Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday June 1, 2011


Transportation planning. It’s been the assumption in America over the last half-century that transportation needs — roads, bridges, buses, subways, etc. — must be planned by government in a top-down fashion. But the Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole disagrees: “Should transportation be funded and planned from the top down or bottom up? Top-down advocates, such as the Brookings Institution’s Robert Puentes (writing in the May 23, 2011 Wall Street Journal) argue that only central planners can have a ‘clear-cut vision for transportation’ that will allow them to target spending ‘to make sure all those billions of dollars help achieve our economic and environmental goals.’ Advocates of bottom-up funding, such as the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation and Heritage Foundation, respond that public and private transportation providers better serve our needs when they are responsive to the fees people pay for various forms of transportation. In fact, most of the problems with transportation today, from an antiquated air-traffic control system to deteriorating bridges to empty transit buses, are due to top-down planning.” O’Toole goes on to explain the problems with federal funding of local transportation projects, concluding “No matter how well intentioned, top-down transportation planning quickly turns into a combination of social engineering and pork barrel. It is time to return to a bottom-up funding system that rewards transport agencies and companies for reducing costs and increasing mobility.” … In Wichita, the bus transit system is running a deficit, and the city manager has warned that cuts to service may be made. Most people would be surprised that in 2009, the fares paid by passengers covered just 22.5 percent of the bus system’s total cost, according to Michael Vinson, Director of Transit for the City of Wichita. The Wichita Eagle recently reported the figure as just 20 percent. The rest of the cost is covered by a variety of local, state, and federal grants. … Is it a coincidence that Wichita’s bus service is a top-down government-planned service? And what does this foretell for the future of other government-planned and provided transit, which is said by government planners like the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation to be necessary for the revitalization of downtown Wichita

Pompeo, Huelskamp ‘no’ on debt limit. U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, a Wichita Republican serving his first term, voted “no” to increasing the U.S. federal debt limit, which currently is about $14.3 trillion dollars. In a statement, Pompeo said; “I voted no on raising the debt ceiling. No to more debt without a change in behavior. No to increasing the credit card limit when the Obama Administration has zero commitment to reducing the unsustainable rate of spending. No to business as usual in Washington, D.C. … With this debt ceiling vote, my colleagues and I are putting down a marker on behalf of the American people. Americans have rejected the status quo and sent me along with 86 other Republican Freshmen to Congress to reverse course. Earlier this year, the President presented a spending plan to Congress for 2012. Unfortunately, that plan proposed 10 straight years of deficits in excess of $1 trillion. That is a recipe for disaster and one which we cannot accept on behalf of the Americans who sent us here to rein in out-of-control government spending.” … In explaining his intent to vote against the bill, Tim Huelskamp, who represents the Kansas first district, said: “The President’s request to increase the debt limit without cutting spending is irresponsible and fiscally reckless, therefore I plan to vote against it. The acquisition of more debt while failing to deal with Washington’s addiction to spending only sustains Washington’s unhealthy behaviors. It puts the country on the path of Greece. We owe it to the American people and to future generations to deal with overspending once and for all.” Lynn Jenkins and Kevin Yoder, the other representatives from Kansas, also voted against raising the debt limit. … Proponents of federal spending insist that we must increase our debt limit or financial markets will tank and economic activity will come to a halt. The Concord Coalition writes: “Approval of a debt limit increase is necessary to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States government. Failure to approve an increase would not be an act of fiscal responsibility, unless it can be said that deadbeats are fiscally responsible because they refuse to pay their bills. It would result in the United States defaulting on the commitments it has already made, including Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits, vendor payments, tax refunds, student loans and interest payments on outstanding debt.” The Cato Institute counters: “A temporarily frozen debt limit could instead signal U.S. lawmakers’ resolve to get our fiscal house in order. It may even reassure investors about long-term U.S. economic prospects. … For too long, analysts and politicians have balked at the massive political impediments to reforming the federal budget — especially entitlement programs. Many now concede, actually, that no prudential reforms are likely unless there is an imminent ‘crisis.’ On the other hand, political liberals argue that there is no real ‘crisis’ — and so no need for real reforms. … Indeed, investors should be fearful of the opposite: an increase in the debt limit without a serious challenge from reform-minded lawmakers. This only signals business as usual for U.S. fiscal affairs.”

This Week in Kansas. Recently the KAKE Television public affairs program This Week in Kansas started placing episodes on its website. On the most recent episode, Malcolm Harris and I join host Tim Brown for a discussion of the Kansas Legislature and economic development topics. Also, Meteorologist Jay Prater contributes a segment on storm preparation.

Kingman is the first. The office of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has announced that Kingman County, just to the west of Wichita, is the first county to participate in the new Rural Opportunity Zone student loan repayment program. This program allows residents who move into counties with declining population to escape paying state income taxes for five years. In deciding to participate in the student loan repayment program, the county and the state will participate equally in repaying student loans of up to $15,000 for college graduates who move to Kingman County. … In a statement, the governor said “I am pleased Kingman County commissioners recognize the direct benefit of partnering with the state to attract college graduates to their community. This aggressive policy move is targeted to grow our shrinking rural counties. Like the Homestead Act, ROZ offers opportunity instead of handpicking winners and losers.” While almost all welcome the ROZ program — the legislation passed 102 to 18 in the House and 34 to 5 in the Senate — the nostalgia for the glory days of small-town Kansas may not be in our best interests. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, which has influenced Governor Brownback’s economic policy, Dr. Art Hall wrote that productivity — which should be our ultimate goal — is related to population density: “Productivity growth is the ultimate goal of economic development. Productivity growth — the volume and value of output per worker — drives the growth of wages and wealth. Productivity growth results from a risky trial and error process on the front lines of individual businesses, which is why Kansas economic development strategy should focus on embracing dynamism — a focus virtually indistinguishable from widespread business investment and risk-taking. Productivity growth tends to happen in geographic areas characterized by density. This pattern shows up in Kansas. The dense population centers demonstrate superior productivity growth.”

Legislature is through for season. Today both the Kansas House of Representatives and Senate met for sine die, a fancy Latin term for its ceremonial last day, although action may be taken. The House made an attempt to override the governor’s line-item veto of funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, but the effort failed by a vote of 50 to 44. Two-thirds, or 84 votes, would be needed to override the veto. The Senate didn’t make an attempt. The next meeting of both chambers of the Kansas Legislature will be on January 9, 2012, although there are many committee meetings during the summer and fall months.

Stossel looks at energy. In a recent episode of his weekly television show available to view using the free hulu service, John Stossel looks at various forms of energy and asks: Who will keep the lights on? … Early in the show, Stossel argues with Bill O’Reilly over the role of speculators in the run-up of oil prices. O’Reilly favors strict regulation of speculators, believing that the market is rigged. In a discussion with two guests, wild speculation was promoted as the cause of rapidly rising prices, with some trades by traders said to be stoned at the time. But it was mentioned that speculation carries huge risks, and if the speculators are wrong, they lose — and big. For more on speculators, see Speculators selfishly provide a public service.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.