Why Kansas legislators should consider passing a constitutional amendment on tax relief

Dave Trabert
Dave Trabert

The special session on tax relief called by Gov. Laura Kelly for June 18 will play out like the movie "Groundhog Day." As has happened about a half dozen times since Kelly took office, the Legislature will pass affordable income tax relief, and Kelly will find an excuse to veto it.

It doesn’t matter to Gov. Kelly that tax relief is easily affordable with more than $4 billion in reserves. Losing population and adjusted gross income from domestic migration each year as people flee the state with the 12th-highest tax burden also doesn’t seem to concern her.

Kelly sees your taxes as her money to spend, and apparently, a 56% General Fund spending increase during her tenure isn’t enough.

Last year, Gov. Kelly’s idea of tax relief was a measly $250 one-time rebate. This year, her strategy is designed to give the appearance of supporting relief for the elections.

The ads are easy to predict: “The governor wanted to give relief, but the Republicans wanted to bankrupt the state. Elect more Democrats.” (That’s not true, but campaign ads are often not constrained by the truth.)

Conversely, she provides cover so Democrats can “run against” Kelly, saying: “I voted to cut your taxes, but Kelly wouldn’t let it happen. Elect me, I’m different.” These “middle-of-the-road” legislators would then get the political benefit of voting to cut taxes — knowing Kelly’s veto is a backstop — while getting to spend more in future years.

The Legislature must pass another income tax relief bill in the Special Session. But there is no practical opportunity to override her veto, so we know the scene will end with Kelly seeing her shadow and causing six more months of no tax relief.

However, the governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment on tax relief; a two-thirds approval in both chambers goes straight to the ballot. Last year, the Senate passed SCR 1611 by a vote of 28-11, which would have limited the annual increase in valuations to 4%. The House didn’t act on it.

Approving a similar amendment in the Special Session would greatly benefit taxpayers. Data from the Kansas Department of Revenue shows that 29 counties hiked residential values by more than 10% in 2022 and again in 2023. Residential values jumped more than 10% in at least one year in another 29 counties.

In many cases, elected officials claimed to be "holding the line" on property tax — referring only to the mill rate — while imposing significant tax increases due to skyrocketing valuations.

Consider these egregious hikes in residential valuations (not counting new construction) over the past two years in the following counties: Butler, 31%; Cowley, 30%; Douglas, 25%; Finney, 26%; Johnson, 25%; Leavenworth, 29%; Lyon, 25%; Miami, 37%; and Wyandotte, 41%.

Legislators passed the Truth in Taxation Act in 2021, forcing local officials to vote to exceed the revenue-neutral rate and create a record of their increases. Truth in Taxation has helped stem the property tax increase in some counties, but dishonesty persists in many places.

A constitutional amendment would provide much-needed relief and identify whether each legislator sides with taxpayers or the local elected officials who want to keep raising property taxes.

Finally, if there’s time to consider giving a multibillion dollar stadium to the Chiefs, there surely is time to vote on a constitutional amendment for taxpayers.

Dave Trabert is CEO of Kansas Policy Institute, which protects constitutional rights and works to improve student achievement and reduce tax burdens.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas legislators should push constitutional amendment on tax relief