Here’s something to get your heart rate up: Though too short of cash to properly fund schools and universities, Kansas lawmakers are on the brink of giving gyms, health clubs and fitness centers a break from paying property taxes.
The nonsensical move would be another blow to cash-strapped local governments and school districts that rely on the property tax. It would constitute a blatant display of favoritism that would almost certainly galvanize other groups to seek equal treatment. Tax breaks for golf courses, anyone? How about dance clubs or swimming pools?
Why go there?
To answer that question, look no further than the campaign donations of one Rodney Steven, president of the Wichita-based Genesis Health Clubs. He has doled out $65,000 worth of checks to Kansas lawmakers, including all but one member of the House Taxation Committee, which is where the bill containing the tax exemption currently sits. The Senate approved the tax break last session.
While $65,000 would be shrugged off as chump change in Missouri, it makes Steven a sizable donor in Kansas. He’s been able to gain traction for his argument that since YMCAs and community rec centers get tax breaks, businesses like his should receive equal treatment.
It’s a bogus contention. Community centers and YMCAs serve multiple civic-minded purposes and often discount memberships and fees for senior- and low-income citizens. As schools and local governments in Kansas experience cash shortfalls — in large part caused by the Legislature’s income-tax cuts — the nonprofit facilities have been picking up the slack with services like after-school programs and sports.
But lawmakers clearly are swayed by Steven’s campaign generosity, if not by his logic. Along with the bill granting a tax break to fitness facilities, they are considering a measure to withdraw the property tax exemption from nonprofits providing humanitarian services if more than 40 percent of the revenue comes from membership sales — YMCAs, in other words. That is simply vindictive.
We wish Steven well with his business, but Kansas is in no position to be doling out additional favors to private enterprises.
Life doesn’t always seem fair. Lawmakers should tell their benefactor to deal with it.