Kansas Capitol renovations

The restoration of the Kansas Statehouse was featured last fall on an episode of the television program Sunflower Journeys. While providing an interesting look at the history of the stonecarvings on the building’s exterior, the show made a mistaken argument about the economics of the project.

During the 2011 legislative session, the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature decided to borrow an additional $34 million for the renovation of the Kansas Capitol building. Add this to the already-established cost of $285 million, and the total cost now pushes well above $300 million. There’s no guarantee this is all that will be spent.

During the episode Vance Kelley, a project manager for Treanor Architects, promoted the economic development aspects of the capitol building’s restoration. Since the workers are local, he said that utilizing local labor forces means that tax dollars get passed along to local merchants: “Actually we’re generating, I think it’s been estimated between six and seven times the amount of money within the local economy. Preservation actually creates jobs. It is economic development in itself.”

This argument — that government spending of this type creates jobs — is commonly heard from advocates of more government spending. It’s a popular argument among historic preservationists, too, as they seek to justify why their work is so expensive, and why public money should be expended on it.

Does government spending create jobs? The short answer is no. The primary reason is that government can only spend what it takes from someone else. It might do the taking now in the form of taxation. Or it might borrow, which delays taxation to the future. Either way, many people have less money to spend, save, and invest because of the taxation.

Kelley’s argument does have a ring of truth to it. Local merchants — Topeka, he means — are benefiting. Taxpayers across the state are taxed to send money to be spent largely in Topeka. This benefit, however, comes at the expense of spending — and related jobs — in other parts of Kansas. This is a selfish argument.

Kelley may not be aware of the seen and unseen fallacy that pervades popular thinking. When we go to Topeka — or watch taxpayer-funded public television — we can see the glory and magnificence of the government spending on the Kansas Capitol. Finding the harm caused by the taxation necessary to pay for this, however, is disbursed across the state and very difficult to find. But it exists.

Kelley also referenced the multiplier. That’s the observation that money spent gets spent again, and again, and again. That’s true. But advocates of government spending like Kelley think that only government spending is magically multiplied. The truth is that any spending is multiplied in this way. It’s a natural phenomenon of economics.

Some people make the argument that people may not spend their money during uncertain times. Instead, they may save it. But where do savings go? Many people put their money in a bank, which then lends it to people who want to spend it. Other people buy stocks or bonds, or pay down debt. Either action provides funds for others to spend. It’s only when people save money by stuffing it in their mattresses that this argument — that government must spend — applies. And very few people do this.

The further truth is that when spending their own money, people are usually careful. Government? Not so much. Evidence of this is the ornate decorative carvings illustrated in the Sunflower Journeys episode. Few private buildings are built to this standard, because people — even wealthy people — spending their own money don’t value this frivolity very highly.

Instead, it is government, spending taxpayers’ money, that builds elaborate monuments to itself.

There are some cases where we might argue that government spending creates wealth, such as in the building of needed highways. It does not follow, however, that only government is capable of making this investment. Further, streets and highways are far removed from ornate stonecarvings on a government monument.

7 Comments

  • There goes the unemployed older overweight computer guy again, criticizing public television. He neglects to mention that he appeared on public television many times to advocate his positions. He apparently had no qualms about taking money by force from the taxpayer then.

  • Anonymous -

    Note, dear readers, another personal attack from T.Rex.

    But to the topic raised: the show Bob appeared on, Kansas Week, offered no pay to guests. Wouldn’t you say that Bob’s appearances ammounted to a contribution to a non-profit organization?

    How is that taking from the taxpayer?

    This is just another example of the warped world that liberals live in. Thanks to t. Rex for another lesson. I think someday that you will realize how you harm your cause.

  • Anonymous, are you really Bob Weeks, but afraid to say your name? Describing Bob Weeks as a fat, older unemployed computer guy is not a personal attack because it is based in fact. Tell me which part of this description is inaccurate.

    He’s previously describe the spending for public television as theft. If it is that, he is benefited by it, and used it for his own purposes. That is hypocritical and cynical. There is absolutely no reason that he could not have appeared on a commercial radio or television station, as he does now. He was content to use “theft” from others for his own gain. Hypocrite.

    Who pays for this blog? Bob Weeks should disclose his source of income. Perhaps he’s afraid to do so.

  • Anonymous -

    Thank you to t. Rex for another example of the moral bankruptcy of the left. Always deflecting from the actual issues. Demanding more from others than willing to provide themselves.

    Your attacks simply prove how effective Bob is. Otherwise why would you try to tear him down daily? It’s obvious how you wish you could be like him. Each post of yours proves it.

  • Anonymous/Bob,

    Seriously–who pays for this blog? or is asking an “insult” by “the left”?

  • West sider -

    WOW a T. Rex post that did not use the word “Koch.” These are rare posts, despite more of rex’s ad hominem attacks that avoid the real point of Bob’s valuable article: the statehouse remodeling cost is huge! This project is also way behind its original schedule. This is a project that started over a decade ago, and there is still no end in sight.

    A new statehouse could have been built on state purchased land that is readily available in Topeka and this project could have been completed and the state would have had money left in the bank. Florida did this and now has a “historic” as well as a new statehouse. That made too much sense for the lefties from both political parties in this state, the perpetual spending for a perpetual construction project that will create a mish-mash of 19th century furniture with 21st century computers/office equipment sitting on top of the period desks.

    Mr. Weeks deserves the thanks of all Kansans interested in how their state tax dollars are being mispent. When this project is finally completed, the state will have spent an obscene amount of money per square foot on this project. I believe that the final cost could run between $1,500 to $5,000 per square foot. However, the final cost figures are not available so this very rough estimate compares at a level that is a lot more expensive than the cost of new construction.

    Loons of the left like “rex” couldn’t care less since it is only “other peoples money,” coming from the “rich,” who didn’t deserve it in the first place…gee ad hominem attacks are easy instead of providing a real discussion about an important state spending issue in the midst of our current “great recession.” I must have read too many posts from “rex,” because the use of ad hominem arguments appears to be rubbing off.

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