From September 2012, a look at how the Wichita City Council values discussion of issues.

mayor-downtown-visionGovernmental bodies use consent agendas for two reasons. One is to speed up the handling of issues considered to be non-controversial. Today’s meeting of the Wichita City Council had a consent agenda with 31 items. The plan was for all to be passed with a single vote. Therefore, speedy meetings.

But sometimes we see items placed on consent agendas that are of such significance that they should be placed on the regular agenda, where there is the potential of discussion. Council members will also be on record as having voted on the item independently of others.

So sometimes we see items placed on consent agendas because elected officials don’t want discussion, they don’t want their vote to be on record, and they hope the public won’t notice.

If a council member feels a consent agenda item should be discussed or debated and be voted on separately from the other items, the member can ask that the item be “pulled.” That happened today at the request of Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita). But Mayor Carl Brewer and all five other city council members disagreed. They preferred to proceed as though the issue didn’t exist, and that no time should be spent receiving information on the item.

The consent agenda item and its importance is explained at For Wichita’s Block 1 garage, public allocation is now zero parking spaces.

Wichita city officials, including Mayor Carl Brewer, say they are proud of the open and transparent city government they have created. But this episode, as well as others described in In Wichita, disdain for open records and government transparency, lets everyone know that transparency is dispensed, and accountability accepted, at the whim of the mayor and city council and their bureaucratic enablers.

On his Facebook page, Clinton Coen wrote this about his city council representative James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita):

James Clendenin District 3“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.”

“This is the second time in recent weeks that Mr. Clendenin has done something that I am utterly appalled by.”

“The treatment of Councilman O’Donnell by the majority is childish, unnecessary and unproductive.”

Photograph by the U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office (PIO).

Photograph by the U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office (PIO).

The United States Census Bureau collects data from the states about their finances. I’ve gathered selected financial statistics and made them available in an interactive visualization.

Because states vary so widely in population, I’ve presented the data as per-person figures. That presents its own challenges. For example, each state has only one governor, no matter how large or small its population. Therefore, the cost of having a governor can be spread among a very large number of people in California, but across a much smaller number of people in Wyoming.

Using the visualization: Sorting and selecting.

Using the visualization: Sorting and selecting.

In the visualization you may chose which states to display. Also, by clicking on row titles you can sort the states by the values in that row. This lets you see which states collect a lot of tax, or do a lot of spending.

Use the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work best. Data is from United States Census Bureau, 2012 Annual Survey of State Government Finances.

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Teacher Pay — Inside Looking Out

By David Dorsey

It would be hard to find a more divisive and splintered education issue than teacher salaries. Everyone seems to have a fervent opinion that either (a) teachers are vastly underpaid, (b) teachers are actually overpaid, or (c) teachers are getting paid about what they should. And the reasons for this triad of stances are numerous. It is not my purpose to delve into those in this essay, nor is it to make a case for any of them. (You thought I was going to pick (a) since I teach!) This is the first of several op-eds I will present on this rather complex, layered issue. In the first piece, the perspective will be one you rarely hear from: an individual teacher.
Me.

A funny thing about the issue of teacher compensation is the group that is most impacted — teachers — really seem to care the least. Having taught for 20 years, one thing I can say with certainty: rarely does the issue of how much we are paid get brought up in conversation. Oh, sure, you may see teachers on television rallying for more money, but that is always union driven. The media is also complicit in keeping teacher salaries on the front burner. A recent article in the Topeka Capital-Journal is an example of the bind between the media and the unions. It proclaims teacher pay has actually gone down 1.1 percent over the last decade when adjusted for inflation (yawn). Here’s a news bulletin: so has virtually everybody’s. Ever hear of that economic sinkhole now referred to as the Great Recession? According to the Census Bureau, inflation-adjusted median family income in Kansas for the same time period is down 7.6 percent.

I know it has been said countless times before, but it bears repeating: People don’t get into the teaching profession for the money. Duh. That’s why we don’t talk about pay among ourselves. In fact, when money is discussed, most teachers would rather see it go to improved working conditions (e.g., more/better materials, updated technology, improved facilities). A much more important issue to us is time, especially given the current teaching environment that each year sees an increased demand on ours.

We understand the relationship between time and money. That’s another reason you don’t hear individual teachers complain much about salaries. We realize a shorter work year means less money. And it’s true that many are drawn to teaching because it is not a year-round profession. That in itself is attractive to many, enough so to recruit and enough so to keep them. It would be naïve not to recognize that. Consider this: Those who became teachers right out of college probably have never worked year-round. Just last week a teacher friend of mine said she didn’t think she could work a twelve-month job.

Twenty years ago I changed careers to become a teacher. Why? I was drawn to being around kids to help shape their lives. I also have a very creative side, and I saw teaching, in part, as a way to express myself creatively. And I knowingly took a pay cut to do so.

So next time you read an article that “definitively” proves teachers are underpaid (or overpaid) remember this: We knew what we were getting into.

But having said all this, would I like to see teacher salaries increase? That depends. It will be the subject of my next piece.

Delano Clock Tower, WichitaCompared to a broad group of peer metropolitan areas, Wichita performs very poorly. As Wichita embarks upon a new era of economic development, we need to ask who to trust with this important task.

The good news: In a recent op-ed, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer wrote that the city needs to make a decision regarding “A more aggressive approach to job creation.” (Carl Brewer: Wichita can have a great next year, December 22, 2013 Wichita Eagle)

The bad news: Wichita has performed very poorly in job creation in recent decades, and even if we decide on a more aggressive approach, pretty much the same crew is in charge.

Many in Wichita don’t want to recognize and confront the bad news about the performance of the Wichita-area economy. Last year, when presenting its annual report to local governmental bodies, the leaders of Visioneering Wichita would not present benchmark data to elected officials.

Some, however, have recognized the severity of the problem. In 2008 Harvey Sorensen, who has been chair of Visioneering Wichita, chair of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, and has held other civic leadership positions, wrote in the pages of the Wichita Eagle: “We are losing ground competitively with our peer communities.” (Community Needs a Common Vision, August 24, 2008 Wichita Eagle)

wichita-peer-job-growth-1990-2014-01

So what is the record of the Wichita metropolitan area regarding job creation, that seeming to be the most popular statistic our leaders cite and promote? I’ve prepared statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor for Wichita and a broad group of peer cities. I included our Visioneering peer cities, cities that Visioneers traveled to on official visits, and a few others. The result, shown nearby, is not pretty. (Click on charts for larger versions, or click here to use the interactive visualization)

wichita-peer-job-growth-2007-2014-01

If we look at job creation starting in 1990, Wichita lags behind our Visioneering peers, but not behind all the peer cities that I selected. Wichita does better than Springfield, Illinois, for example. I chose to include that as a peer metropolitan area because that’s the immediate past city that Gary Plummer worked in. He was president of that city’s Chamber of Commerce, and is now president of the Wichita Chamber. Note the position of Springfield: Last place.

In next-to-last place we see Wichita Falls, Texas. I chose to include it because it is the immediate past home of Tim Chase. He was the head of Wichita Falls Economic Development Corporation. He’s now president of Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, the primary organization in charge of economic development for the Wichita area.

In second-to-last place we see Pittsburgh, which I added because Visioneering leaders recently made a visit there.

Then, we come to Wichita.

If we look at job creation since 2007, the year before Sorensen wrote his op-ed, we find Wichita in a common position: Last place in job creation, and by a wide margin except for two cities. One is Wichita Falls, where our present GWEDC president recently worked. The other city that barely out-performs Wichita is Chattanooga, which I included because Visioneering civic leaders recently traveled there to learn from that city.

Over the decades in which Wichita has performed poorly, there have been a few common threads. Brewer has been council member or mayor since 2001. Economic development director Allen Bell has been working for the city since 1992. City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf has served for decades. At Sedgwick County, manager William Buchanan has held that position for more than two decades. On the Sedgwick County Commission, Dave Unruh has been in office since 2003, and Tim Norton since 2001. It is these officials who have presided over the dismal record of Wichita.

Wichita City Manager Robert Layton has had less time to influence the course of economic development in Wichita. But he’s becoming part of the legacy of Wichita’s efforts in economic development.

toolbox-29058_640

These leaders often complain that Wichita does not have enough “tools in the toolbox” to compete with other cities in economic development. Wichita does, however, have and use incentives. The State of Kansas regularly offers incentives so generous that Kansas business leaders told the governor that they value these incentives more than they would value elimination of the state corporate income tax.

Incentives: We have them. They haven’t worked for us.

It is nearly certain that this year Wichitans will be asked to approve a higher sales tax in order to pay for many things, including the more aggressive approach to job creation that Brewer mentioned. Based on the track record of our elected officials and bureaucrats, we need to do this: Before approving the tax and expenditures, Wichitans need to take a long look at the people who have been in charge, and ask what will be different going forward.

economic-chart-upwards-01Economic freedom, in countries where it is allowed to thrive, leads to better lives for people as measured in a variety of ways. This is true for everyone, especially for poor people.

This is the message presented in a short video based on the work of the Economic Freedom of the World report, which is a project of Canada’s Fraser Institute. Two years ago Robert Lawson, one of the authors of the Economic Freedom of the World report, lectured in Wichita on this topic. The current video is made possible by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

One of the findings highlighted in the presentation is that while the average income in free countries is much higher than that in the least-free countries, the ratio is even higher for the poorest people in these countries. This is consistent with the findings that economic freedom is good for everyone, and even more so for those with low incomes.

Civil rights, a clean environment, long life expectancy, low levels of corruption, less infant mortality, less child labor, and lower unemployment are all associated with greater levels of economic freedom.

What are the components or properties of economic freedom? The presentation lists these:

  • Property rights are protected under an impartial rule of law.
  • People are free to trade with others, both within and outside the country.
  • There is a sound national currency, so that peoples’ money keeps its value.
  • Government stays small, relative to the size of the economy.

Over the last eleven years, the United States’ ranking has fallen relative to other countries, and the presentation says our position is expected to keep falling. The question is asked: “Will our quality of life fall with it?”

Economic freedom is not necessarily the platform of any single political party. It should be noted that for about eight of the past twelve years — a period in which our economic freedom has been falling — there was a Republican president, sometimes with a Republican Congress. The size of government rose. In 2005 the Cato Institute studied the numbers and found that “All presidents presided over net increases in spending overall, though some were bigger spenders than others. As it turns out, George W. Bush is one of the biggest spenders of them all. In fact, he is an even bigger spender than Lyndon B. Johnson in terms of discretionary spending.” This was before the spending on the prescription drug program had started.

Critics of economic freedom

The defining of what economic freedom means is important. Sometimes you’ll see people write things like “Bernie Madoff was only exercising his personal economic freedom while he ran his investment firm.” Madoff, we now know, was a thief. He stole his clients’ money. That’s contrary to property rights, and therefore contrary to economic freedom.

Or, you’ll see people say if you don’t like government, go to Somalia. That country, one of the poorest in the world — but not the poorest — is used as an example of how bad anarchy is as a form of government. The evidence is, however, that Somalia’s former government was so bad that things improved after the fall of that government. See Peter T. Leeson, Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse and History of Somalia (1991–2006).

You’ll also encounter people who argue that some countries are poor because they have no natural resources. But there are many countries with few natural resources that have economic freedom and a high standard of living. Most countries that are poor are that way because they are run by corrupt governments that have no respect for economic freedom, and follow policies that stifle it.

Some will argue that economic freedom means the freedom to pollute the environment. But it is in wealthy countries that the environment is respected. Poor countries, where people are struggling just to find food for each day, don’t have the time or wealth to be concerned about the environment.

Americans for Prosperity

On Tuesday (April 22, 2014) Americans for Prosperity-Kansas features Rodger Woods, who is Deputy State Director of AFP-Kansas. His topic will be “Navigating the Legislature.”

The meeting is from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, at Spangles Restaurant, 612 S. Broadway, Wichita, Kansas. Click here for a map.

For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

From Kansas Policy Institute.

The Legislative Session and Education Policy

By David Dorsey

If the legislative session had a theme regarding education policy, it would be the title of Dr. Leo Marvin’s book Baby Steps from the movie What About Bob?. Because even though great strides at improving education fell short, at least it’s a beginning.

The lawmakers in Topeka wrapped up a lengthy, contentious weekend session last week, but then again, aren’t all marathon sessions led by the sleep-deprived contentious? The highest profile, most controversial piece of legislation to move on to the Governor is House Bill 2506, a law that contains several education policy provisions. The most controversial section is the provision that, in some cases, allows school districts to more easily terminate teachers. This, of course, got KNEA to rally teachers to the statehouse. At least the legislature got their attention. Typically, teachers are about as interested in the legislative session as casual fans are interested in college basketball after their March Madness brackets go bust.

The irony is, regardless of the ballyhoo raised by KNEA and the gauntlet of teachers lining the hallways of the capitol clad in their red unification t-shirts, most of us good, enlightened teachers are also opposed to teacher tenure. And many I know would be tougher on incompetent teachers than this new legislation allows. Believe me, there is nothing more frustrating and indefensible as watching groups of students, year in and year out, being deprived of a solid education because of a weak teacher. This is especially true for those teachers who inherit the students the following year. It’s one of the reasons I don’t belong to the union. It expends too much energy shielding incompetent teachers. So, in my opinion, the teacher tenure provision of House Bill 2506 is a good start.

There are a few other sections of the bill worth noting. One is the alternate teacher licensure provision that will allow some to qualify to teach without going through a traditional licensure program. This is targeted to math and science in the middle and high schools. In its current form, it won’t have much of an impact on alternate licensure at a macro level, but it is a step in the right direction toward getting additional qualified people in the teaching profession.

Another proviso that made the final cut is the creation of a tax credit for corporations to give scholarships to at-risk students from low achieving public schools to attend private schools. This means some families will have a choice to leave low performing schools. Full disclosure here, I am finishing my teaching career at one of those schools and I welcome the opportunity for some of our students to get a better chance. I would have liked to have seen even more students and families get the opportunity, but maybe next session.

After all, “baby steps,” right?

This Friday (April 25, 2014) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father and Grandfather of the Current Republican Party.

Wikipedia tells us that Hamilton was “[a] Founding Father of the United States, chief of staff to General Washington, one of the most influential interpreters and promoters of the Constitution, the founder of the nation’s financial system, and the founder of the first American political party.”

The Bill of Rights Institute, in its page on Hamilton, hints at why some consider Hamilton a controversial figure: “Alexander Hamilton is perhaps the most misunderstood and under-appreciated of the Founders. A proponent of a strong national government with an “energetic executive,” he is sometimes described as the godfather of modern big government. However, Hamilton was no less a champion of human liberty than his more famous political rival and American icon, Thomas Jefferson.”

Thomas J. DiLorenzo is quite critical of Hamilton in his article The Founding Father of Crony Capitalism:

Hamilton was the intellectual leader of the group of men at the time of the founding who wanted to import the system of British mercantilism and imperialistic government to America. As long as they were on the paying side of British mercantilism and imperialism, they opposed it and even fought a revolution against it. But being on the collecting side was altogether different. It’s good to be the king, as Mel Brooks might say.

It was Hamilton who coined the phrase “The American System” to describe his economic policy of corporate welfare, protectionist tariffs, central banking, and a large public debt, even though his political descendants, the Whig Party of Henry Clay, popularized the slogan. He was not well schooled in the economics of his day, as is argued by such writers as John Steele Gordon. Unlike Jefferson, who had read, understood, and supported the free-market economic ideas of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Baptiste Say (whom Jefferson invited to join the faculty of the University of Virginia), Richard Cantillon, and Turgot (a bust of whom still sits in the entrance to Monticello), Hamilton either ignored or was completely unaware of these ideas. Instead, he repeated the mercantilist myths and superstitions that had been concocted by apologists for the British mercantilist state, such as Sir James Steuart.

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm Club meetings. Meetings are held almost every Friday in the Wichita Petroleum Club on the top floor of the Bank of America Building at 100 N. Broadway. The program starts at noon, and it is suggested that guests arrive by 11:45 am in order to get their lunch before the program starts. The meeting costs $12, which includes a delicious buffet lunch and beverage. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Recycling myths revisited

From Property and Environment Research Center (PERC).

In this revised essay, Daniel Benjamin takes us through the common claims asserted on behalf of the multi-billion dollar recycling programs that are generally presumed to be wise public policy. Benjamin applies careful analysis to the claims made over the years about the “need” for mandatory recycling — and finds them to be bogus. He reminds us that before we rush into costly policies presumed to be saving the environment, sound science and analysis of the facts, which are rarely as interesting as fantastic scare stories, are much to be desired in a society that values freedom in markets and personal choice.

Click here to read “Recycling Myths Revisited” [pdf].

A conservative agenda to get right on cronyism will be good for jobs, good for the economy, and, above all, the right thing to do, writes United States Senator Mike Lee at Heritage Foundation. Needed reforms include forcing Congress to periodically reevaluate expensive regulations, leveling the playing field for all energy producers, opening our higher education system to new students, teachers, and competition, giving Americans the right to choose whether or not to join a union, cuting out the bureaucrats who waste critical infrastructure funding, and eliminating taxpayer subsidies to organizations like the Ex-Im Bank.

From Charles Blahous via e21.

The next time you hear political advocates making claims about how much deficit reduction and spending cuts are being enacted, remember that these claims are being made in comparison to fictitious, somewhat arbitrary baselines. Ask them how much total spending and taxation would occur under their plans, and compare the answers. It is the only way to really understand the budget debate.

CBO report on Obamacare

From Bankrupting America, an educational project that explores the policies hindering economic opportunity and growth in America.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released a report that revised the estimated cost of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act). The new projections estimate that the federal government will spend nearly $2 trillion on the ACA over the next decade. Here are the top five things to know about the report.

From LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies.

Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! All right? Maybe — maybe not, says scholar Daniel K. Benjamin. Making an unused tissue out of a used one wastes resources and hardly benefits the environment. Melting and casting aluminum cans, though, both saves resources and benefits the environment. But you donメt need to exhort the aluminum company to save those resources: saving scraps is in its own interest. So why does it take a lesson from your third-grade teacher to get you to recycle household waste?

Only hours after Kansas Watchdog revealed Wednesday the law enforcement agency’s massive spike in drug tax revenue — the spending of which Capt. Doug Nolte said the police department doesn’t track — local media pounced.

This Friday (April 18, 2014) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features the two newest Wichita school board members speaking on the topic “An Overview of Wichita Public Schools from a New School Board Member’s Perspective.” The speakers are Joy Eakins and Mike Rodee.

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm Club meetings. Meetings are held almost every Friday in the Wichita Petroleum Club on the top floor of the Bank of America Building at 100 N. Broadway. The program starts at noon, and it is suggested that guests arrive by 11:45 am in order to get their lunch before the program starts. The meeting costs $12, which includes a delicious buffet lunch and beverage. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson accused the White House of running an unprecedented pressure campaign against journalists, claiming they are pursuing a “particularly aggressive, well-organized” strategy “designed to have some kind of a chilling effect” on the American press.

The education “blob,” also known as unions, media and their education establishment allies (UMEEA), will not tolerate increased opportunity for students to attend charter schools in Kansas.

“And that guy who was smiling and joking with me in the checkout line at the grocery last Saturday? He lit a firebomb, taped a tax credit for private school supporters on it, and flung it through the window of a first grade classroom in the wee hours of Sunday morning.”

For this Kansas newspaper editorial writer, the institution of public schools are more important than struggling students: “Two elements of the bill are particularly troubling. One creates a $10 million-a-year corporate welfare program in support of private education. It allows large companies to enjoy a 70-percent credit against their state tax liability if they offer scholarships to at-risk students who move to private schools. This has nothing at all to do with public education equity; rather it creates a mechanism to damage the finance structure for public schools.”

Small steps towards Kansas education reform are “immoral” and make this representative “heartsick.”

More on the 77 cents

…as soon as Stevenson was actually questioned about the statistic by McClatchy reporter Lindsay Wise, the White House adviser crumbled, admitting her earlier comments were inaccurate. “If I said 77 cents was equal pay for equal work, then I completely misspoke,” Stevenson said. “So let me just apologize and say that I certainly wouldn’t have meant to say that.”

Obamacare in Oregon

Oregon has failed time again on their promises to deliver a workable exchange.

Once education, marital status and occupations are considered, the ‘gender wage gap’ all but disappears.

Reporters Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, authors of the inaccurate report on Koch’s oil sands holdings, admitted in a Monday piece that publicly available data contradicts their reporting, but moved the goalposts from “biggest lease holder” to “biggest foreign lease holder.”

Officialportrait[1]“Dear KOCHPAC: Thank you so much for the generous KOCHPAC contribution to my 2010 campaign. … Your early financial help keeps me strong in my campaign. … Again, I can’t thank you enough. … I look forward to working with you throughout this election.”