Tag Archives: Wichita city council

Activate Wichita, an embarrassment

A communications initiative of the City of Wichita brings embarrassment to our city.

At one time Activate Wichita was touted by Wichita city officials as an “online conversation about the future of the Greater Wichita metropolitan area.”

It’s described on its companion Facebook page as: “Activate Wichita is an innovative new way to be heard on the issues you’re passionate about. Whether your passion is local arts, the environment, or employment creation, you can log on and voice your opinion and local leaders will respond. Together communities come up with solutions and vote on the best course.”

For a system designed to be an interactive conversation, there aren’t many people talking. And maybe I didn’t look diligently enough, but I didn’t see local leaders responding.

At one time Activate Wichita had some activity. Then it changed. There was a different design. All the old content was gone. There was very little new content.

In December 2015 I inquired to the city and was told that My Sidewalk, the company that provides the software that runs Activate Wichita, made changes to improve the system. I was also told: “While the City has not used Activate Wichita as extensively in 2015 as in previous years, our staff has been working with the My Sidewalk support team to learn how to best make effective use of the new design as part of City engagement initiatives. The Library has a series of engagement conversations in planning for 2016. We expect increased use from several other departments as well.”

Whatever plans the city had for Activate Wichita in 2016, it doesn’t look like they materialized. As of today, there is only one active item on Activate Wichita, from March 2016. Or it could be March 2015; it doesn’t say. The companion Facebook page for Activate Wichita has only three posts since the middle of 2016, with the most recent from August.

The harm of Activate Wichita

This lack of attention to these communication initiatives might not be very important except that the city prominently features Activate Wichita. An inviting graphic appears prominently on nearly every page at wichita.gov, the city’s website.

The banner on almost all City of Wichita web pages, showing activate Wichita link.
If someone using the wichita.gov city website happens to click on the Activate Wichita logo, they would see something that can be described — charitably — as pathetic. Think of someone considering moving to Wichita, or a company planning to locate or expand in Wichita. Think of people already in Wichita. Is Activate Wichita the impression the city wants to make?

Remember, Activate Wichita is prominent on the city’s website. The city devotes precious web space to promoting it. I can understand that reviving Activate Wichita into something useful is time-consuming.

But minimizing the damage should be a snap. Just remove the Activate Wichita link from the city’s website. When Activate Wichita is revived, restore the link.

By the way, did you know the city increased the size of its communication staff by hiring a Strategic Communications Director? He’s been at work almost two years.

Wichita check register

A records request to the City of Wichita results in data as well as insight into the city’s attitude towards empowering citizens with data.

As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization.

Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor named “Go Wichita,” which changed its name to “Visit Wichita.”

Similarly, there are payments made to both “Westar Energy” and “Westar Energy — EDI.” These are the same entities, just as “Visit Wichita” and “Go Wichita” are the same entity. To the city’s credit, the matching pairs have the same vendor number, which is good. But resolving this requires a different level of analysis.

There are interesting entries. For example, the city had been spending a few hundred dollars per month to the Kansas Turnpike Authority. Then in July 2015, the city paid $3.7 million to KTA. A quick search of city council agenda packets didn’t reveal any reason for this.

Of note, it looks like there were 1,475 checks issued in amounts $20 or less over a period of nearly two years. Bank of America has estimated that the total cost of sending a business check ranges from $4 to $20.

The records request

Wichita spending data from 2013.
Wichita spending data from 2013.
The city supplied this data in an Excel spreadsheet, in an arrangement that can easily be analyzed in Excel or loaded into other programs. This is a step forward. Three years ago, Wichita could supply data of limited utility. What was supplied to me was data in pdf form, and as images, not text. It would be difficult to translate the image data into machine-readable text, and even more difficult to reorganize it to a useful arrangement or format for analysis.

Denver open checkbook.
Denver open checkbook.
In 2015 had to pay $24.00 to the city for this data. That’s a problem. It is by now routine for governmental agencies to post spending data like this, but not at the City of Wichita. Upon inquiry, city officials told me that the present financial management system “does not include many modern system features such as an ‘open checkbook.’” An “open checkbook” refers to a modern web interface where citizens can query for specific data and perhaps perform other analysis. An example is Denver’s open checkbook.

While the next-generation Wichita financial system will probably have such a feature, there’s no reason why citizens can’t experience some of the benefits now. The spreadsheet of spending data like that I paid for could easily be posted on the city’s website on a monthly basis. People like myself will take that data and make it more useful, as I did. There is no reason why this should not be happening.

Fees

When I learned of the fee for these records in 2015, I asked for a waiver, sending this to the city’s records official:

I’d like to ask for a waiver of the requested fee. I ask this because check register data is an example of records that many governmental agencies make freely available on their websites. The Wichita Public School District and Sedgwick County are two local examples.

I’d like to also call attention to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, which allows for fee waivers in some circumstances: “…fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.”

I suggest that the records I am requesting will indeed “contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government,” and that it is in the public interest of the people of Wichita that these records be freely available.

I received an answer:

Mr. Weeks,

Your request for waiver of fees is denied. KORA allows fees to be collected prior to finding and producing the document you seek. KSA 45-218(f). The extensive statute setting out how fees are to be determined, KSA 45-219, does not contain any provision for waiver in the manner you suggest.

The City will provide the document to you upon payment as invoiced.

Sincerely,
Jay C. Hinkel,
Deputy City Attorney

Mr. Hinkel is absolutely correct. Governmental agencies in Kansas have the right to charge for records, and the Kansas statutes do not mention the waiving of fees as do the federal statutes. But the Kansas Open Records Act does not require cities to charge for providing records, especially for records that the city should already be providing. Especially when citizens are willing to take that data and make it better, at no charge to the city.

(For the most recent records request, the city waived its intended fee of $24.00, noting this waiver is for the current request only. The city acknowledges that it temporarily misplaced my request, and as a result, was late in responding. I believe that is the reason for the fee waiver.)

Wichita’s attitutude, from top down

Hinkel provided a lawyer’s answer. Here, however, is the public policy the city promotes, from a Wichita city news release from 2013:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”

The importance of transparency. The city wants to empower and engage citizens by providing information. Well. I offered to “contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government,” but had to pay to do so.

When I asked city officials for clarification of why I had to pay to receive these records, communications staff told me: “I should note that the City has won multiple awards for openness and citizen participation, but City leaders recognize this work is never done. They strive each and every day to become more open and transparent and will continue to do so.”

I must disagree. This is not “open and transparent.” This is not how to “empower and engage” the people of Wichita. Not even close.

The city lags far behind comparable agencies in providing access to data. It’s been almost two years since the city expanded its staff by adding a Strategic Communications Director. It doesn’t seem that this has helped to provide information to citizens.

In Kansas, the war on blight continues

Kansas governments are trying — again — to expand their powers to take property to the detriment of one of the fundamental rights of citizens: private property rights.

Empty lots in northeast Wichita. Click for larger version.
Last year cities in Kansas lobbied for a bill that would expand their powers to take property from its lawful owners, all in the name of saving neighborhoods from “blight.” Governor Brownback vetoed that bill, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition.”1

The governor further explained: “The broad definition of blighted or abandoned property would grant a nearly unrestrained power to municipalities to craft zoning laws and codes that could unjustly deprive citizens of their property rights. The process of granting private organizations the ability to petition the courts for temporary and then permanent ownership of the property of another is rife with potential problems.”

The bill introduced this year is SB 31, titled “Rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities.”2 It is a slightly modified version of SB 338, the bill from last year.It deserves opposition for the same multitude of reasons. Last year John Todd summarized the reasons for opposition:

  • Senate Bill 338 appears to provide local governmental units with additional tools that they don’t need to “take” properties in a manner that circumvents the eminent domain statutes that private property rights advocates fought so hard to achieve in 2006.
  • The total lack of compensation to the property owner for the deprivation or taking of his or her property is missing in the bill.
  • Allowing a city or their third party take possession of vacant property they do not own and have not obtained legal title to is wrong.
  • Please take a look at a comparison between a free-market private sector solution as contrasted to a government mandated program to achieving affordable housing and the impact highly subsidized government housing solutions are having on adjacent home owners.

This year’s bill is a “committee bill,” meaning that no legislator was willing to be a named sponsor. We might call this the “Longwell-Meitzner bill,” as these two Wichita City Council members were particularly disappointed that the governor of Kansas blocked their power grab.3

Of note, Todd and I, along with others, had a luncheon meeting with a Kansas Senator who voted for last year’s bill. When we told him of our opposition, he asked questions like, “Well, don’t you want to fight blight? What will cities do to fight blight without this bill?” When we listed and explained the many tools cities already have, he said that he hadn’t been told of these. This is evidence that this bill is not needed. It’s also evidence of the ways cities try to increase their powers at the expense of the rights of people.

Following, John Todd’s testimony opposing SB 31. His exhibits are available via a link at the end of the testimony.4

January 26, 2017

Senator Elaine Bowers, Chair
Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government

Subject: MY OPPOSITION to Senate Bill No. 31 scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Committee on January 26, 2017

Dear Senator Bowers and members of the Senate Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Committee,

I OPPOSE the passage of Senate Bill No. 31 of 2017 since it is basically a slightly modified and expanded version of the Senate Bill No. 338 of 2016 that Governor Sam Brownback correctly vetoed. I see no new provisions in the 2017 bill that gives citizens any additional private property protection; rather, it strengthens local authorities “unmitigated power in determining which properties should be seized, allowing localities to write their own rules. It also cedes to municipalities the power to select which private organizations receive control of the property.”

This quote is from an e-mail the Governor’s office issued in announcing his Veto of the 2016 bill (see copy attached). A “Message from the Governor” dated April 11, 2016 provides his excellent reasoning for the Veto, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition (see copy attached).

Shortly after starting my career in the real estate business in 1976 I acquired my first rehab house. It was located in the Old Orchard area of Wichita that everyone considered one of the most economically challenged and difficult neighborhoods to work with in town. I paid the seller nearly $20 thousand her dilapidated house that included three vacant single family building lots. It cost me in the range of $10 thousand to rehabilitate the house that included repairing a caved in concrete block basement wall. I sold the rehabilitated house and the lot it was on for the $30 thousand I had invested in the transaction and wound up with the vacant lots free and clear. I sold the three lots to a builder for $9 thousand cash and he subsequently built three new affordable entry level homes on them.

Now let’s take a look at this private sector transaction:

  1. The seller of the house received cash for her property through a mutually agreed upon transaction without coercion (no eminent domain) involved.
  2. I rehabilitated the house and sold it to a young couple for their first home.
  3. The builder who purchased the 3 vacant lots built three new houses that he sold to owner occupant homeowners.
  4. The builder provided construction jobs and purchased building materials from local vendors.
  5. The Orchard neighborhood saw immediate improvement and felt the benefits of economic uplift.
  6. The City, County, and School District tax base was expanded providing with one rehabilitated and three new houses thus providing additional tax revenue to fund fire, police, public safety, and money to educate our children.
  7. I paid Federal and state taxes on the profit I made in the transaction and I suspect the builder did too.
  8. There was no need for government subsidies of any nature for this private sector transaction to work.

Now in contrast, let’s take a look at how our local government has been handling similar neighborhood opportunities. Please take a look at the attached Building Blocks Infill Project Area map to discover what has been happening in a predominantly African American neighborhood community in Wichita.

  1. The vacant green rectangles are dozens of vacant lots where houses once stood that were bulldozed by the city.
  2. The owners of these houses were paid $0 for the houses that were taken by the city’s bulldozer
  3. In my judgment, many if not a majority of these bulldozed houses had economic value and offered the potential for rehabilitation and the creation of low-cost entry level housing. (See exhibit A)
  4. The city charged the property owner $8 – $10 thousand for bulldozing charges leaving the owner with a vacant lot that was left to produce high weeds and collect trash.
  5. Most of the owners let their vacant lots go back for taxes and many were sold for $100 or less and they received $0 for their properties.
  6. Thus the existing and potential tax base was lost as well as the wonderful opportunity for clean low-cost affordable entry level home ownership that is part of the American dream.
  7. Some of the most vulnerable and economically challenged property owners of our city rightly feel helpless in the face of this devastation.

Now local governmental officials are asking you for additional powers through Senate Bill No. 31 to “deal” with this problem.

  1. They want the power to seize unoccupied houses without compensating the owners anything for their property.
  2. They want to empower non-profit (non-taxpaying) organizations of their choice to seize unoccupied houses without compensating the owners for their property.
  3. The non-profits involved in the redevelopment of this neighborhood community with the exception of Habitat for Humanity rely heavily on tax subsidies for wealthy taxpayers and generous Federal subsidies in the range of $50 thousand for each house built and sold.
  4. I hear talk of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to finance redevelopment in this community. The TIF program is simply a diversion of tax revenue that needs to go to city, county, and school district treasuries and not flow back to developers.

I see nothing in Senate Bill No. 31 that does anything to promote private sector redevelopment.

Is there a private sector solution? I say YES and I see it happening. Private sector investors, contractors and homeowners are stepping up and seizing opportunity (See Exhibit B). This economic uplift is healthy for the neighborhood community, expands the tax base, and offers an opportunity for investor/contractor profit in some cases or low-cost affordable home homeownership in others.

The rehabilitation of existing houses and redevelopment on vacant “infill” is best achieved by the private sector and not by government planners or their favored non-profit entitles.

The taking of property by local government without compensation is wrong. I believe that was what Governor Brownback was saying in his veto message, “Government should defend and protect the property rights of all citizens, ensuring that the less advantaged are not denied the liberty to which ever other citizen is entitled.”

I urge you to OPPOSE passage of Senate Bill No. 31!

Sincerely,
John R. Todd
A Kansas Citizen

The exhibits referred to are available in pdf form. Click here.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Governor Brownback steps up for property rights. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/governor-brownback-steps-property-rights/.
  2. SB 31. Rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/sb31/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/wichita-revealing-discussion-property-rights/.
  4. Todd, John. Exhibits on Blight in Wichita. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MMzFYZDQxRTRJb1U/view?usp=sharing.

From Pachyderm: Legislative Agendas for 2017

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Representatives of local governments presented issues important to them in the upcoming session of the Kansas Legislature. Presenters were:

  • Sheril Logan, board member for Wichita Public Schools. The material she presented to the audience is here.
  • James Clendenin, Wichita City Council. His presentation is here.
  • Jim Howell, Sedgwick County Commission. A link to the county’s legislative agenda is here.

This is an audio presentation recorded on January 6, 2017.

Won’t anyone develop in downtown Wichita without incentives?

Action the Wichita City Council will consider next week makes one wonder: If downtown Wichita is so great, why does the city have to give away so much?

Next week the Wichita City Council will consider a package of incentives for the developer of a large downtown building, the Finney State Office Center.

The building has an appraised value of $7,902,570, per the Sedgwick County Treasurer. The city will sell it for $100,000. That’s a mere 1.3 cents per dollar, if the county’s valuation is reasonable.

(But, the $100,000 is non-refundable, should the purchaser decide not to close on the building.)

Finney State Office Building environs. Click for larger.
The project is also asking for the city to issue Industrial Revenue Bonds. Despite the use of the term “bond,” the city is not lending money to anyone. Someone else will purchase the bonds. Instead, the IRBs are a vehicle for conveying property tax abatements and sales tax exemptions.

In this case, the developer requests a sales tax exemption for purchases during the renovation. City documents don’t give a value for the sales tax that might be exempted. But the developer has requested IRBs for an amount up to $35,000,000. So a sales tax exemption might be worth up to $2,625,000, depending on how much taxable products and services are purchased.

IRBs also carry the possibility of a property tax abatement. Granting of the abatement is routine in most areas of the city. But, this property is located within a tax increment financing (TIF) district. That means, according to Kansas law, that a property tax abatement may not be awarded. That is, unless the property is removed from the TIF district, which is what the city proposes.

What is the value of the tax abatement? City documents don’t say. But if the developer spends $35 million on the project, it ought to carry something near that appraised value when complete. So its annual property tax bill would be ($35,000,000 * 25 percent assessment rate for commercial property = $8,750,000 assessed value * 124.341 mill rate) $1,087,984.

There’s another exception the city will probably make for this project. According to the city’s economic development incentives policy, the city must receive a payoff of at least 1.3 times its investment. That benchmark isn’t met in this case, with Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research reporting a benefit-cost ratio of 1.04 to the city. Nonetheless, city staff recommends the city approve the incentives, citing several loopholes to the policy.

There’s also a parking agreement to consider. Given the city’s past practice, the city will lease parking stalls at rates below market rate or the city’s cost to provide.

No cash incentives

The city, in particular Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, have prominently and proudly touted the end of cash incentives. But, this project is receiving benefits better than cash: An $8 million building for a song, no sales tax, and no property tax for ten years. Let’s ask the city to be honest and give us dollar values for these incentives.

Why?

A second question is this: Why is it necessary to provide all these incentives in order to induce someone to develop in downtown Wichita? The cost of these incentives increases the cost of government for everyone else — that is, everyone else except all the other incentive-receivers.

Year in Review: 2016

Here are highlights from Voice for Liberty for 2016. Was it a good year for the principles of individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas?

Also be sure to view the programs on WichitaLiberty.TV for guests like journalist, novelist, and blogger Bud Norman; Radio talk show host Joseph Ashby; David Bobb, President of Bill of Rights Institute; Heritage Foundation trade expert Bryan Riley; Radio talk show host Andy Hooser; Keen Umbehr; John Chisholm on entrepreneurship; James Rosebush, author of “True Reagan,” Jonathan Williams of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); Gidget Southway, or Danedri Herbert; Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education; and Congressman Mike Pompeo.

January

Kansas legislative resources. Citizens who want to be informed of the happenings of the Kansas Legislature have these resources available.

School choice in Kansas: The haves and have-nots. Kansas non-profit executives work to deny low-income families the school choice opportunities that executive salaries can afford.

Kansas efficiency study released. An interim version of a report presents possibilities of saving the state $2 billion over five years.

Wichita Eagle Publisher Roy Heatherly. Wichita Eagle Publisher Roy Heatherly spoke to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on January 15, 2016. This is an audio presentation.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states. Kansas ranks near the top of the states in having a low pupil-teacher ratio.

Kansas highway conditions. Has continually “robbing the bank of KDOT” harmed Kansas highways?

Property rights in Wichita: Your roof. The Wichita City Council will attempt to settle a dispute concerning whether a new roof should be allowed to have a vertical appearance rather than the horizontal appearance of the old.

Must it be public schools? A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association exposes the attitudes of the Kansas public school establishment.

Kansas schools and other states. A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association makes claims about Kansas public schools that aren’t factual.

After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. In a refreshing change, Kansas schools have adopted realistic standards for students, but only after many years of evaluating students using low standards.

Brownback and Obama stimulus plans. There are useful lessons we can learn from the criticism of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, including how easy it is to ignore inconvenient lessons of history.

February

Spending and taxing in Kansas. Difficulty balancing the Kansas budget is different from, and has not caused, widespread spending cuts.

In Sedgwick County, choosing your own benchmarks. The Sedgwick County Commission makes a bid for accountability with an economic development agency, but will likely fall short of anything meaningful.

This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. Actions considered by the Kansas Legislature demonstrate — again — that governments are not capable of managing defined-benefit pension plans.

Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. The economic details of a semi-secret sale of bonds by the State of Kansas are worse than what’s been reported.

Massage business regulations likely to be ineffective, but will be onerous. The Wichita City Council is likely to create a new regulatory regime for massage businesses in response to a problem that is already addressed by strict laws.

Inspector General evaluates Obamacare website. The HHS Inspector General has released an evaluation of the Obamacare website HealthCare.gov, shedding light on the performance of former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

Kansas highway spending. An op-ed by an advocate for more highway spending in Kansas needs context and correction.

Brookings Metro Monitor and Wichita. A research project by The Brookings Institution illustrates the poor performance of the Wichita-area economy.

March

Wichita: A conversation for a positive community and city agenda. Wichita City Manager Robert Layton held a discussion titled “What are Wichita’s Strengths and Weaknesses: A Conversation for a Positive Community and City Agenda” at the February 26, 2016 luncheon of the Wichita Pachyderm Club.

In Kansas, teachers unions should stand for retention. A bill requiring teachers unions to stand for retention elections each year would be good for teachers, students, and taxpayers.

In Kansas, doctors may “learn” just by doing their jobs. A proposed bill in Kansas should make us question the rationale of continuing medical education requirements for physicians.

Power of Kansas cities to take property may be expanded. A bill working its way through the Kansas Legislature will give cities additional means to seize property.

Wichita TIF district disbands; taxpayers on the hook. A real estate development in College Hill was not successful. What does this mean for city taxpayers?

Kansas and Colorado, compared. News that a Wichita-based company is moving to Colorado sparked a round of Kansas-bashing, most not based on facts.

In Wichita, the phased approach to water supply can save a bundle. In 2014 the City of Wichita recommended voters spend $250 million on a new water supply. But since voters rejected the tax to support that spending, the cost of providing adequate water has dropped, and dropped a lot.

Wichita Eagle, where are you? The state’s largest newspaper has no good reason to avoid reporting and editorializing on an important issue. But that’s what the Wichita Eagle has done.

April

Wichita on verge of new regulatory regime. The Wichita City Council is likely to create a new regulatory regime for massage businesses in response to a problem that is already addressed by strict laws.

Wichita economic development and capacity. An expansion fueled by incentives is welcome, but illustrates a larger problem with Wichita-area economic development.

Rich States, Poor States, 2106 edition. In Rich States, Poor States, Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance, and fell sharply in the forward-looking forecast.

In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights. Reaction to the veto of a bill in Kansas reveals the instincts of many government officials, which is to grab more power whenever possible.

‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ … oops! An event in Wichita that made national headlines has so far turned out to be not the story news media enthusiastically promoted.

Wichita doesn’t have this. A small Kansas city provides an example of what Wichita should do.

Kansas continues to snub school choice reform that helps the most vulnerable schoolchildren. Charter schools benefit minority and poor children, yet Kansas does not leverage their benefits, despite having a pressing need to boost the prospects of these children.

Wichita property tax rate: Up again. The City of Wichita says it hasn’t raised its property mill levy in many years. But data shows the mill levy has risen, and its use has shifted from debt service to current consumption.

AFP Foundation wins a battle for free speech for everyone. Americans for Prosperity Foundation achieves a victory for free speech and free association.

Kansas Center for Economic Growth. Kansas Center for Economic Growth, often cited as an authority by Kansas news media and politicians, is not the independent and unbiased source it claims to be.

Under Goossen, Left’s favorite expert, Kansas was admonished by Securities and Exchange Commission. The State of Kansas was ordered to take remedial action to correct material omissions in the state’s financial statements prepared under the leadership of Duane Goossen.

May

Spirit Aerosystems tax relief. Wichita’s largest employer asks to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.

Wichita mayor’s counterfactual op-ed. Wichita’s mayor pens an op-ed that is counter to facts that he knows, or should know.

Electioneering in Kansas?. An op-ed written under the banner of a non-profit organization appears to violate the ban on electioneering.

Wichita city council campaign finance reform. Some citizen activists and Wichita city council members believe that a single $500 campaign contribution from a corporation has a corrupting influence. But stacking dozens of the same $500 contributions from executives and spouses of the same corporation? Not a problem.

In Wichita, more sales tax hypocrisy. Another Wichita company that paid to persuade you to vote for higher taxes now seeks to avoid paying those taxes.

Wichita student/teacher ratios. Despite years of purported budget cuts, the Wichita public school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.

June

KPERS payments and Kansas schools. There is a claim that a recent change in the handling of KPERS payments falsely inflates school spending. The Kansas State Department of Education says otherwise.

Regulation in Wichita, a ‘labyrinth of city processes’. Wichita offers special regulatory treatment for special circumstances, widening the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

They really are government schools. What’s wrong with the term “government schools?”

July

Kansas City Star as critic, or apologist. An editorial in the Kansas City Star criticizes a Kansas free-market think tank.

State and local government employee and payroll. Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.

Kansas government ‘hollowed-out’. Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.

In Wichita, Meitzner, Clendenin sow seeds of distrust. Comments by two Wichita city council members give citizens more reasons to be cynical and distrusting of politicians.

David Dennis, gleeful regulatory revisionist. David Dennis, candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, rewrites his history of service on the Kansas State Board of Education.

Say no to Kansas taxpayer-funded campaigning. Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.

Roger Marshall campaign setting new standards. Attacks on Tim Huelskamp reveal the worst in political campaigning.

Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce on the campaign trail. We want to believe that The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and its PAC are a force for good. Why does the PAC need to be deceptive and untruthful?

August

Which Kansas Governor made these proposals?. Cutting spending for higher education, holding K through 12 public school spending steady, sweeping highway money to the general fund, reducing aid to local governments, spending down state reserves, and a huge projected budget gap. Who and when is the following newspaper report referencing?

Wichita Business Journal editorial missed the news on the Wichita economy. A Wichita business newspaper’s editorial ignores the history of our local economy. Even the history that it reported in its own pages.

Sedgwick County Health Department: Services provided. Sedgwick County government trimmed spending on health. What has been the result so far?

School staffing and students. Trends for the nation and each state in teachers, administrators, and students, presented in an interactive visualization.

Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2015 is $4.1 million. The depreciation expense of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita recognizes and accounts for the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to pay for the arena.

School spending in the states. School spending in the states, presented in an interactive visualization.

September

Kansas construction employment. Tip to the Wichita Eagle editorial board: When a lobbying group feeds you statistics, try to learn what they really mean.

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.

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.

Cost per visitor to Wichita cultural attractions. Wichitans might be surprised to learn the cost of cultural attractions.

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

The nation’s report card and charter schools.
* An interactive table of NAEP scores for the states and races, broken down by charter school and traditional public school.
* Some states have few or no charter schools.
* In many states, minority students perform better on the NAEP test when in charter schools.

School choice and funding. Opponents of school choice programs argue the programs harm traditional public schools, both financially and in their ability to serve their remaining students. Evidence does not support this position.

October

Public school experts. Do only those within the Kansas public schooling community have a say?

Kansas and Arizona schools. Arizona shows that Kansas is missing out on an opportunity to provide better education at lower cost.

Video in the Kansas Senate. A plan to increase visibility of the Kansas Senate is a good start, and needs to go just one or two steps farther.

Kansas, a frugal state?. Is Kansas a frugal state, compared to others?

Topeka Capital-Journal falls for a story. The editorial boards of two large Kansas newspapers have shown how little effort goes into forming the opinions they foist upon our state.

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.

Kansas school fund balances.
* Kansas school fund balances rose significantly this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.
* Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.
* The interactive visualization holds data for each district since 2008.

In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud. A downtown Wichita project receives a small benefit from the city, with no mention of the really big money.

Wichita, give back the Hyatt proceeds. Instead of spending the proceeds of the Hyatt hotel sale, the city should honor those who paid for the hotel — the city’s taxpayers.

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.

November

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.

Decoding the Kansas teachers union. Explaining to Kansans what the teachers union really means in its public communications.

Kansas school spending: Visualization. An interactive visualization of revenue and spending data for Kansas school districts.

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.”

Decoding the Kansas teachers union. Decoding and deconstructing communications from KNEA, the Kansas teachers union, lets us discover the true purpose of the union.

Government schools’ entitlement mentality. If the Kansas personal income grows, should school spending also rise?

December

Wichita bridges, well memorialized. Drivers on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita are happy that the work on a small bridge is complete, but may not be pleased with one aspect of the project.

Gary Sherrer and Kansas Policy Institute. A former Kansas government official criticizes Kansas Policy Institute.

Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief. Several large employers in Wichita ask to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.

Economic development incentives at the margin. The evaluation of economic development incentives in Wichita and Kansas requires thinking at the margin, not the entirety.

The Wichita economy, according to Milken Institute. The performance of the Wichita-area economy, compared to other large cities, is on a downward trend.

State pension cronyism. A new report details the way state pension funds harm workers and taxpayers through cronyism.

In Wichita, converting a hotel into street repairs. In Wichita, it turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets.

In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent. Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens’ right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week.

In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent

Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens’ right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider approval of a contract with Visit Wichita, the city’s convention and visitor bureau. Once again, citizens will be left out of knowing how the city’s tax money is spent.

In the past, I’ve asked that Visit Wichita (formerly Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau) make its spending records available. It’s the same type of information that the city will send you about its own spending. But for Go Wichita, spending must — apparently — be kept secret.

It’s not a small amount of money that will be spent in secret. This year the city will send Go Wichita almost $2.5 million.1

But that’s not all. Since the implementation of the “City Tourism Fee” Visit Wichita collects 2.75 percent of hotel bills. (Welcome to Wichita! Here’s the bill for your tourism fee!) That’s estimated to generate $3 million in 2017.2

That is a lot of tax money, and also a high proportion of the agency’s total funding. We don’t have IRS filings from Visit Wichita since the city tourism fee started, so it’s difficult to say what portion of its funding is tax money. But it’s a lot, at least 90 percent.

Despite being nearly totally funded by taxes, Visit Wichita refuses to supply spending records. Many believe that the Kansas Open Records Act requires that it comply with such requests. If the same money was being spent directly by the city, the records undoubtedly would be supplied.

I’ve appeared before the council several times to ask that Visit Wichita and similar organizations comply with the Kansas Open Records Act. See Go Wichita gets budget approved amid controversy over public accountability, City of Wichita Spends $2 million, Rebuffs Citizen’s Transparency Request, and articles at Open Records in Kansas.

The lack of transparency at Visit Wichita is more problematic than this. Visit Wichita refused to provide to me its contract with a California firm retained to help with the re-branding of Wichita. When the Wichita Eagle later asked for the contract, it too was refused. If the city had entered into such a contract, it would be a public record. Contracts like this are published each week in the agenda packet for city council meetings. But Visit Wichita feels it does not have to comply with simple transparency principles.

The City of Wichita could easily place conditions on the money it gives to these groups, requiring them to show taxpayers how their tax dollars are being spent. But the City does not do this. This is not transparency.

In the past I’ve argued that Visit Wichita is a public agency as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But the city disagreed. And astonishingly, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agreed with the city’s interpretation of the law.

So let’s talk about good public policy. Let’s recognize that even it is the case that the Kansas Open Records Act does not require Visit Wichita, WDDC, and GWEDC to disclose records, the law does not prohibit or prevent them from fulfilling requests for the types of records I’ve asked for. Even if the Sedgwick County District Attorney says that Visit Wichita is not required to release documents, the law does not prevent the release of these records.

Once we understand this, we’re left with these questions:

Why does Visit Wichita want to keep secret how it spends taxpayer money, as much as $5.5 million next year?

Why is this city council satisfied with this lack of disclosure of how taxpayer funds are spent? Many council members have spoken of how transparency is important. One said: “We must continue to be responsive to you. Building on our belief that government at all levels belongs to the people. We must continue our efforts that expand citizen engagement. … And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” That was Mayor Brewer speaking in his 2011 State of the City address.

The city’s official page for the current mayor holds this: “Mayor Longwell has championed many issues related to improving the community including government accountability, accessibility and transparency …”

During the recent mayoral campaign, Longwell told the Wichita Eagle that he wants taxpayers to know where their money goes: “The city needs to continue to improve providing information online and use other sources that will enable the taxpayers to understand where their money is going.”

In a column in the Wichita Business Journal, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell wrote: “First off, we want City Hall to be open and transparent to everyone in the community.”

Now is the chance to fulfill these promises. All the city needs to do is add to its contract with Visit Wichita that the agency agree that it is a public agency spending public dollars, and that it will comply with the Kansas Open Records Act.

It would be a simple matter for the council to declare that the city and its taxpayer-funded partner agencies believe in open government. All the city has to have is the will to do this. It takes nothing more. It costs the city and its agencies nothing, because the open records law lets government charge for filling records requests. I would ask, however, that in the spirit of open transparent government, in respect for citizens’ right to know how tax funds are spent, and as a way to atone for past misdeeds, that Visit Wichita fulfill records requests at no charge.


Notes

  1. “The 2017 Adopted Budget includes funding for Visit Wichita’s annual allocation in the amount of $2,476,166, which is to be paid from the Convention & Tourism Fund.” City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016.
  2. “For 2017 the tax is budgeted to generate $3 million.” City of Wichita. Agenda for April 19, 2016.

In Wichita, converting a hotel into street repairs

In Wichita, it turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets.

Update: The Council approved these projects.

In September the Wichita City Council decided to sell the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Wichita for $20 million. Now the council will consider two proposals for spending this money.

One proposal is to spend $10 million on street repair, called “one-time pavement maintenance projects” in city documents.1

A second proposal is to spend $4 million on transit over the next four years. This is pitched as sort of a “bridge to sustainability.” That is, if the Wichita transit system can make it through the next four years, it can — somehow — become sustainable. The plan contains idea like this: “Extensive public education will be used to build ridership. Transit information will be available to a wider audience. Potential users will be engaged in more one-on-one manner.”2

Whatever the merits of these spending programs, Wichita is taking a capital asset and using it to fund current spending. In particular, street maintenance needs to be performed continuously. Here, the city has not been taking care of streets that taxpayers paid for and entrusted to the city for care. It turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets. But street maintenance is something that needs to be performed — and paid for — every year. We shouldn’t have to rely on a sale of a capital asset to fund daily needs.

Following, from October, what the city should do with the Hyatt proceeds.

Wichita, give back the Hyatt proceeds

Instead of spending the proceeds of the Hyatt hotel sale, the city should honor those who paid for the hotel — the city’s taxpayers.

The City of Wichita has sold the Hyatt Regency Hotel for $20 million. Now, what should the city do with these funds? In a workshop this week, the city manager and council recognized that these funds should not be used for operating purposes. This is important. The Hyatt Hotel was paid for with long-term debt, which the city says has been retired. The proceeds from this sale should be used in a similar way: For long-term capital investment, not day-to-day operating expenses. But the council heard two proposals that are decidedly more like operating expenses rather than capital investment.

One proposal, presented by Public Works Director Alan King, is to spend $10 million on street repair over two years. Part of that expense is to purchase a new truck, which is a capital, not operating, expense. But King later revealed that the truck could be purchased out of the existing capital budget.

Street maintenance, however, is an operating expense.

A second proposal, from the Wichita Transit System, would use about $4 million to sustain and improve current bus service. It was presented to the council as a “bridge to a long term solution.”

This, too, is an operating expense.

As these proposals were presented in a workshop, no decision was made.

These two proposed uses of the $20 million Hyatt sales proceeds are contrary to the goal of not using the funds for operating purposes. If the city decides to use the sales proceeds in this way, a capital investment will have been sold in order to pay for day-to-day expenses.

Instead of spending on these two projects, the city should simply return the money to those who paid for the Hyatt in the first place. Those people are, of course, the taxpayers of Wichita. It would be difficult to give back the funds to individual taxpayers in proportion to the amount they supplied. So what the city should do is retire $20 million of the city’s long-term debt.

If not that, then the city should use the Hyatt proceeds to pay for another long-lived asset, perhaps the new downtown library. Either of these alternatives respects the principles of sound financial practice, and also respects the taxpayers.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016. Agenda Item No. IV-2.
  2. City of Wichita. Agenda for December 20, 2016. Agenda Item No. IV-3.

Economic development incentives at the margin

The evaluation of economic development incentives in Wichita and Kansas requires thinking at the margin, not the entirety.

When considering the effect of economic development incentives, cities like Wichita use a benefit-cost analysis to determine whether the incentive is in the best interests of the city. The analysis usually also considers the county, state, and school districts (although these jurisdictions have no say over whether the incentive is granted, with a few exceptions). The idea is that by paying money now or forgiving future taxes, the city gains even more in increased tax collections. This is then pitched as a good deal for taxpayers: The city gets more jobs (usually) and a “profit,” too.

Economic activity usually generates tax revenue that flows to governmental agencies. When people work, they pay income taxes. When they make purchases, they pay sales taxes. When they buy existing property or create new property, they pay property taxes. This happens whether or not the economic activity is a result of government incentives. This is a key point that deserves more exploration.

Government often claims that without an incentive provided by government, a company would not have located in Wichita. Or, without the incentive, it would not have expanded in Wichita. Now, the city says incentives are necessary to persuade companies to consider remaining in Wichita rather than moving somewhere else.1

But there are a few problems with the arguments that cities, states, and their economic development agencies promote. One is that the increase in tax revenue happens regardless of whether the company has received incentives. Therefore, the benefit-cost ratio calculations are valid only if incentives were absolutely necessary. Otherwise, government claims credit for something that was going to happen anyway. This is a big question that deserves exploration.

For example, what about all the companies that locate to Wichita, or expand in Wichita, or simply remain in Wichita without receiving incentives? How do we calculate the benefit-cost ratio when a company receives no incentives? The answer is it can’t be calculated, as there is no government cost, so the divisor in the equation is zero. Instead, there is only benefit.

Then, we don’t often ask why some companies need incentives, and others do not. Do the companies that receive incentives really need them? Is it really true that a business investment is not feasible without subsidy? Why do some companies receive incentives multiple times while others thrive without incentives?

We may never know

We may never know the answer to these questions. Here’s why. Suppose fictional company XYZ Enterprises, Inc. dangles the idea of moving from Wichita to some other city. XYZ cites incentive packages offered by other cities. Wichita and the state then come up with millions in incentives, and XYZ decides to remain in Wichita. Question: Were the incentives necessary? Was the threat to move genuine? If XYZ admits the threat was not real, then it has falsely held Wichita and Kansas hostage for incentives. If the city or state admits the threat was not real, then citizens wonder why government gave away so much.2

So we’ll never really know. Everyone involved has incentive to maintain the fiction and avoid letting the truth leak out.

A small lever moves big boulders, they say

Related is that jurisdictions may grant relatively small incentives and then take credit for the entire deal. I’ve been told that when economic development agencies learn of a company moving to an area or expanding their Wichita operations, they swoop in with small incentives and take credit for the entire deal. The agency is then able to point to a small incentive and take credit for the entire deal. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to get the involved parties to speak on the record about this.

Further, governments may not credit the contribution of other governments. In the past when the Wichita economic development office presented information about an incentive it proposed to offer to a company, it would sometimes list the incentives the company is receiving from other governments. As an example, when the city offered incentives to NetApp in 2012, the city’s contribution was given as a maximum of $418,000. The agenda material mentioned — obliquely — that the State of Kansas was involved in the incentive package. Inquiry to the Kansas Department of Commerce revealed that the state had promoted incentives worth $35,160,017 to NetApp.3 Wichita’s incentive contribution is just 1.2 percent of what the state offered, which makes us wonder if the Wichita incentive was truly needed. Nonetheless, Wichita city officials spoke as though the city alone was responsible for NetApp’s decision.

The importance of marginal thinking

When evaluating economic development incentives, we often fail to properly evaluate the marginal gains. Here’s an example of the importance of looking at marginal gains rather than the whole. In 2012, the City of Wichita developed a program called New HOME (New Home Ownership Made Easy). The crux of the program is to rebate Wichita city property taxes for five years to those who buy newly-built homes in certain neighborhoods under certain conditions.

Wichita City HallThe important question is how much new activity this program will induce. Often government takes credit for all economic activity that takes place. This ignores the economic activity that was going to take place naturally — in this case, new homes that are going to be built even without this subsidy program. According to data compiled by Wichita Area Builders Association and the WSU Center for Economic Development and Business Research — this is the data that was current at the time the Wichita city council made its decision to authorize the program — in 2011 462 new homes were started in the City of Wichita. The HOME program contemplated subsidizing 1,000 homes in a period of 22 months. That’s a rate of 545 homes per year — not much more than the present rate of 462 per year. But, the city has to give up collecting property tax on all these homes — even the ones that would be built anyway.

What we’re talking about is possibly inducing a small amount of additional activity over what would happen naturally and organically. But we have to subsidize a very large number of houses in order to achieve that. The lesson is that we need to evaluate the costs of this program based on the marginal activity it may induce, not all activity.

For more, see Wichita new home tax rebate program: The analysis.


Notes

  1. “But the Hawker Beechcraft deal is different, focused on saving existing jobs, not creating new jobs, and the result diverts millions in limited taxpayer funds, primarily state income tax revenues, from state coffers to a company’s benefit, simply to have an existing business stay put.” Flentje, Edward. Brinkmanship with jobs. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/brinkmanship-with-jobs/.
  2. 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.”
  3. Weeks, Bob. NetApp economic development incentives: all of them. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/netapp-economic-development-incentives-all-of-them/.

Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief

Several large employers in Wichita ask to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.

This week the Wichita City Council will hold public hearings concerning the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds to Spirit AeroSystems, Inc and other companies.1 In the IRB program, government is not lending money, and Wichita taxpayers are not at risk if the bonds are not repaid. In fact, in the case of Spirit, the applicant company plans to purchase the bonds itself, according to city documents. Instead, the purpose of the IRB process is to allow Spirit to escape paying property taxes and, often, sales taxes.

These bonds will allow Spirit to avoid paying property taxes on taxable property purchased with bond proceeds for a period of five years. The abatement may then be extended for another five years. Usually these IRB issues also carry a sales tax exemption, but the agenda packet for this item does not mention such

City documents state that the property tax abatement will be shared among the taxing jurisdictions in these estimated amounts:

City: $424,918
State: $19,500
County: $381,979
USD 259: $731,614

The listing of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, is likely a mistake by the city, as the Spirit properties lie in the Derby school district. This is evident below.

The forgiveness of taxes is justified by the city because it believes it will receive a return that is greater than the foregone taxes. This benefit-cost ratio is calculated by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research (CEDBR) at Wichita State University based on data supplied by the applicant company and the city. The rationale behind these calculations is a matter of debate. Even if valid, calculating the ratio with any degree of precision is folly, reminding us of the old saw “Economists use a decimal point to remind us they have a sense of humor.”

City of Wichita: 5.38 to 1
City General Fund: 2.60 to 1
City Debt Service Fund: NA to 1
Sedgwick County: 2.69 to 1
U.S.D. 260: 1.16 to 1
State of Kansas: 5.51 to 1

These figures reveal that the City of Wichita is forcing a decision on a neighboring jurisdiction that it would not accept for itself, unless it uses one of many exceptions or loopholes. This adverse decision is forced upon the Derby School District. It faces a benefit-cost ratio of 1.16 to 1, which is below the city’s standard of 1.30 to 1, unless an exception is cited. 2 The Derby School District is not involved in this action and has no ability to influence the issuance of these bonds, should it desire to.

We have to wonder why the City of Wichita imposes upon the Derby school district an economic development incentive that costs the Derby schools $731,614 per year, with a substandard payoff?
Of note, the Derby school district extends into Wichita, including parts of city council districts 2 and 3. These districts are represented by Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin, respectively.

In a second agenda item, the city will consider IRBs for a building being developed by Air Capital Flight Line. The beneficiary, however, is Spirit, as city documents state: “The requested sales tax exemption and property tax abatement will be passed on as a benefit to Spirit.”

The annual benefit in tax savings is given by the city as:

City: $294,174
State: $13,500
County: $264,447
USD 259: $506,502

These values are offset by a Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILOT) estimated at $13,251 annually.

For benefit-cost ratios, the city supplies these:

City of Wichita: 3.65 to 1
City of Wichita Gen Fund: 1.83 to 1
City of Wichita Debt Serv: NA to 1
Sedgwick County: 2.09 to 1
USD 260: 1.00 to 1
State of Kansas 2.48: to 1

Here we see the same mistake with the Wichita and Derby school districts. We also see the Derby school district giving up $506,502 in tax revenue, with no positive return.

Spirit is not the only company asking for tax relief through IRBs this week. Three other companies are making similar requests. In none of these cases is economic necessity cited as a reason for escaping taxes. None are threatening to leave Wichita if the relief is not granted.

The problem with these actions

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. (See Kansas economic growth policy should embrace dynamism and How to grow the Kansas economy.)

A major reason why these tax abatements are harmful to the Wichita economy is its strangling effect on entrepreneurship and young companies. As these companies and others escape paying taxes, others have to pay. This increases the burden of the cost of government on everyone else — in particular on the companies we need to nurture.

There’s plenty of evidence that entrepreneurship, in particular young business firms, are the key to economic growth. But Wichita’s economic development policies, as evidenced by these actions, are definitely stacked against the entrepreneur. As Wichita props up its established industries, it makes it more difficult for young firms to thrive. Wichita relies on targeted investment in our future. Our elected officials and bureaucrats believe they have the ability to select which companies are worthy of public investment, and which are not. It’s a form of centralized planning by government that shapes the future direction of the Wichita economy.

These targeted economic development efforts fail for several reasons. First is the knowledge problem, in that government simply does not know which companies are worthy of public investment. This lack of knowledge, however, does not stop governments from creating policies for the awarding of incentives. This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led to companies receiving grants or escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form. Young entrepreneurial companies are particularly vulnerable.

Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development PolicyProfessor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business is critical of this approach to economic development. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

In the same paper, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

In making his argument, Hall cites research on the futility of chasing large employers as an economic development strategy: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. To quote from the most comprehensive study: ‘The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.'”

(For a summary of the peer-reviewed academic research that examines the local impact of targeted tax incentives from an empirical point of view, see Research on economic development incentives. A sample finding is “General fiscal policy found to be mildly effective, while targeted incentives reduced economic performance (as measured by per capita income).”)

There is also substantial research that is it young firms — distinguished from small business in general — that are the engine of economic growth for the future. We can’t detect which of the young firms will blossom into major success — or even small-scale successes. The only way to nurture them is through economic policies that all companies can benefit from. Reducing tax rates for everyone is an example of such a policy. Abating taxes for specific companies through programs like the Wichita city council is considering this week is an example of precisely the wrong policy.

In explaining the importance of dynamism, Hall wrote: “Generally speaking, dynamism represents persistent, annual change in about one-third of Kansas jobs. Job creation may be a key goal of economic development policy but job creation is a residual economic outcome of business dynamism. The policy challenge centers on promoting dynamism by establishing a business environment that induces business birth and expansion without bias related to the size or type of business.”

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach, especially the policies that prop up our established companies to the detriment of dynamism. We need to advocate for policies — at Wichita City Hall, at the Sedgwick County Commission, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. We need political leaders who have the wisdom to realize this, and the courage to act appropriately. Which is to say, to not act in most circumstances.

Small business

This year American City Business Journals presented the results of a study of small business vitality in cities. 3 Wichita ranked at number 104 out of 106 cities studied. Awarding incentives to large companies places small business at a disadvantage. Not only must small business pay for the cost of government that incentivized companies avoid, small companies must also compete with subsidized companies for inputs such as capital and labor.

Pursuing large companies

Research has found that the pursuit of large companies doesn’t produce the desired growth: “The results show that large firms fail to produce significant net benefits for their host communities, calling into question the high-stakes bidding war over jobs and investment.” 4

This finding is counterintuitive. People can easily see the large companies. They are likely to know someone that works there. But it is the unseen effects that must be considered too, and that is rarely done.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. City Council agenda packet for December 6, 2016.
  2. Sedgwick County/City of Wichita Economic Development Policy. Available at www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/Economic/EconomicDevelopmentDocuments/City%20of%20Wichita%20Economic%20Development%20Policy.pdf.
  3. Wichita Business Journal. The State of Small Business: Wichita scores low in small biz vitality. Available at www.bizjournals.com/wichita/print-edition/2016/04/29/the-state-of-small-business-wichita-scores-low-in.html.
  4. William F. Fox and Matthew N. Murray, “Do Economic Effects Justify the Use of Fiscal Incentives?” Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 71, No. 1, 2004, p. 79.

Wichita bridges, well memorialized

Drivers — like me — on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita are happy that the work on a small bridge is complete, but may not be pleased with one aspect of the project.

The memorial plaque celebrating the accomplishment on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita. The flare from the sun is a defect of this photograph, not the marker. Click for larger.
The memorial plaque celebrating the accomplishment on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita. The flare from the sun is a defect of this photograph, not the marker. Click for larger.
It’s a small bridge, on East Twenty-First Street between Mosely and New York Streets. At 49 feet long it is designated a bridge by the Federal Highway Administration. And we’re glad it’s there.

But with city lane width guidelines for arterial streets at 11 feet, this four-lane bridge may not be not much longer than it is wide.1

The bridge on East Twenty-First Street. Click for larger.
The bridge on East Twenty-First Street. Click for larger.
Does it warrant the full commemorative treatment of a bronze plaque memorializing the elected officials and bureaucrats who happened to be in office at the time taxpayers paid for this bridge?

A city official told me that the plaque cost around $2500, and noted that the City Council approves them for each project.2

Why does the city spend so much on plaques for bridges that, in some cases, may not be much longer than wide? It’s a small matter, but these issues are symbolic of government’s attitude towards costs, and of some officials’ view of their own self-importance.

It’s presumptuous, that such a mundane accomplishment would be decorated so at the expense of taxpayers. More than this, it’s preposterous.

West Twenty-Ninth Street in Sedgwick County. Click for larger.
West Twenty-Ninth Street in Sedgwick County. Click for larger.
The City of Wichita is not alone. As I reported in The bridges of Sedgwick County are well marked, Sedgwick County does this, too. And doubly so. The bridge in Twenty-First Street in Wichita has one plaque, but even small bridges in Sedgwick County have two, one on each side.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. *Street Design Guidelines, Approved by the City Council, December 2014. http://www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/Planning/PlanningDocument/Street%20Design%20Guidelines-Final.pdf
  2. Email correspondence with Gary Janzen, Wichita City Engineer and Assistant Director Public Works & Utilities, November 28, 2016.

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

Wichita, give back the Hyatt proceeds

Instead of spending the proceeds of the Hyatt hotel sale, the city should honor those who paid for the hotel — the city’s taxpayers.

The City of Wichita has sold the Hyatt Regency Hotel for $20 million. Now, what should the city do with these funds? In a workshop this week, the city manager and council recognized that these funds should not be used for operating purposes. This is important. The Hyatt Hotel was paid for with long-term debt, which the city says has been retired. The proceeds from this sale should be used in a similar way: For long-term capital investment, not day-to-day operating expenses. But the council heard two proposals that are decidedly more like operating expenses rather than capital investment.

One proposal, presented by Public Works Director Alan King, is to spend $10 million on street repair over two years. Part of that expense is to purchase a new truck, which is a capital, not operating, expense. But King later revealed that the truck could be purchased out of the existing capital budget.

Street maintenance, however, is an operating expense.

A second proposal, from the Wichita Transit System, would use about $4 million to sustain and improve current bus service. It was presented to the council as a “bridge to a long term solution.”

This, too, is an operating expense.

As these proposals were presented in a workshop, no decision was made.

These two proposed uses of the $20 million Hyatt sales proceeds are contrary to the goal of not using the funds for operating purposes. If the city decides to use the sales proceeds in this way, a capital investment will have been sold in order to pay for day-to-day expenses.

Instead of spending on these two projects, the city should simply return the money to those who paid for the Hyatt in the first place. Those people are, of course, the taxpayers of Wichita. It would be difficult to give back the funds to individual taxpayers in proportion to the amount they supplied. So what the city should do is retire $20 million of the city’s long-term debt.

If not that, then the city should use the Hyatt proceeds to pay for another long-lived asset, perhaps the new downtown library. Either of these alternatives respects the principles of sound financial practice, and also respects the taxpayers.

In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud

A downtown Wichita project receives a small benefit from the city, with no mention of the really big money.

Today the Wichita City Council approved a subsidy for a project in downtown Wichita.

The city will lend the developer of a project at 303 S. Broadway $620,000 to improve the building’s facade. The property must repay this amount through an assessment on its property tax. The benefit to the property is that the city is able to borrow money at a lower interest rate, and this reduces the cost of borrowing for the project.

The agenda packet for this item states: “The Office of Urban Development has reviewed the economic (“gap”) analysis of the project and determined a financial need for incentives based on the current market.” This stems from the city’s policy on facade improvement projects, which is that the project would not be feasible except for this loan.1

Upon inquiry to the city, I was told that the facade improvement program would increase the developer’s return on investment from 7.06 percent to 8.35 percent. This seemed a stretch; that a small savings on interest costs on a small portion of the project cost could have such a large effect on profitability.

I asked the city for supporting documents that hold the figures used to calculate these amounts, but the city believes the Kansas Open Records Act does not allow it to release the records. In the past, however, I have received this information on request.

So, we’ll have to trust the city on this matter. I’m not comfortable with that. This is another example of the city conducting business within a cloud of secrecy.

Here’s the real money

The cost savings on borrowing $620,000 is just a small portion of subsidy this project will receive. Through tax credits, this project likely will receive over two million dollars in a form equivalent to cash.

The property was listed on the Register of Historic Kansas Places in August. This entitles the project to a tax credit of 25 percent of qualified expenses.2 With a project cost of $5,000,000, according to city documents, this tax credit could be worth $1,250,000.

From the National Park Service, a credit of 20 percent may be awarded.3 With a project cost of $5,000,000, according to city documents, this tax credit could be worth $1,000,000. It is not known at this time whether this project has qualified for this tax credit.

Together, the tax credits are worth potentially $2,250,000. Not all citizens may be aware of the mechanism of tax credits. In the case of the state of Kansas, the Department of Revenue will — figuratively — print a certificate that says the holder of this certificate may use it to pay $1,250,000 of state tax liability. It costs the state nothing to create this certificate. When the Department of Revenue receives the certificate instead of cash, the state gains nothing of economic value. The net economic effect is that the holder of the tax credit has been enriched by $1,250,000, and the state misses out on the same amount of revenue.4 Unless the state reduces its spending by the amount of the tax credit, the taxpayers have to make up the lost revenue.

This is not all. The project may apply for Industrial Revenue Bonds. This is a mechanism whereby a project may avoid paying property taxes and sales taxes.5 This property is located within a TIF district, so it is ineligible for property tax abatements. But, a sales tax exemption could be possible, if the developer applies.

That application is likely, as this developer did just that on another downtown Wichita building, also located in a TIF district, but eligible for sales tax exemption on purchases related to the redevelopment.6

Of note: This developer actively campaigned for the proposed 2014 Wichita city sales tax, offering free office space to the effort.7 Should he apply for a sales tax exemption on this property, this is another example of low-income families in Wichita paying sales tax on groceries, but well-off developers escaping paying that same tax.

The council meeting

At the council meeting, a citizen remarked how this project is good for the tax base. But, being in a TIF district, the incremental property taxes from this property will go to the TIF district, not the city, until the TIF debt is retired.

Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita) noted that the city is not contributing to the project, that the developer pays all the costs of the facade improvement loan. But of a direct contribution to the project, she said “Although I wouldn’t probably complain if that was a request.” I’d suggest that Miller read up on the economics of tax credits, and of a possible sales tax exemption. She might be surprised to learn how much cash this project is receiving.


Notes

  1. “Owner shall provide financial information that substantiates the need for the City’s facade loan in order to complete the redevelopment project, including the overall sources and uses of funds and pro forma cash flow analysis that shows a reasonable return on owner’s investment.” City of Wichita. Facade Improvement Program Policies and Procedures. Available at www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/Economic/EconomicDevelopmentDocuments/Facade%20Improvement%20Program%20Policy.pdf.
  2. Kansas Historical Society. State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Available at www.kshs.org/p/tax-credit-basics/14673.
  3. National Park Service. Tax Incentives for Preserving Historic Properties. Available at www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives.htm.
  4. Sometime the tax credits are sold to someone else. In this case the seller usually receives less than the face value of the credit.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. The Lux in Wichita: Taxpayer funding of lifestyle choices. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/the-lux-in-wichita-taxpayer-funding-of-lifestyle-choices/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, pro-sales tax campaign group uses sales tax-exempt building as headquarters. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-pro-sales-tax-campaign-group-uses-sales-tax-exempt-building-headquarters/.

Bizarre and troubling Wichita city council meetings

Inside jokes or a public shaming: Either way, it isn’t good.

Those who watch meetings of the Wichita City Council may have become accustomed to Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell and his unusual sense of humor. But an episode from the September 6, 2016 meeting of the council goes beyond bad and unfunny humor, presenting an unfavorable image of our city to anyone watching the meeting. The target of the mayor’s humor — or derision — is Wichita city manager Robert Layton. A video excerpt of the meeting is available here, or at the end of this article.

The mayor’s treatment of the city manager seems cruel. But maybe not. Perhaps there are inside jokes in play here, humor that an outside observer like myself does not understand and can’t appreciate. But that’s the problem. If, in fact, the mayor is joking with the manager, these are inside jokes. Therefore, outsiders won’t understand the humor. This includes most citizens of Wichita and outsiders observing the meetings of the Wichita City Council. I think I can speak for everyone when I say this: We aren’t impressed. It isn’t funny.

If the mayor isn’t joking, then what’s left is public cruelty, and that of a boss (the mayor) to those who work for him (the manager). Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer did this too, and to more than one city manager.

If you need help interpreting the mayor’s intent, consider this: The agenda for this meeting, for this item, held the notation “RECOMMENDED ACTION: Defer this item until October 4, 2016” for this item. There was no need for the mayor’s needling of the manager.

Either way — inside jokes or a public scolding — episodes like this are not good for the city’s image.

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.

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).

In Wichita, your house numbers may become illegal

House numbers that may become illegal in Wichita.
House numbers that may become illegal in Wichita.
Thousands of Wichita homeowners may soon be lawbreakers if the city council follows its staff’s recommendation.

An update is at the end of this article.

This week the Wichita City Council may make your house number illegal, even though those numbers may — literally — be set in stone. This will be the case if the council takes the action recommended by its Department of Public Works and Utilities.

Current city code requires address numbers three inches high. The proposed ordinance requires numbers four inches tall. The penalty for noncompliance is $500 per day, with each day being “a separate and distinct offence.”

Existing and proposed ordinances

The existing city code:1

Sec. 10.04.190. – Same — Duty of owner or occupant to place; size, etc.

The owner or occupant of each and every house or building in the city is required to place on the house or building, in a conspicuous place, numbers of at least three inches in height of a type to be selected by the owner or occupant, which numbers shall be in conformity with and according to the provisions of the two preceding sections of this chapter. (Ord. No. 14-491 § 2)

The proposed code.2

SECTION 10. Section 10.04.190 of the Code of the City of Wichita, Kansas, is hereby amended to read as follows:

“Duty of owner or occupant to place; size, etc.”

The owner or occupant of every house or building in the City is required to conspicuously place on the house or building house numbers of at least four (4) inches in height. Painting house numbers on the Curb alone shall not be sufficient to comply with this Section.

Such numbers shall be consistent with Sections 10.04.170 and 10.04.180. Such numbers shall be of a sufficient contrast such that police officers and firefighters can read the numbers from the abutting street. Any property owner failing to comply with this Section is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed five hundred (500) dollars. Each day house numbers are not properly placed on the house or building is a separate and distinct offence.

Update
At its August 9 meeting, the city council deferred this item to September.


Notes

A look at a David Dennis campaign finance report

It’s interesting to look at campaign finance reports. Following, a few highlights on a report from the David Dennis campaign. He’s a candidate for Sedgwick County Commission in the August Republican Party primary election. The report was filed July 25, 2016, covering the period from January 1, 2016 through July 21, 2016. These reports are available online at the Sedgwick County Election Office website.

Keith Stevens, $200
A longtime Democrat community activist, always on the side of higher taxes and more government spending.

Suzanne F. Ahlstrand, $250
Gary & Cathy Schmitt, $100
Jon E. Rosell, $100
Charlie Chandler, Maria Chandler, $1,000 total
Al and Judy Higdon, $500
James & Vera Bothner, $250
Lyndon O. & Marty Wells, $500
All are, or have been, affiliated with the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce in various roles, including paid staff and leadership. At one time local chambers of commerce were dedicated to pro-growth economic policies and free markets. But no longer. The Wichita Chamber regularly advocates for more taxes (the 2014 Wichita sales tax campaign was run by the Wichita Chamber), more spending, more cronyism, and less economic freedom. It campaigns against fiscally conservative candidates when the alternative is a candidate in favor of more taxes. The Chamber says it does all this in the name of providing jobs in Wichita. If you’re wondering who ground down the Wichita economy over the past few decades, look no further than the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates who have run Wichita’s economic development bureaucracy.

Harvey Sorensen, $500
Sorensen was one of the drivers behind the 2014 one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax proposal, serving as co-chair of Yes Wichita, the primary group campaigning for the tax. In a public forum Sorensen said, “Koch Industries is going to spend a million dollars to try to kill the future of our community.”1 Wichita voters rejected that sales tax, with 62 percent of voters voting “No.”2 Since the election, we’ve learned that we can satisfy our water future needs by spending much less than Sorensen recommended, at least $100 million less.3 Part of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce cabal, Sorensen has played both sides of the street, having donated $500 to Jeff Longwell and the same amount to his opponent Sam Williams in the 2015 Wichita mayoral election. We might be led to wonder if Sorenson makes contributions based on sincerely held beliefs regarding public policy, or simply for access to officeholders.

Jon, Lauren, David, and Barbara Rolph, $2,000 total
Jon Rolph was another co-chair of Yes Wichita, the primary group campaigning for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax. Since then he’s floated the idea of trying again for a city sales tax.

Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union No. 441 Political Action Committee, $500
Labor unions rarely — very rarely — make campaign contributions to Republicans. Except for David Dennis.

Bryan K & Sheila R Frye, $50
Bryan Frye is a newly-elected Wichita City Council member who has quickly found a home among the other big-taxing, big-spending council members. He’d very much like a county commissioner who is compliant with more taxes and more spending — like David Dennis.

Lynn W. & Kristine L. Rogers, $50
Lynn Rogers is a Republican-turned-Democrat. As a member of the Wichita public schools board, he is an advocate for more school spending, less school accountability, and no school choice.

Alan J. & Sharon K. Fearey, $100
A Democrat, Sharon Fearey served two terms on the Wichita City Council. She was always an advocate for more taxes and spending, even scolding the Wichita Eagle when it thwarted her spending plans.

Foley Equipment, $500
Ann Konecny, $500
Foley was an advocate for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax, contributing $5,000 to the campaign. The next year, Foley asked for an exemption from property taxes and the sales tax that it campaigned for.4 Foley wanted poor people in Wichita to pay more sales tax on groceries, but didn’t want to pay that same sales tax itself.

BF Wichita, L.L.C., $500
A company affiliated with George Laham. He’s a partner in the taxpayer-subsidized River Vista Apartment project on the west bank of the Arkansas River north of Douglas Avenue. Rumor is that the apartment project will be abandoned in favor of selling the land as the site for an office building.

Automation Plus, $500
Sheryl Wohlford, Vice President, is a longtime progressive activist, a member of Wichita Downtown Vision Team. In short, someone who knows how to spend your money better than you.

Steven E. Cox, Janis E. Cox, $1,000 total
Owners of Cox Machine, this company regularly applies for and receives taxpayer-funded incentives, including the forgiveness of paying sales tax. Yet, this company contributed $2,000 to the campaign for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax.

Leon or Karen Lungwitz, $500
Owner of company where Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell once worked.

Slawson Commercial Properties, LLC, $500
Socora Homes, Inc., $500
New Market 1, LLC, $500
Buildings 22-23-24, LLC, $500
All are Slawson companies, advocates of and beneficiaries of taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Carl & Cathy Brewer, $200
The Democrat former mayor of Wichita. Enough said about that.

Tom Winters, $250
Winters is emblematic of the big-taxing, big-spending Republican officeholder who believes he knows how to spend your money better than you. Karl Peterjohn defeated Winters in the August 2008 primary election.

Timothy R. Austin, $150
We might label Austin as “engineer for the cronies” based on his frequent appearances before governmental bodies advocating for taxpayer-funded subsidy for his clients.


Notes

  1. Ryan, Kelsey. Comment on Koch involvement in sales tax heats up debate. Wichita Eagle, October 29, 2014. Available at www.kansas.com/news/local/article3456024.html.
  2. Sedgwick County Election Office. November 4th, 2014 General Election Official Results — Sedgwick County. Available at www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/election_results/Gen14/index.html.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, the phased approach to water supply can save a bundle. wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-phased-approach-water-supply-can-save-bundle/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, campaigning for a tax, then asking for exemption from paying. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/campaigning-for-tax-then-asking-for-exemption-from-paying/.