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Archive for Monday, March 26, 2007

Senior property tax relief should be top priority

March 26, 2007

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Editor's note: This column was written in response to the Journal-World's invitation to members of the Kansas House and Senate to share their thoughts about their hopes for Kansas and major issues facing the state.

For the past two months, members of the Kansas Legislature have been debating a number of tax proposals that would benefit various groups.

The Legislature has already approved a complete repeal of the franchise tax, along with a substantial reduction in unemployment taxes that will reduce overhead costs for business owners. A bill reducing the corporate income tax rate has also been proposed and is pending in the House.

While tax cuts can certainly help improve the Kansas business climate, we must be cautious about going overboard financially. The state has a surplus in its budget this year, but the budget picture does not look very rosy down the road. We must prepare for hard times ahead so that the state does not put itself into the same situation that occurred at the end of former Gov. Bill Graves' administration. The Legislature cut too many taxes, too quickly and ran out of money. To compensate, Graves had to impose significant cuts in university, public school and social service budgets.

The best way to reduce taxes is targeting cuts to the people who need them the most - senior citizens. I have heard from numerous Lawrence residents about what the Legislature ought to be focusing on this session, and more than any other issue, I have heard an outcry from senior citizens on fixed incomes about rising property taxes. This is a statewide issue, but it is more prevalent in Lawrence because our property valuations have risen so rapidly. Many Lawrence residents are approaching the point where they may be taxed out of their homes.

I'm pleased to report that help may be on the way. At the beginning of this legislative session, Rep. Tom Holland and I introduced a bill that would provide significant property tax relief for lower income seniors. This proposal expands the Homestead Property Tax Refund Act, which is a program that provides refunds against property taxes due, and exempts Social Security income from eligibility for the program. This will allow thousands of Kansans who were not eligible before to take advantage of this program.

A number of constitutional amendments attempting to provide property tax relief to seniors have been debated by the Legislature. Most of these proposals, however, would simply shift the tax burden from seniors to another group. For example, one constitutional amendment has proposed freezing property taxes for seniors. The result of this will be reduced revenues for cities and counties which will cause these municipalities to raise mill levies on non-senior citizens.

The House Taxation Committee recently passed House Bill 2430, which contains the proposal authored by Rep. Holland and myself. It had broad, bipartisan support and would help seniors without harming other Kansans.

As the Legislature looks at enacting tax cuts, we should focus on the people who need tax relief the most. I would submit that those people are senior citizens on fixed incomes and the best solution is House Bill 2430.

- Rep. Paul Davis, a Democrat, represents the 46th District, which covers central and eastern Lawrence. He is an attorney and serves on the House Taxation and Judiciary committees.

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