Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders on Friday unveiled a plan that they said would protect property taxpayers.
The Property Tax Transparency Act would require property tax mill levies to be automatically lowered as property valuations go up. Local units of government that have taxing authority and want to increase their property taxes would be required to vote to increase the mill levy.
"Kansas families and businesses are taxed every time they turn around: income tax, sales tax, use tax, gas tax, and property tax — the list goes on and on," Brownback said.
Following his enactment of massive income tax cuts, Brownback said the next step is to make property taxes more transparent.
But Democrats said Brownback rejected their calls for property tax reductions in the last legislative session so that he could give tax cuts to wealthy businesses.
The Brownback tax cuts will exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from income taxes. The package also decreases individual income tax rates for 2013, with the top rate dropping to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent, and increases the standard deduction.
Democrats, who have claimed property taxes should be cut instead of income taxes, said Brownback is posturing on property taxes less than two weeks before Republicans and Democrats face off in legislative races across the state.
"The governor has spent the last year ignoring proposals to reduce property taxes," said state Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita. "Kansas common sense says you have to question his commitment to his new conversion on property taxes," he said.
And Lawrence City Manager David Corliss said he was unsure what the new proposal would require that cities aren't already doing as far as transparency about property taxes.
Current state law requires local governing bodies to adopt ordinances if property tax revenues for the budget exceed the previous year.
"Somebody might want to read the budget law and see what we actually have to do now before they try to tack on another requirement," Corliss said.
"What we really do feel strongly about is local decisions should be made locally," Corliss added. "I don't want someone on the third floor of the Statehouse telling us how to spend or raise our money. If the Legislature wants to add more process, we can add more process," he said.
Corliss added that city finances are transparent. Budget, spending and employee salaries are on the city's website, he said.
But state Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who appeared with Brownback at a news conference in Wichita on the property tax transparency proposal, said the measure "will give Kansas property owners confidence that their property taxes aren't going to increase the way they have in the past while still giving local units of government flexibility to increase taxes if they need more tax money."
Wagle said property tax revenues collected in the state went from $1.97 billion in 1997 to $3.8 billion in 2010.
State Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, who has pushed similar proposals in the past, said “Just because the value of your home or business has gone up, doesn’t mean that local governments’ spending should go up."
But Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, a Democrat, said Brownback's proposal was meant to deflect attention from projections that the Brownback tax cuts will produce significant revenue shortfalls and push more costs onto local governments.
"In Douglas County we've picked up costs to keep the (Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services) SRS office open, to handle the state's new vehicle registrations software, to implement (Secretary of State) Kris Kobach's phony voter fraud laws, and to keep our courts open and operating," Gaughan said. "The governor's income tax cuts will force schools districts and local governments to raise property taxes to pay for the basics like public schools and water quality. So this isn't a surprise. Blaming others is what they do best," he said.