In this day and age when taxes are receiving as much attention as ever, you would expect our political leaders to insist on transparency for the taxes we do pay.
But that isn’t always the case. There are now at least 43 locations across Kansas, including two in Lawrence, that charge a special sales tax that is over and above the standard sales tax charged in their communities. Do you know where the 43 are?
Many people don’t. It is becoming increasingly common for a merchant on one side of the street to have one sales tax while a similar merchant on the other side of the street could have a sales tax up to 2 percent higher.
Lawrence took a positive step this week in addressing the issue locally. Commissioners directed staff members to create an ordinance that would require all special taxing districts in the city to post signs that alert shoppers to the higher tax.
That seems fair. Often, these special taxes help provide better parking or grander amenities than exist in typical commercial developments. Shoppers may well decide that the shopping experience is worth an extra sales tax.
But voters need to have the tax information presented to them, so they can “vote with their feet.”
Wichita also requires signs alerting shoppers that they are in a special taxing district. But many communities do not. Lawrence city commissioners said they likely will ask state legislators to consider a law that would require all special taxing districts in Kansas to post signs notifying shoppers of the sales tax differences. That would level the playing field, and perhaps would quiet some of the critics of these special taxing districts.
The districts have been particularly controversial in Lawrence. It is understandable that residents aren’t excited about any additional taxes, but Lawrence leaders need to be open to the special taxing districts now that a sign ordinance will be part of the equation. For good or bad, such incentives are becoming an important component in attracting national and regional retailers to a community. Lawrence can’t afford to watch its sales tax base erode while we make a stand based on principle.
With signs that alert shoppers to the special taxes, shoppers would be empowered to make their own informed decisions. It seems reasonable that shoppers across the state have such power as well. City commissioners should follow through on efforts to lobby state legislators to make special taxing districts more transparent.
And we urge legislators who cringe at the thought of raising taxes to consider this: If your constituents don’t want you to raise taxes, do you really believe they want you to hide existing ones?