A television advertisement for Tim Norton, candidate for re-election to the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners, contains claims that, while probably true, hide the reality of Norton’s record.
One claim in the ad is that “I’ve worked hard to create new jobs, and save what we have.” A graphic in the ad reads “Over 18,000 new & retained jobs.”
I don’t know the source of the job claims, but the numbers provided by Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, our area’s economic development organization, must be viewed with caution.
An example is MoJack, a company which had received a forgivable loan from Wichita and Sedgwick County based on promises to create a certain number of jobs.
But later MoJack revised its projections of job creation from 53 down to 26.
A larger example is likely to be reported soon is the case of Hawker Beechcraft. Economic development officials are taking credit for retaining 4,500 jobs there, a dubious claim to begin with. But there have been hundreds of layoffs this year.
Do economic development officials revise their statistics in response to these later events?
We ought to also take a look at Sedgwick County employment since Norton took office in 2001. The following chart shows that the number of people working in Sedgwick County is lower now than in 2001. We’ve endured two recessions during that time, to be sure, and these were not the fault of anyone in Sedgwick County government. And while jobs are created, others are lost due to the dynamic nature of the economy.
But when we talk about creating jobs, we ought to also take a look at the entire employment situation.
Another look at Sedgwick County employment shows that government employment has grown at the expense of private sector jobs.
I’m not saying that Tim Norton is responsible for the growth of federal and state employees in Sedgwick County during his three terms as commissioner. But this information provides context to any claims of job creation or growth.
A recent report from GWEDC shows us that power of government to influence economic development is weak. The organization claimed to have created 1,509 jobs in Sedgwick County during 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force in Sedgwick County in 2011 was 253,940 persons. So the jobs created by GWEDC’s actions amounted to 0.59 percent of the labor force. This is a very small fraction, and other economic events are likely to overwhelm these efforts. See Wichita economic development isn’t working.
Another graphic in the commercial reads “Reduced the mill levy 3 consecutive years.” This is true. But it’s not the entire history of Sedgwick County property taxes while Norton has been on the commission. The chart below illustrates.
Notice how the property tax rate jumps in 2006? It increased from 28.758 to 31.315 mills, according to Sedgwick County Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports. That’s an increase of 8.9 percent. Tim Norton, along with other commissioners, explicitly voted for this tax increase on August 9, 2006. It wasn’t an accidental increase. It was deliberate.
While Norton in later years voted with other commissioners to reduce the mill levy — making the claim in the advertisement true — these reductions were not at his initiative. Instead, his attitude, I believe, is revealed by his opposition to initiatives that would require voter approval for tax increases. He prefers to keep the power to raise taxes.