Opinion

Audio Astra: Calculating public harm from tax break, deep freeze

September 24, 2021 3:33 am

Emporia State University, like other secondary schools across the state, closed its campus from Monday to Wednesday in response to the severe cold and rolling blackouts. (Lucas Lord for Kansas Reflector)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

How does the government calculate what we each owe? Whether it’s a decision by a utility regulatory board or a court decision about property taxes, the details of our obligations to government – and therefore each other — get wonky fast. But, as the podcasts this week reveal, the implications are huge and inevitably political.

Nebraska Furniture Mart And the Battle Over Dark Stores

Kansas City Today, Sept. 20, 2021

The Midwest Newsroom’s Steve Vockrodt talks about how big-box retailers like Nebraska Furniture Mart use an absurd but winning legal argument to value their buildings and real estate as essentially worthless and therefore subject to less taxation. Vockrodt traces the dominoes as they tip, finally squashing city and county governments that cannot collect all the taxes and will now scramble for revenue. The impact from Nebraska Furniture Mart’s case alone may strip $1.5 million from services that Wyandotte County citizens receive. That directly affects schools, roads, social services and more.

Years ago, investigative reports of President Trump revealed his company’s willingness to devalue properties intentionally to shield the company from property taxes. Hearing stories about a privileged businessman who gained much of his fortune through tax loopholes and fraud could be infuriating.

Now we learn that our state has opened a similarly shaped loophole to corporations that don’t need to commit Trump-esque fraud. Yet, those corporations enjoy the same tax relief.

If the Reagan revolution of the 1980s eroded the people’s trust in government, Trump’s conservatism obliterated the government’s trust in itself. The line between austerity politics and corporate welfare is forever blurred. And for those of us who worry about the wealth gap, this single decision strips away services — in this case $1.5 million in services — from people who need them.

Economic fallout of 2021 deep freeze

Kansas Reflector, Sept. 20, 2021

In February, pipes in our house froze during the extreme cold snap that hit Kansas. I scrambled around the house with hairdryers, space heaters and warm towels hoping to unfreeze the pipes and avoid a rupture.

Our house this week displays some in-progress repairs: holes in the living room ceiling, unpainted drywall in the bathroom and preventive plumbing behind the walls. But there isn’t anything glaring to show February’s near crisis. We dodged a flood.

Kansas, it turns out, did not. The Kansas Reflector’s Allison Kite interviews lawyer Jim Zakoura who says the state’s residential and transportation energy customers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars from the energy purchased during Presidents’ Day weekend this year.

Why so much? Zakoura says a small number of highly inflated trades that happened on the natural gas market reflected an astronomical price for natural gas for a short time. This price, according to Zakoura, is not nefarious price gouging by utilities but instead a simple miscalculation with incredibly harmful downstream effects.

Kansas and its outstanding energy payments are in a similar state to our house: both look just fine, but underneath there is work to do. There’s no lasting damage to our house, thank goodness. We’ll see if we can say the same for Kansas..

What’s a mandate, anyway?

Chillin in the Statehouse, Sept. 20, 2021

This episode of Chillin in the Statehouse does a tidy job of summarizing how President Biden’s federal mandates are 1.) not exactly mandates yet and 2.) dividing Kansan politicians.

Hosts Andrew Bahl and Jason Tidd forecast how the Kansas gubernatorial candidates will react. They anticipate Laura Kelly will remain noncommittal about the mandate affecting businesses with more than 100 workers. After all, what political gains could she make by sticking her neck out? They believe her opponent Derek Schmidt will continue railing against the federal effort, calling it Biden’s overreach and an infringement on personal choice.

Lawrence Exhibit Captures Lingering Signs of America’s Segregated Past

Up To Date, Sept. 17, 2021

The Lawrence Arts Center is hosting an exhibition by a photographer who traveled the United States to document sites of segregation and racism. An interesting discussion emerges from his interview with Steve Kraske: What does it mean to eliminate some of these sites of segregation? Richard Frishman, the photographer, believes that removing these historical artifacts facilitates denial of our tragic past by removing the architecture of segregation. His photographs ask: Is the erasure of history more harmful to our society than enduring monuments to a racist past?

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.

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