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.

Community Improvement Districts are a relatively recent creation of the Kansas Legislature. In a CID, merchants charge additional sales tax, up to an extra two cents per dollar.

Community improvement district using bonds. Click for larger version.
Community improvement district using bonds. Click for larger version.
There are two forms of CID. Both start with the drawing of the boundaries of a geographical district. In the original form, a city borrows money by selling bonds. The bond proceeds are given to the owners of the district. The bonds are repaid by the extra sales tax collected, known as the CID tax.

In the second form of CID, the extra sales tax is simply given to the owners of property in district as it is collected, after deduction of a small amount to reimburse government for its expenses. This is known as a “pay-as-you-go” CID.

The “pay-as-you-go” CID holds less risk for cities, as the extra sales tax — the CID tax — is remitted to the property owner as it is collected. If sales run below projections, or of the project never materializes, the property owners receive less funds, or no funds. With CID bonds, the city must pay back the bonds even if the CID tax does not raise enough funds to make the bond payments.

Community improvement district using pay-as-you-go. Click for larger version.
Community improvement district using pay-as-you-go. Click for larger version.
Of note is that CID proceeds benefit the owners of the property, not the merchants. Kansas law requires that 55 percent of the property owners in the proposed CID agree to its formation. The City of Wichita uses a more restrictive policy, requiring all owners to consent.

Issues regarding CID

Perhaps the most important public policy issue regarding CIDs is this: If merchants feel they need to collect additional revenue from their customers, why don’t they simply raise their prices? But the premise of this question is not accurate, as it is not the merchants who receive CID funds. The more accurate question is why don’t landlords raise their rents? That puts them at a competitive disadvantage with property owners that are not within CIDs. Better for us, they rationalize, that unwitting customers pay higher sales taxes for our benefit.

Consumer protection
Customers of merchants in CIDS ought to know in advance that an extra CID tax is charged. Some have recommended warning signage that protects customers from unknowingly shopping in stores, restaurants, and hotels that will be adding extra sales tax to purchases. Developers who want to benefit from CID money say that merchants object to signage, fearing it will drive away customers.

State law is silent on this. The City of Wichita requires a sign indicating that CID financing made the project possible, with no hint that customers will pay additional tax. The city also maintains a website showing CIDs. This form of notification is so weak as to be meaningless.

Eligible costs
One of the follies in government economic development policy is the categorization of costs into eligible and non-eligible costs. The proceeds from programs like CIDs and tax increment financing may be used only for costs in the “eligible” category. I suggest that we stop arbitrarily distinguishing between “eligible costs” and other costs. When city bureaucrats and politicians use a term like “eligible costs” it makes this process seem benign. It makes it seem as though we’re not really supplying corporate welfare and subsidy.

As long as the developer has to spend money on what we call “eligible costs,” the fact that the city subsidy is restricted to these costs has no economic meaning. Suppose I gave you $10 with the stipulation that you could spend it only on next Monday. Would you deny that I had enriched you by $10? Of course not. As long as you were planning to spend $10 next Monday, or could shift your spending from some other day to Monday, this restriction has no economic meaning.

Notification and withdrawal
If a merchant moves into an existing CID, how might they know beforehand that they will have to charge the extra sales tax? It’s a simple matter to learn the property taxes a piece of property must pay. But if a retail store moves into a vacant storefront in a CID, how would this store know that it will have to charge the extra CID sales tax? This is an important matter, as the extra tax could place the store at a competitive disadvantage, and the prospective retailer needs to know of the district’s existence and its terms.

Then, if a business tires of being in a CID — perhaps because it realizes it has put itself at a competitive disadvantage — how can the district be dissolved?

The nature of taxation
CIDs allow property owners to establish their own private taxing district for their exclusive benefit. This goes against the grain of the way taxes are usually thought of. Generally, 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 participating in — benefiting from — police protection.

But CIDs allow taxes to be collected for the benefit of one specific entity. This goes against the principle of broad-based taxation to pay for an array of services for everyone. But in this case, the people who benefit from the CID are quite easy to identify: the property owners in the district.

Debate: The National Debt

From February 2016.

Max Skidmore and Bob Weeks in the beautiful ballroom at Emporia State University.
Max Skidmore and Bob Weeks in the beautiful ballroom at Emporia State University.
This is an audio recording of a debate on the theme “Should the U.S. implement austerity measures due to the national debt?” The event was sponsored by Up To Us, a nationwide campus competition in which students create thought-provoking, fun campaigns to raise awareness about a critical issue affecting their future — the long-term national debt. This event took place at Emporia State University on February 15, 2016. Participants were Bob Weeks of Voice for Liberty at wichitaliberty.org and Professor Max Skidmore of University of Missouri, Kansas City. Michael Smith of ESU was the faculty coordinator, and Rob Catlett of ESU was the moderator.

Partners in Up To Us include:
Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase public awareness of the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America’s future and to accelerate action on them.

Clinton Global Initiative University. Building on the successful model of the Clinton Global Initiative, which brings together world leaders to take action on global challenges, the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) was launched to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world.

Net Impact. Net Impact is the leading nonprofit that inspires a new generation to work within and beyond business for a sustainable future. Net Impact empowers student and professional leaders to act locally through a vibrant chapter network and connect globally online and through Net Impact’s flagship conference.

Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told

The economic details of a semi-secret sale of bonds by the State of Kansas are worse than what’s been reported. From February 2016.

The late realization last year that the Kansas Department of Transportation had issued $400 million in long-term bonds — largely under the radar — has been met with appropriate levels of indignation by some editorial writers. An example is Dr. Edward Flentje who wrote:

Right-wing Republican lawmakers have operated under the radar to suspend all statutory limits on highway debt, and that unprecedented authority was recently used to issue record-breaking levels of long-term debt to pay for their reckless income tax cuts this year and next.

Six lines buried deep in a 700-page appropriation bill last spring gave the Kansas Department of Transportation unlimited authority to issue debt, and in early December, without public disclosure, the agency used that authority to issue $400 million in highway bonds. (H. Edward Flentje: Debt limits suspended to pay for tax cuts, Wichita Eagle, December 18, 2015)

A few notes: The Secretary of Transportation has, in the past, been given broad — but maybe not “unlimited” — authority to issue bonds and borrow money. The series 2012C bonds were issued with this statement: “The 2010 Act Amendments authorized the Secretary to issue highway revenue bonds so long as the Secretary certifies that, as of the date of issuance of any such bonds, the maximum annual debt service on all Outstanding Bonds and on such bonds proposed to be issued will not exceed 18% of Revenues projected for the then-current or any future Fiscal Year.”

In 2010 Kansas had a Democrat for a governor, which should caution us to not make this issue too political. As far as borrowing from the “Bank of KDOT,” it’s been done before, as explained in 2015 by KDOT. 1 And, payments on these loans have been deferred or not made.

Instead of politicizing the issue, let’s concentrate on the facts and merits. And when looking at the Series 2015B bonds, there is plenty to criticize.

KDOT outstanding bonds, showing interest-only issues. Click for larger version. Does not include Series 2015B bonds.
KDOT outstanding bonds, showing interest-only issues. Click for larger version. Does not include Series 2015B bonds.
First, the state will not pay any principal on these bonds until 2026. Until then the state will pay only the interest on the $400 million, which is $20 million per year. Then, starting in 2026, the state will make 11 annual payments of various amounts towards the principal. In all, KDOT’s schedule shows the state will pay $282,494,750 in interest on a loan of $400 million.

I don’t think that most Kansans would appreciate the state borrowing so much money for such a long time without making any effort at retiring the principal. But before we politicize: The KDOT Series 2010A bonds ($325 million, dated September 1, 2010) don’t require principal payments until 2032. (These bonds are “Buy America Bonds,” a program of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the federal government will pay 35 percent of the interest.) The plan, as outlined in KDOT’s official statement, is that starting in 2032 the state will make five annual payments of between $61 million and $69 million, totaling $325 million, and then the bonds will be retired. 2

There’s even more to criticize about the 2015B bonds. The actual proceeds the state will receive from the bonds (after costs of issuance and the underwriters’ discount) is $488,242,912. How, you may be asking, can the state issue $400 million in bonds but receive $488 million when it sells them? The answer is an “original issue premium” of about $89 million.

To explain: Bonds similar to these ought to yield in the range of 2.00 percent to maybe 2.75 percent. But, KDOT is paying 5.00 percent interest. Therefore, bond buyers are willing to pay more than the face value (the $400 million) for these bonds, because they will be earning higher-than-market interest. 3 In fact, these bonds were sold at premiums ranging from 119 percent to 126 percent. Meaning that for every $1.00 worth of bonds bought (representing money the state must repay), the state actually received from $1.19 to $1.26. 4

That sounds like a good deal for the state, but in exchange for the premiums, the state pays much higher interest. There are several different ways of looking at this, but the upshot is that the state is receiving additional money now in exchange for paying a higher interest rate for many years. About $89 million in extra interest, which increases the actual cost of these bonds beyond what we thought.

(Again, before we politicize, the state under a Democratic governor has done the same.)

The allure of borrowing large sums and spending now is not limited to transportation bonds. The state is currently using the recent $1 billion in proceeds from KPERS bonds as a rationale to skip KPERS contributions this year, and also suspend a rule that most proceeds from the same of surplus property goes to KPERS. See This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions.


Notes:

  1. FY 2002 Loan to State General Fund. The 2002 Legislature borrowed $94.6 million from the State Highway Fund for the State General Fund and directed that the funds were to be repaid to the State Highway Fund by June 30, 2003. The 2003 Legislature deferred the repayment of the $94.6 million loan into four equal annual installments beginning prior to June 30, 2007. In addition, the 2003 Legislature directed that the State Highway Fund transfer to the State General Fund $30.6 million for activities of the State Highway Patrol and the 2003 Legislature directed that this transfer also be repaid in four equal annual installments beginning prior to June 30, 2007. The first repayment installment was made in June 2007 and the second in June 2008. The 2009 Legislature delayed the June 2009 repayment to June 2011 and the 2010 Legislature eliminated the language authorizing the June 2011 repayment. At this time, there is no authorization for the final two repayments. The Department’s projections included in this Official Statement do not include receiving the final two repayments.
  2. EMMA (Electronic Municipal Market Access), $325,000,000 State of Kansas Department of Transportation Taxable Highway Revenue Bonds, Series 2010A at emma.msrb.org/EA407275-EA318568-EA714328.pdf.
  3. A bond will trade at a premium when it offers a coupon rate that is higher than prevailing interest rates. Investopedia at www.investopedia.com/terms/p/premiumbond.asp.
  4. EMMA (Electronic Municipal Market Access), $400,000,000 State of Kansas Department of Transportation Highway Revenue Bonds Series 2015B at emma.msrb.org/IssueView/IssueDetails.aspx?id=EP369775.

The 400 meter hurdle to economic prosperity

From the Kansas Department of Revenue.

The 400 meter hurdle to economic prosperity
By Michael Austin, economist with the Kansas Department of Revenue
Twitter: @KS_TaxEconomist
February 14, 2017

Athletes running hurdles can seem a lot like everyday people navigating costs such as taxes on their way to economic prosperity.

Kansas’ state government is funded primarily from sales and income tax. If these taxes could serve as hurdles on our way to financial gain, then is one better than the other? Using the example of hurdles may shed light on the need to fund state government with consumption taxes and less of a reliance on income taxes.

Imagine you are running a 400 meter hurdle. Every hurdle you approach represents a tax paid, and only after you clear that hurdle by paying that tax, can you consume goods and services. The first hurdle you jump represents the tax paid today, while subsequent hurdles signify future tax payments.

A track consisting of a sales tax on all goods and services closely mirrors what we see when we watch hurdles. The sales tax rate that you pay on items today is the same as the tomorrow, just as hurdles are a consistent height throughout a race. This stability means that Kansans know what to expect, and they are encouraged to save their money and use it (with interest) to consume more in the future. Sales taxes encourage saving and future consumption, and that can grow the economy.

A track with an income tax of the same rate is different. In part, an income tax acts like a tax on goods and services, but over time their burden becomes larger. An income tax goes a step further by raising the price to consume in the future by taking a bite out of your interest gains when you save.

Instead of a track with consistently sized hurdles each hurdle would higher than the one before it, and you must use more energy with every jump. Income taxes make saving your money less attractive, decreasing future consumption far more than a sales tax would. An income tax discourages people to save, and people saving their money to use in the future, our economic growth slows.

This is why income taxes are a more destructive barrier to economic growth than sales tax. The less reliant Kansas’ tax structure is on the income tax, the more opportunities Kansans have to prosper economically.

In 2012, Kansas took more than $1,000 in income tax per person from its taxpayers, a rate higher than its neighboring states. By 2014, after the tax policy, that hurdle has dropped $133 in income tax per person and is now the lowest in the area.

If our state is to become the best place to start and grow a family or business, then we owe it to Kansans to create a predictable tax environment so they can easily see the finish line. Crafting a tax environment that shifts more to sales tax and less on the income tax will allow Kansans to grow their personal wealth.


News Contact:
Jeannine Koranda, Director of Communications
Phone: 785-296-0671
Cell: 785-250-5467
Email: [email protected]

Do not criticize the Wichita school board. It’s disrespectful.

From February 2013, and still relevant as a window to attitudes of many government officials.

When she was president of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, Betty Arnold let citizens know the real purpose of board meetings, and how citizens should behave.

At the meeting, citizens had criticized the board for large and important issues, but also for such mundane things as the amount of the superintendent’s monthly car allowance. Arnold admonished citizens for speaking about things like this in public. It’s not respectful, she said.

Finally, after directing a uniformed security guard to station himself near a citizen speaker, Arnold told the audience: “If we need to clear the room, we will clear the room. This board meeting is being held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public. And I hope you understand that.”

She then reminded the speaker: “Again, I am asking your comments to please be respectful. No accusations are necessary.”

This certainly lets citizens know the applicability of the term public when it comes to our public schools.

View video below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Viewing the seen and unseen

From 2014.

clouds-164757_1280The lesson of the book “Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt is this: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

(The Foundation for Economics Education has an edition of this book available at no cost at its website; click here.)

Looking beyond what we see at first glance, that’s important. And considering everyone, not just some small group, is important too. You may be familiar with the term “special interest group.” A local example might be the Wichita Area Builders Association, which represents homebuilders. The purpose of groups like this — and I’m sorry to have to single out this group — is to represent their members, and them alone. So last year the Builders Association was able to persuade the Wichita City Council to pass a program that rebates Wichita property taxes on new homes for a few years. This makes it easier to sell these new homes. Homes which are built, of course, by members of the Wichita Area Builders Association.

Did the city council consider the long term effects of this policy, such as the effect on tax revenue in future years? Did the council consider the “Cash for Clunkers” effect, in which incentive programs induce people to buy now, only to depress sales in later years after the program ends? The answer is either a) No, the council did not consider these effects, or b) The council decided to ignore these effects.

Then, what about the effect on other groups besides the builders? Did the council consider that by offering savings when buying these select new homes, it likely reduced the appeal and value of all other homes across the city? Did the council consider that these new homes will require services like police and fire protection, but since they don’t contribute property tax, other taxpayers have to pay to provide these services?

And what about setting another precedent, that when business is not doing well, a special interest group appeals to government for special favors?

This is an example of the city council considering only the immediate effects of a policy, and also the effects on only a single group — the self-interested homebuilders. Things like this happen all the time.

Remember how Hazllitt said these groups will argue “plausibly and persistently?” That happened. As an example, Wichita State University economists prepared an analysis showing that this rebate program benefited the city. Did that analysis consider the long-term effects or only the immediate effects of the policy? Did that analysis consider the effects on all groups? I’m afraid that if we could look under the hood of these models, we’d find that they suffer from the problems Hazlitt warns about.

And the president of the Builders Association argued persuasively before the council. That’s an example of when Hazlitt wrote about a special interest group: “It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case.”

Hazlitt told us what we need to do in these cases, writing: “In these cases the answer consists in showing that the proposed policy would also have longer and less desirable effects, or that it could benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups.”

broken-window-glassSpecial interest groups expend lot of effort to get government to look at the seen and skip the unseen. That’s a reference to the famous parable of the broken window from chapter two of “Economics in One Lesson.” Ahe child who threw a rock through the window of the bakery. The crowd that gathered around the broken window: Someone suggested that the damage is actually a good thing, because the windowmaker now has work to do and earns money. And the windowmaker in turn will spend his new income somewhere else, and so forth. Economic development professionals who make arguments for subsidies to business call this the multiplier effect. It creates what they call indirect impacts.

A few years ago in an effort to drum up taxpayer subsidies for arts, a national organization — a special interest group — made this argument:

paint-bucket

A theater company purchases a gallon of paint from the local hardware store for $20, generating the direct economic impact of the expenditure. The hardware store then uses a portion of the aforementioned $20 to pay the sales clerk’s salary; the sales clerk respends some of the money for groceries; the grocery store uses some of the money to pay its cashier; the cashier then spends some for the utility bill; and so on. The subsequent rounds of spending are the indirect economic impacts.

Thus, the initial expenditure by the theater company was followed by four additional rounds of spending (by the hardware store, sales clerk, grocery store, and the cashier). The effect of the theater company’s initial expenditure is the direct economic impact. The subsequent rounds of spending are all of the indirect impacts. The total impact is the sum of the direct and indirect impacts.

That is the same argument made to excuse the destruction of the broken window in the bakery. Doesn’t this sound plausible? But Hazlitt, echoing Bastiat before him, notes this: The baker was going to buy a suit of clothes, and buying that suit would set off its own chain of economic activity.

But now he must spend that money on fixing the broken window. The new window is what is seen. The unbought suit of clothes is more difficult to see. It is the unseen.

If the window was not broken, the baker has a functional window and a new suit of clothes. After the window is broken, however, all the baker has is a replacement window. No new suit of clothes is purchased.

As Hazlitt summarized: “The glazier’s gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor’s loss of business. No new ’employment’ has been added. The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier. They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor. They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene. They will see the new window in the next day or two. They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.”

In the case I cited above, it’s easy to see the benefit granted to the homebuilders. But the economic activity that does not take place because of the diversion of resources to the homebuilders? Where is that? It is unseen.

When the theater company spends $20 of taxpayer-provided money to buy paint: Where did that $20 come from? Isn’t it possible that a homeowner might have bought the same gallon of paint, but now is not able to because he must pay taxes to support the theater company? It’s easy to see the theater production with its taxpayer-funded painted set. It’s not easy to see the house that sits unpainted for a year to pay for the theater company’s paint. That is the seen and unseen.

Our Kansas grassroots teachers union

From February 2014.

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)Letters to the editor in your hometown newspaper may have the air of being written by a concerned parent of Kansas schoolchildren, but they might not be what they seem.

It’s fashionable for school advocacy groups to bash their critics as mere lackeys of a top-down driven power structure. It is the advocates for school spending — teachers, parents, children, school principals — that are the true grassroots, they say.

So it might be surprising to learn that Kansas’ largest teachers union has a plan and mechanism for distributing its message. It’s called the KNEA Media Response Team, and it says it is “responsible for promoting KNEA and public education in the print and electronic media.”

kansas-national-education-assocation-knea-media-response-team-logo-01The team’s web page holds language like: “The KNEA Media Response Team builds on existing KNEA media outreach efforts and is a sanctioned KNEA Board Task Force.”

Task Force. Sounds like a military organization, not a grassroots advocacy group. Sanctioned. Sounds like someone had to obtain official permission. Obtaining permission from a central authority isn’t characteristic of grassroots activism.

The page also says: “Because we’re seeking fresh voices, board members, council presidents and local presidents are not encouraged to apply.”

It’s a detailed plan: “During the first year, there will be only one per media market. To participate, members must attend the initial MRT training or have taken Cyndi’s message framing session within the last two years.”

There are pre-determined talking points on a secret web page: “Refer to KNEA member only Web page for basic messages on key education issues (https://ks.nea.org/membersonly/talkingpoints.html), or contact KNEA Communications for help with other issues. Use these to write your response.”

It’s encouraged, although not mandatory, to get pre-approval for the communiques team members have developed: “Submit your letter to the editor or guest column to the newspaper via e-mail. Send a copy to Cyndi. Initially, members may send their letter to Cyndi first before submitting it to a news organization.”

If the union leaders have a message they want to promulgate, you may be asked to help: “At certain times, you may be asked to write letters promoting KNEA’s positive goals for public education, instead of responding to what others write.”

There’s a contract team members must agree to: “I agree to become a KNEA Media Response Team writer for 2009-2010. I understand and support the goals and guidelines of the KNEA Media Response Team. I will work with KNEA Communications to write letters to the editor and engage in other media activity that helps promote public education.”

All this would be less objectionable if KNEA was truly working for the good of Kansas schoolchildren. But notice that KNEA is concerned with public education only, not education in general. That’s because teachers in private schools, religious schools, and homeschooling parents aren’t union members. Then, when you learn that KNEA opposes nearly all forms of education reform — especially measures that would bring greater accountability to teachers and schools — the target of the union’s concern is obvious: Not the children. See Kansas reasonable: The education candidates.

Lavonta Williams: ‘You don’t have to go there’

From February 2013.

Do not enter signAt a Wichita City Council meeting last August, Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) advised taxpayers on what to do if they disagree with action taken by the council: Just don’t go there.

The topic that day was whether the council should decide to add fluoride to the city’s water, or should it let citizens vote on the matter. Williams expressed concern that if the council were to decide to fluoridate Wichita’s water, citizens would not be able to avoid ingesting the added fluoride. They wouldn’t have a choice.

By way of analogy, Williams counseled the concerned citizens: “Did you like the art that went down to WaterWalk? Maybe you didn’t. But you don’t have to go there.”

She also said we don’t have to go to the apartments that were built at WaterWalk, and we don’t have to stay at the Ambassador Hotel.

True, we can avoid these government-sponsored and subsidized places if we want to. But what Williams may have forgotten is that we can’t avoid being forced to pay for them.

Besides that, what does it say about a government where if we disagree with its actions, we’re told “you don’t have to go there”?

Making Wichita an inclusive and attractive community

There are things both easy and difficult Wichita could do to make the city inclusive and welcoming of all, especially the young and diverse. From February 2015.

Wichita Chamber of Commerce 2013-07-09 004In its questionnaire for candidates for Wichita mayor and city council, the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce asked this: “How will you work to make Wichita an inclusive community where all will feel welcome, particularly the young and diverse talent we need to help attract more young and diverse talent?”

There are a few very easy things Wichita could do to appeal to millennials — I think that is one of the groups the Chamber addresses in its questions — and diverse people.

Support the decriminalization of marijuana. The city council reacted to a recent petition to reduce the penalty for carrying small amounts of marijuana by placing the measure on the April general election ballot. Another option the city had was to adopt the ordinance as submitted. That would have sent a positive message to millennials, but the council did not do that.

Ask the state to positively end marriage discrimination. The city has a legislative agenda it prepares for state legislators each year, but this matter was not mentioned.

wichita-taxi regulationsWichita should reform its taxicab regulations so that ride-sharing businesses like Uber are operating fully within the law, instead of outside the law as Uber is currently operating. Uber is an example of the type of innovation that city officials and civic leaders say we need, and millennials love Uber. But: Uber has been operating in Wichita since August. Uber has model legislation that could be adopted quickly. Yet, six months later the city has not acted. This delay does not send a message that Wichita welcomes innovation. Instead, it sends a message that the regulatory regime in Wichita is not able to adapt to change.

Pledge to resist the growth of the surveillance state. No street surveillance cameras in Wichita. No mass license plate scanning by police.

To the extent there are problems with the Wichita Police Department, resolve them so that citizens feel safe and minorities feel welcome and not threatened. A citizen oversight panel that has real authority would be a good step. Proceed quickly with implementation of police body cameras. End the special entertainment districts, which many feel are targeted at minority populations.

Here’s a bad idea, but an indication what passes for innovation at the Wichita Chamber: Pay down the student loan debt of young people. This is a bad idea on several levels. First, it rewards those who borrowed to pay for college. Those who saved, worked, or went to inexpensive colleges are not eligible this benefit. Further, if we award this incentive, those who receive it might wonder if that someday they will be taxed to provide this benefit to younger people. After all, the corollary of “Come to Wichita and we’ll pay down your student loan” is “Stay in Wichita, and you’re going to be paying down someone else’s student loan.” If the Chamber wished to raise funds voluntarily to provide such a program, that would be fine. But no tax funds should be used for anything like this.

What Wichita really needs to do

Most of the above are relatively easy to accomplish. Here’s something that is very important, something that should be easy to do, but goes against the grain of elected officials, bureaucrats, and civic leaders like those who run the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. That is: Promote free markets instead of government management of the economy.

A Reason-Rupe survey of 2,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 found that millennials strongly prefer free markets over a government-managed economy. When asked to choose the better system, 64 percent of millennials choose the free market over an economy managed by the government (32 percent).

Also, the survey found that millennials are distrustful, believing that government acts in favor of special interest groups and that government abuses its powers: “A Reason-Rupe survey of 2,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 finds 66 percent of millennials believe government is inefficient and wasteful — a substantial increase since 2009, when just 42 percent of millennials said government was inefficient and wasteful. Nearly two-thirds of millennials, 63 percent, think government regulators favor special interests, whereas just 18 percent feel regulators act in the public’s interest. Similarly, 58 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds are convinced government agencies abuse their powers, while merely 25 percent trust government agencies to do the right thing.”

What could Wichita do, in light of these findings? One thing is to stop its heavy-handed regulation of development, particularly the massive subsidies directed to downtown Wichita.

We should take steps to make sure that everyone is treated equally. Passing “pay-to-play” ordinances — where city council members or county commissioners are prohibited from voting on matters that would enrich their campaign contributors — would be a first step in regaining the trust of citizens.

We also need to reform our economic development practice to favor entrepreneurship. Millennials like to start businesses, the survey tells us: “55 percent of millennials say they’d like to start their own business one day and that hard work is the key to success (61 percent). Millennials also have a positive view of the profit motive (64 percent) and competition (70 percent).” red-tape-person-upsetMuch of our economic development practice consists of directing subsides to our existing large firms or large firms we hope to lure here. But young and small firms — entrepreneurial firms, in other words — can’t qualify for most of our incentive programs. For example. the programs that offer property tax abatements have lengthy application forms and other obstacles to overcome, plus annual fees. Sometimes there are minimum size requirements. Young firms can’t suffer through this red tape and the accompanying bureaucratic schedules.

Small and weak government?

Do corporations prefer the marketplace or a large and powerful government?

A letter in the Wichita Eagle criticized the marketplace and the power that corporations purportedly hold over it. (Government needed, February 28, 2016). This letter refers to an op-ed by Charles Koch (Charles G. Koch: Sanders and I agree on a few issues, February 19, 2016, originally published in the Washington Post)

A few remarks:

The letter-writer states: “It was also no surprise to read that his solution is very small and weak government.” Reading the Koch op-ed to which the letter-writer refers, I didn’t see a call for weak government. Generally, libertarians favor a limited government that is strong in protecting our rights and liberties and exercising the enumerated powers outlined in the Constitution. A limited government is very different from a weak government.

The letter-writer states: “The very, very rich people and corporations do not check themselves. The marketplace system they embrace as the sole solution encourages the accumulation of more and more wealth and power — and using that power to accumulate more wealth.” With a few exceptions, corporations do not embrace the marketplace, if by marketplace the writer means a system of free markets. Instead, as Charles Koch correctly notes, most corporations seek to constrain and limit the power of free markets. Milton Friedman diagnosed the situation correctly: “The great virtue of free enterprise is that it forces existing businesses to meet the test of the market continuously, to produce products that meet consumer demands at lowest cost, or else be driven from the market. It is a profit-and-loss system. Naturally, existing businesses generally prefer to keep out competitors in other ways. That is why the business community, despite its rhetoric, has so often been a major enemy of truly free enterprise.”

It’s difficult to do the things that Friedman says business must do in a market economy — innovate, be customer-focused, and be efficient. It’s far easier to hire lobbyists at the federal, state, and local levels to gain an advantage over your competitors. The harm of this system of cronyism is explained by Koch: “Perversely, this regulatory burden falls hardest on small companies, innovators and the poor, while benefiting many large companies like ours. This unfairly benefits established firms and penalizes new entrants, contributing to a two-tiered society.” It is government, not markets, that are creating two tiers of society.

Another complaint of the writer is that the rich “fund the multitude of foundations and university professors to pitch their philosophy attacking public schools and other public services.” Well, some rich people do, and thank goodness for them. If not for the generosity of Koch and a few others in founding organizations like The Cato Institute, there might be few sources of information besides a self-serving government or those who benefit from an expansive, meddling government. The latter are the corporations that the letter-writer complains use the marketplace to gain more wealth and power, but in reality are using government to do this.

As far as funding university professors, this serves as a useful and valuable check to the multitudes of taxpayer-funded public university professors who indoctrinate and condition students to embrace more government. Shouldn’t college students be exposed to a variety of views? That doesn’t seem to be what students are receiving: “Academics, on average, lean to the left. A survey being released today suggests that they are moving even more in that direction. Among full-time faculty members at four-year colleges and universities, the percentage identifying as ‘far left’ or liberal has increased notably in the last three years, while the percentage identifying in three other political categories has declined.” (Moving Further to the Left, Inside Higher Ed, October 24, 2012)