Kan. gov unveils 'property tax transparency' plan

WICHITA, Kan. -- Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and fellow Republicans in the Legislature on Friday unveiled a proposed "property tax transparency" law designed to keep such taxes from rising automatically when a property values rise.

If passed, their bill would require local governments to either drop their property tax levies when property values rise so that property owners' tax payments would remain stable or to vote publicly to take advantage of the higher values and collect the additional tax revenues.

Because property taxes are levied against values that can grow annually, an owner can still pay more in taxes even if a city, county or school district doesn't increase its levies.

"Kansas families and businesses are taxed every time they turn around _ income taxes, sales taxes, use taxes, gas taxes, property taxes, the list really goes on and on," Brownback said. "That is why we worked together this year to provide historic pro-growth tax relief and make our state income taxes flatter and fairer after the lost decade of jobs in Kansas."

The proposal outlined Friday would put a flexible cap on property taxes and exempt new construction, said state Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican.

The Republicans' news conference came less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election and after weeks of criticism from Democrats that Brownback and his allies had essentially ignored rising property taxes in favor of making massive income tax cuts this year.

Backers of the income tax cuts believe they'll stimulate the economy. Critics contend that the income tax reductions will cause budget shortfalls, force the state to cut aid to its 286 schools districts and compel those districts to raise their local property taxes.

"Kansans know intuitively you can't cut income taxes like the governor did and not have an effect on property taxes going up," Democratic state Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita said.

Brownback said the state won't be increasing its own, relatively small property tax levies for schools and building projects. Both levies are set by law.

"The next important step we need to take must make our state more competitive and improve the financial well-being of Kansas is to make tax increases more transparent _ especially when it comes to property taxes at the local level," the governor said.

Ward said Democrats welcome what he called Brownback's newfound interest in property tax relief. They pushed this year for property tax relief, though their proposals would have boosted state aid to local governments so that they could keep property taxes in check.

Ward said Kansas' property taxes are too high and need to be cut. But he dismissed the new GOP proposal as "political stuff." Legislative researchers estimate the income tax will be worth $4.5 billion over the next six years and also project that they'll lead to collective budget shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion during the same period.

Also, Democrats have noted that Brownback unsuccessfully proposed this year to eliminate limits on school districts' ability to raise property taxes.

"Kansas common sense says, be skeptical of politicians bearing gifts a week before the election," Ward said.

Brownback's allies hope conservative Republicans emerge from this year's elections with control of both chambers. Republicans have majorities of 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House, but GOP moderates had retained control in the Senate.

Conservatives succeeded in ousting eight moderate Republican senators in August primary races and are now looking to defeat Democratic incumbents this fall.

Also, Wagle is asking her GOP colleagues to name her the next Senate president, a decision that Republican senators and senators-elect will make in December.


Associated Press writer John Hanna contributed to this report from Topeka.