Gov. Mike Hayden has declared this the year of the property taxpayer.
In his State of the State Address, Hayden proclaimed Monday night, that tax relief for the state's property owners would be his No. 1 priority for the upcoming legislature.
``We must revisit the issue of classification and reappraisal to correct the inequities that have resulted, and restore fairness to the property tax system," Hayden said.
But wasn't reappraisal supposed to make the property tax system more fair?
Most Kansas residents probably would agree with Hayden that the state property tax system needs some help some finetuning, if not a major overhaul. The reappraisal system that was supposed to equalize and update property values has displayed some noted problems since it was completed earlier this year.
It may even be justified to make property tax reform the "No. 1 priority" for the legislative session. But it would be wrong to make it the only priority, as Hayden seemingly intends.
In the name of property tax reform, Hayden has expressed his willingness to hold down spending for social programs and universities. He notably has excluded the state's massive highway program, a personal favorite of his, from budget-cutting talks. But when it comes to the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and the Kansas Board of Regents he is willing not only to hold down budgets for the next fiscal year, but to cut spending in the current fiscal year as well.
Instead of supporting the $16.3 million third-year installment for the popular and critical Margin of Excellence, Hayden proposes setting aside $400,000 to be split among all the regents schools to provide special raises for outstanding faculty. That would give Kansas University $50,000 with which to reward its entire faculty and staff. The amount is so paltry that many university administrators and faculty members will find it downright insulting.
The tiny token will be even more insulting if it arrives in conjunction with cuts in the current fiscal year budget and perhaps a freeze on hiring at the university. Certainly, $50,000 spread among all of KU's faculty members won't be enough to raise morale if such rescissions come to pass.
Hayden has heard plenty this fall from taxpayers who are angry about the property tax situation. As a politician, Hayden knows full well that appeasing angry taxpayers will be an important factor in whether he can be re-elected to the state's top job later this year. In that sense, his No. 1 priority might be not the taxpayers, but his own political future.
There is little question but that action is needed to clean up the reappraisal and classification mess. But that action can take the form of redistributing the tax burden, rather than simply making wholesale tax and funding cuts. And Hayden and state legislators should be careful not to forget other state priorities in their rush to help unhappy taxpayers.