When raising taxes becomes too much of a hot potato, lawmakers often turn to additional fees to help them pay the costs of operating government.
In some cases, fees make sense; people who use certain services ought to have to pay for them. However, a fee being proposed by the Kansas Department of Revenue goes too far.
Department officials plan to ask legislators to approve a $25 fee for filing paper income tax forms and an additional $5 fee for filing a paper form for a state sales tax refund. People who file their taxes electronically would have no fee.
Not only would the fee charge people for something they are required to do — file a tax return — but it also would fall hardest on low-income and elderly Kansans who don’t have computers or aren’t comfortable using them to file their tax returns. Using a tax preparer would bypass the fee, but that also is something many people can’t afford.
Last month, the Department of Revenue issued a warning, saying that residents who filed paper returns could wait up to four months to receive their tax refunds. That’s nearly twice as long as in previous years, which seems like punishment enough for filing on paper even without the $25 fee. The department noted how much more it costs to process paper returns and said it was looking for ways to cut costs. The department also decided not to publish a paper tax instruction booklet this year and won’t be mailing paper tax forms to libraries, banks and other sites as they have in the past.
There’s nothing wrong with encouraging a switch to electronic filing, but the state may be moving too fast. Of the nearly 1.5 million Kansas tax returns filed last year, about 450,000, 31 percent, were on paper. It’s a fair bet that many of those filers were low-income. They were people who couldn’t afford a tax preparer or tax preparation software for their computer. They may be elderly people who are simply more comfortable with a paper form or young people with part-time jobs and little income to report.
In other words, they aren’t the people the state should be trying to get more money out of by charging additional fees.
Kansas legislators who are refusing to look at any tax increases this session should consider the trickle-down effects of that decision. Like taxes, fees still come out of the pockets of Kansas residents and often in more inequitable ways.