Sonny and Cher’s The Beat Goes On is the perfect background music for a story about Kansas property taxes, so hit your mental Play button and let’s get started.
Data provided by the Property Valuation Division of the Kansas Department of Revenue shows some shocking property tax increases in 2015 were levied by cities and counties. The average across all 105 counties was 4.4 percent and the twenty-five largest cities averaged 4.3 percent; inflation actually declined by 0.5 percent in 2015 (Consumer Price Index, Midwest Urban Cities). Amazingly, 17 counties and 2 cities hit taxpayers with double-digit increases; another 26 counties and 8 cities hiked taxes between 5 and 10 percent.
Local government has offered a variety of excuses when confronted with these very large tax increases, but those excuses don’t stand up to scrutiny.
- Claim: tax increases were caused by elimination of Local Ad Valorem Tax Relief – the reality is that some of the largest annual increases occurred in the years when LAVTR and revenue sharing was funded. Local government took state money intended for property tax relief and still socked citizens with large property tax increases.
- Claim: state tax reform and/or state budget changes ‘forced’ cities and counties to increase property taxes – such circumstances would impact all cities and counties if that was truly the case, but every year some counties reduce their property taxes; in fact, 31 counties reduced property taxes in 2015. Also, KPI surveyed all 105 counties asking them to identify their reason for tax increase; none of those who responded blamed tax reform or state budget changes.
- Claim: citizens demand good services, which requires tax increases – equating good service with tax increases is a false choice, as there are ample opportunities for cities and counties to operate more efficiently; further, if voters really wanted large tax increases, government wouldn’t be trying to strip them of their voting rights. Even when presented with proof that citizens oppose tax increases, Johnson County commissioners ignored the will of the public and rammed through a 17 percent tax increase for county operations in 2015. Johnson County’s own survey revealed overwhelming opposition to property tax increases but four of the seven commissioners went right ahead with their plans. La de da de de…. La de da de da
The real reason may be fear that, given the opportunity, citizens will put a stop to these punishing tax increases. A new law passed last year requires that, beginning in 2018 and with some exceptions, voters must approve any tax increase beyond inflation. It was clearly a mistake to give local government three years to gouge taxpayers, so legislation has been introduced to allow voting to begin this year.
Cities and counties have introduced legislation that would effectively strip citizens of their right to vote, which means legislators face a telling decision: do they support citizens’ freedom to vote or do they side with government and allow taxes to unnecessarily ratchet upward each year.
Siding with government would not sit well with citizens. A SurveyUSA poll conducted in December on behalf of Kansas Policy Institute found that 69% of Kansans want the right to vote on property tax increases and 50% believe voting should begin this year. Support for citizen’s right to vote on property tax increases crosses all geographic and ideological lines and in fact, a majority or plurality of each group wants the right to vote this year.
Citizens’ position is certainly understandable given a long history of tax increases outpacing population and inflation in most situations. In fact, 67 of the counties that increased property taxes in excess of inflation since 1997 also had population declines! A few of the more egregious examples follow, and the same information can be found on KansasOpenGov.org; city charts are here and county charts are here.
As Sonny and Cher might say…
The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Taxes keep pounding people to the ground
La de da de de, La de da de da
Low tax growth was once the law, uh huh
The lid came off in ‘99, uh huh
Now we’re paying thru the nose, uh huh
People need the right to vote, right now