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Wichita City Council and Cessna Aircraft Company Industrial Revenue Bonds

I received this letter written to Wichita Mayor Carlos Mayans and members of the Wichita City Council. The author makes excellent points about the harmful effects of special tax treatment for special interests. A better goal would be to work to reduce taxes for all companies and all people. This way, each company and individual can decide how to make best use of their own funds, instead of the Wichita City Council deciding for us. That is, in effect, what tax breaks like this do. It is the government deciding that resources should be allocated in a way different than how the market has decided. Our experience tells us that governments aren’t as smart as markets, and that governments almost always allocate resources inefficiently.

Mayor Carlos Mayans
Wichita City Hall
455 N. Main St.
Wichita, KS 67202

Dear Mayor Mayans:

Item 27 on the Wichita City Council’s December 12, 2006 agenda would have the city council approve a $99 million bond issuance for Cessna Aircraft Co. This is based upon the total $800 million Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRB) for Cessna Aircraft Company authorization approved earlier this year by this council.

If that is the case, the $99 million issuance (100% abatement) being sought will reduce city property tax revenues by my calculations almost $800,000 a year, or roughly $4 million to the city over five years. The total value of the tax break when all units of government are included is much larger.

That is a large tax break for Cessna Aircraft Company. This is a sizable reduction when city property tax revenues were projected at $89.5 million for 2006. According to the largest taxpayer list from the Wichita Business Journal, Cessna Aircraft Company paid $2,484,343 in property taxes in 2005. The abatement being sought is the equivalent of almost 32% of the property taxes paid by this company in 2005.

Earlier this year Mr. Jack Pelton, the President and CEO of Cessna Aircraft Company, provided public testimony in support of raising property taxes in Sedgwick County almost 10 percent. That is certainly a position that both Mr. Pelton and his company may take. According to Textron’s 2005 annual report (www.textron.com/resources/textron_annual_report_2005.pdg), the Cessna Aircraft earnings for this publicly traded company were $457 million so they could certainly afford to pay their share of this increase. In fact, they can afford to pay this tax with greater ease than almost every other Wichitan or Wichita based company.

This week Mr. Pelton and Cessna Aircraft’s ordinance for this large property tax reduction/IRB for this firm will be in you and your city council colleagues’ hands. You and your council colleagues need to know that this tax break demonstrates rank hypocrisy from both Cessna Aircraft and Mr. Pelton. This council item conflicts with Cessna’s support for higher property taxes countywide this summer. Mr. Pelton and Cessna Aircraft Company want special property tax breaks that the rest of the citizens in Wichita do not receive.

Two recent national surveys indicate that Kansas has high property taxes. The Tax Foundation (see Special Report 146, Nov. 2006) and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (Small Business Survival Index 2006) have both issued reports showing that Kansas has the overall highest property taxes on a statewide basis of the five states (KS and surrounding states) in our region. Nationally, Kansas was among the top 25 percent of property taxes measured both as a percentage of income or on a per capita basis. Neighboring Oklahoma, in contrast, scored as the 4th lowest among all 50 states.

Kansas has high taxes in general and high property taxes in particular. However, the tax abatement for Cessna Aircraft does not eliminate the tax burden. This tax is shifted onto the backs of homeowners, farmers, and small and medium sized businesses in this community who lack the political clout to receive a property tax abatement. The total tax break for Cessna from all levels of Kansas government is almost $3 million a year or just under $15 million over the next five years (assuming current mill levies). Ironically, all national surveys indicate that small business is more successful in creating jobs than large firms.

So Cessna Aircraft will soon receive another special tax break. This is on top of earlier IRBs issued on their behalf by the city. Other employers will have to pay their property tax plus the share shunned by Cessna Aircraft. Cessna Aircraft’s overhead costs are reduced with the property tax abatement. As a result Cessna Aircraft is able to pay employees more and be more selective in hiring. After all, these overhead costs have been shifted onto the rest of the taxpaying community. Businesses without the property tax abatements have to pay higher overhead costs (in the form of higher property taxes) and are at a competitive disadvantage for hiring workers from within this community if they compete with Cessna (or other firms with these tax breaks) in hiring workers.

Special tax breaks for special firms hurt the smaller businesses that compete for labor against these firms. This provides a major warning sign to outside firms that might consider relocating into Wichita. These special tax breaks raise the risk and uncertainty for firms without these breaks in this community. This is a major reason why it is hard to attract firms into the Wichita market.

It is clear that Cessna Aircraft Company’s concern about high property taxes does not extend beyond the company’s property line. In addition, the cyclical nature of Cessna Aircraft’s business has meant sizable and substantial changes in the company’s employment. Despite these sizable tax breaks, Cessna’s Wichita employment is much lower in 2005 with 8,500 employees than it was five years earlier when Cessna had 12,509 employees. Cessna Aircraft’s employment figures have changed dramatically according to the Wichita Business Journal’s employment figures. The numbers change substantially annually.

That is another reason why Cessna Aircraft Company needs to shift their overhead costs onto the rest of the community. Companies that engage in widespread “hiring/firing” binges have a harder time attracting and keeping workers. This is especially true for skilled and highly educated workers. If they pay the same overhead costs as the other firms seeking Wichita area workers, they have a problem finding workers. Cessna needs to be able to offer extra wages and/or benefits to attract workers into this type of cyclical company.

There is no reason that Cessna Aircraft Company’s self imposed problems should be shifted onto Wichita area taxpayers at large. Cessna Aircraft Company has testified in support of raising property taxes in this community. The Wichita city council should reject their request for an additional property tax abatement, and welcome them into the high property tax environment that they supported in front of the Sedgwick County commission this summer. Help Cessna Aircraft Company end their policy of tax hypocrisy and their plan to shift higher taxes onto the non-abated firms and the rest of the citizens in this community.

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