Local Columnists

Dave Helling: Sometimes, the crystal ball is cracked

Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan discussesd a $217 million shortfall in the state's monthly tax collections during an interview Friday at the Statehouse in Topeka. Jordan said the shortfall is tied to how investors reacted in the past to uncertainty about federal tax policy on capital gains.
Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan discussesd a $217 million shortfall in the state's monthly tax collections during an interview Friday at the Statehouse in Topeka. Jordan said the shortfall is tied to how investors reacted in the past to uncertainty about federal tax policy on capital gains. AP

A couple of weeks ago I made a prediction. I said Cincinnati was the favorite to land the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Naturally, a few days after I made that call, Cincinnati dropped out of the competition.

I can now add the story to the long list of predictions I’ve gotten spectacularly wrong. In fact, I’ve been wrong so many times there may be an inverse influence factor involved: if I say something will happen, there’s a 99 percent chance it won’t.

So let me say, for the record, that Kansas City has no chance of getting the convention. That should lock it in.

While I’m at it, the Royals won’t win 60 games this year. Order your World Series tickets now.

Predicting the future is a fool’s game, of course. We can make educated guesses about tomorrow, but most of the time our forecasts are little better than a roll of the dice.

The Obama administration thought the unemployment rate would top out about 8 percent after the 2009 stimulus. It reached 10 percent. Newt Gingrich thought Mitt Romney would win in a landslide. He didn’t.

Somebody thought Jackson County voters would approve a sales tax for health research. Wrong.

Most people are OK with this, as long as the predictor is willing to admit the mistake. We don’t get mad when the weather forecaster misses the coming snowstorm, but we’re furious when he or she comes on the next night and pretends nothing went wrong.

In mid-April, Kansas budget officials predicted the state would take in more than $5.9 billion for the general fund this fiscal year. Then, last week, the state’s revenue department said Kansas had actually collected just $4.9 billion through the first 11 months of the fiscal year.

That means Kansas needs to take in $1 billion in June to meet a prediction made just seven weeks ago.

Last June, the state collected about $567 million. You can see the problem.

The missed prediction will have real-world consequences. It may mean further cuts in state services in Kansas or increased borrowing. It could lead to a further reduction in the state’s credit rating.

As a political matter, though, the mistake might be more acceptable if the people who made it simply admit the error — blame it on the European model, like the weather guys do.

That doesn’t seem likely. Typically, the last thing politicians and bureaucrats want to do is concede they were wrong.

So here’s a backup: I predict Kansas will take in zero dollars in June. That ought to cover that $1 billion shortfall.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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