Right now, it’s tough to think of any group less qualified than the Kansas Legislature to tell city and county officials how to balance their budgets and keep taxes low.
These are the same state lawmakers who recently ended their 113-day session — at an extra cost of $1 million to taxpayers — by approving the largest tax increase in Kansas history.
Unfortunately, those tax bills contained a bombshell that, because it was rushed through the process, could lead to costly budget cuts this year for Johnson County government.
The surprise idea came from Rep. Jacob LaTurner after the Legislature had entered its overtime session in late May: Require local governments to seek a vote of the people for certain property tax increases in the future.
The discussions occurred in a vacuum. No public hearings were held, so city and county officials had no chance to oppose the plan, or to point out the costs or the blatant silliness of requiring elections for basic decisions that voters elect local officials to make. Critics had no opportunity to fight back against state lawmakers unfairly telling local government officials — who are closest to the people they serve — how to act.
The Legislature eventually passed two measures that ineptly listed different effective dates for the property tax lid: July 1 of this year and 2018. Lawmakers then sent the mess, including the huge tax increases, to Gov. Sam Brownback for his signature.
That’s right: Lawmakers raised the state sales tax, eliminated income tax deductions and imposed a few other charges on Kansans — all while hypocritically telling local governmental officials to hold their taxes down.
Some of the locals are aghast at the turn of events.
“We’re in uncharted territory of how to make this work,” Johnson County Manager Hannes Zacharias told The Star.
Zacharias has good reason to worry, because if the July 1 date sticks, the county might have to reduce its upcoming budget by up to $25 million.
Overland Park City Manager Bill Ebel said, “There’s a lot of uncertainty and confusion about what the bill means and what it would actually accomplish.”
On Friday, Kansas lawmakers are scheduled to come back for one day to tie up loose ends of their longest-ever session.
Several top elected officials have said that the Legislature will kill the July 1 effective date and make it clear that the tax lid would not be in force until 2018.
That’s the least that needs to happen. The better idea would be to strip the proposal from state law, and then thoroughly review it in the Legislature’s 2016 session.