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SPOTLIGHT
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Hidden increases

Published on -10/28/2012, 5:11 PM

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It has taken almost two years, but Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback finally has offered an economic idea we can support. As we regularly criticize state plans based on hopes and prayers, we would be remiss if we didn't give credit where it is due. Even if both the intent and the timing less than two weeks before the general election are suspect.

On Friday, the governor and some of the Republican legislators Brownback supports announced a rather surprising plan concerning property taxes in Kansas. The Property Tax Transparency Act would require property tax mill levies to be automatically lowered as property valuations go up. Currently, local governmental units reap the benefit of de-facto tax hikes -- even while decreasing the levy slightly -- with increased valuations. Presuming this bill is passed, governments that desire increased revenue will be required to take a public vote.

"Just because the value of your home or business has gone up, doesn't mean that local governments' spending should go up," said one of the lawmakers at the press conference. "Voters should know when local elected officials increase local government spending."

The idea is sound. We long have lamented the ability of elected officials to boast about lower taxes when all they've done is reduce the levy and let the magic of assessed valuations boost the revenue in local coffers. If residents' bills go up, a tax increase has taken place.

We would recommend a condition be added to the legislation. If the governor's income-tax-reduction plan is not revised before Topeka starts running out of money to adequately fund education, social services and other state responsibilities, any attempt to transfer those costs to the local level should be admitted publicly. Likewise, if local governmental bodies are forced to consider increasing either property or sales taxes to pay for necessary functions the state used to fund -- that blame should be noted again.

If we're truly after transparency, it only seems fair to have it work both ways. There simply are too many legislative candidates, as well as the governor, promising not to make cuts in education and social services because they believe the income-tax reduction will stimulate enough economic activity to generate the necessary dollars.

We still find that expectation -- or as Brownback has stated, an "experiment" -- to be baseless. There is no evidence historically to suggest Kansans should expect anything other than an economic trainwreck come 2014.

But we do appreciate forcing local governments to acknowledge every tax increase they impose. No longer would officials be able to hoodwink the public into believing costs are being controlled when in fact they are not.

We hope the governor won't wait another two years before suggesting the next item we can support.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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