Topeka Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, agreed Wednesday to co-sign a measure that would let voters decide whether to change the state's constitution to impose caps on property taxes.
The resolution would place a cap on property taxes at 1 percent of a home's fair-market value. It would limit the tax on commercial property at 2 percent of fair-market value. The tax rate on property owned by non-profit organizations would be capped at 1 percent of fair-market value.
The measure, which is likely to be introduced in the Senate this week, is expected to cut property taxes statewide by $347 million, including $15.9 million in Douglas County.
According to figures from Marion Johnson, Douglas County appraiser, a house in Lawrence valued at $95,000 was taxed at $1,526 in 1991; under the proposed amendment, the house would be taxed at $950, reducing the tax $576.
Some businesses would do even better under the proposal. Winter used as an example a local auto supply store now appraised at $282,150 and taxed at $11,327. It would be pay a property tax of $5,643 under the proposal.
WINTER, who has been opposed to such constitutional caps in the past, said he decided to endorse the measure because of the ripeness this year for property tax relief and school finance reform.
He said he didn't know how much of the $347 million could be made up by local units of government.
"Clearly the substantial part of it, the vast majority of it, is going to have to be made up by new taxes," he said.
State lawmakers would have to impose higher income taxes or sales taxes to make up the difference, he said.
Trimming $15.9 million from the budgets of the county's various governmental taxing agencies, including schools, would mean the funds would have to be replaced in budget cuts and in new taxes.
"I think there's some things that can be done that are reasonable that won't cut into the bone of services to replace the revenue," he said.
Winter said Douglas County's property taxes are so high they threaten to stall local government's ability to plan future projects, such as new schools and other buildings.
"I THINK property taxes are a very regressive tax," he said. "For the elderly, their tax bills are now more than their home mortgage was when they first bought it."
Winter said he voted against similar proposals in past years because he didn't think lawmakers could approve new taxes to replace the lost revenue.
"I think the timing is perfect now because it really fits in tandem with the judge's opinion on school finance," he said. Lawmakers are under a court ultimatum to reform the school finance formula, which will be tied closely to property tax reform.
Winter said there is a provision in the measure that would give local governments the option of removing the lid with a vote.
"So cities, schools, counties, if they need more money, they can opt out of it," he said.
JOHNSON provided Winter with the following information on how the lids would affect property tax revenue in the county:
Agricultural land and buildings revenue would be cut 41 percent, leaving $744,837 in revenue.
Residential property revenue would be cut 36 percent, leaving $15.1 million in revenue.
All other real property revenue would be cut 49 percent, leaving $6.05 million in revenue.
Mobile homes, a cut of 34 percent, leaving $122,394 in revenue.
Motor vehicles, a cut of 46 percent, leaving $106,486 in revenue
Commercial and industrial machines and equipment, a 23 percent cut, leaving $2.42 million in revenue.
Other personal property, a cut of 46 percent, leaving $134,383 in revenue.