgotten the difficulty of creating these estimates.

While Goossen along with newspaper reporters and editorialists use the negative revenue estimate variances as a political weapon against the governor and conservatives, it is in the interest of the people of Kansas that revenue estimates be as accurate as possible. In an effort to produce more accurate revenue estimates, Governor Brownback created a commission to study the issue. That group released its report in October.3

Kansas revenue estimate errors. Click for larger.
Kansas revenue estimate errors. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Consensus Revenue Estimating Group. Available at budget.ks.gov/cre.htm.
  2. Kansas Division of the Budget. State General Fund Receipt Revisions for FY 2016 and FY 2017. May 2, 2016. Available at: budget.ks.gov/files/FY2017/CRE_Long_Memo_April2016.pdf. Also Kansas Legislative Research for 2016 figures.
  3. Governor’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Working Group. Final Recommendations. Available at budget.ks.gov/files/FY2017/cre_workgroup_report.pdf.

Kansas tax receipts

Kansas tax receipts by category, presented in an interactive visualization.

The Kansas Division of the Budget publishes monthly statistics regarding tax collections. These figures have been gathered and are presented in an interactive visualization. In the visualization, there are these available tabs:

Table.s: A table of data. For each month the two data items supplied by the state are the actual value and the estimated. This table also holds the computed variance, or difference, between the actual value and the estimated value. A positive number means the actual value was greater than the estimated value.

Collections: Shows monthly collections for each component. Because monthly numbers vary widely, this data is presented as the moving average of the previous 12 months.

Annual Change: Shows the change from the same month of the previous year. A positive value means the value for this month is greater than the same month last year.

Estimates: The Governor’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Working Group provides monthly estimates. This chart shows the variance, or difference, between the actual value and the estimated value. A positive number means the actual value was greater than the estimated value.

Running Total Estimates: This is the cumulative sum of the estimate variances, reset to zero at the start of each fiscal year (July 1).

Running Total Change from Prior Year: This is the cumulative sum of the monthly changes from the prior year, reset to zero at the start of each fiscal year (July 1).

For the past two years, individual income tax collections have been relatively flat. There are variations each month, but overall the trend is slightly up. Corporate income tax collections are on a slight downward trajectory.

Retail sales tax and compensating use tax have been mostly rising for two years. A higher sales tax rate took effect on July 1, 2015, with the rate rising from 6.15 percent to 6.50 percent.

Cigarette taxes have risen rapidly since July 2015 when higher tax rates on these products took effect. The same trend is present in the tobacco products tax.

Severance taxes — tax collected on natural gas and oil as it is extracted from the ground — have been on a downward trend as prices for these produces have fallen. This is a sizable tax. In June 2014 collections of this tax were running at about $143 million per year. For September 2016, the rate is $22 million annually.

Click here to use the visualization.

Source of data is Kansas Division of the Budget.

GetTheFactsKansas launched

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

GetTheFactsKansas.com aims to provide Kansans with factual information about our state. Sometimes this is in short supply, so this effort is welcome.

get-the-facts-kansas-logoAs an example, when explaining school spending, the site notes: “At $13,124 per-pupil, 2015 marked the third consecutive year of record-setting funding according to the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE). And if the Department’s estimates hold, another new record will be set when the 2016 final results are reported. Record funding is not the result of accounting changes; emails from KSDE confirm that no accounting changes impacted state or district funding totals for more than ten years. There was a correction effective in 2015 when the state-mandated 20 mills of property tax began being properly recorded as State Aid instead of Local Aid, but there would have been an increase in State Aid without that change.”

Information like this rebuts two arguments that Kansas progressives use. First, that the increase in school spending is due to a recent change in the way KPERS payments are reported. But, there has been no change in ten years. Second, that the shift in the reporting of local property taxes is used to falsely inflate state spending. As KPI notes, even after adjusting for this change, state funding of schools has risen.

Access the website at GetTheFactsKansas.com and follow its Facebook page at Get The Facts Kansas.

CID and other incentives approved in downtown Wichita

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

Today’s meeting of the Wichita City Council saw the council discuss and approve economic development incentives for a project in downtown Wichita.

The item contemplated economic development incentives for redevelopment of an empty building in downtown Wichita to become a Hilton Garden Inn Hotel. The incentives being considered were a Community Improvement District (CID), Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRB), a parking agreement, and a skywalk easement. The discussion by the council was useful for revealing two members who are opposed to some targeted economic development incentives, but it also showed a troubling lack of knowledge and consideration by others.

Property tax

The hotel is requesting industrial revenue bonds. These bonds do not mean the city is lending any money. Instead, IRBs in Kansas are a mechanism to convey property tax abatements and sales tax exemptions.

The agenda packet for this item states: “[Hotel developer] WDH is not requesting abatement of property taxes in conjunction with the IRBs.”1 This is presented as a magnanimous gesture, as something the hotel developers (WDH) could have requested, but did not, presumably out of some sort of civic duty.

But: Property tax abatements may not be granted within the boundaries of a TIF district, which this hotel is located within.2 3 So the developers did not request something that they are not entitled to request. This is not news. Nonetheless, several council members were grateful.

As to property taxes, Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) asked what would be the increase in value in the building, once finished. Later Wichita City Council Member Jeff Blubaugh (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) praised the property taxes that will be paid. He also mentioned the “nearly-empty parking garage.” When the city built this garage and accompanying retail space it was to be a showpiece, but has been suffering from blight and lack of tenants paying market rates for rent.4

Asking about tax abatements, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) asked “They didn’t apply for other …” His voice trailed off before finishing the question, but the “other” tax abatement that could be applied for is the property tax abatement. Except, the law does not allow for a property tax abatement for this project.

All these questions alluded to the increased property taxes the renovated building will pay. Except, being within a TIF district, property taxes may not be abated. So where will the hotel’s property taxes go?

First, the property tax generated by the present value of the property (the “base”) will be distributed as before. But the increment — which will be substantial — will go to the TIF district, not the city, county, and school district. Except: This is an unusual TIF district, in that an agreement between the city and county provides that only 70 percent of the incremental property taxes will go to the TIF district, with the remainder being distributed as usual. This was not mentioned during today’s discussion.

There was talk about a “gap.” Some economic development incentives require documenting of a “financing gap” that makes the project not economically feasible. But that is not required for the incentives considered for this hotel.

Sales tax

Regarding the sales tax exemption: City document do not state how much sales tax will be forgiven, so we’re left to speculate. Previous city documents5 indicate spending $3,000,000 on furniture and fixtures, which is taxable. Sales tax on this is $225,000.

The same city document mentioned spending of $6,250,000 on construction of the hotel, and of $1,000,000 for construction of retail space. Sales tax on this combined total is $543,750. Based on material from the Kansas Department of Revenue, these amounts would be due if not for the action of the city council.6

In total, the development of this hotel will escape paying $768,750 in sales tax. It should be noted that Kansas is one of the few states that charges sales tax on groceries at the same rate as other purchases, making Kansas food sales tax among the highest in the nation.7

Curiously, council members Clendenin and Williams, who represent low-income districts where families may be struggling to buy groceries — and the sales tax on them — did not object to this special sales tax treatment for a commercial developer.

No more cash?

In his remarks, the mayor talked about how we can continue with economic development “without handing cash to corporations.” But when a project is going to buy materials and services on which $768,750 in sales tax is normally due, and the city council takes action to extinguish that liability, well, that’s better than cash to the receiver.

Good news

Kudos to Wichita City Council Member Bryan Frye (district 5, west and northwest Wichita), who actually cited the United States Constitution in his statement from the bench. He said that the issues surrounding this project are a far cry from what our Founding Fathers envisioned as the role of government, saying “I struggle with using city resources to collect and distribute sales tax for the sole benefit of one commercial entity.” He offered a substitute motion which would have approved all the parts of the agreement except for the CID tax. His motion failed, with only he and Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell voting in favor.

On the original motion, which was to approve all parts of the incentive agreement, Longwell and Frye voted in opposition, with everyone else voting in favor.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Agenda packet for September 6, 2016. Available here.
  2. “Certain property, even though funded by industrial revenue bonds, does not qualify for exemption: … property located in a redevelopment project area established under K.S.A. 12-1770 et seq. cannot be exempt from taxation.” Kansas Department of Revenue. Property Tax Abatements. Available at www.ksrevenue.org/taxincent-proptaxabate.html. Also, Kansas Department of Commerce. Industrial Revenue Bond Exemptions. Available at www.kansascommerce.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/1082.
  3. Gilmore & Bell PC. Economic Development tools. Available here.
  4. Weeks, Bob. As landlord, Wichita has a few issues. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/landlord-wichita-issues/.
  5. Wichita City Council Agenda packet for August 16, 2016. Available at wichita.gov/Government/Council/Agendas/08-16-2016%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  6. “General rule: Materials are taxable.” (p. 4) Also: “Taxable labor services in Kansas are the services of installing, applying, servicing, repairing, altering, or maintaining tangible personal property performed on real property projects in the general category of commercial remodel work.” (p. 8) Kansas Department of Revenue. Sales & Use Tax for Contractors, Subcontractors, and Repairmen. Available at www.ksrevenue.org/pdf/pub1525.pdf.
  7. Food sales tax a point of shame for Kansas. Wichita Eagle. January 25, 2016. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article56532903.html.

Wichita has no city sales tax, except for these

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

Some Wichita city officials tout the fact that Wichita has no city sales tax, even though this is contrary to their and the city’s recommendation to voters in November 2014.

But the city has a sales tax. It’s called a “franchise fee” or “franchise tax,” depending on which city documents you’re reading. Either way, it’s just like a sales tax applied to your utility bill: gas, electric, cable television, water, sewer, or telephone.

Franchise fees collected by the City of Wichita for 2015.
Franchise fees collected by the City of Wichita for 2015.
In 2015, Wichita collected $44.3 million in franchise taxes. By comparison, the city’s share of the county-wide one cent per dollar sales tax was $58.0 million.1 Another context: In 2014 the city estimated that a one cent per dollar city sales tax would generate $80 million per year.

For 2017 the city is budgeting for $48.4 million in franchise fees.2 For 2018, $49.8 million.

What is the purpose of franchise taxes? The Wichita city budget explains: “Franchise Fees — These revenues are based on agreements between the City and local utilities. Generally, these agreements are long term and result in payments to the City of 5% of utility revenues. All franchise fee revenues are credited to the General Fund.”

The Wichita city code amplifies:

Sec. 3.93.350. — Payment of taxes — Franchise fee not a tax.
The franchise fees required herein as part of any franchise shall be in addition to, not in lieu of, all taxes, charges, assessments, licenses, fees and impositions otherwise applicable that are or may be imposed by the city, except that the franchisee shall be entitled to a credit in payment of franchise fees in the amount of any telecommunications service occupation tax due pursuant to Chapter 3.01 of this Code, as may be amended. The franchise fee is compensation for use of the right-of-way and shall in no way be deemed a tax of any kind.

Excerpt from an electric bill in Wichita.
Excerpt from an electric bill in Wichita.
There is some confusion over the naming of this concept. The city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report uses “franchise taxes.” The budget documents and the code shown above use “franchise fees.” Either way, this is extra money people must pay when they use utilities, as illustrated on these excerpts from electric and gas bills.

Excerpt from a gas bill in Wichita.
Excerpt from a gas bill in Wichita.
But should city residents have to pay this tax or fee? The city explains that the fee is “compensation for use of the right-of-way.” That makes sense. If someone owns something and someone else wants to use it, charging a fee is reasonable, if the parties agree.

Except: Who owns the right-of-way? The people of Wichita, of course. So our city government is charging us a tax (or fee) to use something we own. That’s clever — deviously clever. And something that only government can do.

I don’t want to give our city leaders any ideas, but when the city is complaining about not having enough revenue to fund everything it wants, it should look at franchise taxes. (Sorry, I mean fees.) While the city budget explains that the rates are the results of agreements between the utility companies and the city, why would utility companies object to an increase in franchise tax rates? They would simply pass along the tax to their customers, just as retail stores do when the state raises the sales tax rate. Certainly the water and sewer utilities would not object, as they are owned by the city.


Notes

  1. Wichita, City of. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2015. Page A-6.
  2. City of Wichita, Kansas 2017-2018 Proposed Budget. Page 61.

Sedgwick County delinquent tax list for 2015

Here is the delinquent property tax list for Sedgwick County for 2015, summarized and presented in an interactive table that you may sort.

Of note, the two property owners with the largest delinquent balances are the City of Wichita and the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

Inquiry to the City of Wichita reveals that two properties, 3239 E 1st and 3244 E Douglas ($72,282.69 and $47,878.37), are left over from a real estate developer’s default. He, not the city, was responsible for these taxes. A third property is a leased property related to the East Kellogg expansion, and the tenant is responsible for the taxes. For another property, the taxes were paid late, and another was an error that has been corrected.

The Sedgwick County Treasurer issues this caution:

Public notice is hereby given that taxes on Personal Property located in Sedgwick County, State of Kansas, is unpaid, in whole or in part, and here appears the name of each delinquent taxpayer followed by his/her last known address and the total amount of unpaid taxes, penalties and costs.

Some of the names listed may have already paid their personal property taxes or may be awaiting results of a tax grievance or tax protest before paying the taxes due. Unfortunately, it is not practical to delete these names.

I regret any undue embarrassment this may cause those who are still awaiting tax protest decisions.

Linda Kizzire
Sedgwick County Treasurer

Click here to access this data.

WichitaLiberty.TV: A variety of topics, with some good news, but a lot of bad news

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita’s economic development, Sedgwick County spending, editorials ignoring facts, your house numbers, Kansas governors, taxpayer-funded political campaigns, and the nature of economic competition. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 127, broadcast August 21, 2016.

State of the States, 2016

What did the nation’s governors tell their constituents this year?

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has examined the “State of the State” addresses delivered this year by state governors. Its report State of the States 2016 analyzes each for proposals that will affect economic competitiveness.

The good news, according to the report? “The majority of governors seem to understand that lower tax rates and limited government give citizens and businesses a greater incentive to reside and operate in their states compared to others with higher tax rates and more regulations.”

But some states received bad news. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told his state: “So, if you insist on saying that I never said I would raise taxes — that I’m going back on my word — that’s fine. Say it. Get it out of your system, and then please come back here ready to work with me to do the job we were all hired to do.”

In Minnesota — which has a budget surplus — Governor Mark Dayton told his constituents, “They say, ‘give it all back’ to the taxpayers. But that slogan is based upon a wrong premise and a wrong conclusion.”

Kansas wasn’t highlighted in this report, as Governor Brownback’s State of the State address contained little regarding economic policy.

The report is available at no charge from ALEC at State of the States 2016.

Kansas tax receipts

Kansas tax receipts by category, presented in an interactive visualization.

The Kansas Division of the Budget publishes monthly statistics regarding tax collections. These figures have been gathered and are presented in an interactive visualization.

Example from the visualization.
Example from the visualization.
For the past two years, individual income tax collections have been relatively flat. There are variations each month, but overall the trend is slightly up. Corporate income tax collections are on a slight downward trajectory.

Retail sales tax and compensating use tax have been rising for two years. A higher sales tax rate took effect on July 1, 2015, with the rate rising from 6.15 percent to 6.50 percent.

Cigarette taxes have risen rapidly since July 2015 when higher tax rates on these products took effect. The same trend is present in the tobacco products tax.

Severance taxes — tax collected on natural gas and oil as it is extracted from the ground — have been on a downward trend as prices for these produces have fallen. This is a sizable tax. In June 2014 collections of this tax were running at about $143 million per year. Two year later the rate is $28 million annually.

Click here to use the visualization.

Source of data is Kansas Division of the Budget.

CID and other incentives proposed in downtown Wichita

A proposal for a community improvement district in downtown Wichita includes a public hearing, but much information the public needs is missing.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider starting the process of creating a community improvement district and other economic development incentives. The action the council will consider Tuesday is to accept the petition of the property owners and set September 6 as the date for the public hearing. Also, on September 6, “a development agreement defining the City and Developer’s responsibilities will be presented to the City Council.”1

A community improvement district, or CID, is a geographical district in which merchants add extra sales tax, known as the CID tax. This extra tax is then routed to the property owners. CIDs may be of two types. In one, the city borrows money to give to the developers, and the CID tax repays the bonds. In the second, no money is borrowed. Instead, the CID tax is periodically remitted to the developers as it is collected. The proposed CID is of the latter type. It is proposed to collect a CID tax of 1.5 percent for up to ten years, with a limit of $930,000. (For more information about how CIDs work, see Community improvement districts in Kansas.)

City documents also state the developers will request industrial bond financing. In this case, according to city documents, the purpose of the IRBs is to avoid paying sales tax on property purchased. The developers are also requesting use of the nearby state office building parking garage, but no details are given.

A public hearing?

The September 6th meeting will include a public hearing regarding the CID, industrial revenue bonds, parking agreement, and development agreement. As of today, we have information about the CID. But we have little or no information about the other items to be considered that day, which is billed as a public hearing.

If a public hearing is to include meaningful input from the public, the city needs to provide citizens with information about these items, and soon.

Rationale

What is the need for these economic development incentives? No reason is given. Some incentive programs require that the applicant demonstrate financial necessity. In other words, if the incentive is not given, it is impossible to proceed. No such argument has been advanced for this project. And if such an argument were to be made, we have to ask why are incentives needed to develop in downtown Wichita?

Since these incentives are proposed for a hotel, supporters argue that the cost of the incentives — at least the CID — will be borne by visitors to Wichita. This development, however, will contain a rooftop bar and ground floor commercial space. To the extent that Wichitans patronize these business firms, they will pay the CID tax. Even considering only the hotel, there are many Wichita-based companies whose employees travel to Wichita, staying in hotels at their companies’ expense. Wichita companies will be paying the CID tax in these cases. They will also pay the tourism fee, even though their employees are not tourists.

Besides, we shouldn’t view visitors to Wichita as a cash cow. Visitors staying in this hotel will pay these taxes:

State of Kansas sales tax, 6.5%
Sedgwick County sales tax, 1.0%
Wichita hotel tax, 6%
City tourism fee, 2.75%2
CID tax, 1.5%

The total of these taxes is 17.75%. (Yes, Wichita does charge visitors a “tourism fee.” If Wichita voters had followed the recommendation of the city, its bureaucrats, and the political class, there would be an additional tax of one percent.3)

Finally: As with all CIDs, why don’t the merchants simply raise their prices? Part of the answer is that the CID tax goes to benefit the landowners, which may not be the same party as the merchants who collect the tax.

Other than that, it’s convenient to have someone to blame higher prices on.


Notes

  1. Wichita City Council Agenda packet for August 16, 2016. Available at wichita.gov/Government/Council/Agendas/08-16-2016%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita seeks to add more tax to hotel bills. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-seeks-add-tax-hotel-bills/.
  3. Ballotpedia. City of Wichita Sales Tax Measure (November 2014). Available at ballotpedia.org/City_of_Wichita_Sales_Tax_Measure_(November_2014).

WichitaLiberty.TV: The State of Kansas

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Jonathan Williams helps us understand what’s right — and wrong — with Kansas. Williams is Vice President for the Center for State Fiscal Reform at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Shownotes

  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
  • Rich States, Poor States, ninth edition. This volume holds the most recent state-by-state rankings.
  • Rich States, Poor States, eighth edition. This volume holds Chapter 4, titled “Lessons from Kansas: A Behind the Scenes Look at America’s Most Discussed Tax Reform Effort.”

A National Perspective on Kansas Fiscal Policy

Jonathan Williams, Vice President in charge of the Center for State Fiscal Reform at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), addressed a luncheon gathering of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on July 22, 2016, presenting “A National Perspective on Kansas Fiscal Policy.” View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Videography by Paul Soutar.

Kansas government ‘hollowed-out’

Is Kansas government “hollowed-out” even though spending is rising?

In the Wichita Eagle, Burdett Loomis writes: “In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback and a far-right Kansas House of Representatives began to hollow out state government, all in the name of smaller, more efficient, more private administration.”1

Loomis doesn’t define what he means by “hollow out” but the measure of the size of government is spending. Not taxation, but spending, because if government spends without taxing by the same amount, someone has to pay, eventually. Or, in the case of Kansas, we spent funds saved from years when Kansas collected more than it spent. (Yes, Kansans were over-taxed.) Then, we raised taxes.

Kansas General Fund. Click for larger version.
Kansas General Fund. Click for larger version.
In recent history Kansas general fund spending hasn’t fallen, except for one year, and that doesn’t “hollow out” government. Tax revenue declined, but what did Kansas do in response? Instead of cutting spending, the state engaged in deficit spending. For two years in a row, Kansas spent over $300 million each year from its savings in order to support (mostly) increasing spending. When that savings ran out, the state raised taxes rather than cutting spending.2

Charts at the end of this article show Kansas government spending, from general fund and all funds spending. One chart shows total dollars spent, and one shows per-capita spending. Both are adjusted for inflation. On these charts it’s difficult to see where total spending has been cut or slashed in recent years. All funds spending continues its upward trend, with a few exceptions. General fund spending remains level or trending slightly upwards.

Loomis: “But the value of a stable, reliable state government that delivers core programs in education, transportation, health and social services remains a bedrock element of most successful American states.”

An example from the visualization. This shows statewide spending, per pupil, adjusted for inflation. Click for larger version.
An example from the visualization. This shows statewide spending, per pupil, adjusted for inflation. Click for larger version.
Education spending in Kansas is not falling.3 Tables at Kansas State Department of Education have the numbers.4 Now we hear that the increases in spending are “all KPERS,” meaning contributions to the state retirement fund for teachers, and the state has recently changed to method of reporting KPERS contributions in a way that artificially inflates school spending. But Kansas State Department of Education says the method of reporting KPERS has not changed for ten years.5 Maybe we should ask former governor Kathleen Sebelius why she changed the method of reporting KPERS contributions in a way that (purportedly) artificially inflates school spending.

Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
By the way, when writing about “reliable” state services, I wish Loomis would take notice of the huge gaps in achievement in our state’s schools between white students and minority students. For Kansas white students, 42 percent are proficient in reading at grade 4. For Kansas black students, only 15 percent are proficient, and 20 percent of Kansas Hispanic students. Similar gaps appear in reading at grade 8, and in math at grades 4 and 8.6 The sad fact is that this gap is reliable, occurring year after year.

KDOT spending on major road programs. Click for larger version.
KDOT spending on major road programs. Click for larger version.
As for transportation, there have been transfers from the state’s transportation fund to the general fund. This has been going on for a long time. But look at actual spending on roads. KDOT’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows spending in the categories “Preservation” and “Expansion and Enhancement” has grown rapidly over the past five years. Spending in the category “Maintenance” has been level, while spending on “Modernization” has declined. For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2015 totaled $932,666 million, up from a low of $698,770 in fiscal 2010. This is actual spending on roads without regard to transfers in or out of the highway fund.7

Transfers from Sales Tax to KDOT. Click for larger.
Transfers from Sales Tax to KDOT. Click for larger.
And while critics of the current administration focus on transfers from the highway fund, look at transfers to the fund. Nearby is a chart showing how many sales tax dollars were transferred to the highway fund. In 2006 the transfer was $98,914 million, and by 2015 it had grown to $511,586 million, an increase of 417 percent. Inflation rose by 18 percent over the same period.8

I’ll leave it to someone else to research spending on health and social services.

Near the end of the article, Loomis writes: “Over the past few years, much of the political discourse has focused on shrinking revenues from tax cuts.” But we should really be looking at the level of spending.

Now: Could it be possible that even with rising state spending that services are, in fact, being “hollowed out?” Yes. Absolutely. It is, after all, government providing these services.

Kansas Spending Adjusted for CPI 2016-01

Kansas Spending, Per Capita, Adjusted for CPI 2016-01

Notes for charts:
Data is from Kansas Fiscal Facts 2015
2015 through 2017 are approved figures, not actual spending
2015 and beyond population are my estimates
CPI is Consumer Price Index – All Urban Consumers, CUUR0000AA0


Notes

  1. Loomis, Burdett. Kansas is becoming a hollowed-out state. Wichita Eagle, July 9, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article88555862.html.
  2. Kansas has been borrowing, however. See: Weeks, Bob. Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-transportation-bonds-economics-worse-than-told/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school spending: Visualization. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-spending-visualization/.
  4. Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District. Available at www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/School-Finance/Budget-Information/Total-Expenditures-by-District.
  5. Weeks, Bob. KPERS payments and Kansas schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kpers-payments-kansas-schools/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. ‘Game on’ makes excuses for Kansas public schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/tag/wichita-and-kansas-schools/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Kansas highway spending. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-highway-spending/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Sales tax revenue and the Kansas highway fund. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/sales-tax-revenue-kansas-highway-fund/.

They really are government schools

What’s wrong with the term “government schools?”

A recent op-ed in the Wichita Eagle read: “Some have begun to call public schools ‘government schools,’ a calculated pejorative scorning both education and anything related to government.”1

This is not the only time people have objected to the term “government schools.” Public schools bristle at use of the term. In a 2008 email from Wichita School Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart to Wichita school employees, he took issue with those who, using his words, “openly refer to public education as ‘government schools.'”2 “Openly refer,” he writes, as though it should be kept a secret.

It’s surprising that liberals and progressives object to the term “government schools.” They like government, don’t they? They want more taxation and government spending, don’t they?

When we think about public schools, we find they have all the characteristics of government programs.

Public schools are owned by government.

Their funding comes almost totally from governmental sources, which is to say taxes. (Isn’t it strange that few will donate to public schools?) If you can’t use the services of public schools and don’t want to pay for them — even if you are also paying for other schools that meet your needs — the full weight of the government will come crashing down on you.

Through laws passed by government, public schools are guaranteed a stream of customers.

Public schools are regulated — heavily — by government.

The members of their “board of directors” (the local school board) are chosen through a governmental process — elections.

Public schools are welcoming to labor unions at the time the private sector is becoming less unionized. In fact, labor unions are becoming a hallmark of government, and government only.3

Accountability of public schools, like other forms of government, is weak.

In sum, public schools have all the negative attributes of government institutions and few or none of the positive characteristics that make markets the source of continuous improvement and innovation. So I guess it isn’t surprising that public school advocates like Merritt object to being lumped in with government in general. But public schools share all the characteristics of government, and government is the worst way to supply services except in a few special instances.

What’s also troubling is how Merritt equates using the term “government schools” with scorn for education. Turning over education to government — with its litany of troubles as listed above — is scornful for children.

Merritt and others want to have the benefits of governmental institutions without accepting the reality of what government means. That’s a shame for Kansas schoolchildren.


Notes

  1. Merritt, Davis. Can traditional conservatism save Kansas schools? Wichita Eagle, May 17, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article77969617.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita School Superintendent Martin Libhart: What’s Wrong With “Government Schools?” Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/wichita-school-superintendent-martin-libhart-whats-wrong-with-government-schools/.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union Members Summary. January 28, 2016. Available at www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm.

Kansas economic development programs

Explaining common economic development programs in Kansas.

TIF projects: Some background
Tax increment financing disrupts the usual flow of tax dollars, routing funds away from cash-strapped cities, counties, and schools back to the TIF-financed development. TIF creates distortions in the way cities develop, and researchers find that the use of TIF means lower economic growth. Click here.

Tax increment financing (TIF) resources
Resources on tax increment financing (TIF) districts. Click here.

STAR bonds in Kansas
The Kansas STAR bonds program provides a mechanism for spending by autopilot, without specific appropriation by the legislature. Click here.

Industrial Revenue Bonds in Kansas
Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes. Click here.

Community Improvement Districts in Kansas
In Kansas Community Improvement Districts, merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public. Click here.

In Kansas, PEAK has a leak
A Kansas economic development incentive program is pitched as being self-funded, but is probably a drain on the state treasure nonetheless. Click here.

Government intervention may produce unwanted incentives
A Kansas economic development incentive program has the potential to alter hiring practices for reasons not related to applicants’ job qualifications. Click here.

City of Wichita
City of Wichita’s economic development page is here. The Sedgwick County/City of Wichita Economic Development Policy is here.

State of Kansas
A page at the Kansas Department of Commerce with incentive programs is here.