Kansas lawmakers are moving toward eliminating limits on local property taxes they say are ineffective in favor of a proposal aimed at requiring officials to be more transparent about upcoming levies.
The Senate voted 39-0 on Tuesday to approve a bill that supporters said would force local officials to be more open in making tax and and budget decisions. It goes next to the House.
The bill would repeal a local tax lid pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature by conservative lawmakers in 2015. Cities and counties are generally required to let the public vote if they want to increase the spending of local property tax revenues by more than the inflation rate, though some costs, such as new roads and sewers, are exempt from the lid.
The bill approved by senators would require cities and counties to send notices to all taxpayers and have a public hearing if they intend to raise more money from property taxes in the coming year. City or county commissioners would then have to take a vote in public on raising additional property tax revenues.
Supporters argued that notifying taxpayers and giving them a chance to weigh in would be more effective than the state’s current limits. Annual revenues from taxes on property have risen nearly 18% since 2015 and have more than doubled in the past 20 years, to more than $5.1 billion.
“Processes, when they work, they work great. When they don’t work, they need to be fixed,” said Republican Senator Julia Lynn, of Olathe. “In this case, I think we need a little tweak to the process.”
Kansas legislators are perennially frustrated by complaints about local property taxes and the state has imposed local tax lids on and off over the past half century. A property owner’s taxes can rise even if local levies don’t because a county appraiser’s office can increase the tax value for a home or business.
The bill before lawmakers this year is modeled after laws in Tennessee and Utah. Senate tax committee Chairwoman Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican, said the current Kansas lid is “almost worthless.”
“This is all about transparency and being open,” she said during the Senate’s debate on the bill.
Local officials fought the 2015 law, believing it would pinch funding for local services. Trey Cocking, a lobbyist for the League of Kansas Municipalities, said the group has “no concerns” with promoting transparency but believes this year’s measure remains “clunky” in its mechanics.
Several senators, particularly from the Kansas City area, sought unsuccessfully to rewrite the measure so that a fast-growing city or county wouldn’t have to notify taxpayers if it sought to spend property tax revenues generated by new development. Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said those communities needed to be able to cover public safety and public works costs.
Senator Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat who served 23 years in local government, said the bill doesn’t prevent cities and counties from raising taxes. He said
his experience was that city or county residents were fine with a tax increase when officials had “a plausible reason for why.”
“You simply have to explain it,” Miller said.
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