At Wednesday’s hearing before the Kansas House of Representatives Taxation Committee, different ideas about property taxation became clear. The subject of the hearing was Proposition K, a proposal to reform property tax appraisals in Kansas. On this day, proponents of Proposition K testified.
Questioning by Representative Nile Dillmore, Democrat from Wichita, provided an example of these differences. Dillmore asked about “infill” development, questioning the fairness of Proposition K. What about someone building a new house across the street from older houses? The new home might have cost $200 per square foot to build, while the old home is not worth anywhere near that much. “It seems patently unfair to me that situation would exist,” he said.
Underlying Dillmore’s question, I believe, is refusal to either understand or to buy in to one of Proposition K’s tenets, which is a move away from property taxation based on wealth. Instead, Proposition K is based on a “fixed-share” concept of funding government.
In answering the question, Professor Art Hall, the author of Proposition K, used this illustration: Suppose the new house being built across the street from a modest house has granite counters and other fancy (and expensive) appointments, but is the same size as the older home. “What is it about that choice that makes their stake in the local public services double what their neighbors’ are?”
Rep. Dillmore turned the answer around, asking “Why am I being asked to pay the same property values as the guy with the castle?”
It should be noted that under Proposition K the new construction would be valued based on the size of the structure. So if Rep. Dillmmore, by using the term “castle” means a large new house, it would pay more in taxes than the smaller surrounding houses. But a new house of same size would pay the same taxes as other nearby houses, even if it is built to luxury standards.
At other times during the hearing it was mentioned that this might encourage construction of new houses in older neighborhoods. That seems like something that proponents of older parts of cities might welcome.
This pushback by Dillmore is typical of those who benefit from the existing system. This system produces large increases in revenue for government without the need for elected officials to raise tax rates. For those who desire and thrive on increasing government spending — this includes the public school and local government lobbies — Proposition K will shine sunlight on this practice.
It should be noted that Dillmore’s wife is Janet Miller, a candidate for Wichita city council. It was under her leadership as president of the Wichita Board of Park Commissioners that a very expensive plan for parks in Wichita was announced. Reform measures such as Proposition K will mean that the funding for plans like these will be more transparent to citizens.
Coverage of this Proposition K hearing is available at Kansas House hears support for property tax proposals; foes to speak today. An illustration of how the combined affect of rising appraisals and rising mill levies creates large inflows of tax revenues for a school district can be found at Wichita School District Tax Revenues Rise Rapidly.