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Kansas lawmakers fix law for limiting local property taxes, but debate expected to continue

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TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas legislators moved quickly Friday to fix a technical problem with a new law for limiting local property taxes starting in 2018, but they're likely to face more debate next year over whether the policy should be modified or repealed before it takes effect.

The law will limit the authority cities and counties have to spend extra property tax revenues when property values rise. Legislators included a version of it in each of two measures raising sales and cigarette taxes to balance the state budget, and the texts conflicted on when the property tax limits took effect, either July 1 or Jan. 1, 2018.

Top Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature agreed that they had meant to delay the new property tax limits, and so the fix was relatively easy putting the effective date at Jan. 1, 2018. The Senate approved the bill, 24-8, and the House passed it, 85-23, sending it to Gov. Sam Brownback.

But the need for a correction forced legislators to extend their annual session by an extra, 114th day, when it already was the longest in state history. They dealt with the fix on a day set aside only for a short adjournment ceremony.

House Taxation Committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican, said that without a correction, it probably would have taken a lawsuit to clarify the Legislature's intent for when the property tax law took effect.

But Randall Allen, executive director of the Kansas Association of Counties, said local officials still believe parts of the new law are unclear enough that its provisions will have to be reviewed again next year. Also, he said, local officials will raise the issue of whether the state should impose any limits at all.

"I don't know if we're in a position at this point to say how tight this lid is," he said. "We have a lot of questions ourselves."

The property tax law helped attract GOP votes for the increases in sales and cigarette taxes necessary to avert a budget deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Critics of the lid said the state shouldn't tell local governments how to balance their budgets.

The state's budget problems arose after lawmakers slashed income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. About 200 people rallied Friday at the Statehouse to protest his fiscal policies and over other issues.

Starting in 2018, cities and counties will not be allowed to spend an increase in property tax revenues above the rate of inflation as measured by the consumer price index without voters' approval. There will be some exceptions, including spending to cover bond payments, finance new infrastructure, improve roads, or pay legal judgments.

If cities and counties can't spend the extra revenues, they'll have to drop their property tax levies. Supporters argue that the law simply gives more control over local affairs to taxpayers themselves.

"They'll probably glad that there's somebody looking out for them," said House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican.

Merrick noted that homeowners can see their taxes increase if their property values rise, even if cities and counties don't increase their levies.

"I get a lot of complaints about that," Merrick said.

Some conservative Republicans voted against the fix because it would delay the property tax limits.


Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org


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PHOTO: Kansas Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, the chair of the House Standing Committee on Taxation, right, along with other members of the Kansas House,  watch the votes come in on Friday, June 26, 2015, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., for an amendment that would correct an error in the tax bill that was passed earlier in the month. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)
Kansas Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, the chair of the House Standing Committee on Taxation, right, along with other members of the Kansas House, watch the votes come in on Friday, June 26, 2015, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., for an amendment that would correct an error in the tax bill that was passed earlier in the month. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

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PHOTO: Kansas Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, the chair of the House Standing Committee on Taxation, addresses the House on Friday, June 26, 2015, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., before voting on an amendment that would correct an error in the tax bill that was passed earlier in the month. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)
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