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Let local taxes remain local issues

Brownback, GOP want greater control

By The Mercury

Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican lawmakers, having lowered state sales taxes further than was prudent, now think it’s necessary to protect Kansans from their local governments.

We’d rather the party of small government would resist the urge to meddle in local governments.

On Friday, Gov. Brownback signaled his support for legislation that would require local units of government — primarily city and county commissions — to reduce their property tax levies in proportion to the rise in property valuations.

He doesn’t think city and county commissions — and other local units of government whose operations are funded by property taxes — ought to be able to use the additional revenue that rising property valuations generate. The proposal, the Property Tax Transparency Act, would involve a mathematical formula that would require the levy to be lowered so the actual property taxes paid on homes and businesses would not increase. If city and county commissions want more property tax revenue, they would have to vote to raise the mill levy.

Said the governor: “Kansas families and businesses are taxed every time they turn around. The next important step we must take to make sure our state is more competitive and to improve the financial well-being of all Kansans is to make tax increases more transparent.”

The governor and Republican legislators who support the proposal make a valid point. Over the years, city and county commissions statewide — including the Manhattan City Commission and Riley County Commission —  have welcomed the money generated by higher property valuations. But they were generally transparent about it and used it responsibly.

On occasion, officials have claimed to “hold the line” on property taxes, though they were only holding the line on the mill levy, not the cost to property owners. We’ve pointed this out, and so have property owners, who while often delighted that their properties are worth more, nevertheless object that the extra value means higher tax bills.

In our view, local property taxes are local matters, not state business, and ought to be left to local governments and their constituents.

When local taxpayers object strongly enough — about local taxes or other policies — they have the option of replacing elected officials whose policies they oppose. It’s a regular occurrence here, and, we would guess, in many other communities. That’s democracy at work.

What the governor and legislative Republicans have in mind is nothing less than another government mandate. They don’t want transparency in local government tax policies; they want to control them.

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