Tag Archives: Taxation

Wichita Eagle argues for higher taxes

The Wichita Eagle editorial board wants higher taxes. Relying on its data and arguments will lead citizens to misinformed and uninformed opinions.

In a recent op-ed, the Wichita Eagle editorial board writes: “From the moment the budget was first proposed in July, city leaders made a point of emphasizing the city’s mill levy — the rate by which property is taxed — hasn’t been increased in 25 years. The 25-year figure wasn’t followed by exclamation points of pride or emojis of sadness. It’s just a fact: For one reason or another, the city’s mill levy hasn’t been increased.” 1

I guess we shouldn’t be too harsh on the Eagle editorial board. They believed city leaders. And, I suppose the language is correct in one sense: “the city’s mill levy hasn’t been increased.”

But a quick look at readily available data shows that the City of Wichita mill levy has increased, and by quite a bit.

I don’t have data going back 25 years, but I have gathered and prepared data from 1993 to 2017. And during that time, the City of Wichita mill levy rose from 31.290 to 32.667. That is an increase of 4.40 percent.

It is true that the Wichita City Council did not pass an ordinance to cause this mill levy rate to rise. This is where “hasn’t been increased” holds a grain of truth.

Instead, the mill levy rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to City of Wichita taxation. Someone estimates the assessed value of property the city can tax, and that is subject to error.

The city acknowledges this when pressed. It’s on video. 2

But city leaders and elected officials act as though the mill levy is subject to the whims of forces beyond their control.

While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend. As can be seen in the chart of changes in the mill levy, the council’s decisions result in a generally rising mill levy. From 1993 to 2017, there were seventeen years in which the mill levy rose from the previous year, and six years in which it declined.

We have an estimating process that ought to be random — too high in half the years, too low in the other half — overwhelmingly producing higher tax rates. This nearly three-to-one ratio is beyond mere chance or coincidence.

Also, while some may argue that an increase of 4.40 percent over two decades is not very much, this is an increase in a rate of taxation, not tax revenue collected. As property values rise, and as the mill levy rises, property tax bills can rise rapidly.

But it doesn’t seem that the Eagle editorial board understands this, as it wrote: “A 2019 budget can’t be expected to function properly under 1994 tax rates. Nearly everything a city does costs more a quarter-century later.”

True, I suppose. But the data tells us that property tax revenue rises, and rises faster than the rate of inflation, if inflation is what the editorial board means when it writes that things cost more.

In the nearby table, I use a hypothetical $100,000 home and track the taxes paid to the City of Wichita. I use a home price index to track increases in residential home values. I use the Consumer Price Index to adjust dollars for inflation.

In the table, a $100,000 house paid $360 in taxes to the City of Wichita in 1994. In 2017, the same house paid $665. The increase is due to rising property values and the rising mill levy.

Adjusting for inflation to 2017 dollars, the tax paid in 1994 was worth $595. In 2017, the tax was $665, in 2017 dollars, of course.

So from 1994 to 2017, the property tax paid to the City of Wichita by this hypothetical house rose by 11.7 percent, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

When the Eagle editorial board writes “Nearly everything a city does costs more a quarter-century later,” the response ought to be “Yes, but property taxes paid by citizens on their homes are rising faster than inflation.”

This needs to be considered in the light of cuts the city has made and threatens in the future.

Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Wichita Eagle editorial board. Wichita, it’s time to consider a tax increase. It’s past time, actually. August 17, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article216790960.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita property taxes rise again. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-property-taxes-rise/.

Taxers prefer Hugh Nicks for Sedgwick County Commission

Those who supported higher sales taxes in Wichita also support one Sedgwick County Commission District 4 Republican candidate exclusively.

In 2014 the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, now known as the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, managed a campaign to persuade voters to institute a sales tax in the City of Wichita. The sales tax was to be one cent per dollar for five years, estimated to raise about $400 million in total. Of that, $250 million was to pay for enhancing the ASR water supply project, $80 million for job creation, and lesser amounts for bus transit and street repair.

The sales tax failed to pass, with 62 percent of voters saying no. Since then, the wisdom of voters in rejecting the tax has become evident. For example, the city has developed a plan to provide the same benefits for water supply for over $100 million less.

During the 2014 campaign the sales tax boosters raised campaign money through an organization named Yes Wichita Inc. Over one hundred people and companies contributed $321,527 in cash, and the Chamber of Commerce added $50,818 as an in-kind contribution.

These people and companies contributed money to persuade voters to raise taxes in Wichita. In some cases, a lot of money: $100,818 from the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, $40,000 from Intrust Bank, and $25,000 from Westar Energy.

Some of these people and companies have also contributed to a candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission District 4 Republican primary election. I examined campaign finance reports for matches. It isn’t an exact science. The data is not filed in a way that can be readily analyzed by a computer in a spreadsheet or database. Sometimes donations are made in a company name, and sometimes by owners or executives of the same company. There are spelling errors and variations in how company names are reported. So I may have failed to notice matches, and there is a small chance that I made erroneous matches.

Based on my research, I found that all the pro-tax people and companies who also contributed to Sedgwick County Commission District 4 Republican candidates had one thing in common: They contributed to Hugh Nicks exclusively. His opponent, Richard Ranzau, received no contributions from the pro-tax people and companies, based on my analysis.

Separately, the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC has spent $45,148 on political candidates through August 1 of this year. Of that, $36,665 was spent in favor of one candidate, Hugh Nicks. That’s 81.2 percent spent on one candidate from an organization that contributed $100,818 towards higher taxes. (See Wichita Chamber PAC spends heavily for Hugh Nicks.)

What does this mean: Those who want higher sales taxes in Wichita contribute to Hugh Nicks for Sedgwick County Commission, and he alone? It is a coincidence, mere serendipity?

In his campaign literature, Hugh Nicks says “Taxes Are High Enough.”

But the evidence is clear: Those who want higher taxes prefer Hugh Nicks.

Following, a table showing the commonality between contributors to the Yes Wichita sales tax campaign in 2014 and Hugh Nicks. Click for a larger version.

Kansas candidate briefings

Recently Kansas Policy Institute, along with Americans for Prosperity and Kansas Chamber of Commerce, held a series of briefings for candidates for the Kansas Legislature. The presentations in Wichita were recorded, and are available as follows:

What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan. KPI President Dave Trabert spoke on the reality and myths of the state’s tax plan. Click here to view at YouTube.

Kansas K-12 Education Spending and Achievement. KPI President Dave Trabert spoke on K-12 education spending and achievement. Click here to view.

Medicaid Expansion. Melissa Fausz, a senior policy analyst with Americans for Prosperity, spoke about Medicaid expansion. Click here to view.

Kansas Chamber Legislative Update. Eric Stafford, vice president of government affairs for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, spoke on the legislative process in Kansas. Click here to view.

Property Taxes. KPI President Dave Trabert spoke on property taxes in Kansas. Click here to view.

Or, view them all. Click here.

Wichita business press needs to step up

If a newspaper is going to write a news story, it might as well take a moment to copy and paste information from a city council agenda packet. Especially when what is missing from the story is perhaps the most important information.

When the Wichita City Council approved an Industrial Revenue Bond issue at its July 10, 2018 meeting, the city’s business press covered the matter. In the Wichita Eagle, the story fails to mention the motivation for the item. 1

The meeting agenda packet for this item, very near its start, states plainly the benefits of the IRBs: “Cargill Incorporated (Cargill) is requesting a Letter of Intent (LOI) for the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs) in an amount not to exceed $38,000,000 and an 81.5% five-plus-five-year tax abatement and a sales tax exemption for the construction of a new biodiesel facility in north Wichita.” 2

There it is, in plain sight and language: Cargill will save a lot of money in taxes by using these bonds. How much? The same city document details some of the savings:

Based on the current mill levy, the estimated tax value of exempted property for the first full year is $337,904. The value of an 81.5% real property tax exemption (assuming the property is appraised at 80% of the capital investment) as applicable to taxing jurisdictions is:

City $94,109
County $84,677
State $4,321
USD 259 $154,797

The agenda packet doesn’t give an amount for the value of the sales tax exemption, but if all $38,000,000 in bond proceeds was spent on taxable items, sales tax would be $2,850,000. The actual sales tax savings will likely be less than that, but still a lot. (We’ll likely never know, as the Kansas Department of Revenue won’t release the value of sales tax exemptions associated with bond issues.)

Why didn’t the Eagle report this? I don’t know. But the property and sales tax exemptions are the driving motivation behind almost all requests for IRBs. 3

It’s not the case that the company can’t obtain financing on the market. Many IRBs are purchased by the requesting company, as is the case with these bonds, according to the agenda packet: “The bonds will be privately placed with Cargill.”

Instead, Kansas law requires, in most cases, that to issue property and sales tax abatements, IRBs must be used. Again, from the agenda packet: “To insure that all of the real property improvements are receiving the tax abatement, the improvements must be bond financed.” 4

Why can’t the city council simply wave a magic wand and absolve Cargill of paying millions of dollars in property and sales taxes? This is what the city council did, but in a roundabout way.

But because the tax giveaway is mixed with confusing details of bonds, many citizens don’t notice the giveaway. Especially when our city’s leading newspaper does not report this.

Wichita Business Journal reporting was a little better, mentioning the property and sales tax exemptions, but not their monetary value. 5

This article also contains this: “With IRBs, the city serves as a pass-through entity for developers to obtain a lower interest rate on projects. IRBs require no taxpayer commitment.” This is language the newspaper often includes when reporting on IRB issues, and it is simply not true. In this case, a portion of this project qualifies for tax-exempt financing, as it is a solid waste processing facility. 6

But for the remainder of the project, as is the case for most IRB-funded projects, it is not likely the facility will save on interest costs with IRBs. The article is correct in that IRBs require no taxpayer commitment. The city makes no guarantee as to the bond repayment. If the city did guarantee repayment, that would help the borrower obtain a lower interest rate. But there is no guarantee.


Notes

  1. Finger, Stan. Wichita City Council approves bonds for Cargill expansion. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/business/article214622565.html.
  2. Wichita City Council Agenda packet for July, 10, 2017. Item IV-1.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  4. As noted below, there is a slight wrinkle in this IRB issue, as some of the financed property is exempt from federal income taxes on interest payments and requires IRBs for that particular property. This is an unusual factor, and does not require that all the plant be financed with IRBs.
  5. Daniel McCoy and Bryan Horwath. City Council approves IRBs for Cargill biodiesel plant. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/07/10/city-council-approves-irbs-for-cargill-biodiesel.html.
  6. “The solid waste processing component qualifies under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations for tax exempt financing, which can save the company interest expense. Of the total project, approximately $30,000,000 would qualify as a Solid Waste Processing Facility, and therefore, eligible for tax-exempt financing.” Agenda Packet for July 10, 2018.

Project Wichita survey

The Project Wichita survey is about to end. Will it have collected useful data?

Project Wichita is “a community engagement process to identify the future we want for our home and the steps necessary to achieve it.” 1 So far it has held focus groups that collected ideas for the future of Wichita, in which “an astounding 3,800+ people 2 shared their vision in 239+ focus groups,” according to the project’s Facebook page. The survey, which is ending on July 6, is another component of the “listen” phase of the project, with “focus” and “share” phases still to come.

The survey may be taken on-line or by paper. The online survey is implemented as a number of pages, each concerning a topic. The first page is titled “Vision for Our Region: Please indicate your level of agreement with the following for developing a vision for the Wichita region. Our region should be a place that:” Following are several items like “all children have the chance to succeed.” Respondents are asked to select one of these responses for each item:

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Undecided
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

The second page is titled “Strong Neighborhoods. Please indicate the importance of investing resources (time, human resources, money) in the following for developing and supporting safe and strong neighborhoods throughout our region.” A sample item is “Repair deteriorating homes to improve neighborhoods.” Respondents may choose from these responses:

  • Not important investment
  • Slightly important investment
  • Moderately important investment
  • Very important investment
  • Essential investment

There is no opportunity to answer in any way other than these responses. There is no possibility of leaving a comment.

The question of the importance of investment continues with slight variation for six more pages on these topics:

  • Economic Advantage and Opportunity
  • Transportation
  • Cultural Arts
  • Attractions and Entertainment
  • Education; Community Wellness
  • Wichita Riverfront and Downtown Development

Then a page titled Regional Perspectives: “Please tell us your thoughts about the following regional questions” where participants are asked to indicate their degree of agreement or disagreement with the following:

  • I think an increase in population would make the Wichita region thrive.
  • I am optimistic about the future of the Wichita region.
  • I think the Wichita region has to be willing to change to keep and attract the next generation.

Then there are some demographic questions.

Problems

First, the responses that the project will collect are from a self-selected group of respondents. There is no way to guarantee or know that the respondents are a representative sample of area residents. The focus groups had the same problem. This has been a problem with Wichita’s outreach in the past. In 2014 the city was quite proud of its engagement and positive response regarding the proposed city sales tax. Then, on election day, 62 percent of voters said no. 3 (Of course, those who vote are also a self-selected group of respondents. On the sales tax question, 103,290 people cast a vote. 4 For that year, the Census Bureau estimated there were 283,780 people of voting age in Wichita. 5 So 36.4 percent of the eligible voters made the decision for the rest, voters and non-voters, and also for those too young or ineligible to vote. But when we ask to settle issues by voting, voters are the people who make the decisions.)

Another problem has to do with the preface to the many questions asking about the importance of making investments in various things. What is missing is whose resources are to be invested? Yours? Mine? Someone we don’t know?

Related is that almost all the items participants are asked to rate are things that almost everyone agrees are good. Who could not strongly agree with investing so that “all children have the chance to succeed?” I suppose that some people might select “Very important investment” instead of “Essential investment” for some items. That might produce a shade of difference in the importance of items.

What would really be useful, however, is asking participants to rank the importance of investing in each item, from most important to least important, with no ties allowed. Instructions might be worded like “Rank the importance of investing in the following five areas. 1 is the most important investment, while 5 is the least important. You must assign a rank to each item, and there may be no ties.”

Then, to make things really useful: Ask participants to produce rankings for the importance of public sector investment, and separate rankings for the importance of private sector investment.

Understanding and distinguishing the difference between public and private investment is vital. When people believe that others will be paying, there is no limit to what people want. Milton Friedman knew this: “When a man spends his own money to buy something for himself, he is very careful about how much he spends and how he spends it. When a man spends his own money to buy something for someone else, he is still very careful about how much he spends, but somewhat less what he spends it on. When a man spends someone else’s money to buy something for himself, he is very careful about what he buys, but doesn’t care at all how much he spends. And when a man spends someone else’s money on someone else, he doesn’t care how much he spends or what he spends it on. And that’s government for you.” (For more, see Friedman: The fallacy of the welfare state.)

People recognize this. Remarks left on Facebook on the Project Wichita page 6 included this by one writer:

Just took survey! One would think “they” want to convert Wichita or Kansas to socialism. I’m a liberal conservative Democrat and yet questions are very concerning and disturbing.

Following up, the same person wrote:

Applaud the effort however many of the questions concerning me as it relates to governments role in community and well-being of such. … At what point should community and individuals be primarily responsible for many of the topics you address in your survey?

Another Facebook user wrote:

Your survey is great but you left out a very important piece of information. WHO is going to provide the money for the investments that are queried in your survey? A lot of areas need investment of funds but, those funds should come from the private sector, not public sector. As a result of the inability to discern a difference in the source of required investments, the survey is somewhat useless.”

Yet another from Facebook:

Each of your questions should be followed by the question, “How much are you personally willing to pay for this line item” or “Which government service should be eliminated to pay for this line item”. Your list will get quite short when people are asked to spend their own money rather than other people’s money.

These basic defects preclude this effort as being serious social science research. Yet, that is likely how it will be presented, especially since a university agency is involved.

Of note: Project Wichita has no official opinion as who should pay for these investments. Cynics — that is, realists — believe that programs like Project Wichita are designed to convince citizens to support increased taxes or debt issues to be repaid with future taxes, with those future taxes undoubtedly higher.

One reason for this suspicion is that portions of the Project Wichita process are being managed by Wichita State University’s Public Policy and Management Center. 7 Its director and its associated academics have a clear preference for higher taxes, at one time writing a paper advising cities to create “more willing taxpayers.” 8

Other people and companies that Project Wichita identifies as part of the “Vision Team” (or “funders”) also made large contributions to the campaign for a Wichita City sales tax in 2014:

  • Allen Gibbs & Houlik, L.C.
  • Jon Rolph and his company Sasnak
  • The Chandler family and Intrust Bank
  • GLMV Architecture
  • Emprise Bank
  • Spirit Aerosystems
  • Commerce Bank
  • Equity Bank
  • Cox Machine
  • Westar Energy
  • Professional Engineering Consultants
  • Star Lumber
  • Bothner & Bradley and its principals
  • Envision
  • Lubrication Engineers
  • Jeff Fluhr, head of Downtown Wichita and now also Greater Wichita Partnership

Some of these companies regularly receive economic development incentives from the City of Wichita or do business with the city. Some are subject to the city’s regulations such as zoning and permitting.

It’s difficult to digest all this without concluding that Project Wichita project is designed to develop a case — an appetite — for higher taxes. That’s even before realizing that the driving force behind Project Wichita — according to word on the street — is Jon Rolph, who was the chair of the campaign for the Wichita city sales tax in 2014. Further, Project Wichita is sharing offices with the Greater Wichita Partnership and Downtown Wichita, two organizations always in favor of the expansion of government.

Individual questions

Besides general problems with the survey instrument, there are these problems with individual items:

“Improve the current public transit system (e.g. expand routes, expand hours).” There may be support for spending public funds on this, even if it means raising taxes. This was one of the uses for the proposed Wichita city sales tax in 2014. It was bundled with other items, and voters defeated the tax.

“Make flights from Wichita Eisenhower National Airport more affordable.” We’ve spent a lot doing this. The city and the airport say the programs have been successful.

“Increase direct flights from Wichita Eisenhower National Airport.” This is an area that could use improvement. The number of departures and the number of available seats on departing flights has been underperforming the nation, despite much investment in the forms of tax-funded subsidies for airlines. There is also a new airport terminal.

“Offer more diverse entertainment options (e.g. music festivals, restaurants, theme parks).” There are many people trying to figure out what type of restaurants are wanted in Wichita, and where. These people are motivated by profit. It’s difficult to believe that government could do a better job of deciding upon, and operating, restaurants.

“Support entrepreneurial opportunities.” There is an organization doing this, e2e. More broadly, when the city offers economic development incentives, it makes it harder for young, entrepreneurial companies to survive as they must bear the cost of incentives and compete with incentivized companies for labor and capital. 9

Under education, a topic that is glaringly omitted is school choice. Parents like having the possibility of school choice, especially parents who can’t afford private school tuition. Plus, school choice, like charter schools, could help control “sprawl,” something that is often seen as a negative factor. If parents who want to live in central Wichita could have access to school choice in nearby schools, it might counter the commonly-held perception that if you want good schools for your children, you must buy a home outside the Wichita school district.

“Provide modern performing arts center (e.g. symphony, music theater, opera) that meets the region’s needs.” and “Provide a modern convention center that attracts more conventions and events.” These are topics that Wichita will likely be grappling with soon, and in a real way. Wichita has already hired a consultant to study this issue. (More information is at Century II resource center.) A task force is studying the issue. Soon, it is quite likely that residents of Wichita or Sedgwick County may be asked to approve a sales tax to fund a convention center and possible a performing arts center. Or, citizens suffer the implementation of Design Build Finance Operate and Maintain (DBFOM), or P3. In this model as applied to Wichita, a third party would do all the work of designing, financing, building, and operating a convention center and possibly a performing arts center. Then, the city simply pays a fee each year to use the center, called an “availability payment.” This is simple a way to disguise long-term debt. See Wichita about to commit to more spending. Bigly. for more about this.

Cynics — that is, realists — believe that programs like Project Wichita are designed to convince citizens to support these taxes or debt issues. (By the way, the convention center business is a poor way to build a city’s economy. See Should Wichita expand its convention facilities?.)


Notes

  1. Project Wichita. Available at https://www.projectwichita.org/.
  2. With the population of the city of Wichita at about 388,000, (U.S. Census Bureau. 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates), nearly one percent participated.
  3. Sedgwick County Election Office. Available at https://www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/election-results/2014-general/.
  4. Ibid.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
  6. Available at https://www.facebook.com/ProjectWichita/.
  7. “Volunteers wanted the regional 10-year vision and action plan Project Wichita process to include big discussions from as many people as possible. So Wichita State University’s (WSU) Public Policy and Management Center team built a custom process for gathering input across the region. The process includes focus groups with individuals and organizations, gathering feedback at diverse community events, online surveys and robust social media engagement.” Project Wichita. Process. Available at https://www.projectwichita.org/process.
  8. Misty Bruckner is the Director. A few years ago Brucker she and her colleagues co-authored a paper titled “Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities. See http://www.gfoa.org/sites/default/files/GFR_OCT_10_24.pdf. My reporting on it was titled Wichita needs more, and willing, taxpayers. An excerpt: “Increasingly, citizens are retreating from their responsibilities to community and demanding more from government than they are willing to pay for. But changes in local government behavior can be instrumental in reversing this trend, by strengthening citizens’ commitment to the well-being of their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are more willing to accept responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens and are also more likely to join with government and other parties to improve their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are also more willing taxpayers — that is, when government demonstrates that it can be trusted to invest public resources in ways that strengthen the community. The central thrust of this model is getting citizens and governments to work together, but realistically, many communities will require new revenue — including additional tax dollars — if they are to assemble the critical mass of resources necessary for meaningful change. Accordingly, citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes are an important component of building sustainable communities.” (emphasis added)
  9. See Weeks, Bob. Job creation at young firms declines. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/job-creation-at-young-firms-declines/. Also: “Part of the cost of these companies’ investment, along with the accompanying risk, is spread to a class of business firms that can’t afford additional cost and risk. These are young startup firms, the entrepreneurial firms that we need to nurture in order to have real and sustainable economic growth and jobs. But we can’t identify which firms will be successful. So we need an economic development strategy that creates an environment where these young entrepreneurial firms have the greatest chance to survive. The action the Wichita city council is considering this week works against entrepreneurial firms.” Weeks, Bob. Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-grant-property-sales-tax-relief/.

Kansas tax collections

If Kansas government doesn’t have enough money to meet spending requests, it’s not for the lack of collecting taxes.

Here is a chart of state tax collections per resident, for Kansas and selected states.

Do you hear complaints of how Kansas is bankrupt and there is no money to spend on schools, roads, and other needs? If these complaints are valid (they aren’t), the problem is not caused by collecting insufficient tax revenue.

To learn more about the data in this visualization and to use it to make your own charts, click here.

State government tax collections per resident, Kansas and other states. Click for larger.

Wichita property tax still high on commercial property

An ongoing study reports that property taxes on commercial and industrial property in Wichita are high. In particular, taxes on commercial property in Wichita are among the highest in the nation.

Click for larger.
The study is produced by Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence. It’s titled “50 State Property Tax Comparison Study, June 2017” and may be read here. It uses a variety of residential, apartment, commercial, and industrial property scenarios to analyze the nature of property taxation across the country. I’ve gathered data from selected tables for Wichita.

In Kansas, residential property is assessed at 11.5 percent of its appraised value. Commercial property is assessed at 25 percent of appraised value, and public utility property at 33 percent. (Appraised value is the market value as determined by the assessor. Assessed value is multiplied by the mill levy rates of taxing jurisdictions to compute tax.)

This means that commercial property faces 2.18 times the property tax rate as residential property. The U.S. average is 1.67. Whether higher assessment ratios on commercial property as compared to residential property is desirable public policy is a subject for debate. But because Wichita’s ratio is high, it leads to high property taxes on commercial property.

For residential property taxes, Wichita ranks below the national average. For a property valued at $150,000, the effective property tax rate in Wichita is 1.22 percent, while the national average is 1.39 percent. The results for a $300,000 property were similar.

Of note is the property taxes on a median-valued home. In this case Wichita is a bargain, due to our lower housing prices. A home at the median value in Wichita pays $1,513 in taxes, while the nationwide average is $3,343. (The median home value in Wichita is $124,400, and for the nation, $262,772, according to this report.)

Looking at commercial property, Wichita taxes are high. For example, for a $100,000 valued property, the study found that the national average for property tax is $2,319 or 1.93 percent of the property value. For Wichita the corresponding values are $3,261 or 2.72 percent, ranking ninth highest among the 50 largest cities. Wichita property taxes are 41 percent higher than the national average, for this scenario.

For industrial property taxes, the situation in Wichita is better, with Wichita ranking near the middle of the 50 largest cities. For an industrial property worth $1,000,000, taxes in Wichita are $29,681. The national average is $32,264.

How much will this cost Wichita taxpayers?

How much, if anything, do tax abatements cost?

Someone asked a question regarding an item on the Wichita City Council agenda today: How much will this cost taxpayers?

The item in question is agenda item IV-1: Public Hearing and Request for a Letter of Intent to Issue Industrial Revenue Bonds (WAM Investments #6, LLC). 1

Attached was an article from the Wichita Business Journal previewing the matter. 2

How much do these bonds cost taxpayers? It’s important to remember that with Industrial Revenue Bonds in Kansas, cities and counties are not the lender. 3 If this company was not able to pay the bond interest or principle, the city would be under no obligation to pay. The city makes no guarantee as to repayment. Bond buyers know this.

(As an aside, the Business Journal article states: “However, using IRB financing can help the company secure a lower interest rate.” This is simply not true unless the bonds are tax-exempt municipal bonds. Those bonds have a lower interest rate because the interest income is not subject to income tax. But the IRBs considered today are not tax-exempt.)

So if the city is not lending money, and if the city is not guaranteeing repayment, do these bonds have a cost to taxpayers? The answer depends on which side of the fence you sit.

The benefit to WAM, today’s applicant, is that IRBs carry with them tax abatements. Specifically, a whole or partial exemption from paying some property taxes. Additionally, IRBs also enable escape from paying sales tax on purchases made with bond proceeds.

So one way to look at the IRBs is that they do indeed have a cost. The city, county, school district, and state will not receive tax revenue they otherwise would receive.

Supporters of this incentive make two rebuttals. One is that without the tax abatements, the project would not be built. Therefore, no tax revenue. So by abating taxes for a period of time, the project can be built, and after the abatements expire, it will be paying taxes. (For this project, the property tax abatement is for five or likely ten years, with a reduced rate of abatement in the final five.)

The second argument is that by building something, new jobs and commerce are created. These new employees and commercial activity pay taxes. The city and other jurisdictions receive more from these new taxes than they gave up in tax abatements. This is called the benefit-cost ratio. It’s computed by Center for Economic Development and Business Research (CEDBR) at Wichita State University. City documents often refer to something like a “1.57:1 benefit-cost ratio,” meaning that for every one dollar foregone in tax revenue, the city expects to gain $1.57 in other tax revenue.

There are problems with these arguments. For the first: The developer of this project says the incentives are “critical.” If true, this claim exposes a large problem, which is if taxes are so high as to block investment, how are we going to grow as a city and region? Will every project require tax incentives? If not, why do some say they need incentives, and some don’t?

Second: Remember that government says that with the new project, tax revenue will increase. But this almost always happens regardless of whether the company has received incentives. Therefore, the benefit-cost ratio calculations are valid only if incentives were absolutely necessary.

Are incentives necessary? The benefiting companies usually make their case with a lot of numbers and projections, most of which are simply guesses. Plus, there is strong incentive to not tell — to not know — the truth. Here’s why. Suppose fictional company XYZ dangles the idea of expanding its presence in Wichita, or maybe in some other city. XYZ cites incentive packages offered by other cities. Wichita comes up with millions in incentives, and XYZ decides to expand in Wichita. Question: Were the incentives necessary? Was the threat to expand elsewhere genuine? If XYZ admits the threat was not real, then it has falsely held Wichita hostage for incentives. If the city or state admits the threat was not real, then citizens wonder why government gave away so much. No one has an incentive to be truthful. 4

Back to the item on today’s agenda. How much tax revenue is foregone through the abatements? City documents in the agenda packet did not have these numbers, but a presentation made to council members did, as follows:

Value of one year 95% tax abatement ($6,000,000 at 80%)
City of Wichita: $37,240
Sedgwick County: $33,508
USD 375 (Circle public schools): $61,255
State of Kansas: $1,710
Total: $133,713

These values would apply annually for five years. If occupancy goals are met, the incentives would apply for another five years, at a lower rate. (The values above are 95 percent of the usual taxes. The rate for the second five years would be 50 percent of the usual taxes.)

(As an aside, the Business Journal should not use headlines like it did in this case: “Wichita City Council to consider $6 million in IRBs for industrial spec building.” A better headline would be something like “Wichita City Council to consider $133,713 in annual tax abatements.” That is the real economic transaction that happened today.)

But this is not all. The applicant company will almost certainly receive an exemption from paying sales tax on the building. City documents did not provide an estimate for how much sales tax might be abated, but it could be several hundred thousand dollars.


Notes

  1. Wichita City Council agenda packet for May 1, 2108.
  2. Daniel McCoy. Wichita City Council to consider $6 million in IRBs for industrial spec building. Wichita Business Journal, April 30, 2018. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/04/30/wichita-city-council-to-consider-6-million-in-irbs.html.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  4. For more on this, see LeRoy, Greg. The Great American Jobs Scam. Especially chapter two, titled Site Location 101: How Companies Decide Where to Expand or Relocate. The entire book may be read online at http://www.greatamericanjobsscam.com/pages/preview-book.html. A relevant excerpt: “These prisoners’ dilemma games also enable companies to create fictions about cause and effect. These fictions can be used to create public versions of how deals happened that no one can credibly contradict, because the company’s real decision-making process will never be revealed. The most important fiction to maintain, of course, is that subsidies matter in deciding where a company expands or relocates. For example, being able to send secret signals to competing cities means companies can tell contradictory stories to different cities and have no fear of being exposed. If a company really has its heart set on City A, it can tell that city that it is in the hunt, but needs to do better. Meanwhile, it can send less urgent signals to Cities B and C, even if they offered bigger packages at first. Eventually, City A offers the biggest package, and the company announces its decision to go there.”

Wichita tourism fee budget

The Wichita City Council will consider a budget for the city’s tourism fee paid by hotel guests.

If you stay at a hotel in Wichita, you’ll pay sales tax of 7.5 percent, hotel tax (transient guest tax) of 6.00 percent, and since 2015, a tourism fee of 2.75 percent. The tourism fee arises from the city’s creating of a Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID), with boundaries matching those of the city. 1 Funds collected from this fee go to Visit Wichita, the city’s visitor and convention bureau. (Of note, the TBID ordinance specifies that if the tax is itemized on hotel bills, it is to be called the “Tourism Fee.” Everyone pays, even those who are not tourists.) (Also, some hotels are in Community Improvement Districts, charging up to another 2 percent.)

Coming to Wichita for business. (Click for a larger version.)

This week the Wichita City Council will consider the budget for the use of this tourism fee revenue. 2 City documents (the agenda packet) show actual results and goals for economic impact. As can be seen in the nearby excerpt, for leisure travel in 2017, Visit Wichita claims $81,343,227 in economic impact. This figure comes from summing identifiable dollars, which comes to $20,433,737. Then a multiplier is applied to produce the economic impact. All this results in a return of investment of $53 dollars for every dollar of investment (“Media Leisure Investment”), Visit Wichita says. (This is for the “leisure” market segment only. There are separate goals and statistics for group travel, which is meetings, conventions, or sporting events.)

This data represents what is called “incremental” travel, for which Visit Wichita takes credit: “The rate of travel by those who are ‘unaware’ is considered the base rate of travel, which would have been achieved if no advertising were placed. Any travel above this base by ‘aware’ households is considered influenced — or the rate of incremental travel.” 3

As for the performance of the overall Wichita hotel market, growth is slow. Looking at growth in hotel tax collections, only two of the ten largest markets in Kansas have grown slower than Wichita. This is since January 1, 2015, which was when the tourism fee started. (Hotel tax collections collected by the Kansas Department of Revenue do not include local taxes like the city tourism fee.)

Further, if we were expecting a boost in hotel sales from the recent hosting of NCAA basketball tournament games, that didn’t happen. See Effect of NCAA basketball tournament on Wichita hotel tax revenues.

Kansas transient guest tax collections are available in an interactive visualization here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita, Ordinance No. 49-677. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/CityClerk/OrdanicesDocuments/49-677%20TBID%20Ordinance%20-%20version%204.pdf.
  2. Wichita city council agenda packet for May 1, 2018.
  3. City council agenda packet.

State government tax collections

An interactive visualization of tax collections by state governments.

Each year the United States Census Bureau collects a summary of taxes collected by each state for 5 broad tax categories and up to 25 tax subcategories. 1 I’ve collected this data and made it available in an interactive visualization.

You may recall that Kansas raised personal income tax rates in 2017 and made the new rate retroactive to January 1, 2017. But that change doesn’t seem to have affected this data. For 2016, Kansas collected $768 per person in individual income taxes, and for 2017, $799. Here’s why:

For most states, including Kansas, this data is for the fiscal year, not the calendar year. 2 New withholding tax tables were not available until June 27, 2017, just three days before the end of fiscal year 2017. 3

Click here to access the visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. United States Census Bureau. Annual Survey of State Government Tax Collections (STC). Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/stc.html.
  2. United States Census Bureau. State Government Tax Collections: 2017 Technical Documentation. Available at https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/stc/technical-documentation/complete-technical-documentation/statetaxtechdoc2017.pdf.
  3. Kansas Department of Revenue. New Kansas income tax withholding tables now available. Available at https://www.ksrevenue.org/CMS/content/06-27-2017-NewWHTables.pdf.

Tax benefits for education don’t increase education

Here’s evidence of a government program that, undoubtedly, was started with good intentions, but hasn’t produced the intended results.

Tax season ended last week. Taxpayers have filed for over $30 billion in credits and deductions for college expenses they paid in 2017.

Evidence now clearly shows that these credits have zero effect on college attendance. The tax credits surely make those who get them better off, but they do nothing to increase education. If their intent is to increase schooling, they are a failure.

Continue reading at The Brookings Institution article The tax benefits for education don’t increase education.

WichitaLiberty.TV: United States Senator Dr. Tom Coburn

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: United States Senator Dr. Tom Coburn wrote the foreword to the book “What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan –- The Undoing of a Good Idea.” He’s here to tell us what went wrong, and what we need to do. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 193, broadcast April 21, 2018.

Shownotes

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, joins Bob and Karl to update us on happenings in the Kansas Legislature. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 192, broadcast April 14, 2018.

Shownotes

  • Senator Ty Masterson at Kansas Legislature
  • Ty Masterson campaign website
  • SB 424: AN ACT concerning education; establishing the office of education inspector general within the office of the state treasurer; providing the duties and functions thereof.
  • SB 393: Legislative committees; all votes of each legislator on motions or other action recorded in minutes.
  • SCR 1611: Making application to the U.S. congress to call a convention of the states.
  • HB 2753: Review of tax credits, tax exemptions and economic development programs.

Wichita property tax rate: Down

The City of Wichita property tax mill levy declined for the second year in a row.

Wichita mill levy rates. This table holds only the taxes levied by the City of Wichita and not any overlapping jurisdictions.
In 1994 the City of Wichita mill levy rate — the rate at which property is taxed — was 31.290. In 2017 it was 32.667, based on the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and the Sedgwick County Clerk. That’s an increase of 1.377 mills, or 4.40 percent, since 1994. (These are for taxes levied by the City of Wichita only, and do not include any overlapping jurisdictions.)

In 2016 the mill levy was 32.685, so the mill levy dropped by .018 for 2017. That’s a drop of 0.06 percent, and while small, it’s a refreshing change. It’s also the second year in a row for a decrease in the mill levy.

Wichita mill levy rates. Click for larger version.
The Wichita City Council does not take explicit action to set the mill levy rate. Instead, the rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to Wichita taxation.

While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend. As can be seen in the chart of changes in the mill levy, the city usually decides to spend more than the previous year’s mill levy generates in taxes. Therefore, tax rates usually rise.

Change in Wichita mill levy rates, year-to-year and cumulative. Click for larger version.
It’s more common for the mill levy to rise rather than to fall. In those years, the council does not take responsibility to the rise. It will be interesting to see if council members take credit for the falling mill levy this year.

An increase of 4.40 percent over two decades may not seem like much of an increase. But this is an increase in a rate of taxation, not tax revenue. As property values rise, property tax bills rise, even if the mill levy rate is unchanged.

The total amount of property tax levied is the mill levy rate multiplied by the assessed value of taxable property. This amount has risen, due to these factors:

  • Appreciation in the value of property
  • An increase in the amount of property
  • Spending decisions made by the Wichita City Council

Application of tax revenue has shifted

Wichita mill levy, percent dedicated to debt service. Click for larger version.
The allocation of city property tax revenue has shifted over the years. According to the 2010 City Manager’s Policy Message, page CM-2, “One mill of property tax revenue will be shifted from the Debt Service Fund to the General Fund. In 2011 and 2012, one mill of property tax will be shifted to the General Fund to provide supplemental financing. The shift will last two years, and in 2013, one mill will be shifted back to the Debt Service Fund. The additional millage will provide a combined $5 million for economic development opportunities.”

In 2005 the mill levy dedicated to debt service was 10.022. In 2017 it was 8.511. That’s a reduction of 1.511 mills (15.1 percent) of property tax revenue dedicated for paying off debt. Another interpretation of this is that in 2005, 31.4 percent of Wichita property tax revenue was dedicated to debt service. In 2017 it was 26.0 percent.

This shift has not caused the city to delay paying off debt. This city is making its scheduled payments. But we should recognize that property tax revenue that could have been used to retire debt has instead been shifted to support current spending. Instead of spending this money on current consumption — including economic development spending that has produced little result — we could have, for example, used that money to purchase some of our outstanding bonds.

Naftzger Park private use plans unsettled

An important detail regarding Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is unsettled, and Wichitans have reason to be wary.

In the developer agreement regarding Naftzger Park passed on December 19, 2017, there was this: “The City and the Board will cooperate with Developers, upon Developers’ request, to create an Annual Master Calendar of private and public events for the Park, with the expectation that the Developers will have the use of the Park for certain private events.” 1 (In this agreement, “Board” refers to the Board of Park Commissioners of the City of Wichita, Kansas.)

Recently I asked the city if this master calendar had been created, or if there was a framework for determining how many private events can be held. According to the city, decisions are ongoing, and “According to Park & Recreation officials, what can be shared now is that the City will create and maintain a master calendar of events and programming. The developer will share in the programming responsibility and host several events throughout the year. Collaborating will ensure that the park is programmed well and active.”

Wichitans should not take comfort in learning this. We can easily imagine where the developer will want to have private events often, especially if homeless people continue using the park as a gathering spot, as is their right. “TGIF kickoff, tonight at Naftzger Park! Drinks and hot hors d’oeuvre! $15 to enter, free to residents of Lofts at Spaghetti Works and partners at Martin Pringle.”

Could this happen? How often could this happen? These are open questions, and we’re being asked to trust that city bureaucrats will negotiate a good deal for the entire city.

A panoramic view of Naftzger Park at winter’s end. Click for larger.

We shouldn’t trust the city to get a good deal for the average Wichitan. Even if the city strikes a deal that looks good, we should not trust the city to enforce the deal. Here’s an example to illustrate why.

In 2012 the city negotiated a deal with a private developer regarding an apartment development. As part of the deal, the city negotiated a provision that requires the apartment developer to pay “Additional Annual Rent” if certain conditions were met. To the casual observer, that might seem like a magnanimous gesture by the apartment developer. It made it look like the city was been a tough negotiator, hammering out a good deal for the city, letting citizens profit along with the apartment developer.

But the list of costs the developer could deduct before determining “additional annual rent” was broad, including the ability to contribute to reserve funds that would be owned by the developer. At the time, I observed, “We can be sure that if this project was ever in the position where it looked like it might have to remit ‘Additional Annual Rent’ to the city, contributions to these reserve funds would rise. Then, no funds paid to the city.” 2

As it turns out, the city did not enforce this agreement. It didn’t even ask for the information needed. Last year I became aware that the city did not ask for, and the developers did not produce, annual reports. 3

So might it happen that the private developments adjacent to Naftzger Park treat the park as their own? Recall that these developers have taken advantage of nearly every available program to fund their private developments. 4 Included in the list of benefits is a new benefit the city has offered only once before, to my knowledge: The city is paying the developer for parking spaces, on the theory they will be available to the public when the development does not need them.

Many of these benefits to the developer appeared only after the Wichita city manager said the development would not proceed, as the Wichita Eagle reported: “Plans to tear up and rebuild Naftzger Park downtown have been shelved indefinitely, after developers who own neighboring property pulled out of working with the city, Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said Friday [November 17, 2017].” 5 Somehow the deal was quickly revived, with even more taxpayer-funded benefits to the developer.

Should Wichitans trust the city to negotiate a good deal, and if it does, to enforce it? In my experience, the answer is no.


Notes

  1. DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENT between the CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, BOARD OF PARK COMMISSIONERS OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, SENECA PROPERTY, LLC, and SUNFLOWER WICHITA, LLC Dated as of January 19, 2018. Section 3.12. In the agenda packet for the December 19, 2017 Wichita city council meeting.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk apartment deal not good for citizens. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-apartment-deal-not-good-for-citizens/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-contract-not-followed/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park project details. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-project-details/.
  5. Lefler, Dion. Naftzger Park won’t be torn down, rebuilt after Spaghetti Works developer pulls out. Wichita Eagle, november 17, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article185304103.html.

Visualization: Tax collections by the states

An interactive visualization of tax collections by state governments.

Each year the United States Census Bureau collects data from the states regarding tax collections in various categories. 1 I present this data in an interactive visualization.

The values are for tax collections by the state only, not local governmental entities like cities, counties, townships, improvement districts, cemetery districts, library districts, drainage districts, watershed districts, and school districts.

Of note: Sometimes changes made by states may not align with this data. A possible reason is that for most states this data is reported for the fiscal year, while many changes to tax law affect the calendar year. 2

By using the tabbed views, you can compare tax collections in different states. Of particular interest is the “Total by State” tab. Here you can select a number of states and compare their tax burdens. (Probably three or four states at a time is the practical limit.) This data is presented on a per-person basis.

Data is as collected from the United States Census Bureau, Annual Survey of State Government Tax Collections, and not adjusted for inflation. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Click here to access the visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.
Example from the visualization. Click for larger.
Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. United States Census Bureau. Annual Survey of State Government Tax Collections (STC). Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/stc.html.
  2. “The tax revenue data pertain to state fiscal years that end on June 30, 2017 in all but four states (NY, TX, AL, MI). Amounts shown for these four states reflect the different timing of their respective fiscal years, which were the 12-month periods ending on March 31, 2017 for New York, August 31, 2017 for Texas, and September 30, 2017 for Alabama and Michigan.” United States Census Bureau. State Government Tax Collections: 2017 Technical Documentation. Available at https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/stc/technical-documentation/complete-technical-documentation/statetaxtechdoc2017.pdf.

WichitaLiberty.TV: What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute joins Bob and Karl to discuss his new book What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan –- The Undoing of a Good Idea. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 186, broadcast March 3, 2018.

Shownotes

What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan

From Kansas Policy Institute.

What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan

New Book Outlines Tax Lessons from Kansas “Experiment”

Tax relief opponents have repeatedly pointed to the 2012 Kansas tax plan as their primary example of why tax cuts do not work. But, other states like North Carolina, Indiana, and Tennessee contemporaneously, and successfully, cut taxes. What was different about the Kansas experience?

The answer to that question is multi-dimensional according to a new book from Kansas Policy Institute, entitled What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan — The Undoing of a Good Idea. The book covers the six years between the conception of Brownback’s tax cuts in 2011, the tax package being signed into law in 2012 and later repealed with the largest tax hike in state history in 2017. It documents the many mistakes that occurred, a toxic political undercurrent, and several unrelated economic circumstances that negatively impacted the budget and multiple misconceptions along the way.

Author and KPI president Dave Trabert says, “Much of what went wrong was avoidable. We hope citizens and legislators across the nation can learn from the mistakes made in Kansas as they strive to create the best path forward for everyone to achieve prosperity with lower taxes.”

The final chapter of the book is “Lessons Learned” and includes these big lessons:

  1. Don’t cut revenue and increase spending.
  2. Explain why tax relief is necessary (i.e., what are the consequences of not reducing the tax burden).
  3. Develop a comprehensive plan to balance the budget on less tax revenue, with room for the unpredictable but inevitable misfortunes (like plummeting oil and farm commodity prices).
  4. Have the right systems in place, including performance-based budgeting and a reliable revenue estimating process.

To ensure that lawmakers have this information as they work in statehouses around the country, nearly 8,000 complimentary copies are being distributed to every state legislator across the country in partnership with The Heartland Institute.

Danedri Herbert, an experienced journalist currently writing for the online publication “The Sentinel,” co-authored the book and former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma wrote the Foreword. Coburn writes, “This is a very important book, not only for state and national legislators who try to represent citizens instead of special interests, but also for taxing and spending watchdogs in the press and those involved with good government citizen activist groups.”

What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan is published by Jameson Books, Inc. and copies will be available on Amazon.

Trabert concludes, “Kansas could have successfully cut taxes as other states have done. The undoing of a very good idea—allowing citizens to keep more of their hard-earned money—gets to the crux of the serious state and national challenges we face: policy takes a back seat to politics. The efforts of many elected officials are not on solving problems in ways that create the best path forward for all Americans to achieve prosperity, but on maintaining and consolidating power.”

In Wichita, three Community Improvement Districts to be considered

In Community Improvement Districts (CID), merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public. Wichita may have an additional three, contributing to the problem of CID sprawl.

This week the Wichita City Council will hold public hearings considering the formation of three Community Improvement Districts. In Kansas Community Improvement Districts, merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public. 1

Each of these CIDs will charge customers additional sales tax, with a cap on the amount that may be raised, and a separate cap on the length of the CID. For the three projects this week, here are the details: 2

Delano Catalyst CID: 2% additional tax, raising up to $3,000,000, up to 22 years
Spaghetti Works CID: 2% additional tax, raising up to $3,118,504, up to 22 years
Chicken N Pickle CID: 1.5% additional tax, raising up to $2,300,000, up to 15 years

All these CIDs are of the pay-as-you-go type, which means the city is not borrowing money that would be repaid by the CID tax proceeds. Instead, the CID tax proceeds are periodically sent to the landowners as they are collected. The city retains a 5% administrative fee.

Additionally, two of these CIDs earmark 10% of the CID tax collections for public benefits, which are extra park maintenance for the Spaghetti Works CID, and street improvements for the Chicken N Pickle CID. While these earmarks may seem magnanimous gestures, they directly work to the developers’ benefit. For Spaghetti Works, Naftzger Park is, in effect, becoming the front yard to a development. It will be of great benefit for it to be maintained well, especially considering that the developers will be able to close the park for private events. For the Chicken N Pickle CID, the street improvements the CID will fund are usually paid for by special tax assessments on the nearby landowners, which in this case is the Chicken N Pickle. This is a large savings.

By the way, none of the applications for these economic development incentives pleads economic necessity. They simply want more money, and are willing to let government take the blame when customers notice they’re paying 9% or 9.5% sales tax in these districts.

Of additional note: The Delano and Spaghetti Works developments are receiving many millions of taxpayer-provided subsidy from other economic development incentive programs. 3 4

It will be interesting to see how the council’s two new members, Brandon Johnson (district 1, northeast Wichita) and Cindy Claycomb (district 6, north central Wichita), will vote in these matters. As Progressives, we might expect them to be opposed to higher sales taxes, which affect low-income households disproportionally. We also might expect them to be opposed to targeted tax incentives for the “wealthy,” such as the now-defunct exemption on pass-through business income in Kansas. Here, they are asked to vote on a highly targeted tax incentive that will benefit identifiable wealthy parties.

Issues regarding CID

Perhaps the most important public policy issue regarding CIDs is this: If merchants feel they need to collect additional revenue from their customers, why don’t they simply raise their prices? But the premise of this question is not accurate, as it is not the merchants who receive CID funds. The more accurate question is why don’t landlords raise their rents? That puts them at a competitive disadvantage with property owners that are not within CIDs. Better for us, they rationalize, that unwitting customers pay higher sales taxes for our benefit.

Consumer protection
Customers of merchants in CIDS ought to know in advance that an extra CID tax is charged. Some have recommended warning signage that protects customers from unknowingly shopping in stores, restaurants, and hotels that will be adding extra sales tax to purchases. Developers who want to benefit from CID money say that merchants object to signage, fearing it will drive away customers.

State law is silent on this. The City of Wichita requires a sign indicating that CID financing made the project possible, with no hint that customers will pay additional tax, or how much extra tax. The city also maintains a website showing CIDs. This form of notification is so weak as to be meaningless. See Wichita community improvement districts should have warning signs and In Wichita, two large community improvement districts proposed. In the latter, future Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell argued that signs showing different tax rates for different merchants would be confusing. Council Member Sue Schlapp said she supported transparency in government, but informing consumers of extra taxes would make the program “useless.”

Eligible costs
One of the follies in government economic development policy is the categorization of costs into eligible and non-eligible costs. The proceeds from programs like CIDs and tax increment financing may be used only for costs in the “eligible” category. I suggest that we stop arbitrarily distinguishing between “eligible costs” and other costs. When city bureaucrats and politicians use a term like “eligible costs” it makes this process seem benign. It makes it seem as though we’re not really supplying corporate welfare and subsidy.

As long as the developer has to spend money on what we call “eligible costs,” the fact that the city subsidy is restricted to these costs has no economic meaning. Suppose I gave you $10 with the stipulation that you could spend it only on next Monday. Would you deny that I had enriched you by $10? Of course not. As long as you were planning to spend $10 next Monday, or could shift your spending from some other day to Monday, this restriction has no economic meaning.

Notification and withdrawal
If a merchant moves into an existing CID, how might they know beforehand that they will have to charge the extra sales tax? It’s a simple matter to learn the property taxes a piece of property must pay. But if a retail store moves into a vacant storefront in a CID, how would this store know that it will have to charge the extra CID sales tax? This is an important matter, as the extra tax could place the store at a competitive disadvantage, and the prospective retailer needs to know of the district’s existence and its terms.

Then, if a business tires of being in a CID — perhaps because it realizes it has put itself at a competitive disadvantage — how can the district be dissolved?

The nature of taxation
CIDs allow property owners to establish their own private taxing district for their exclusive benefit. This goes against the grain of the way taxes are usually thought of. Generally, we use taxation as a way to pay for services that everyone benefits from, and from which we can’t exclude people. An example would be police protection. Everyone benefits from being safe, and we can’t exclude people from participating in — and benefiting from — police protection.

But CIDs allow taxes to be collected for the benefit of one specific entity. This goes against the principle of broad-based taxation to pay for an array of services for everyone. But in this case, the people who benefit from the CID are quite easy to identify: the property owners in the district.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Community improvement districts in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/community-improvement-districts-kansas/.
  2. Wichita City Council Agenda Packet for January 9, 2018. Agenda items IV-1, IV-2, and IV-3.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park project details. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-project-details/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Delano catalyst site. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/delano-catalyst-site/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Radio Host Andy Hooser

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Radio Host Andy Hooser of the Voice of Reason appears with Bob Weeks to discuss issues in state and national political affairs. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 177, broadcast December 23, 2017.

Shownotes