By Tim Carpenter
The Topeka Capital-Journal
July 29, 2014
Gov. Sam Brownback consumed a piece of coconut cream pie Tuesday while dispensing sweet tax news to a Topeka diner audience of three women, a minister and a local businessman.
“Most people don’t know about it,” he said. “The bill the Legislature passed had about $80 million in property tax relief. This legislation provides local authorities with the ability to lower mill levies and property taxes for their residents.”
Brownback, who is seeking re-election, said Topeka Unified School District 501 could end up making a 4 mill reduction in its school levy. That would put $36.44 extra each year in pockets of the average homeowner and $205.20 annually in the accounts of owners of a $200,000 commercial property, he said.
A majority of Kansas’ 286 public school districts are expected to make mill levy cuts in the next 30 days, said Eileen Hawley, spokeswoman for the governor.
Brownback appeared at informal gatherings in Olathe and Topeka to explain features of the $129 million school finance bill adopted by the 2014 Legislature and signed by the governor. Lawmakers were acting in response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that state aid to public school districts was unequal and unconstitutional.
Lawmakers included language in the bill earmarking $84 million from the state to equalize school funding across the state in relation to assessment of property taxes. In addition to approving new state aid to trim local property taxes in school districts, the law allowed local education boards — primarily in Johnson County’s property-wealthy districts — to increase the mill levy on property and raise taxes for education.
That bill also featured controversial reforms to eliminate the tenure system for public school educators and to create tax credits for promotion of enrollment at private schools.
“The larger proportion of the funds passed this year went to property tax relief,” Brownback said while at McFarland’s Restaurant in Topeka. “The rest went to the classroom.”
The governor shared insights with retirees Lorraine Hyle, Liz Munns and Joanna Mitchell; Dave Depue, a minister who leads the Capitol Commission; and Ken Daniels, president of Midway Wholesale.
Mitchell took the opportunity to ask the governor what would happen if illegal immigrant children surging across the U.S. border were placed by the federal government in Kansas. Brownback said he wasn’t certain of the impact, adding that the trek was dangerous for young people crossing illegally.
Daniels said he was appreciative of maneuvering by state politicians to decrease taxes on businesses.
“It will be nice along with some of the other things you’ve done,” he said.
Brownback said the property tax was the most loathed by Kansans, followed by income and sales taxes.
The governor has invested political capital in cutting state income tax rates. In 2013, he attempted to make permanent what had been sold to Kansans in 2010 as a temporary three-year, 1-cent spike in the state sales tax. Instead of falling to 5.7 percent as planned or remaining at 6.3 percent as Brownback sought, the governor agreed to a new rate at 6.15 percent.
In Olathe, Canyon Stone chief executive officer Hal Fallert told the governor that property tax rollbacks in Kansas served to spark commerce as people had more available to purchase services and goods.
“This legislation will improve our ability to compete locally, nationally and internationally,” Fallert said.
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