(The Center Square) – A transparency bill that would hold local elected officials accountable for increasing property taxes is working its way through the Kansas House.
The Kansas Senate voted 34-1 in favor of the "Truth in Taxation" bill, which would require local government bodies to inform the public about any property tax revenue increases regardless if the increase is a result of a millage hike.
Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a similar bill during the last session and because of COVID-19, lawmakers didn't have time to attempt an override.
Currently, the law states that local voters must approve or reject city or county property tax increases if they are greater than the rate of inflation. Yet many homeowners see increases greater than that. A change in property valuation can cause a homeowner to pay much more in property taxes, even if the tax rate itself doesn't increase.
"The idea of this bill is a political novelty, holding local governments accountable for rising property taxes," Michael Austin, director of the Sandlian Center for Entrepreneurial Government at the Kansas Policy Institute, told The Center Square. "The focus is transparency and accountability. Local governments are free to continue raising property taxes. They just have to be honest and open about their actions."
According to the institrute's website, the measure would force local elected officials to "vote on the entire property tax increase they impose, regardless of whether the increase results from valuation changes or mill rate changes. Each year, mill rates would be automatically reduced to a ‘revenue-neutral’ level that produces the same property tax revenue to each city and county as they collected the year before. If they want to raise the revenue-neutral mill rate, they must notify taxpayers of their intent and hold public Truth in Taxation hearings to accept taxpayer input. Afterward, they must vote on the entire tax increase they decide to impose."
The League of Kansas Municipalities is neutral on the bill.
For many lawmakers, legislation that helps limit property taxes can't come soon enough.
"Kansas’ history has shown too many Kansans are writing checks for large property tax hikes and then told their taxes aren’t being raised," Austin said. "The only solution is to restore public trust because, as Walter Williams once said, 'trust is essential for human interaction and a smoothly working economy.'"