TOPEKA – The Committee on Taxation recommended March 22 that HB 2345 be passed as amended. The bill, which was debated during a crowded hearing on March 6, would provide a tax lid exemption so that local governments could be more flexible with their budgets and would be able to lower property taxes, and it capped how much officials could raise taxes without a public vote.
Trey Cocking, deputy director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, spoke in support of the bill, saying that counties will not lower their property taxes even if they don’t need the extra money at the moment. He says there is no way to raise the tax rate after it has been lowered without considerable effort and a vote from the public. This means city officials are more likely to keep the same tax rate, even in times they don’t need it, for fear that when they do raise it that they won’t be able to get that money back.
So, the bill would allow local governments to cut their citizens a tax break when they can, but also able to raise it back up to its original level within a seven-year period. Cocking says that in times of emergency, this bill would allow cities to raise their tax rates back up if they choose to lower it in the past seven years.
Rep. John Toplikar (R-Olathe), who spoke first on the bill, said he is concerned the legislation isn’t necessary because “I thought the way the current law was written, if you had an emergency situation, you could get the money you needed.” He is worried that by bypassing the public's consent to vote on tax changes, cities could raise taxes enormously. Cocking explained that as the bill is written, no city will be able to raise their taxes from the current rate but only lower them to relieve their citizens when they can.
The committee agrees that the property tax rates in Kansas are extraordinarily high as the state ranks 15th in the nation. They say fewer people have been moving into the state and it is harder for potential property owners to secure housing where they would like to live because of the higher taxes.
“The biggest complaint is that property taxes are driving people out of the state,” said Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka).
By approving the property tax lid, legislators tried to address the problem, but were ultimately unable to foresee the consequences of the bill. Rep. Stephanie Clayton (D-Overland Park) said the bill was intended to create tax savings, but it is not doing that. “Now cities are afraid to give citizens a tax break because if they do, they have to fight tooth and nail to get those rates back up,” she said.
“I agree that property taxes are a problem across the state, but the premise of the proposed bill is wrong because it assumes local governments raise or lower taxes willy-nilly,” said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore (D-Kansas City).
Although Moore agrees that there is an issue with high property tax rates, she believes there has to be a better way to remedy the situation.
Rep. Barbara Wasinger (R-Hays) said she was in favor of the bill. “Having been a county commissioner, I understand it’s important to control property taxes but sometimes these counties are really sucking for money,” she said. “When the state truly has taken away their income, Ellis County has lost a lot of money.”
Dave Trabert, the president of the Kansas Policy Institute, is opposed to the proposed bill. “The property tax lid was put into place because everyone was fed up with the runaway property taxes of this state, but it’s an odd solution to shift that burden to taxpayers instead of the government.”
He said taxpayers need relief from heavy fees and this new bill would give another exemption from having to receive public approval through a vote. By approving the bill, he believes that government will take even more advantage over the taxpayers who are carrying the weight of these fines.
On March 22, the committee recommended that the bill as amended be passed. Instead of the proposed seven-year plan, the bill now states that plan will be in effect for five years.
Samantha Gilstrap is a University of Kansas senior from Charlotte, North Carolina, majoring in journalism.