Republican Kris Kobach vowed to limit property tax hikes with a 2 percent lid on annual valuation increases and Democrat Laura Kelly pushed for a lower sales tax on food as candidates for Kansas governor sought votes by turning to family pocketbook issues.
Kelly and Kobach, locked in a statistical tie based on polling, have sought an edge in the five-candidate field by concentrating on personal financial topics ahead of Wednesday’s start of advance voting.
Kobach, who serves as secretary of state, said rapid escalation of appraisals on property by county officials resulted in what could be viewed as a stream of covert tax hikes. Valuation adjustments often boosted property tax obligations even if mill levies set by cities, counties and school districts remained stagnant, he said.
“We’ve been seeing appraisal increases on Kansans that have been unjustified,” Kobach told a gathering Friday of Shepherd’s Center Topeka, a community ministry for people at least 55 old. “Many people are being taxed out of their own homes through what I consider a stealth tax hike.”
He said one solution would be a 2 percent cap on increases in property appraisals. He recommended an end to yearly reappraisals, suggesting that adjustments be made every two or three years.
Kelly, a Topeka member of the Kansas Senate, said she would urge the Legislature to pass stair-stepped reductions in the state’s 6.5 percent sales tax on food. She offered no timeline, but said adjustments could be linked to revenue growth.
“A stable, balanced state budget is essential to a growing economy -- as we’ve seen in the last 15 months,” Kelly said. “It is also critical to providing real tax relief for working men and women and their families. That’s why once the state’s finances have fully stabilized, the first order of business will be to reduce the sales tax on food.”
Kelly said she supported legislative efforts to reduce the sales tax on food in 2012, 2015 and 2016 “because we all know that a little bit can go a long way for our families.”
Generally, each 1 percentage point across-the-board cut in the state sales tax would cost $65 million annually.
The Kansas sales tax rate was increased to its current level in 2015 by Gov. Sam Brownback in response to deep shortfalls in tax revenue. Under Brownback’s supply-side economic experiment, 330,000 business owners were exempted from state income tax in 2012. Accompanying cuts in individual income tax rates added to the revenue decline, but promised job growth and surge in tax revenue didn’t occur.
In 2017, a bipartisan coalition in the Legislature repealed much of the Brownback tax program.
“Sam Brownback’s experiment wrecked our budget and hurt our families,” Kelly said in a new campaign ad attacking Kobach. “And when Kris Kobach promised tax cuts, he really means he’ll bring back the Brownback experiment and make it even worse.”
Kobach said the 2012 income tax cuts were appropriate, but Brownback and Republican allies faltered by not slashing state spending to reflect falling revenue.
Libertarian Party candidate Jeff Caldwell said he supported abolition of the state sales tax on food. He said responsible reductions in spending would allow shrinkage of income tax rates.
“Everyone should be treated equally under the law. There shouldn’t be special tax breaks to large corporations,” Caldwell said.
Johnson County businessman Greg Orman, running as an independent, said Kansas and Missouri wasted money competing against each other for businesses in the Kansas City area. A Hall Family Foundation study showed every net new job created in the border war cost $300,000.
“That’s an extremely poor investment of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “We should institute a ‘no-fly zone’ that extends 40 miles around downtown Kansas City.”
Independent candidate Rick Kloos advocated a balanced revenue stream from sales, property and income taxes.
“Kansas is fifth in the nation for people moving out. We’re not going to be able to cut taxes if we don’t start growing,” Kloos said.