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Sedgwick County surrenders key tax advantage

Sedgwick County Surrenders Key Tax Advantage
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director, Kansas Taxpayers Network

Spirit Aerosystems CEO Jeff Turner defended the massive spending hike that was used as the primary justification for the county’s 8.8 percent property tax hike in his editorial August 9, 2006. Turner’s support for this increased government spending ignored some important ramifications behind this economically destructive vote.

Sedgwick County has an important fiscal advantage over 19 other Kansas counties. Sedgwick County has no community college and hence no community college property tax. That property tax is a major reason why this levy makes the total tax burden higher in Butler, Cowley, and Reno counties. The Wichita Area Technical College is becoming this community’s community college. This will mean increasing pressure to raise property taxes. This would be in addition to the current 1.5 mills left over from the old Wichita University days that the county charges.

Sadly, the Sedgwick County commission seems intent on creating another tax dependent entity here in this community. If Jeff Turner, Spirit Aerosystems and Turner’s former company Boeing want to promote property tax hikes, that is certainly their prerogative.

It is a public record that Boeing tied as the largest donor for the 2000 Wichita school bond issue with a five figure donation and Raytheon was the largest corporate donor in support of the Local Option Budget property tax hike for Wichita during that 1997 property tax referendum. Cessna’s CEO Jack Pelton spoke out in support of the county’s spending plans that required this property tax hike August 9.

On the other hand, when the news cameras are generally gone, these aircraft companies return to the city or the county and seek sizable, often 100 percent property tax abatements. So a small or medium sized business gets to pay a much higher proportion of say $100,000 worth of their commercial property than the largest public businesses in this community. This is not fair.

This distorts the overhead costs shifting the fiscal burden from the taxpayer subsidized onto the businesses without the tax breaks. It also shifts this burden onto homeowners and other taxpayers. Special tax breaks provides the subsidized firms with lower overhead costs so they can afford pay more for employees too. That places small and medium sized firms that lack the political clout and leverage, at a hiring disadvantage as well. If the non tax abated firms have out-of-state competitors their extra overhead costs hurts their ability to compete. However, tax abatements are a big help in cyclical industries that are in perpetual “hiring and firing” cycles and need to pay more because of this employment instability.

There is certainly a need for qualified workers for many Wichita area businesses. This $40 million county spending hike, that is well above per foot construction costs, ignores a bigger question. How much spending in the government school establishment is enough? Property tax hike advocates are ignoring the fact that well over $3/4 billion in taxes are going to be spent on the 10 public school districts in this county in 2006-07. This figure is growing rapidly in the age of judicial edicts and Montoy.

2004 Census data indicates that Kansas has the 14th highest property taxes in all 50 states as well as the highest property taxes per capita in our five state region. Soaring appraisals have been the primary cause of this situation but the county’s rising mill levy without getting voter approval is an insult to every county voter. In 1997 almost 90 percent of county voters wanted to retain the property tax lid on local government. County officials helped kill the property tax lid in 1999 and now will not let voters decide this property tax hike at the ballot box. Creating a new level of local government in Sedgwick County with higher property taxes will hurt and hinder overall economic growth here.

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