Old Drum

Commentary on Warrensburg, Johnson County and Missouri issues from a Libertarian perspective. View my earlier commentary at www.olddrum.net.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

School spending allocation

As I write this, I'm listening to KOKO, where one of the assistant superintendents from the Warrensburg R-VI district is concerned about Gov. Blunt's advocacy of the "65% solution." This program would require that all local schools spend at least 65% of their money on instruction rather than support. While the details of what's included in "instruction" might be open to discussion, school administrations are adamantly opposed to anything that would reduce their freedom to spend money as they see fit. I think one of the key reasons for opposition is that the administrations don't want to reduce their bloated bureaucracies.

Then, he talked about "needing" $250,000 to $300,000 to upgrade the WHS stadium. Huh? CMSU has a beautiful stadium that the high school has used for a couple of football games. Football is but one of the 20 sports listed at the WHS sports website. Plus, Warrensburg Parks Dept operates sports programs and Youth Excited about Sports (Y.E.S.) is building a complex just south of town.

Even on the instructional side, some of the spending doesn't relate to what kids need to know as to be informed citizens or competent workers. A couple of years ago I wondered why WHS needed a fully-equipped television studio for the kids. Even 10 years ago, while an adjunct instructor at CMSU, I noted that most kids couldn't write well and couldn't spell.

Warrensburg R-VI is the biggest user of local tax dollars in the county and gets the least surveillance. WHile I'm not big on state mandates, the more accountability for schools, the better.

In Liberty

Monday, November 28, 2005

Wal-Mart tax - your last chance


The City Council meets tomorow (Monday) night to give final approval to the Wal-Mart tax (see my Nov. 19th entry for more info and links). The meeting includes a public hearing. It's your last chance to step up and say what you think about the City's connivance in this blatant rip-off of Wal-Mart shoppers (to benefit what likely will be upscale shops and chain restaurants competing dirctly with local people).

So come out, prepare your remarks, and speak up. Remember, a well organized statement will look better to the Council and in the media - avoid personal aspersions and stick to the facts and the effect on you or your business.

In Liberty

Saturday, November 26, 2005

WAEDC, WIDC and such

Last week, out of curiosity, I followed a link from the City of Warrensburg website to the Warrensburg Area Economic Development Corporation (WAEDC) website. Other than finding much of the site badly out-of-date, I noted that it had a list of available commercial/industrial buildings & sites in Johnson County. On this list was a 40,000 SF shell building in the Warrensburg Industrial Park, owned by another entity called Warrensburg Industrial Development Corporation (WIDC). It had been built "on spec" in 1999 and was still sitting vacant as 2005 ends.

Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, I heard an announcement on KOKO Radio that the building had been sold to Kitco, Inc., a fiberglas fabricator now located in Odessa. We should all be happy that an area entrepreneurial company wants to move to Warrensburg; at the same time, we should wonder why we have this alphabet soup of development agencies, where they get their money to put up a "spec" building, and what (if any) "tax incentives" were involved. I guess more research is in order.

In Liberty

Thursday, November 24, 2005

New Orleans levees

While this is off my usual local topics, I thought I'd post my response to an article I read on the web. It's from the Nov. 23rd New York Times, by JOHN BIGUENET of New Orleans, called "Turkey With a Dash of Bitters." In essence, it expressed his anger about the response to Hurricane Katrina and his concern that the levees did not stend up to the storm. My comments:

There's no doubt that New Orleans sufferred excessive damage due to the failure of its man-made protection; if it is proved that faulty construction is a cause, action should be pursued. However, a couple of paragraphs the NYT article concern me.

The author said: "New Orleans is on the verge of death, but still, just as in the days after our levees crumbled, the government dithers, refusing to offer an unequivocal commitment to provide protection against Category 5 hurricanes.... But if the United States refuses to protect New Orleans, what will the world - and what will history - make of a nation that let one of its most celebrated cities die?"

Many celebrated cities along the Gulf & Atlantic coasts are vulnerable to major hurricanes - Corpus Christi, Galveston, Mobile, St. Petersburg, Miami, St. Augustine, Savannah, Charleston. Do they have the right to demand they also be protected from cat 5 hurricanes?

Many other cities are subject to destructive natural phenomena. Should the government absolutely protect San Fransico against the possibility of a 7.5 earthquake? Seattle against the chance that Mt. Ranier will erupt, turning it into another Pompeii? Honolulu against a major tsunami? Kansas City against an F-5 tornado? You get the point.

Even if it were possible, it's not the national government's role to protect everyone against the hazards of nature where they live. New Orleans already has some of the most extensive public works to protect it against nature, to include the levee system and the floodways north of the city and along the Atchafalaya. New Orleans perhaps deserves more than most cities because its location is economically vital, but there is no way that the government can or should attempt to protect the city, or any city or person, against every eventuality.

In Liberty

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Tax credits for YES

Youth Excited About Sports (Y.E.S) has ambitious plans. According to their website, "Y.E.S. exists to teach the fundamentals of life to youth incorporating Christian values such as sportsmanship, teamwork, cooperation, fair-play, and character- building while having fun." Y.E.S. is building a major recreational complex just outside the city limits, and, according to the dB article, has secured major tax credits from a state board. And there's the rub.

The state website description of the tax credit program is confusing as to exactly how things are done. It appears, though, that if someone donates $1000 to the program, they get a $500 tax credit (50%). Tax credits are "better" than tax deductions, since they directly reduce income taxes; Missouri's highest marginal rate for individual income tax is only 6%. In other words, Missouri's taxpayers are subsidizing those who donate to Y.E.S.

Taking this another step, Y.E.S. is a faith-based organization. While Y.E.S. very well may be able to deliver services more efficiently than government agencies, there is still a problem with giving public funds (directly or indirectly) to private organizations, especially those that appear to have a proselytizing aspect.

It is unfortunate that government and charities have reached the conclusion that people must receive incentives to donate, yet those citizens who are most generous in comparison to their incomes do not get any tax benefits. Only those who itemize deductions or who can donate enough to gain special tax creits receive these incentives.

Perhaps if we'd do away with the income tax and replace it with a consumption-based tax (the Fair Tax), we could let people make their charitable decisions without tax policy skewing the decision process.

In Liberty

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Wal-Mart and taxes

How refreshing to see someone else in the community speaking out against the Wal-mart tax and other corporate welfare scams (if you don't know what the Wal-Mart tax is, see Olddrum.net). I'm speaking of Jim Skelton's letter in Thursday's DSJ. Last month he wrote so lengthy a letter on the Wal-Mart tax that the DSJ made him take out an ad. This time he corectly points out that local shoppers end up paying for the TDD, TIF, NID or whatever tax scheme or abatement is used. While I think the local one is a done deal, I hope that other Democrats like Jim will make common cause with us Libertarians to reform the whole system.

Meanwhile,the same DSJ carried an editorial from the Columbia Tribune lauding support of the free market system as Boonville citizens voted down an attempt to stop a new Wal-Mart supercenter. That from a decidedly liberal paper. Wal-Mart's greatest offense against free markets isn't its aggressive use of its market dominance, the greatest offense is its willingness to use goverment to secure benefits. This includes its use of eminent domain in other areas and its embracing of TDDs here (and in Warsaw).

Let's make all the developers pay their full costs instead of making the little people who shop at Wal-Mart pay for infrastructure to support upscale stores and restaurants.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

City Council reporting

After reading both the digitalBURG and the DSJ reports on Monday's City Council meeting, I think I know what went on.

Both covered the issues raised by Main Street relating to the conversion of the historic Opera House into apartments, but hte DSJ used a lot more ink. The developer wants to put in 45 apartments and not provide parking; Main Street wants to preserve ground floor retail business and general customer parking downtown. Main Street propsoed a highly bureaucratic system to approve such conversions; the developer wants no controls at all. My own thoughts are rather simple here - if apartments take public parking for private use, then they're taking property rights from downtown businesses. I addressed this earlier in Gadfly 311.

On another item, digitalBURG provided a key detail that the DSJ glossed over. The city is paying $5,000 dues to the Pioneer Trails Regional Planning Commission. This is the outfit that was set up under government blackmail so the 4-county region could get highway projects. The RPC promptly went about expanding its activities and hiring additional staff, then found it was broke and needed to raise dues. My suggestion? Get rid of all the extras and concentrate on why we're forced to belong to it - highways. I wrote about this issue in the Gazette last May and again in September.

Again, thanks to digitalBURG.com for giving us details that the DSJ doesn't deem fit to print.

In Liberty

Monday, November 14, 2005

Deer season reflections

I understand that over 100,000 deer were killed in Missouri over opening weekend, over 1000 in Johnson County. Interestingly enough, these are not records. I didn't contribute to the numbers, more's the pity; I didn't even see one. The main consolation is that it was a beautiful weekend for being outdoors.

Our tax-funded Missouri Department of Conservation over the years has liberaliized deer quotas throughout the state. In most areas, you can shoot as many deer as the opportunity presents, providing that all but one are does (or antlerless deer). When allowed harvests were smaller, the group I hunt with saw and shot more deer; with expanded harvests we have fewer deer hanging and more unused tags.

I wonder if this is analgous to the actions of the Federal Reserve Board in adjusting interest rates to fine tune economic growth. It's now generally accepted that they overdid credit-tightening back in 1998-2000, leading directly to the recession of 2000-2001. Then, they went on a spree of loosening credit and the economy recovered, despite all the shocks of 9/11 and two wars. Now, with high oil prices putting a crunch on spending and profits - and pushing prices upward - they've again decided to raise interest rates.

My question - is the Conservation Department's deer herd management program reacting to last years' conditions and causing future problems, just like the Federal reserve Board has done? Are they micormanaging the deer herd just like the Fed micromanages the economy, making certain decisions based on uncertrain data? Maybe I'll stop wondering if I fill a tag in the remaining week of the season.

In Liberty

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Highway 13 Bypass - Eminent Domain coming?

It seems that the Warrensburg area will soon have its own eminent domain crisis. The Missouri Department of Transportation had a "public informational meeting" last evening at the community center. DoT representatives, City staff and our local 121st Dist. State Rep were there, as were worried citizens with property along the proposed route.

The first phase of the project will run a rather useless bypass from US-50 to DD hiway well to the east of Warrensburg. To make this bypass usable for trucks, it will include "improvements" to DD. These "improvement" will likely have a significant affect on those who own property near the junction of DD & MO-13. We won't know what will be planned or who will be affected until they present the preliminary design next spring.

With the number of properties involved, it's fairly certain that at least a few owners will be unwilling to sell at the price offered by the state. The state will then condemn the property and let the courts sort out the price. While the government has the right to take the property, the laws governing compensation provided are skewed against the owner. The government normally has to pay only "fair market value" which does not include emotional value of a historic family home. Neither does it include the future plans for a property held to provide retirement income.

While Warrensburg's serious traffic problems need attention, it will be a long time before the bypass provides any real benefit. Meanwhile, expect dislocation of people and disruption of property. So push for eminent domain reform.

In Liberty

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A capon caper

Tuesday evening there was a prowler in Warrensburg. Two patrolmen scratched around looking for him, but he'd flown the coop. That's the way the situation stood until this afternoon, when he was sighted near Domino's, acting like the cock of the walk. But he proved to be chicken when chased by some Domino's employees, a Warrensburg officer, and even the animal control officer. The now crestfallen miscreant was apprehended and taken to HQ, where it is likely he was grilled.

The culprint's identity? According to the police scanner, he was a rooster.

Sewer bonds pass

Warrensburg's $21.7 million sewer bond issue passed by a large margin. 10.1% of the eligible voters said YES, 2.3% said NO, and 87.6% said "Whatever." There was a determined effort to get out the YES vote and there was no organized oposition.

I don't know why people don't vote on issues such as this. A few years ago when the ambulance district was formed, some directors won while receiving the votes of fewer than 10% of the voters in their district. People don't understand (or don't care) that these small elections for bonds, school board members, etc., can affect one's individual pocketbook much more than most elections faturing statewide or national candidates. Sometimes, we're taxed without even getting to vote on the issue (see the so-called Wal-Mart tax to benefit the Hawthorne development), so why skip the opportunity to have one's say?

By the way, had I ben eligible to vote on the sewer bonds, I would have voted YES. My basic Libertarian principles aren't offended when users, rather than taxpayers, pay the bill.

In Liberty

Friday, November 04, 2005

Stop the Bribery - Johnson County Enhanced Enterprise Zone

The DSJ reported that "local officials are looking into whether the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Tax Benefit Program would be a helpful way to increase economic growth in Johnson County." To be eligible, a location has to fit some formula that includes population, unemployment rates and poverty rates. This EEZ is another method to transfer taxpayer dollars to private businesses by giving them tax credits - i.e., corporate welfare. I call it bribery.

What's wrong with tax credits? Well, to start with they distort economic decisions. Businesses, instead of looking at true economic factors (labor force, cost of construction & production, transportation, etc.), have to compare the bribes offered by competing locales.

Second, they're based on artificial statistics. The so-called "poverty line" implies that people are in dire need. While some are truly needy, many people living in "poverty" have the modern amenities of American life - color TVs, cell phones, cars, etc. Unemployment rates discount the mobility of the population and the existence of unemployables. Traditionally, 4-5% unemployment rates are considered "full employment" and Johnson County's rate has been far below that rate.

Third, tax-based incentives for business take money from agencies other than the one granting the credits. In Johnson County, we have many taxing bodies outside of the cities and County. These include the schools, emergency services such as the hospital, ambulance district and fire districts, and community services such as the library, community health and the sheltered workshop. Presiding Commissioner Brenner is correct in citing this concern.

Whenever taxes due to a taxing district are taken as part of some sort of development incentive, the other districts must either do with less (not always a bad idea) or try to increase their own tax rate. In either case, the taxpayers are paying for services they are not getting because the money is going to "economic development."

In a Libertarian world, governments wouldn't be allowed to bribe businesses to relocate. Tax incentives are just another facet of government "taking" compensation, which our Supreme Court approved of in the 5-4 Kelo decision. While I recognize that we live in a competitive world where foreswearing tax incentives is tantamount to unilateral disarmament, we can start somewhere. On the local level, we can be very judicious in their use; at the state level, our legislature should forbid the use of incentives to induce a company to relocate from another city in the state. Eventually, perhaps we can rid ourselves of this pernicious practice.

In Liberty

Warrensburg sewer bond issue

In my last letter to the Warrensburg Gazette, I accused the city of running a stealth election. I was a bit too early, as the local media blitz kicked off on Monday, 10/31. That's the problem with writing for a weekly paper, which the blog format avoids.

I think that the sewer bond issue is justified, as it will be paid by user fees rather than taxes and is a legitimate government function. It is unfortunate that the City muddied the issue by approving the 1/2 cent "Wal-Mart tax" to benefit the Hawthorne commercial subdivision, as that has riled up quite a few folks. We shall see on Tuesday, 11/8.

After all the financial reports are in, I'll take a look at where the money for the media ads came from and see if there's any indication of illegal campaigning by the City.

[Note: The letter mentioned was not printed in the 4-page final edition of the Gazette].

In Liberty

Thursday, November 03, 2005

New Blog

With the demise of the Warrensburg Gazette, I've moved my commentary on Warrensburg and Johnson County matters to the blogosphere. While I will miss the audience my letters to the Gazette earned in over 6 years, but this format allows me to comment with more frequency and timeliness.

Please watch this spot for timely and incisve comments on local issues (and some national ones, as well).