As the Kansas Legislature looks at Gov. Joan Finney's plan to help fund public schools with a statewide property tax levy, it also must examine the many inequities in the state's property appraisal system.
Property valuations currently are set county-by-county, and many discrepancies have been reported in how certain property is valued. One appraiser may put more emphasis on use, while another looks at market value. There may be almost as many different interpretations of state appraisal standards as there are county appraisers in the state.
Those discrepancies haven't mattered too much as long as appraisers could show they were relatively consistent within their own counties. But that will all change if the Legislature approves a statewide property tax levy.
One of the main purposes of the statewide levy to fund public schools is to equalize the quality of education across the state and to make everyone in the state pay equally for the task of educating the state's children, regardless of the wealth of their individual school districts. But that can hardly be accomplished if there are large discrepancies in how similar property is valued from county to county.
It seems reasonable to conclude that statewide property tax levies will have to be accompanied by a statewide appraisal system. That's probably the only way to ensure that the property tax burden will be spread evenly across the state. Such a system might create some new problems and new expenses that legislators will have to factor in when considering the property tax proposal. It may also solve some of the valuation inequities that have cropped up in some parts of the state.
Many issues remain to be resolved if Finney's plan to levy a statewide property tax for schools is to be enacted. Creating a uniform property valuation system is certainly one of them.