November 18, 2014

University City Should Carefully Consider Privatization Proposal; Ignore Special Interests

University City is considering outsourcing emergency medical services (EMS). Predictably, this proposal has been the subject of debate among city council members. Two council members have questioned whether the city should outsource one of its core services, while another member urged the council to remain open minded until they have all the data on outsourcing.

The Show-Me Institute has written favorably about EMS privatization policies in the past. Privatization, when done right, can increase efficiency and expertise, provide improved services to the public, and decrease costs. However, all outsourcing proposals must be carefully considered to ensure privatization is done properly.

The University City Council ought to investigate the specifics of this privatization proposal for how it would affect services and city finances, rather than shooting from the hip and accepting or rejecting a privatization proposal on purely political grounds. Public employees, city officials, and businesses that the city may contract with are all interested parties in any outsourcing effort. When deciding whether to contract out services, the council should do its best to ignore the special interests and focus on the details of how this proposal affects the city as a whole.

Private ambulances have served parts of Saint Louis County for years, and University City might be able to benefit from private ambulances as well.

August 27, 2014

Of Super Bowls and Economics

Following the passage of a resolution in the state legislature, the Missouri Department of Economic Development has convened a Super Bowl Task Force to consider what Kansas City needs to do to attract the annual event. According to The Kansas City Star,

“‘I can think of no better place to host the Super Bowl than Kansas City, the best football town in America,’ [State Senator Paul] LeVota said in a statement. ‘We’ve got incredible fans and a city more than capable of handling such a huge event.’

“Not only would the fans love it, but the economic impact would be enormous, he said.”

Ah, there is that elusive term, “economic impact.” It is thrown about to justify all sorts of government spending, but it is little examined by media and little understood by the taxpayers whose money will be used. We recently reviewed similar claims about Kansas City’s effort to attract the GOP convention. In that piece, we cited a Daily Beast story about the recent Super Bowl in New Jersey:

“So, there’s no economically sound way to predict a Super Bowl’s impact before the event and those that try have been proven wrong again and again. But don’t expect that to stop the cheering from the few with the most to gain. When asked for a more detailed analysis of Super Bowl XLVIII, the host committee demurred, but assured in a statement, ‘Super Bowl XLVIII is expected to be an economic boom [sic] for the region.’”

A 2006 study conducted by the College of the Holy Cross, “Mega-Events: The effect of the world’s biggest sporting events on local, regional, and national economies,” analyzes past Super Bowl impacts. The report concludes with a sobering warning to those who would embark on such expenses:

“The most important piece of advice that a local government can take regarding mega-events, however, is simply to view with caution any economic impact estimates provided by entities with an incentive to provide inflated benefit figures. While most sports boosters claim that mega-events provide host cities with large economic returns, these same boosters present these figures as justification for receiving substantial public subsidies for hosting the games. The vast majority of independent academic studies of mega-events show the benefits to be a fraction of those claimed by event organizers.”

Hosting a Super Bowl in Kansas City would be a great opportunity to show off our city to the rest of the world. Afterall, the term “Super Bowl” was coined by Chiefs owner and American Football League founder Lamar Hunt. But regional boosters need not wear blinders. At what cost does such an event cease to be worthwhile, especially when so many basic services in Kansas City already seem to be falling by the wayside? If we’re going to bring people to the City of Fountains, let’s at least make sure we can afford to operate the fountains.

August 11, 2014

Krugman Upended By His Own Logic

In a recent New York Times column, Paul Krugman made the assertion that “self-proclaimed libertarians deal with the problem of market failure both by pretending that it doesn’t happen and by imagining government as much worse than it really is.”

According to Krugman, the “self-proclaimed libertarians” are either stupidly or maliciously engaged in “projection” – attributing base motives to their political opponents that underlie their own highly prejudicial reasoning.

Kudos to Per Bylund, a research professor at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University, for flipping the situation around and pointing out how all you need to do is to replace “libertarian” with any of the words that Krugman might use to describe his own thinking to see a wonderful example of projecting your own intellectual failings onto others of the opposite persuasion.

As Bylund observed in today’s “Keynesiasn/progressives/(whatever) like Krugman deal with the problem of government failure both by pretending that it doesn’t happen and by imagining the market as much worse than it is.”

June 26, 2014

Tell Taxpayers Where Their Money Went

The Republican Party has eliminated Kansas City as a potential host city for the 2016 convention, and with it went any reason for keeping the details of the bid a secret. In April we wrote:

The mayor of Kansas City, Mo., disclosed that the city is ponying up another $65,000 to woo the 2016 Republican convention. Jackson Co., Mo., Wyandotte Co./Kansas City, Kan., and Johnson Co., Kan., also are chipping in an additional $65,000 each. This $260,000 total is in addition to the $100,000 that Kansas City, Mo., already spent. We participated in a KSHB TV story about the spending and asserted that taxpayers ought to be told what is being promised in their name.

At the time, the mayor and the convention committee refused to tell taxpayers how much money the city was spending, where it was going, or how much more was promised. According to the Kansas City Star:

The Star filed a Sunshine Law request with the city and the Kansas City Convention Visitors Association asking for information from the proposal on the potential public cost of the convention.

Both declined, citing state law — and a concern about revealing details of the bid to competing communities.

“We will not be addressing specific questions related to the Finance section of our response,” said an email from Julie Sally, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City convention task force.

City spokesman Chris Hernandez also declined to provide the requested information, as did Mike Burke, the attorney for the KCCVA.

Now that there is no risk of compromising the bid, the city and the KCCVA should reveal what commitments they made, where the money went, and to whom. Their economic impact projections for the convention were pretty wild, too. We would like to see who generated those, and how.

April 11, 2014

Tell Taxpayers Where Their Money Is Going

On Thursday, the mayor of Kansas City, Mo., disclosed that the city is ponying up another $65,000 to woo the 2016 Republican convention. Jackson Co., Mo., Wyandotte Co./Kansas City, Kan., and Johnson Co., Kan., also are chipping in an additional $65,000 each. This $260,000 total is in addition to the $100,000 that Kansas City, Mo., already spent. We participated in a KSHB TV story about the spending and asserted that taxpayers ought to be told what is being promised in their name.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James argued that hosting the convention is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he may be correct. Certainly, we all are proud of Kansas City and eager to show off on the 40th anniversary of the last time we hosted. Those are arguments for spending the money — they are not arguments for not telling taxpayers how the money is being spent. If the mayor is so confident about his choices, there is no reason to hide who is getting the money and for what. Furthermore, taxpayers ought to know what additional commitments the city is making to the convention committee. Remember, the $165,000 spent so far is just for the bid to host. Hosting itself will cost millions.

The city claims that the convention will have a large economic impact. We previously have written that those estimates are largely useless as they assume that without the convention there would be no economic activity — which is just silly. The city’s “fact sheet” suggests the economic impact to Kansas City would be similar to Tampa’s in 2012: $214 million. The city likely is getting that from a Tampa Tribune story in which they cited a University of Tampa analysis:

The total impact takes in $214 million in direct spending by the groups that put on the convention, including the Tampa Bay Host Committee, the City of Tampa, the convention’s Committee on Arrangements and corporate sponsors.

Note that in addition to ignoring any economic activity that would have happened without the convention, this impact includes spending from Tampa’s taxpayers.

Lastly, it was gratifying to read in their “fact sheet” that the city thinks we have sufficient hotel rooms and bus service to accommodate the convention, and that our airport has more than 50 direct flights. Let’s hope city officials remember this the next time they advocate committing public funds to convention hotels, streetcars, and new airport terminals.

March 4, 2014

Kansas City Republicans’ Absurd Claims

Last Wednesday, FOX 4 News asked us our thoughts about Kansas City refusing to release details on the use of tax dollars to support the city’s bid for the 2016 Republican Convention. It mirrored a similar story that the Kansas City Star published earlier. In both, the Show-Me Institute advocated for transparency. In a city as cash-strapped as Kansas City, voters should be told where their tax dollars are being spent. One would think Republicans would agree.

FOX 4 reporter Macradee Aegerter also asked about the claims of economic development that come from such conventions. I said in the interview that such claims are speculative, the bid committee often employs the economists that make the claims, and that the real impact rarely lives up to the hype. (This segment aired in the 6 p.m. version of the story, which is not yet online.) In the segment, a member of the bid committee claimed that the convention would have an economic impact of $250,000,000. That’s a quarter-billion dollars.

We don’t believe it. (Or, perhaps more delicately, we want to verify those numbers before we believe it.)

Certainly, having such a convention in Kansas City is a good thing, and not just for the money it will bring to the area. As a matter of pride, I would love to see Kansas City host again on the 40th anniversary of our last convention. But the idea that having the convention here amounts to a net gain of $250 million is absurd, and it casts a light on how calculating the economic impact of other items is the economic equivalent of alchemy.

The host committee is likely assuming that without the convention, hotel occupancy would be zero. Spending downtown would be zero. Travel in and out of Kansas City would be zero. Then it still probably over-estimates what will be spent here because of the convention. In reality, a hotel that would have had 70 percent occupancy without the convention may have 95 percent occupancy because of the convention. One can claim the difference as “economic impact” but not all of it. But we won’t know how the committee reached the quarter-billion number until it reveals how it calculated a $250,000,000 impact. (If the committee releases the estimate and it proves to be legitimate economic analysis with a multiplier effect below two, we will gladly admit we are wrong.)

As written in the Daily Beast story about the recent Super Bowl in New Jersey:

So, there’s no economically sound way to predict a Super Bowl’s impact before the event and those that try have been proven wrong again and again. But don’t expect that to stop the cheering from the few with the most to gain. When asked for a more detailed analysis of Super Bowl XLVIII, the host committee demurred, but assured in a statement, “Super Bowl XLVIII is expected to be an economic boom [sic] for the region.”

We’re not asking the committee to reveal anything legitimately embargoed about its bid. We just want to know how the committee arrived at that estimate for the impact should the convention occur in Kansas City. Certainly, Republicans would agree that the sound economic policies they advocate require sound economic assumptions — otherwise, how are they supposed to be any more responsible with taxpayer money?

February 26, 2014

Paycheck Protection Bills Return To The Missouri Legislature

One of Americans’ most fundamental rights is the right to free speech. Unfortunately, that right often is undermined in the area of public employment. Many public employee unions not only collect dues for their representation, but they also collect them for political activity. Generally speaking, the presumption is that the employee supports the union’s politics, even though that’s not always the case.

Shouldn’t unions have to compete for their political dollars and donations like any other interest group? I think so. That’s why “paycheck protection” reforms are so important: they allow employees to opt in to paying for a union’s politics, rather than forcing them to opt out. The presumption, in other words, is that the employee’s political dollars are first and foremost the employee’s, not the union’s. That modest reform would re-balance the power of dues collection in favor of public employees rather than defaulting in favor of public unions.

The good news is that Missouri’s legislature passed a law last year that would have rectified the problem. The bad news is it was vetoed, and that veto wasn’t overridden during the special session.

But the (other) good news? Variations of that legislation are currently circulating in the Missouri House. HB 1093 and HB 1617 address the issue directly, requiring a separate consent form for dues to be collected and used for union political purposes. HB 1093 is particularly good in requiring an accounting of dues to ensure that dues earmarked for representation are not spent on politics. Without that verification mechanism, it would be difficult to determine whether the law is being followed and whether employees’ free speech rights are being upheld.

I will keep an eye on both of these bills; stay tuned.

November 28, 2013

We Are Thankful For Data

Debate over public policy is rife with stories about individuals who will benefit or suffer from proposed legislation. It can be a difficult thing with which to wrestle. And because much of what is offered is anecdotal, it could be true and yet not at all representative of the impact of the regulation at hand.

Debate in Missouri about Medicaid, education, and taxation is filled with anecdotes that give an either incomplete or misleading picture of policy proposals. That is why we here at the Show-Me Institute love data. Spreadsheets may not make for an impressive photo opportunity, but data analysis is necessary if we are going to improve the lives of Missourians.

To that end, our colleague Michael Rathbone has been shepherding our new website: This new interactive tool allows you to generate all sorts of data on property taxes, population, Gross State Product, labor force, employment, unemployment, and more over the years. And not just in Missouri but the entire country. For example, is it true when Missouri politicians complain that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is poaching people and  jobs? This chart shows that Texas’ population has been growing for decades while Missouri’s remains stagnant. Want to research cigarette tax rates in Missouri and neighboring states? That’s here.

Should you be locked in a political discussion this holiday with that irascible brother-in-law, visit Show-Me Data for some valuable context. We’re all grateful for the stories of America’s greatness, now we have the data to back it up.

July 12, 2013

Kansas City Charter Changes

Kansas City is going through a charter review process. The Show-Me Institute recently submitted testimony about the charter. My points are simple: keep the mayoral veto, do not expand the size of the current city council (at least not by much — going from 13 to 14 would not matter), and, most importantly, make the at-large officials truly at-large. Having at-large officials represent districts at the same time reduces the benefits of at-large elections in the first place. That primary benefit is that every decision an at-large official makes has both benefits and costs to the same group of people. In wards, a.k.a. districts, many events can have concentrated benefits but dispersed costs. That leads to greater spending levels as ward officials consistently seek to secure more benefits for their individual wards.

Some groups want to get rid of the at-large system entirely in the name of greater minority representation. The thinking is that more, and thereby, smaller, wards, will make it easier for concentrated minority groups to elect members of that group to the city council. Leaving aside the assumption that only a person from a certain group can represent that certain group, there is some basic truth to those arguments. It probably would make it easier to elect more minority politicians in an all-ward system. But it does not have to be that way.At the recent hearing of the Kansas City Charter Review Commission, supporters of more wards offered a chart to back up their points.

Charter evidence by race

However, from their own chart, the example of Cincinnati demonstrates that their arguments are shaky. Cincinnati has an all at-large system that has resulted in more minority members of its city council than would be expected from simple population totals.

Demographics are important, but they are not destiny. At-large systems can effectively represent minority citizens just as well as ward systems can.

June 28, 2013

The Figure Skating Method For Building Demolitions

“I usually drive by the properties, and give them a score on a scale from 1.1 to 1.9. It’s kind of like judging an ice skating competition.”

This is how Saint Louis City’s demolition specialist described the process of identifying vacant buildings for demolition during a meeting with Saint Louis housing and demolition employees.

Problem properties have long been an issue in Saint Louis, and preservationists question whether some buildings that get demolished are in that bad of condition.

Preservationists fear that knocking down existing houses that could be rehabbed speeds up the process of out-migration and neglect. Michael Allen, of the Preservation Research Office, says, “As many as half the buildings demolished in St. Louis were actually sound under the city’s building code.”

Is Allen’s assessment accurate? It’s hard to know. While the city’s demolition process involves ranking buildings on a scale to determine which are priorities for demolition, there is no specific criteria for each ranking. The demo specialist just drives by and conducts a quick assessment.

Let me be clear: I’m not accusing the demo specialist of doing a poor job. He could be an expert at determining a building’s condition, and only need a quick glance to make a decision.

But this method does leave the process open to influence. Without documenting criteria that determines the need for demolition, what prevents an alderman, developer, or other interested party from getting the buildings in his/her area to the top of the list? Or conversely, out-of-favor aldermen and developers could have high-priority buildings moved to the bottom of the list.

The City of Saint Louis could improve transparency and accountability to its citizens by implementing standards that determine demolition priorities. Or, better yet, make the process easier for private citizens to buy demo-ready properties and tear the building down themselves.

June 17, 2013

Closed Open Meetings

The Kansas City International Airport (KCI/MCI) terminal advisory group is off to a rocky start.

First, its charge of being an ‘adult discussion’ about building a new $1.5 billion terminal at MCI seems hollow, as the Kansas City mayor and City Council already have urged the Aviation Department to go ahead with its plans anyway.

Second, the first meeting, held two weeks ago at Union Station, was marred when Kansas City police escorted opponents of the plan off the premises. Meanwhile, just a few feet away, group leader Bob Berkebile was telling participants that the meeting was to be open to the public regardless of their view on the matter. Oops.

Now, according to the Kansas City Star, the task force is to meet again on Tuesday, and again in the Stillwell Room at Union Station. Union Station officials issued a statement saying it is a private space — despite receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies — and so, they say, Union Station officials can set special rules about whether the public can enter the building and under what circumstances . . . even when there’s literally a “public meeting” taking place within its walls.

If the city is serious about listening to the task force, it ought to halt the Aviation Department from spending money on a new terminal pending a committee conclusion. If the task force is serious about its job of involving various views, it ought to seek and receive public assurances from Union Station that it will respect the rights of the public to attend public meetings.

May 20, 2013

Taxpayers Deserve Better Than This Shabby Treatment

The Missouri Legislature has embarrassed itself once again on the tax credit issue, and this year’s failure to protect taxpayers from out-of-control tax credit spending was particularly excruciating. After the House and Senate conferenced and produced a suboptimal, but passable, tax credit compromise last Thursday, the legislation fell to a filibuster in the Senate on Friday — the last day of the session. The bill had both good and bad elements to it, capping and eliminating some credits (the good) while creating and extending others (the bad). In the net, it would have been an important first round of tax credit reform, albeit a small step.

But even that couldn’t get through the legislature. Like a college sophomore starting an essay the night before it’s due, the legislature produced tax credit legislation at the latest possible moment with the smallest margin for error available. In school, you don’t get a passing grade for “I started late and my computer crashed!” or “My dog ate my homework!” You don’t get an “A” for “effort.” You get an “F” for “failure.”

Missouri’s heavy use of tax credits encourages government to pick winners and losers in our economy, leading to rampant abuse, distorted economic priorities, and tightening budgetary realities. It’s maddening that practically nothing has gotten done on tax credits that have sapped the state’s coffers in recent years — and whose consequences led to more than $400 million in economic development tax credit issuances in fiscal year 2012 alone. Let’s be blunt here: the legislative dysfunction on the tax credit issue is an unmitigated state disgrace. This year I was hopeful that the legislature had finally gotten past its dark tax credit days, whose depths were deeply plumbed with 2011′s Aerotropolis boondoggle.

But apparently not. As someone who takes notes on the floor debates in the state House and Senate, I cannot tell you how many times I heard a legislator say “I don’t agree with tax credits, but . . .,” and then go on to explain why their pet tax credit needed to be extended or created. (This is especially common in the House.) Bona fide tax credit reform supporters and opponents can disagree civilly, but I have little tolerance or patience for policymakers who are all hat and no cattle on this issue — happy to carve out special tax credits for their special groups as they blithely gore other credits. That’s the worst kind of hypocrisy. Sen. Jolie Justus, a tax credit supporter, was right on Friday to criticize such behavior from the floor of the Senate, and I’ve independently noted the same sort of behavior Justus observed.

The legislative intransigence on tax credits is stomach churning. Coupled with the governor’s leadership void on basically every issue, the legislature’s inaction on tax credit reform is a shameful low note of the session. Taxpayers deserve better than this shabby treatment.

Older Posts »
A project of the

Search Show-Me Sunshine docs @

Top Posts

Show-Me Data



Powered by Wordpress