Tag Archives: Wichita city government

On big contracts, Wichita has had problems

As Wichita prepares to award a large construction contract, let’s hope the city acts in an ethical manner this time.

As the Wichita City Council prepares to make a decision regarding a contract for the new baseball stadium, the council’s past reputation in these matters can’t be overlooked.

The controversy over the stadium contract has been covered by the Wichita Eagle: “The Wichita City Council hasn’t officially approved a design-build team for the city’s new $75 million Minor League ballpark, but there’s already been a protest over the recommended group. … At issue in a protest by a competing team is whether the JE Dunn team meets a key requirement to be selected, which is that it has built at least three similar Major or Minor League ballparks.” 1

The biggest potential for unethical behavior comes from Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell. In 2012, as the Wichita city council was considering the award of the contract for the new airport terminal, Longwell (then a council member) received campaign contributions from executives of Walbridge, a Michigan construction company partnering with Key Construction to build the new Wichita airport terminal. 2

Two Walbridge contributions were made on July 16, 2012, the day before the council, Longwell included, voted to award the contract to the Key/Walbridge partnership. More contributions from Walbridge arrived on July 20, according to Longwell’s campaign finance reports.

When questioned about the Michigan contributions, Longwell told the Wichita Eagle, “We often get contributions from a wide variety of sources, including out-of-town people.” But analysis of past campaign finance documents filed by Longwell showed just three out-of-state contributions totaling $1,500. 3

In deciding the airport contract issue, the council was asked to make decisions involving whether discretion was abused or whether laws were improperly applied. It’s not surprising that Jeff Longwell made these decisions in favor of his campaign contributors. But he shouldn’t have been involved in the decision.

That was not the first time Jeff Longwell has placed the interests of his campaign contributors ahead of taxpayers. In 2011 the city council, with Longwell’s vote, decided to award Key a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.

It’s not only Longwell with problematic behavior in the past. In 2012, before the vote on the airport contract, executives of Key Construction and spouses contributed heavily to the campaigns of both Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) and Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita). These contributions were not known to the public until months after the vote was cast.

Williams is no longer on the council, but Clendenin remains.

Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer had his own issues, with a curious set of ethics principles. 4

The city needs an adult in the room. That person is, or should be, Wichita city manager Robert Layton. In the past he has implemented policies to end the practice of no-bid contracts. We don’t know what will happen this week.


Notes

  1. Rengers, Carrie. City selects ballpark design-build group; competing bidder questions qualifications. Wichita Eagle, November 29, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/carrie-rengers/article222372330.html (subscription may be required).
  2. “A campaign finance report filed by Wichita City Council Member Jeff Longwell contains contributions from executives associated with Walbridge, a Michigan construction company partnering with Key Construction to build the new Wichita airport terminal. … These contributions are of interest because on July 17, 2012, the Wichita City Council, sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity, made a decision in favor of Key and Walbridge that will cost some group of taxpayers or airport customers an extra $2.1 million. Five council members, including Longwell, voted in favor of this decision. Two members were opposed.” Weeks, Bob. Michigan company involved in disputed Wichita airport contract contributes to Jeff Longwell. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/michigan-company-involved-in-disputed-wichita-airport-contract-contributes-to-jeff-longwell/.
  3. “Analysis of Longwell’s July 30, 2012 campaign finance report shows that the only contributions received from addresses outside Kansas are the Walbridge contributions from Michigan, which contradicts Longwell’s claim. Additionally, analysis of ten recent campaign finance reports filed by Longwell going back to 2007 found three contributions totaling $1,500 from California addresses.” Weeks, Bob. Jeff Longwell out-of-town campaign contributions. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/jeff-longwell-out-of-town-campaign-contributions/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. The odd ethics of Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/odd-ethics-wichita-mayor-carl-brewer/.

It’s not the bonds, it’s the taxes

A Wichita Eagle headline reads “Wichita aircraft supplier plans 45 new jobs with $7.5 million bond request,” but important information is buried and incomplete.

According to the agenda packet for the December 4, 2018 meeting of the Wichita City Council, a local aircraft supplier is “requesting issuance of bonds” worth $7.5 million. 1

Even if you read the entire Wichita Eagle article2 on this matter, you wouldn’t really learn much about this item. You might think the city is lending the company this money, which many people assume is the purpose of the Industrial Revenue Bonds program. But in the IRB program, the city lends no money, nor does it guarantee repayment of the bonds. 3

Instead, the purpose of the IRBs is to convey a tax holiday. In the very last paragraph, the article mentions this property tax abatement, but no dollar value is given, even though the “city documents” presumably used as a source for this story clearly state the dollar values. The sales tax exemption is also mentioned, with no dollar value given. City documents don’t hold that, either.

The value of the tax holiday, according to the city, is estimated at $82,040 annually for up to ten years, shared among local taxing authorities thusly:

City of Wichita: $22,837
State of Kansas: $1,050
Sedgwick County: $20,575
USD 259 (Wichita school district): $37,578

For the value of the sales tax exemption, no value is given. By city documents state the purpose of the bonds is to pay for “$4,000,000 for new machinery and equipment.” Sales tax on that would be $300,000. If the entire $7.5 million is spent on taxable purchases, sales tax savings would be $562,500.

Why doesn’t the Wichita Eagle mention some of these important matters?

The article also holds no mention of the important public policy issues involved. For example, why does the owner of the business want to escape paying the same taxes that (nearly) everyone else must pay? This question is especially pertinent as Kansas is one of the few states in which even low-income households pay the full sales tax rate on groceries.

Perhaps the reason is that the cost of government makes this investment unprofitable. If that is true, we have a grave problem. If the city must issue bonds and create a tax holiday for this rather small investment, we have a capacity problem. A reader on Facebook left this wry comment to the Eagle story: “So, local area population 600,000+ people … About to add 45 jobs over 5 years?”

The city justifies tax giveaways like this by using a benefit-cost analysis. That is, if the city gives up some taxes, it will receive even more in additional taxes. This analysis is useful to politicians and bureaucrats. But the analysis is valid and meaningful only if the investment is impossible without the tax giveaway.

The question then becomes: Is this tax forgiveness necessary? City documents don’t say. Showing necessity is not a requirement of the IRB incentive program. We’re left wondering if the tax expenditure, which is potentially more than one million dollars over ten years, is truly needed.

The city is proud of its requirements that the benefit-cost ratio must be at least 1.3 to 1. But for USD 259, the Wichita school district, the ratio is 1.17 to 1. So the city is pushing an “investment” on the school district that is below the standard it requires for itself. The school district has no say in the matter, based on Kansas state law. Note also that the school district gives up the most tax revenue, 1.6 times as much as the city.

By the way, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell says the city is no longer using cash as economic development incentives. But when the city waves a magic legislative wand and says you don’t have to pay $82,040 per year in property tax, how is that different than giving the same amount in cash? Or when the city says don’t bother paying the sales tax on this, how is that different than giving a cash discount?

The answer is there’s no difference. The mayor, city council members, and city bureaucrats hope you won’t notice the sleight of hand, that is, skillful deception. And with the Wichita Eagle being the watchdog, there’s little chance very many people will be informed.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita, agenda for December 4, 2018. V-2: Public Hearing and Issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds, Etezazi Industries, Inc. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/12-04-2018%20Agenda.pdf.
  2. Siebenmark, Jerry. Wichita aircraft supplier plans 45 new jobs with $7.5 million bond request. Wichita Eagle, November 30, 2018.
  3. “Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes.” Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.

Sedgwick County income and poverty

Census data show Sedgwick County continuing to fall behind the nation in two key measures.

Data released today from the United States Census Bureau through the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) Program shows Sedgwick County median household income continues to fall farther behind the nation.

In 1989, median household income in Sedgwick County was greater than that for Kansas and the nation. In 2017, however, Sedgwick County has fallen behind both.

In 1989, the all-age poverty rate in Sedgwick County was less than the national rate, but now it is higher.

As can be seen in the nearby charts produced by the Census Bureau’s visualization tool, the trend in economic performance between Sedgwick County and the nation started diverging around the time of the last recession. As time passes, the gap between the two generally grows larger, with Sedgwick County falling farther behind.

Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau. Click for larger.
Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau. Click for larger.

Wichita employment, October 2018

For the Wichita metropolitan area in October 2018, jobs are up, the labor force is up, and the unemployment rate is down, compared to the same month one year ago. Seasonal data shows a slowdown in the rate of job growth.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows a mostly improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Total nonfarm employment rose from 296,900 last October to 299,000 this October. That’s an increase of 2,100 jobs, or 0.7 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.) For the same period, jobs in the nation grew by 1.7 percent.

The unemployment rate was 3.3 percent, down from 3.5 percent one year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by 719 persons (0.2 percent) in October 2018 from September 2018, the number of unemployed persons rose by 283 (2.7 percent), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.5 percent. The number of employed persons not working on farms rose to 298,219 in October from 297,783 the prior month, an increase of 436 persons, or 0.1 percent.

Click charts for larger versions.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Economic development incentives

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at some economic development incentive programs in Wichita and Kansas. Second in a series. Tax increment financing (TIF) is prominent in this episode. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 219, broadcast November 25, 2018.

Shownotes

Sedgwick County jobs, second quarter 2018

For the second quarter of 2018, the number of jobs in Sedgwick County grew slightly slower than the nation.

Data released today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor shows an improving labor picture in Sedgwick County, growing at a rate 80 percent of the nation.

For the second quarter of 2018 there were 12,600 establishments in Sedgwick County employing 250,800 workers. That is an increase in jobs of 1.2 percent from the same time the previous year, a proportional rate which ranked 176 among the nation’s 349 largest counties. For the same period, the national job growth rate was 1.5 percent. (Ranked by employment, Sedgwick County is the 123rd largest county.)

These are figures from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program.

The average weekly wage was $882, an increase of 2.7 percent over the year, that change ranking 204 among the same 349 largest counties. The U.S. average weekly wage was $1,055, increasing by 3.4 percent over the same period.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Economic development incentives

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at some economic development incentive programs in Wichita and Kansas. First in a series. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 218, broadcast November 18, 2018.

Shownotes

Personal income in Wichita rises, but slowly

For 2017, personal income in Wichita rose, but slower than the national rate.

Today Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, released personal income figures for metropolitan areas through the complete year 2017. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2017 rose from the 2016 level in nominal dollars, and is now slightly less than the 2104 level.

For all metropolitan areas in the United States, personal income rose by 4.5 percent. For the Wichita metro area, the increase was 2.3 percent. Of 383 metropolitan areas, Wichita’s growth rate was at position 342.

While the Wichita area has kept up with national personal income growth and even surpassed it in some years, that is no longer the case. Wichita’s income has stalled while national income continues to grow.

Click for larger.
Click for larger.

Wichita employment, September 2018

For the Wichita metropolitan area in September 2018, jobs are up, the labor force is up, and the unemployment rate is down, compared to the same month one year ago.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows an improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Click for larger.

The best numbers for Wichita are the total nonfarm employment series, which rose from 294,400 last September to 299,600 this September. That’s an increase of 5,200 jobs, or 1.8 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.)

The unemployment rate fell to 3.3 percent, down from 3.9 percent one year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by 1,315 persons (0.4 percent) in September 2018 from August 2018, the number of unemployed persons fell by 398 (3.6 percent), and the unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent from 3.6 percent. The number of employed persons not working on farms rose to 298,510 in September from 296,797 the prior month, an increase of 1,713 persons, or 0.6 percent.

Click for larger.

Click charts for larger versions.

The Pete Meitzner era in Wichita

Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) is running for a position on the Sedgwick County Commission.

He’s running on his record of economic development. His website says: “Pete’s seven years on the City Council has proven to be a large part of the positive momentum we have recently experienced.”

Let’s take a look at the record. Click here to view a presentation of the numbers.

Example from the presentation. Click the chart to view the presentation.

From Pachyderm: Economic development incentives

A look at some of the large economic development programs in Wichita and Kansas.

Here’s video of a presentation I gave at the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week on economic development incentives. The video was produced by Paul Soutar of Graphic Lens. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Following, articles that address some of the topics I presented:

  • Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas: Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes.
  • Wichita TIF projects: some background: Tax increment financing disrupts the usual flow of tax dollars, routing funds away from cash-strapped cities, counties, and schools back to the TIF-financed development. TIF creates distortions in the way cities develop, and researchers find that the use of TIF means lower economic growth.
  • Community improvement districts in Kansas: In Kansas Community Improvement Districts, merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public.
  • STAR bonds in Kansas: The Kansas STAR bonds program provides a mechanism for spending by autopilot, without specific appropriation by the legislature.
  • PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas: PEAK, a Kansas economic development incentive program, redirects employee income taxes back to the employing company.
  • Historic preservation tax credits, or developer welfare: A Wichita developer seeks to have taxpayers fund a large portion of his development costs, using a wasteful government program of dubious value.

Wichita employment, August 2018

For the Wichita metropolitan area in August 2018, jobs are up, the unemployment rate is down, and the labor force is smaller, compared to the same month one year ago.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows an improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Click for larger.

The best numbers for Wichita are the total nonfarm employment series, which rose from 291,300 last August to 296,000 this July. That’s an increase of 4,700 jobs, or 1.6 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.)

The unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent, down from 4.6 percent from a year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by five persons from July 2018, and the number of unemployed persons fell by 511 (4.7 percent), and the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent from 3.8 percent. The number of employed persons not on farms rose to 296,366 in August from 295,810 the prior month, an increase of 556 persons, or 0.2 percent.

Click for larger.

Click charts for larger versions.

Education gap on Wichita City Council

Currently there is discussion in Wichita on whether higher education is valued by residents. Following, from April 2011, a look at the educational achievement of the Wichita City Council. The members of the council cited below were Lavonta Williams, Sue Schlapp, Jim Skelton, Paul Gray, Jeff Longwell, and Janet Miller. Carl Brewer was mayor.

Before Jim Skelton left the council in January, none of the four men serving on the Wichita City Council had completed a college degree. The three women serving on the council set a better example, with all three holding college degrees.

Of the candidates running in next week’s election for four council seats and the office of mayor, less than half hold college degrees.

Is it necessary to complete college in order to serve in an office like mayor or city council? Apparently, none of the four men who held these offices without a degree thought so. The two running to retain their present positions — Mayor Carl Brewer and council member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) — evidently don’t think so, or they would not be running again.

But we tell young people that college holds the key to success. We encourage schoolchildren to consider college and to take a rigorous high school curriculum in order to prepare for it. We encourage families to save for college. Our region’s economic development agency promotes the number of people with college or advanced degrees. We promote our colleges and universities as a factor that distinguishes Wichita. We hope that our elected officials will set an example we want young people to follow.

Once in office, we ask our city elected officials to attempt to grasp and understand complex sets of financial data, working with a budget of about half a billion dollars for the City of Wichita. We hope that they will be able to consider large and weighty issues such as the role of government in a free society. Members of the professional management staff — bureaucrats — that manage the city, county, and state are generally required to hold college degrees.

The irony is that elected officials often are highly reliant on the bureaucratic staff for information, data, and advice, and this professional bureaucracy is often highly educated. Does this imbalance create problems?

Elected officials compared to regular people

Amazingly, it turns out that elected officials, as a group, are less knowledgeable about civics than the general population. That’s the finding of Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which surveyed Americans and their knowledge of civics in 2008. After analyzing the data, ISI concluded: “Simply put, the more you know about American government, history, and economics the less likely you are to pursue and win elective office.”

Kansas and Wichita jobs, August 2018

For August 2018, more jobs in Kansas, and a nearly unchanged labor force. Wichita jobs also rose.

Data released this week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows an improving jobs picture for Kansas in August 2018.

Over the year (August 2017 to August 2018), the Kansas labor force is down slightly, while up slightly over the past three months. These changes are small, all being in the range of 0.1 percent or less.

The number of unemployed persons continues to fall, declining by 1.4 percent from July to August. The unemployment rate was 3.3 percent in August, down from 3.6 percent from one year ago, and from 3.4 percent in July.

Click for larger

The number of Kansas nonfarm jobs for August 2018 rose by 1.9 percent over last August, adding 26,600 jobs. This is using seasonally adjusted data, and the non-adjusted figure is larger at 29,900.

From July 2018 to August, jobs in Kansas rose by 3,600, which is 0.3 percent.

Click for larger

This release also provided some data for metropolitan areas. For the Wichita MSA, here are employees on nonfarm payrolls, not seasonally adjusted:

August 2017: 291,300
July 2018: 294,500
August 2018: 296,000 (up 4,700 jobs, or 1.6 percent over the year)

Comparing July 2018 to August 2018 isn’t meaningful using this data, as it is not adjusted for seasonality.

Photo by Patrick Emerson. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Wichita economy shrinks, and a revision

The Wichita economy shrank in 2017, but revised statistics show growth in 2016.

Statistics released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, show gross domestic product (GDP) figures for metropolitan areas. Also included are revised statistics for previous years.

For 2017, the Wichita metropolitan area GDP, in real dollars, fell by 1.4 percent. Revised statistics for 2016 indicate growth of 3.8 percent for that year. Last year BEA reported growth of -1.4 percent.

In the revised statistics released today, GDP in 2012 was 28,346 million in chained 2009 dollars. In 2017 it was 29,610 million, a change of 1,264 million or 4.4 percent. For all U.S. metropolitan areas, the same statistic increased from 13,692,212 million to 15,224,212 million, an increase of 1,532,000 million or 11.2 percent.

The use of sales tax proceeds in Wichita

Must the City of Wichita spend its share of Sedgwick County sales tax proceeds in a specific way?

Sedgwick County collects a one-cent per dollar retail sales tax. The county keeps some, then distributes the rest to cities. On Facebook, a question arose regarding how Wichita may spend its share of the sales tax proceeds. Couldn’t some funds that go towards building Kellogg be rerouted to, say, fund the operations of Wichita’s public library system?

A former city council member argued that “As it stands, Wichita cannot spend its allocated portion of that sales tax on anything but roads and bridges.” I posted that there was a Wichita city ordinance that said how the sales tax is to be spent in Wichita, and that ordinance could be modified or canceled. The same former council member admonished me to call a specific person in the city budget office and “he will clarify for you that the City Council doesn’t have the ability to override the Sedgwick County sales tax referendum language.”

I looked for the referendum language. The document is available in Sedgwick County’s election document system. The canvass of the special sales tax election was held on August 2, 1985, and this was reported:

The returns of the election were presented to the Board as received from the official conducting the election on the following proposition:

SHALL THE FOLLOWING BE ADOPTED?

A proposition to enact a countywide retailers’ sales tax in Sedgwick County, Kansas, in the amount of one percent (1%), such tax to take effect on October 1, 1985, pursuant to K.S.A. 1984 Supp. 12-187.

The language of the referendum is silent regarding how the tax revenue may or may not be spent.

Certificate of canvass, portion. Click for larger.
There are, however, other considerations. One, according to Mark Manning, the city’s budget officer, is that the city has borrowed money, with proceeds from the sales tax pledged for repayment.

Second, there is a Wichita city ordinance, number 41-185. It pledges half the city’s share of the sales tax towards property tax reduction. Then, it states: “… and pledges the remaining one half of the one percent (1%) of any revenues received to Wichita road, highway and bridge projects including right-of-way acquisitions.” This was adopted on August 25, 1992 and replaced an existing ordinance that said the same.

The 1992 ordinance also holds this, in section II: “It is the specific intent of the Governing Body of the City of Wichita that the City of Wichita continue to use the tax revenues as outlined in this ordinance and that this pledge be continued as a matter of faith and trust between the people and the present and future Governing Bodies of the City of Wichita.”

We often hear that half the city’s share of the sales tax is pledged for Kellogg construction. In actuality it is pledged to “Wichita road, highway and bridge projects.”

But really, it isn’t even pledged to that. The pledge is in the form of a city ordinance. It may be changed at any time at the will of four council members.

Yes, the ordinance says the city intends to continue using the tax revenues in the same way “as a matter of faith and trust.” Unfortunately, that trust has been destroyed in many ways, one being council members who tell us things that aren’t true.

More TIF spending in Wichita

The Wichita City Council will consider approval of a redevelopment plan in a tax increment financing (TIF) district.

This week the Wichita City Council will hold a public hearing considering approval of more tax increment financing (TIF) spending in downtown Wichita. The spending is for the second phase of redevelopment of the Union Station property on East Douglas. According to city documents, the total cost of this phase is $31,000,000, with TIF paying for $2,954,734. 1

This is a pay-as-you-go form of TIF, which means the city does not borrow funds as it would in a traditional TIF district. Instead, the eligible portion of the developer’s property taxes will be rerouted back to the development as they are paid.

The TIF district was established in 2014. The council this week considers a redevelopment plan, which authorizes spending TIF funds on a specific project. Redevelopment plans must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the council. While overlapping jurisdictions like counties and school districts can block the formation of a TIF district, they have no such role in the approval of a redevelopment plan.

Of note, this public hearing is being held after the fact, sort of. City documents state: “A development agreement was approved by the City Council on August 7, to allow for the developer to begin non-TIF eligible improvements in order to meet deadlines for a new tenant.” The city documents for the August 7 meeting hold this: 2

The Developer has requested that the development agreement be approved now, prior to adoption of the project plan, to allow work to begin on the Meade Corridor improvements in order to complete the project in time for the tenant to move in. The Development agreement is drafted to allow for the Meade Corridor improvements to occur following adoption of the agreement, however, any work or reimbursement for TIF is contingent on City Council adoption of the project plan following the September 11 public hearing.

Citizens have to wonder will the September 11 public hearing have any meaning or relevance, given that on August 7 the city gave its de facto approval of the redevelopment plan.

Following, more information about tax increment financing.

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

How TIF works

A TIF district is a geographically-defined area.

In Kansas, TIF takes two or more steps. The first step is that cities or counties establish the boundaries of the TIF district. After the TIF district is defined, cities then must approve one or more project plans that authorize the spending of TIF funds in specific ways. (The project plan is also called a redevelopment plan.) In Kansas, overlapping counties and school districts have an opportunity to veto the formation of the TIF district, but this rarely happens. Once the district is formed, cities and counties have no ability to object to TIF project plans.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Before the formation of the TIF district, the property pays taxes to the city, county, school district, and state as can be seen in figure 1. Because property considered for TIF is purportedly blighted, the amount of tax paid is usually small. Whatever it is, that level is called the “base.”

Figure 2.
Figure 2.
After approval of one or more TIF project plans the city borrows money and gives it to the project or development. The city now has additional debt in the form of TIF bonds that require annual payments. Figure 2 illustrates. (There is now another form of TIF known as “pay-as-you-go” that works differently, but produces much the same economic effect.)

Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Figure 3 shows the flow of tax revenue after the formation of the TIF district and after the completion of a project. Because buildings were built or renovated, the property is worth more, and the property tax is now higher. The development now has two streams of property tax payments that are handled in different ways. The original tax — the “base” — is handled just like before, distributed to city, state, school district, and the state, according to their mill levy rates. The difference between the new tax and the base tax — the “increment” — is handled differently. It goes to only two destinations (mostly): The State of Kansas, and repayment of the TIF bonds.

Figure 4.
Figure 4.
Figure 4 highlights the difference in the flow of tax revenues. The top portion of the illustration shows development outside of TIF. We see the flows of tax payments to city, county, school district, and the state. In the bottom portion, which shows development under TIF, the tax flows to city, county, and school district are missing. No longer does a property contribute to the support of these three units of government, although the property undoubtedly requires the services of them. This is especially true for a property in Old Town, which consumes large amounts of policing.

(Cities, counties, and school districts still receive the base tax payments, but these are usually small, much smaller than the incremental taxes. In non-TIF development, these agencies still receive the base taxes too, plus whatever taxes result from improvement of the property — the “increment,” so to speak. Or simply, all taxes.)

The Kansas law governing TIF, or redevelopment districts as they are also called, starts at K.S.A. 12-1770.

TIF and public policy

Originally most states included a “but for” test that TIF districts must meet. That is, the proposed development could not happen but for the benefits of TIF. Many states have dropped this requirement. At any rate, developers can always present proposals that show financial necessity for subsidy, and gullible government officials will believe.

Similarly, TIF was originally promoted as a way to cure blight. But cities are so creative and expansive in their interpretation of blight that this requirement, if it still exists, has little meaning.

The rerouting of property taxes under TIF goes against the grain of the way taxes are usually rationalized. We use taxation as a way to pay for services that everyone benefits from, and from which we can’t exclude people. An example would be police protection. Everyone benefits from being safe, and we can’t exclude people from benefiting from police protection.

So when we pay property tax — or any tax, for that matter — people may be comforted knowing that it goes towards police and fire protection, street lights, schools, and the like. (Of course, some is wasted, and government is not the only way these services, especially education, could be provided.)

But TIF is contrary to this justification of taxes. TIF allows property taxes to be used for one person’s (or group of persons) exclusive benefit. This violates the principle of broad-based taxation to pay for an array of services for everyone. Remember: What was the purpose of the TIF bonds? To pay for things that benefited the development. Now, the development’s property taxes are being used to repay those bonds instead of funding government.

One more thing: Defenders of TIF will say that the developers will pay all their property taxes. This is true, but only on a superficial level. We now see that the lion’s share of the property taxes paid by TIF developers are routed back to them for their own benefit.

It’s only infrastructure

In their justification of TIF in general, or specific projects, proponents may say that TIF dollars are spent only on allowable purposes. Usually a prominent portion of TIF dollars are spent on infrastructure. This allows TIF proponents to say the money isn’t really being spent for the benefit of a specific project. It’s spent on infrastructure, they say, which they contend is something that benefits everyone, not one project specifically. Therefore, everyone ought to pay.

This attitude is represented by a comment left at Voice for Liberty, which contended: “The thing is that real estate developers do not invest in public streets, sidewalks and lamp posts, because there would be no incentive to do so. Why spend millions of dollars redoing or constructing public streets when you can not get a return on investment for that”

This perception is common: that when we see developers building something, the City of Wichita builds the supporting infrastructure at no cost to the developers. But it isn’t quite so. About a decade ago a project was being developed on the east side of Wichita, the Waterfront. This project was built on vacant land. Here’s what I found when I searched for City of Wichita resolutions concerning this project:

Figure 5. Waterfront resolutions.
Figure 5. Waterfront resolutions.
Note specifically one item: $1,672,000 for the construction of Waterfront Parkway. To anyone driving or walking in this area, they would think this is just another city street — although a very nicely designed and landscaped street. But the city did not pay for this street. Private developers paid for this infrastructure. Other resolutions resulted in the same developers paying for street lights, traffic signals, sewers, water pipes, and turning lanes on major city streets. All this is infrastructure that we’re told real estate developers will not pay for. But in order to build the Waterfront development, private developers did, with a total cost of these projects being $3,334,500. (It’s likely I did not find all the resolutions and costs pertaining to this project, and more development has happened since this research.)

In a TIF district, these things are called “infrastructure” and will be paid for by the development’s own property taxes — taxes that must be paid in any case. Outside of TIF districts, developers pay for these things themselves.

If not for TIF, nothing will happen here

Generally, TIF is justified using the “but-for” argument. That is, nothing will happen within a district unless the subsidy of TIF is used. Paul F. Byrne explains:

“The but-for provision refers to the statutory requirement that an incentive cannot be awarded unless the supported economic activity would not occur but for the incentive being offered. This provision has economic importance because if a firm would locate in a particular jurisdiction with or without receiving the economic incentive, then the economic impact of offering the incentive is non-existent. … The but-for provision represents the legislature’s attempt at preventing a local jurisdiction from awarding more than the minimum incentive necessary to induce a firm to locate within the jurisdiction. However, while a firm receiving the incentive is well aware of the minimum incentive necessary, the municipality is not.”

It’s often thought that when a but-for justification is required in order to receive an economic development incentive, financial figures can be produced that show such need. Now, recent research shows that the but-for justification is problematic. In Does Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Programme Pass the ‘But-for’ Test? Job Creation and Economic Development Impacts Using Time-series Data, author T. William Lester looked at block-level data regarding employment growth and private real estate development. The abstract of the paper describes:

“This paper conducts a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of Chicago’s TIF program in creating economic opportunities and catalyzing real estate investments at the neighborhood scale. This paper uses a unique panel dataset at the block group level to analyze the impact of TIF designation and investments on employment change, business creation, and building permit activity. After controlling for potential selection bias in TIF assignment, this paper shows that TIF ultimately fails the ‘but-for’ test and shows no evidence of increasing tangible economic development benefits for local residents.” (emphasis added)

In the paper, the author clarifies:

“To clarify these findings, this analysis does not indicate that no building activity or job crea-tion occurred in TIFed block groups, or resulted from TIF projects. Rather, the level of these activities was no faster than similar areas of the city which did not receive TIF assistance. It is in this aspect of the research design that we are able to conclude that the development seen in and around Chicago’s TIF districts would have likely occurred without the TIF subsidy. In other words, on the whole, Chicago’s TIF program fails the ‘but-for’ test.

Later on, for emphasis:

“While the findings of this paper are clear and decisive, it is important to comment here on their exact extent and external validity, and to discuss the limitations of this analysis. First, the findings do not indicate that overall employment growth in the City of Chicago was negative or flat during this period. Nor does this research design enable us to claim that any given TIF-funded project did not end up creating jobs. Rather, we conclude that on-average, across the whole city, TIF was unsuccessful in jumpstarting economic development activity — relative to what would have likely occurred otherwise.” (emphasis in original)

The author notes that these conclusions are specific to Chicago’s use of TIF, but should “should serve as a cautionary tale.”

The paper reinforces the problem of using tax revenue for private purposes, rather than for public benefit: “Essentially, Chicago’s extensive use of TIF can be interpreted as the siphoning off of public revenue for largely private-sector purposes. Although, TIF proponents argue that the public receives enhanced economic opportunity in the bargain, the findings of this paper show that the bargain is in fact no bargain at all.”

TIF is social engineering

TIF represents social engineering. By using it, city government has decided that it knows best where development should be directed. In particular, the Wichita city council has decided that Old Town and downtown development is on a superior moral plane to other development. Therefore, we all have to pay higher taxes to support this development. What is the basis for saying Old Town developers don’t have to pay for their infrastructure, but developers in other parts of the city must pay?

TIF doesn’t work

Does TIF work? It depends on what the meaning of “work” is.

If by working, do we mean does TIF induce development? If so, then TIF usually works. When the city authorizes a TIF project plan, something usually gets built or renovated. But this definition of “works” must be tempered by a few considerations.

Does TIF pay for itself?
First, is the project self-sustaining? That is, is the incremental property tax revenue sufficient to repay the TIF bonds? This has not been the case with all TIF projects in Wichita. The city has had to bail out two TIFs, one with a no-interest and low-interest loan that cost city taxpayers an estimated $1.2 million.

The verge of corruption
Second, does the use of TIF promote a civil society, or does it lead to cronyism? Randal O’Toole has written:

“TIF puts city officials on the verge of corruption, favoring some developers and property owners over others. TIF creates what economists call a moral hazard for developers. If you are a developer and your competitors are getting subsidies, you may simply fold your hands and wait until someone offers you a subsidy before you make any investments in new development. In many cities, TIF is a major source of government corruption, as city leaders hand tax dollars over to developers who then make campaign contributions to re-elect those leaders.”

We see this in Wichita, where the regular recipients of TIF benefits are also regular contributors to the political campaigns of those who are in a position to give them benefits. The corruption is not illegal, but it is real and harmful, and calls out for reform. See In Wichita, the need for campaign finance reform.

The effect of TIF on everyone
Third, what about the effect of TIF on everyone, that is, the entire city or region? Economists have studied this matter, and have concluded that in most cases, the effect is negative.

An example are economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman, who have studied tax increment financing extensively. Their article Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development states in its conclusion:

“TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.”

So TIF districts are good for the favored development that receives the subsidy — not a surprising finding. What about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:

“If the use of tax increment financing stimulates economic development, there should be a positive relationship between TIF adoption and overall growth in municipalities. This did not occur. If, on the other hand, TIF merely moves capital around within a municipality, there should be no relationship between TIF adoption and growth. What we find, however, is a negative relationship. Municipalities that use TIF do worse.

We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.” (emphasis added)

In a different paper (The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development), the same economists wrote “We find clear and consistent evidence that municipalities that adopt TIF grow more slowly after adoption than those that do not. … These findings suggest that TIF trades off higher growth in the TIF district for lower growth elsewhere. This hypothesis is bolstered by other empirical findings.” (emphasis added)

The Wichita city council is concerned about creating jobs, and is easily swayed by the promises of developers that their establishments will create jobs. Paul F. Byrne of Washburn University has examined the effect of TIF on jobs. His recent report is Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on Its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth, and in its abstract we find this conclusion regarding the impact of TIF on jobs:

“This article addresses the claim by examining the impact of TIF adoption on municipal employment growth in Illinois, looking for both general impact and impact specific to the type of development supported. Results find no general impact of TIF use on employment. However, findings suggest that TIF districts supporting industrial development may have a positive effect on municipal employment, whereas TIF districts supporting retail development have a negative effect on municipal employment. These results are consistent with industrial TIF districts capturing employment that would have otherwise occurred outside of the adopting municipality and retail TIF districts shifting employment within the municipality to more labor-efficient retailers within the TIF district.” (emphasis added)

These studies and others show that as a strategy for increasing the overall wellbeing of a city, TIF fails to deliver prosperity, and in fact, causes harm.


Notes

  1. Wichita city council agenda packet for September 11, 2018.
  2. Wichita city council agenda packet for August 7, 2018.

Wichita Wingnuts settlement: There are questions

It may be very expensive for the City of Wichita to terminate its agreement with the Wichita Wingnuts baseball club, and there are questions.

As the City of Wichita prepares to build a new stadium for a new baseball team, there is the issue of the old stadium and the old team. The city has decided that the old stadium will be razed. On Tuesday the city council will consider what to do about the old team.

The old team, the Wichita Wingnuts, has a lease agreement with the city. The lease is from January 2015 and is for a period of ten years. The documents, both the lease from 2015 and the proposed settlement to be considered this week, appear in full in Wichita city council agenda packets. I’ve extracted the relevant pages for easier access. Click on lease or proposed settlement.

According to the settlement, the Wingnuts will receive either $2.2 million or $1.2 million, the smaller amount applying in the case the city is “unable to reach an agreement with an affiliated minor league baseball team in the year 2018.” The payment is scheduled to be made in installments over the next several years. (Section 2c)

Reading the lease, I can’t find anything regarding the need to pay for terminating the lease. So why the need to pay up to $2.2 million to terminate?

Here’s a possible answer: City documents hold this: “This negotiated settlement resolves all claims and potential claims that the parties have or may have, including breach of the Lease, loss of revenue, injunctive relief, specific performance, other contract breaches, tort assertions, and claims for equitable relief without the uncertainly of litigation.”

So there may be disputes that need to be resolved. Now the question becomes this: What did the city do? What could be so bad that the remedy is to pay the Wingnuts up to $2.2 million? Citizens ought to know the answer to this question.

Further, why is the amount of the settlement contingent on what happens in Wichita in the future? (Remember, the settlement is $2.2 million if the city lands a new team, but only $1.2 million if it doesn’t.) If the purpose of the settlement is to compensate the Wingnuts for harm caused by the city, how and why is the magnitude of harm dependent on future events?

Such a large settlement is especially surprising given the low rent the Wingnuts paid and the city’s history with the Wingnuts as a tenant. Consider:

The Wingnuts didn’t always pay their rent. The city charged the Wingnuts just $25,000 annual rent, and the team was $77,000 behind in rent in January 2015. The proposed settlement agreement states: “As of the Effective Date, the 2018 rent payment in the amount of Twenty-five Thousand Dollars ($25,000) due and payable by WIB to the City shall be waived and no longer due and payable by WIB.” (Section 2c) (WIB is the company that owns the Wingnuts.)

There have also been disputes over utility payments. But, the city will forgive the water and sewer bill: “The City shall pay all utility payments due to the Department of Public Works and Utilities that are assessed for 2018.” (Section 2d)

It’s clear that the Wingnuts haven’t always lived up to the basics of its agreement with the city. Why, then, does the city feel such a large obligation upon termination? Paragraph 13 of the lease says “Lessor agrees not to utilize termination for convenience for the purpose of placing any professional baseball franchise at the Lawrence-Dumont Stadium site.” This is what the city is doing. But, in paragraph 23: “The parties agree that upon a violation of any provision of this lease, the aggrieved party may, at its option, terminate this lease by giving the breaching party not less than 30 days written notice of termination.” Non-payment of rent seems like it ought to be a violation of the lease, giving the city the right to terminate the lease for cause.

What is the source of the $2.2 million? City documents state the source is “management agreement payments paid by the new AAA baseball team.” The meaning of “management agreement payments” is unclear and a question that needs an answer. But presumably this is money that the city would receive from the new team. If not paid to the Wingnuts, these funds might be available for other purposes.

And: If the city is not able to land a new team, the city will have to pay the Wingnuts $1.2 million without any compensating revenue source.

Repairs, replacements, and improvements

Here’s a puzzling aspect of the settlement: How was the dollar amount determined? City documents state: “The value of the severance is based on the number of years remaining in the existing lease and the anticipated City financial cost of capital repairs, replacements and improvements over those same remaining years.” (emphasis added)

What? “Repairs, replacements and improvements” to a stadium that will be demolished soon? Why is this a consideration?

Questions, but little time

There are questions, but little time for answers. The agenda packet was posted on the city’s website on Friday September 7, at 12:03 pm. The council will consider this item Tuesday morning.

Do council members have answers to these questions? Some of these matters may have been discussed in executive session. Now that the matters have been settled, it’s time to let citizens know the details.

But if council members don’t have answers, I don’t think they can make an informed vote.

Wichita, not that different

We have a lot of neat stuff in Wichita. Other cities do, too.

In New York Magazine, Oriana Schwindt writes in “The Unbearable Sameness of Cities: What my journey across the United States taught me about indie cafés and Ikea lights.”

I couldn’t stop noticing. I’d go on to see the same in Colorado Springs, in Fresno, in Indianapolis, in Oklahoma City, in Nashville.

And it wasn’t just the coffee shops — bars, restaurants, even the architecture of all the new housing going up in these cities looked and felt eerily familiar. Every time I walked into one of these places, my body would give an involuntary shudder. I would read over my notes for a city I’d visited months prior and find that several of my observations could apply easily to the one I was currently in.

In his commentary on this article, Aaron M. Renn wrote: “While every company tries its hardest to convince you of how much different and better it is than every other company in its industry, every city tries its hardest to convince you that it is exactly the same as every other city that’s conventionally considered cool.”

Later in the same piece, he wrote:

A challenge these places face is that the level of improvement locally has been so high, locals aren’t aware of how much the rest of the country has also improved. So they end up with an inflated sense of how much better they are doing versus the market. … People in these Midwest cities did not even know what was going on in the next city just 100 miles down the road. They were celebrating all these downtown condos being built. But the same condos were being built everywhere. … But even today people in most cities don’t really seem to get it that every city now has this stuff. Their city has dramatically improved relative to its own recent past, but it’s unclear how much it’s improved versus peers if at all.

Does this — the sameness of everywhere — apply to Wichita? Sure. Everyone thinks Wichita is different from everywhere else. We have a flag! A warehouse district! A Frank Lloyd Wright house! The NCAA basketball tournament! We’re (probably) getting a new baseball team and stadium!

We even have, as Schwindt does in cataloging what you’ll find in every single city mid-size and above, “Public murals that dare you to pass them without posing for a pic for the ‘gram.”

So many other places have this stuff, too.

It isn’t bad that Wichita has these things. But the danger, as Renn notes, is that these things don’t distinguish Wichita. As much as we wish otherwise, these things are probably not going to reverse the course of the declining Wichita economy. If you don’t believe the Wichita economy is declining, consider that our GDP in 2016 was smaller than in the year before. Wichita metro employment growth was nonexistent during 2017, meaning it’s unlikely that GDP grew by much. (In January 2017 total non-farm employment in the Wichita MSA was 295,000. In January 2018 it was the same. See chart here.)

Even things that might really have a positive effect on the economy, like the Wichita State University Innovation Campus, are far from unique to Wichita. But developments like this are pitched to Wichitans as things that will really put Wichita on the map. A prosperous future is assured, we are told.

It’s great to love your city. But we can’t afford to be lulled into complacency — a false recognition of achievement — when all the data says otherwise.

We need a higher measure of honesty from our leaders. It might start with the mayor and the chair of the county commission, but the mayor seems terribly misinformed, as is the commission chair. Institutions that we ought to respect, like the local Chamber of Commerce, have presided over failing economic development but refuse to accept responsibility or even to acknowledge the facts. Worse, the Chamber spends huge amounts of money on blatantly dishonest campaigns against those candidates that don’t support its programs. Those programs, by the way, haven’t worked, if the goal of the Chamber is to grow the Wichita economy.

Wichita checkbook updated

Wichita spending data presented as a summary, and as a list.

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. This visualization is updated with data through August 31, 2018.

To learn more about this data and use the visualization, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.