The Kansas Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a state law that gave favorable treatment to those who successfully challenged the appraised value of their property.
The law granted such property owners a two-year moratorium from any increases in tax valuation, except in some narrowly defined circumstances.
In a 5-2 vote, the court said the law violated the state constitution’s guarantee for a “uniform and equal basis of valuation and rate of taxation of all property subject to taxation.” Writing for the majority, Justice Dan Biles said the statute unconstitutionally insulated a small group of taxpayers from the annual valuation process.
The boards of county commissioners from 21 counties, including Johnson and Wyandotte, filed a lawsuit last year against Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan and the state’s director of property valuation.
The law’s proponents said the Kansas Legislature was justified in granting such special treatment, which was meant to recognize the expense of an appeal and to prevent taxing districts from retaliating with increased valuations the year after the appeal.
“While the policy goals meant to be realized by the statute’s enactment may have merit, the manner chosen by the Legislature to realize those goals runs counter to the constitutional limitation,” Biles wrote.
The statute’s effect was to lessen the tax burden for some while shifting their reduced tax burden to others, Biles noted.
“It’s an unfair tax advantage in relation to everyone else,” said Paul Welcome, Johnson County appraiser. “It’s unconstitutional because you’re not treating everyone equal and uniform every year.”
Jeannine Koranda, Kansas Revenue Department spokeswoman, said department officials declined to comment on the ruling.
Justices Eric Rosen and Caleb Stegall dissented. They would have applied a more lenient constitutionality test, saying the Legislature’s action was “designed to ensure the overall fairness and equality of an uncertain tax valuation process that is undeniably vulnerable to abuse.”
The counties had asked the court to rule before March 1, the deadline to notify property owners of their property valuations for the upcoming tax year.