Pompeo Reacts to Supreme Court’s Ruling on Obamacare I will continue fighting against this failed health care law on behalf of Kansans.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Mike Pompeo (KS-04) today made the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Obama administration in the King v. Burwell case:
“Since Obamacare became law, America has been dealing with the ramifications of the nationalization of our health care system. The disastrous outcome of this law is due to the flawed premise that the federal government knows what is best for Kansans. Today’s ruling leaves us with a broken health care law that has increased costs, decreased access, and posed enormous economic burdens on millions of Americans. The bottom line is this: Obamacare does not work for hard-working Kansans. I am committed to continuing the fight for the repeal of Obamacare’s mandates and getting government out of the way so every hard-working American can be in charge of their own health care choices.”
A letter in the Wichita Eagle from March 2011 held this: “Perhaps it would be helpful if we all spent five minutes imagining the car in our garage is a murderer worse than Osama bin Laden, a disaster worse than the Tohoku earthquake, a polluter worse than coal, a drug more addictive than crack. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have allowed real-estate developers to zone our lives so there is quite literally nothing for us to walk to. Maybe those five minutes of imagining will move some of us to demand ultralight commercial development in our suburban residential deserts.”
Putting aside the wild and unsubstantiated claims the writer makes, the automobile gives us mobility, which is priceless. In his recent book Gridlock: why we’re stuck in traffic and what to do about it, Randal O’Toole explains the benefits of mobility: “The benefits of mobility are huge and undeniable. The most tangible benefit is to our personal incomes. Increased travel speeds allow people to reach more potential jobs in a given commute time. Research in France found that, for every 10 percent increase in travel speeds, the pool of workers available to employers increased by 15 percent. This gives employers access to more highly skilled workers, which in turn increases worker productivity by 3 percent. Similarly, research in California has found that doubling the distance workers can commute to work increases productivity by 25 percent. … Mobility also reduces our consumer costs and gives us access to a wider diversity of consumer goods. … Thanks to our mobility, most Americans enjoy much better housing than they did a century ago and better than most other people in the world today. Mobility not only increases the income available for housing; it allows us to reach areas where housing, and the land it requires, is more affordable. The most intangible benefit of mobility may be the thing many Americans say they value most: freedom.”
In 2013 the Wichita City Council authorized $1,000,000 in rebates to be paid to those who purchase water-saving appliances. Two years later, about $48,000 remains unclaimed. From June 2013, why the rebate program is a bad idea.
This week the Wichita City Council voted to force Wichitans to spend $1 million to help their fellow citizens reduce their standard of living.
I’m not kidding. $100 rebates will be paid to the purchasers of up to 10,000 low-flush toilets. To the extent that these toilets replace fully-functional toilets, civilization takes a step backwards.
(The rebate program covers other appliances besides toilets, so we don’t know how many low-flush toilets will be purchased. But it could be up to 10,000.)
One of the most interesting books I’ve almost read is a collection of essays by Jeffrey A. Tucker titled Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo. Chapter 4 is titled “The Relentless Misery of 1.6 Gallons,” which refers to the amount of water modern toilets are allowed to use per flush. They used to use 3.5 to 5 gallons per flush. Here’s Tucker’s take on this “advancement” and what more Wichitans can look forward to:
We have all gotten used to a reduced standard of living — just as the people living in the Soviet Union became accustomed to cold apartments, long bread lines, and poor dental care. There is nothing about our standard of living that is intrinsic to our sense of how things ought to be. Let enough time pass and people forget things.
So let us remember way back when:
Toilets did not need plungers next to them, and thank goodness. Used plungers are nasty, disease carrying, and filthy. It doesn’t matter how cute the manufacturer tries to make them or in how many colors you can buy them. In the old days, you would never have one exposed for guests. It was kept out in the garage for the rare occasion when someone threw a ham or something stranger down the toilet. …
You never had any doubt about the capacity of the toilet to flush completely, with only one pull of the handle. The toilet stayed clean thanks to five gallons of rushing water pouring through it after each flush.
Then, Congress passed the 1.6 gallons per flush law. The result?
The result is an entire society of poorly working toilets and a life of adjustment to the omnipresence of human feces, all in a short 15 years. Thanks so much, Congress!
Of course the environmentalists are in on the whole project. They started telling us back in the 1970s that our large tanks were sheer waste. We should put bricks in them to save and conserve. If you didn’t have a brick in your toilet, you were considered irresponsible and a social misfit. Eventually of course the brick became, in effect, a mandate, and finally toilet tanks were reduced to one third of their previous size.
Back then, it was just assumed that toilet manufacturers cared nothing at all about wasting water. Surely there was no rationale at all for why they consumed five gallons per flush as opposed to 1.6 gallons. This is just capitalist excess and down with it!
Well, think again: there was wisdom in those old designs. The environmentalists didn’t account for the present reality in which people typically flush twice, three times, or even four times during a single toilet event. Whether this ends up using more or less in the long run is entirely an empirical question, but let us just suppose that the new microtanks do indeed save water. In the same way, letting people die of infections conserves antibiotics, not brushing teeth conserves toothpaste, and not using anesthesia during surgery conserves needles and syringes.
Here is the truth that environmentalists do not face: Sometimes conserving is not a good idea. There are some life activities that cry out for the expenditure of resources, even in the most generous possible way. I would count waste disposal as one of those.
It is also possible that some people just like to get their kicks out of spreading misery and making it impossible for us to enjoy a clean and prosperous life. Like Puritans of old, they see virtue in suffering and would like to see ever more of it. It sounds perverse, but such an ethos does exist. And clearly, government doesn’t care in the slightest.
Wichtans need to remember this: That instead of working to increase water supply, the mayor and all city council members voted to force people to pay taxes so that others can buy lower-performing appliances. This is the government we live under.
Proceedings of a recent Wichita City Council meeting are instructive of the factors citizens should consider if they want to interact with the council and city government at a public hearing. From June 2014.
At the June 17, 2014 meeting of the Wichita City Council, one agenda item was a public hearing to consider adding a property to the city’s facade improvement program. Susan Estes of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas appeared before the council during the hearing to express concern that a member of AFP (me) had made a request for information on the item, but had not received the information by the time of the public hearing. Background on my request and its importance to public policy can be found at In Wichita, a public hearing with missing information. Video of this meeting is below, or click here to view at YouTube.
From the bench, Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said that this item had been “discussed in length last week,” referring to what would be the June 10, 2014 meeting. A reading of council agendas and minutes shows that it was actually at the June 3 meeting when the item was presented. Further, the June 3 matter was a different item. It’s a small detail, but the purpose of the June 3 item was to approve and accept the property owners petition and set the date for a public hearing. That public hearing was held on June 17.
At the June 3 meeting, contrary to Meitzner’s assertion, there was no substantive discussion on this item except for the presentation by city staff. There really was no need for discussion at that time, as the purpose of the agenda item was to accept the petition and set a date for a public hearing. If the petition is valid in its form, I don’t believe the council has any choice but to accept it and set a date for a public hearing. The purpose of the public hearing is to, naturally, hear from the public.
At the June 17 meeting during the public hearing, Meitzner questioned Estes and city staff. He asked if there was a “gap analysis” performed on all special assessments the city establishes. When told no, he asked why is the gap analysis needed for this project and not for others. The assistant city manager explained that it is required for economic development projects like the one under consideration today, but not for others.
Questioning at the meeting also revealed that there are legal issues regarding whether the gap analysis can be disclosed to the public. The city has told me it will respond to my request for the document by June 20. The city is treating my friendly request for the document as a request made under the Kansas Open Records Act. That law is permeated with loopholes and exceptions that give government many pretexts to avoid disclosure of documents.
The meeting also featured an impassioned attack on Estes and her allies from a citizen speaker. The attack was based on incorrect information, as was explained to the citizen in the meeting.
What citizens can learn from this meeting
If you don’t ask for information on a schedule that pleases the city council, you may be criticized by multiple council members.
Council members may criticize you based on incorrect facts.
Council members may grill you based on their lack of knowledge of — or incorrect understanding of — city policy.
If you ask for information from the City of Wichita, but don’t also ask for the same from other jurisdictions, a city council member may seek to discredit you.
When a prominent Wichita business executive and civic leader asked for tax relief, his reasoning allows us to more fully understand the city’s economic development efforts and nature of the people city hall trusts to lead these endeavors. From June 2014.
In November 2013 the Wichita City Council granted an exemption from paying property and sales tax for High Touch Technologies, a company located in downtown Wichita. This application is of more than usual interest as the company’s CEO, Wayne Chambers, is now chair of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, along with its subsidiary Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, are the main agencies in charge of economic development for the Wichita area. Under Chambers’ leadership, these organizations are recommending that the city council authorize a vote on raising the Wichita sales tax for the purposes of economic development.
Let’s take a look at some of the aspects of this company’s application and the city’s agenda packet material (available here).
In its application letter, High Touch argues as follows (emphasis added):
To demonstrate our commitment to Wichita, as well as accommodate our expected growth plans, High Touch Technologies would like to purchase a 106,000 sq. ft. building in Downtown Wichita.
At this time, High Touch Technologies is requesting your support for the issuance of approximately $2,000,000 City of Wichita, Kansas, Taxable Industrial Revenue Bonds. High Touch greatly appreciates any support we can receive on the purchase of this office building through the City’s participation of Industrial Revenue Bonds and the property tax savings associated with this financing method. We intend to continue our growth and expansion over the next several years and these benefits would be helpful in offsetting the substantial capital requirements associated with this project.
High Touch Technologies believes in Wichita and support the community and its economy through corporate stewardship programs. We look forward to working with you and Members of the Council on this project and are always available to answer questions regarding this project or any of our business activities.
Later in the letter:
The applicant agrees to enter into an agreement for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) equal to the ad valorem property tax payment amount for the 2013 tax year. The applicant respectfully requests that the payments be capped at that rate for a period of ten (10) years. The tax abatement will permit the applicant to proceed with the anticipated project, allow for its anticipated growth, and result in the public benefits otherwise outlined herein.
The issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds will be used to lower the cost of office space in the acquired building. The lower costs will give High Touch, Inc. incentive to grow its presence in the corporate office in Wichita. New employees will be added to this Wichita office instead of other offices across the U.S. The savings in office space will allow High Touch, Inc. to use those savings for expansion.
To demonstrate our commitment to Wichita: This is ironic because High Touch is asking to be excused from paying the same property taxes that most other people and business firms have to pay. Instead of commitment, this demonstrates hostility to the taxpayers of Wichita, who will have to pay more so that this company can pay less.
But that irony is surpassed by the spectacle — chutzpa — of the incoming chair of a city’s chamber of commerce threatening to move his company out of the city unless the company receives incentives.
helpful in offsetting the substantial capital requirements: Well. Who wouldn’t appreciate help in offsetting the cost of anything? We should categorize this as unpersuasive.
corporate stewardship programs: Underlying this argument is that because High Touch makes charitable contributions, it should be excused from the same tax burden that most of us face. Here’s a better argument: Be a good corporate citizen by paying your fair share of taxes. Don’t ask for others to pay your share of taxes. That will let citizens make their own charitable contributions, instead of subsidizing what Wayne Chambers want to do.
answer questions regarding this project or any of our business activities: This refers to how the members of the city council will make a judgment that this business is worthy of subsidy, and that others are not. The notion that the City of Wichita can decide which companies are worthy of tax exemptions and investment is an illustration of what economist Frederich Hayek called a “conceit.” It’s so dangerous that his book on the topic is titled “The Fatal Conceit.” The failure of government planning throughout the world has demonstrated that it is through markets and their coordination of dispersed knowledge that we best learn where to direct capital investment. It is simply impossible for this city government to effectively decide in which companies Wichitans should invest their tax dollars. Nonetheless the city council made the decision, and it wants a larger role.
Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT): High Touch is not proposing to totally escape its tax burden. Only partially so, through the PILOT. But the proposed payment is quite generous to the company. A few quick (and probably imprecise) calculations shows how small the PILOT is compared to what taxes would be. City documents indicate the proceeds of the IRBs will be used to pay for $2,000,000 of improvements. This amount of commercial property times 25% assessment ratio times 120.602 mill levy rate equals $60,301 in taxes. High Touch, through the PILOT, is proposing to pay $33,250, just a little more than half of what the taxes might be.
But the true value of the taxes being avoided is probably much higher. As an example, nearby office space is listed for sale at $28 per square foot, and that’s a distress-level price. Applying that price to this building, its value would be almost $3 million. If we look at market capitalization rates, which are generally given as from nine to eleven percent for class A space, we arrive at a much higher value: If we say $10 per square foot rental rate times 106,000 square feet at nine percent cap rate, the value would be almost $12 million. Taxes on that would be about $300,000 per year.
These are back-of-the-envelope calculations using assumed values that may not be accurate, but this gives an idea of what’s actually happening in this transaction: High Touch is seeking to avoid paying a lot of taxes, year after year. But by offering to pay a small fraction as PILOT, the company appears magnanimous.
payments be capped at that rate for a period of ten (10) years: High Touch proposed that what it’s paying in lieu of taxes not be subject to increases. Everyone else’s property taxes, of course, are subject to increases due to either assessed value increases or mill rate increases, or both. High Touch requests an exemption from these forces that almost everyone else faces.
lower the cost of office space: Again, who wouldn’t enjoy lower business or personal expenses? The cost of this incentive spreads the cost of government across a smaller tax base than would otherwise be, raising the cost of government for almost everyone else.
added to this Wichita office instead of other offices across the U.S.: The threat of relocation or expansion elsewhere is routinely used to leverage benefits from frightened local governments. These threats can’t be taken at face value. There is no way to know their validity.
use those savings for expansion: Implicit in this argument is that Wichita taxes prevent companies from expanding. True or not, this is a problem: If taxes are too high, we’re missing out on economic growth. If taxes are not too high, but some companies seek exemption from paying them nonetheless, that’s a problem too.
A prosperous company, establishing the template for seeking business welfare
In a December 2011 interview with the Wichita Eagle, the High Touch CEO bragged of how well the company is doing. The newspaper reported “Ask Wayne Chambers how business is, and he’s going to tell you it’s good. Very good. … Chambers said this week that after two years of robust growth, he’s looking for another one in 2012. ‘We have every reason to believe we’ll continue that growth pattern,’ he said.”
In February 2013 the Wichita Business Journal reported “It should be a great year for High Touch Inc. That’s the initial prediction of CEO Wayne Chambers, who says actions the company took during and leading up to 2012 have positioned High Touch to become a true ‘IT solutions provider.'”
If we take Chambers at his word — that his company is successful — why does High Touch need this business welfare? Economic necessity is usually given as the justification of these incentives. Companies argue that the proposed investment is not feasible and uneconomic without taxpayer participation and subsidy. I don’t see this argument being advanced in this case.
Interestingly, at the time of this application Chambers was co-chair of Visioneering Wichita, which advocates for greater government involvement in just about everything, including the management of the local economy. One of the benchmarks of Visioneering is “Exceed the highest of the annual percentage job growth rate of the U.S., Omaha, Tulsa, Kansas City and Oklahoma City.” As shown in this article and this video, Wichita badly lags the nation and our Visioneering peer cities on this benchmark. Visioneering officials didn’t want to present these results to government officials this year, perhaps on the theory that it’s better to ignore problems that to confront them.
Now Wayne Chambers is the chair of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. Under his leadership, the Chamber of Commerce recommends that Wichitans pay higher sales tax to support the Chambers’ projects.
Will this blatant cronyism be the template for future management of economic development in Wichita? Let’s hope not, as the working people of Wichita can’t tolerate much more of our sub-par economic growth.
Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan addressed the question of whether government can be run like a business at a luncheon meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on May 22, 2015. Buchanan has served as county manager since 1991 and will retire in June. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.
Jay P. Greene shares observations from Matthew Ladner on President Barack Obama’s false understanding of public education in America.
It is a shame that the only thing that seemed to draw headlines from a recent panel discussion on poverty including President Obama was a silly throw away line about Fox News. The entire discussion, which included Robert Putnam and AEI’s Arthur Brooks deeply deserves your time. The event transcript can be found here.
Go read it. Like now. All four participants had very interesting things to say, far more than can be reflected upon in a blog post.
So this quote from President Obama got my attention:
The Kansas Legislature has had several years to come up with plans for reforming government spending. But it didn’t do that. Now, leaders in the Kansas legislature and executive branch tell us the only way to balance the Kansas budget this year is by raising more revenue through taxation. That may be true, as reforming spending and budgeting takes time to accomplish.
We — the legislature — had the time. But our legislature and executive branch squandered that opportunity. Now, they ask you for more tax revenue.
At a time when Wichita city hall needs to cultivate the trust of citizens, another incident illustrates the entrenched attitude of the city towards its citizens. Despite the proclamations of the mayor and manager, the city needs a change of attitude towards government transparency and citizens’ right to know. From May 2014.
At its May 20, 2014 meeting the Wichita City Council considered approval of a sublease by Shannon No. 2, LLC. The subject property had received subsidy from the city under an economic development program, which is why council approval of the sublease was required. I’ll cover the economics of the lease and its importance to public policy in another article. For now, the important issue is the attitude of the city towards government transparency and citizen participation.
In the agenda packet — that’s the detailed and often lengthy supplement to the council meeting agenda — some information regarding the Shannon lease was redacted, as you can see in the accompanying illustration. This piqued my interest, so I asked for the missing details.
The agenda packet is often made available Thursday afternoon, although sometimes it is delayed until Friday or even Monday. I sent an email message to the city’s chief information officer at 11:16 pm Thursday. After the message worked its way through several city departments, I received the information at 5:06 pm Monday. Since city council meetings are Tuesday morning, that left little time for research and contemplation.
This isn’t the first time citizens have been left with little information and even less time before council meetings. I was involved in an issue in 2008 where there was little time for citizens — council members, too — to absorb information before a council meeting. About this incident, former Wichita Eagle editorial board editor Randy Brown wrote this in a letter to the Eagle:
I’m fairly well acquainted with Bob Weeks, our extraconservative government watchdog. It’s fair to say that I agree with Weeks no more than one time in every 20 issues. But that one time is crucial to our democracy.
Weeks is dead-on target when he says that conducting the public’s business in secret causes citizens to lose respect for government officials and corrupts the process of democracy (“TIF public hearing was bait and switch,” Dec. 5 Opinion). And that’s what happened when significant 11th-hour changes to the already controversial and questionable tax-increment financing plan for the downtown arena neighborhood were sneaked onto the Wichita City Council’s Tuesday agenda, essentially under cover of Monday evening’s darkness.
This may not have been a technical violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, but it was an aggravated assault on its spirit. Among other transgressions, we had a mockery of the public hearing process rather than an open and transparent discussion of a contentious public issue. Randy Brown: Reopen Downtown Wichita Arena TIF Public Hearing
The Wichita officials involved in this matter were council members Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) and Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita). Longwell’s behavior and attitude is part of a pattern, because in another incident in the same year the Wichita Eagle reported “Wichita City Council members and the public got a first look at the contracts that could send a $6 million loan to the owners of the Old Town Warren Theatre just hours before today’s scheduled vote on the matter.” (Little time to review Warren terms, July 1, 2008)
That article quoted council member Longwell thusly: “It’s unlikely many residents would read the full contract even if it had been made public earlier.” This attitude is common among Wichita elected officials and bureaucrats, in my experience. The city formally lobbies the Kansas Legislature opposing any expansion of the Kansas Open Records Act, for example.
The Shannon item was placed on the consent agenda. This is where items deemed to be non-controversial are voted on in bulk, perhaps two dozen or more at a time. Unless a council member asks to have an item “pulled” for discussion and a possible vote separate from the other consent items, there will be no discussion of any issues.
On his Facebook page, Clinton Coen wrote this about his city council representative James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) and this incident:
“I am once again ashamed of my City Councilman. Councilman Clendenin should have stood alongside his colleague, Councilman O’Donnel, and allowed a citizen to address his concerns on an agenda item. All Mr. Clendenin had to do was say “second” and Mr. Weeks could have addressed the council, provided that a majority of the council voted to allow it. Instead, Mr. Clendenin chose to censor someone that has a differing opinion. By bringing it to a vote, accountability would have been created, instead the remainder of the council chose to take the cowardly path.”
Why redacted in the first place?
As shown in the earlier illustration, the city redacted a large chunk of information from the agenda packet that it made available to the public. The city did — after some time — positively respond to my request for the complete document. Which begs these questions: Why did the city feel that some information needed to be kept secret? Did city council members have access to the redacted information? Did any members of the public besides myself ask for the information? How many citizens might have been discouraged from asking by fear of the the hassle of asking city hall for information like this?
There’s also the consideration that the citizens of Wichita are parties to this transaction. How well these incentive programs work and what effect they have on the Wichita economy is an important matter of public policy. Without relatively complete information, citizens are not in a position to make judgments.
Often council members and bureaucrats complain that providing information to citizens is a financial burden to the city. But in this case, I’m sure the city would have been dollars ahead if it had simply published the complete lease in the agenda packet. My request bounced around several city offices — three that I know of — and I imagine that each handling of my request added cost.
“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 incidents describe above, combined with others, demonstrate that it’s easy for officials to say they value transparency and accountability. The actual delivery, however, is difficult for our current leaders.
Despite the proclamations of the mayor and manager, the city needs a change of attitude towards government transparency. The incident described in this article is one more example of a divergence between the proclamations of city officials and their acts. It’s an attitude problem. All city hall has to do is get a new attitude.