Kansas legislators sitting in on hearings about the state's property tax situation are getting their ears filled with horror stories about the effects of reappraisal and classification on property taxes.
"The further we go, the more we see that the problems are enormous," said Rep. Jessie Branson, a Lawrence Democrat who serves on the Legislature's Study Committee on Reappraisal and Classification.
The committee, made up of members of the House and Senate Taxation committees, is in the second of three days scheduled to try to come up with recommendations for short- and long-term solutions to the dilemma facing many Kansas property owners. Lawrence also is represented on the committee by Rep. Betty Jo Charlton.
This is the first year that property taxes in Kansas are based on reappraised property values and subject to tax classification. Many residential and small business owners have seen their property taxes increase dramatically from those adjustments.
Mrs. Branson said that solutions to the crisis facing property owners could be difficult to reach. She said the hearings already are reminding her of the parochialism that developed in the Legislature when reappraisal and classification were first debated.
"EACH LEGISLATOR obviously thinks, for the most part, only of his or her county," she said. "The years and years we spent trying to pass reappraisal and classification were tough. We're seeing that again. Each legislator has a different appetite."
Among the short-term approaches gaining momentum, Mrs. Branson said, is removing some restrictions on the so-called "circuit-breaker" for residential property owners. Under the circuit-breaker, qualifying homeowners are granted tax relief by the state.
Other options are extending a circuit-breaker to small business owners, allowing taxpayers to make quarterly payments rather than semi-annual payments, and reopening the appeals process for people protesting their property valuations.
The problem facing the committee and the full Legislature when it meets Jan. 8 or earlier if a special session is called is finding money to fund any relief measures. Revenue Secretary Ed Rolfs told the committee Tuesday that the state budget is tight.
Mrs. Branson said that among the possibilities being considered is borrowing revenue from the -cent sales tax increase that was earmarked for highway improvements or taking from the revenues raised by the lottery and parimutuel racing and designated for economic development.
Another possibility is for the state to make further cuts in its operating budget and use the savings to fund tax relief. That's one idea Mrs. Branson says is unacceptable to her.
"I WILL NOT tolerate an overall cut in the budget over what the governor is considering now," she said. "To impose further cuts would be more than we can bear. We'd create real trauma for the universities and education systems across the state."
Mrs. Branson said the legislative committee, which heard from government and lobbying organizations Tuesday and is to hear from county representatives and members of the public today, is set to discuss options among itself Thursday.
"It's a very, very tough, difficult situation. . . . We've just heard horror story after horror story, one after the other," she said.