Martin Hawver
Guest columnist
We’ve all been the victims of distraction—whether it’s looking up from texting on your phone and noticing schoolchildren crossing the street in front of your car or dad pointing to a bird outside the window while he steals a slice of bacon off your plate.
Ever think the Kansas Legislature could distract you?
Well, maybe it will and maybe it won’t, but there is a prime example in the Kansas House this session that borders on that move.
This one is simple. In return for putting a virtual lid on local government revenues from property taxes, the House is willing to spend $90 million over two years to buy down the hated property tax. That’s over two years, $90 million less in property taxes that will be paid statewide.
Now, who doesn’t want lower property taxes?
But the real key to that issue is that in return for spending $90 million, the House will make it extremely difficult for local units of government to see any new revenues.
Remember that property valuations are now at low levels…and local governments that depend on property taxes and which have cut budgets in the past couple years are waiting for those valuations against which they levy taxes to rise.
That rising property valuation allows cities and counties to brag that they’ve not increased the mill levy while the valuation increase yields more tax money for them to spend. And that tactic tends to work.
We read the headlines, drop down to the quotes about “holding the line on property taxes” and often don’t calculate that the mill levy is flat, but our property valuation is rising so we’ll write a bigger check and local governments will receive more money to spend on whatever they spend it on.
Now, build a new house or office building, and the tax base increases, so the same mill levy yields more money…but then, that’s one extra office building or strip mall or home that local units of government have to be prepared to put out if it catches fire.
Local units of government are happy for the new state money, of course, but don’t like the idea that every time they need to raise more money, or just see the valuation of existing property increase, they’ll have to publish the newspaper notice and wait to see whether a protest petition will be filed which means they have to hold an election and indirectly take a drubbing at the polls.
Oh, and those local units also note that rising property valuations, which bring in more property tax revenues that are subject to voter protest, don’t apply to the state—which levies on behalf of school districts 20 mills statewide and another 1.5 mills for something or other. The state part of your property tax bill? No protest possible there, the local units of government note.
So, have we been distracted with the $90 million? Is the Legislature essentially paying $90 million to prevent local property taxes from getting a free ride on rising valuations, giving them more money to spend without embarrassing and expensive elections?
Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to keep an eye on that bird outside the window and our bacon at the same time…
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com