Wichita school bond issue impact is an illusion

In today’s Wichita Eagle (February 17, 2008), USD 259 (Wichita public school district) school board member Lynn Rogers makes the case that a bond issue for the Wichita public schools will have a positive economic impact on the local community.

Many people are skeptical about the tax rebates recently passed by Congress and their ability to stimulate the economy. Why? That’s because the money being sent to households is not “new” money. It had to come from somewhere. Many people realize that taking money from the pocket of one person and sending it to another doesn’t add to total economic activity. And as our nation is drowning in debt at the federal level, many people are wary of borrowing money just to get a little boost now, when there is so much debt to be repaid.

It is the same at the local level. The money that will pay for the new facilities has to come from somewhere. When people pay taxes to USD 259, those tax payments represent money they can’t spend somewhere else. Economic activity that might have taken place will not, because people had to spend their money on taxes.

This means that if the bond issue passes, and you drive by a construction site being funded with bond money, the workers you see will have displaced other workers in our local community.

If you see a new school building or new tennis courts, you see construction that has displaced other construction in our community.

School district officials will highlight the construction projects, just as they have in the past, as evidence of economic impact and progress. They can do that because it’s easy to identify and show the new facilities. School officials will lead tours of the shiny new schools. They’ll be promoted endlessly on the district’s cable television channel. What is far more difficult, however, is to find the economic activity and jobs that were displaced to pay for these projects. No television or news reporters will look for them. There is no one to speak for them.

In a television news story, a teacher at an overcrowded school suggested that Wichitans forgo a couple nights out at supper to pay for the bond issue. What would be the impact on restaurants in Wichita if all families did that? How would that affect the people who work in those restaurants? I am tempted to ask what this teacher has against these people.

Mr. Rogers is correct on one thing: spending money the next few years while paying it back over 20 years does lead to more economic activity right now. He didn’t mention, however, the economic activity that is not taking place this year because we’re paying off the 2000 bond issue, and he doesn’t mention the activity we’ll lose in the future in order to pay for this bond issue.

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