Missourians who love the Handcuff — er, Hancock — Amendment will be delighted with the property tax lid just passed in Kansas.
The Hancock Amendment, which Missouri voters added to the state constitution in 1980, restricts how much the state can spend without a vote of the people. It basically puts a lid on tax increases above a certain amount.
The Kansas property tax lid, recently passed in the middle of the night without input from local government officials, restricts tax increases strictly at the local level.
It says county and city governments must seek voter approval before claiming additional property tax revenue above the rate of inflation.
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This meddling legislation is aimed at preventing local governments from spending all the increased revenue from rising values of homes.
Both tax lids are absurd.
They undermine representative democracy. You elect people whose judgment you trust, and if they violate that trust, you vote them out. Why hold an election when spending is what representation is all about?
Local governments in Johnson County, and throughout Kansas, have not abused their ability to raise taxes. They have, by and large, been very responsible.
Johnson County commissioners recently gave preliminary approval to a small property tax hike that is over the inflation rate. It is the first increase in almost a decade.
It would fund expansions and improvements to parks, libraries, transit and a little help for the general fund.
It is a gutsy move, given all the hoopla about raising taxes in this day and age. But a majority of commissioners believe, in order to maintain Johnson County’s quality of life, a very small tax increase is necessary.
The Kansas property tax lid does not go into effect, thank goodness, until 2018. Were it in force today, the commissioners would be stymied. They could not pass this modest increase (an additional $8 per month for the owner of a $250,000 house) with just their majority vote. Rather, they would have to hold an election, at least for the portion of the increase not related to infrastructure, which is exempt from requiring a vote.
Johnson County risks becoming more like Kansas City, and that is not a good thing. There, it seems an election is held on every issue. There may even be a forced election to decide whether the city should subsidize an 800-room convention hotel downtown.
What a farce.
That should not be decided by an election of the people. That’s what the City Council is elected to do, and they should be trusted to make the right decision. As I said, if the electorate is unhappy, vote them out.
It is ironic that Kansas is starting to mimic Missouri with its tax lid. Missouri’s quality of life has been held back by its arbitrary lid. Now, Kansas, at the local level, gets to play the same destructive game.
It is equally ironic that the Kansas Legislature that just passed the largest tax increase in history is preaching to local governments about how they should responsibly budget and spend. Maybe their tax increases should have to go to a public vote!
It must drive Kansas legislators crazy that local government is so well regarded, and that citizens at the local level are so satisfied.
They just cannot help themselves. The Legislature is determined to interfere with county and city governments.
That’s precisely where things have been working the best.
To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.