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More taxes for Wichitans

More Taxes For Wichitans
By Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network

Expanding gambling in Sedgwick County will lower taxes and provide “…tax relief…,” according to casino advocates’ campaign flyer. This claim is preposterous in light of the soaring property tax hikes and spending expansion plans being generated by local government in our community.

Historically it is also ridiculous when taxes in general and property taxes in particular rose following the passage of the state lottery in the 1980s. Gambling proponents campaign does raise some key questions for this community’s tax status and overall fiscal climate.

In 2006 Sedgwick County commissioners unanimously raised their mill levy 2.55 mills despite a public outcry and uproar opposing this hike. Two commissioners were then removed from office in the 2006 elections because of the county’s property tax hike. This mill levy increase was on top of soaring property tax appraisals that provide additional taxes for the county’s proposed $386.5 million budget a 5.8 percent hike.

The City of Wichita’s 2008 proposed budget is $495.62 million and this is an increase of over $100 million from the 2006’s $390.1 million. City spending is soaring with a two-year increase of 27 percent and an increase over last year’s revised budget of slightly less than 15 percent. There are a large number of new spending proposals pending at city hall too including $24.5 million for the county’s arena project and $290 million to remodel Century II in a few years.

The Wichita public schools are now proposing a two mill property tax hike (many other Wichita area public school districts are also seeking more property taxes too). This is on top of the $24.6 million increase in state tax funds for USD 259. USD 259 plans to hire 163 new employees for a school district with a gradually declining enrollment.

Despite having an opportunity to place this issue before voters August 7, none of the districts decided to let voters have a say in deciding the fate of school tax hikes. Once again, Wichita area voters were disenfranchised. I don’t recall hearing any of the school board or Wichita municipal candidates running in last April’s election campaigning on a platform of raising property taxes in particular or backing tax hikes in general at our public forums.

Wichita public schools had massive spending growth over the last few years. The district’s first budget over $300 million was in 2000-01. The first $400 million budget was in 2005-06. The first official $1/2 billion school budget is this year (but if all tax funds were included this actually took place two years ago).

If additional tax funds from Washington and pension tax funds from Topeka are added these figures are much larger. The official USD 259 proposed budget is just under $516 million but if the “off budget” tax dollars are included this figure grows to $577 million.

If all tax funds are included and enrollment remains the same as last year, spending will be close to $13,000 per FTE pupil annually. If only the “official” spending figures are used the spending will be over $11,600 per FTE pupil annually in Wichita.

In our community government growth is on tax steroids while the private sector struggles with the same growing energy, health insurance, and utility costs that are the justifications being used to raise taxes. Big government in Wichita puts us at a competitive disadvantage compared to similar sized communities in our neighboring states where voters decide the fate of tax increases. This increases the risk and uncertainty for Wichita firms, while it limits economic growth in our community.

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