Remember how state Republicans tried to justify their give-to-the-rich tax bill, HB253, last session by claiming that if we didn’t drastically cut our state income taxes for businesses, we’d lose out to Kansas where income taxes were going bye-bye? We’ll undoubtedly hear more of the same nonsense when the GOP tries to defend the panoply of revenue-reducing bills that have already been filed for the upcoming 2014 legislaive session.
The fact that Kansas has had to revise budget projections for 2014 downward by more than 7% and that folks in the state are showing signs of buyer’s remorse when it comes to Kansas Governor Brownback’s tax policies will probably do little to diminish the Missouri GOP’s desperate search for a rationnale for their revenue-reduction fever. In fact, Missoui’s political über sugar-daddy, Rex Sinquefield, whose lavish financial donations help inflame that fever, has already published a counterfactual case in Forbes Magazine for revenue reductions in Missouri to equal those in Kansas.
When I’ve written about the effects of tax cuts in Kansas in the past, I’ve noted that the state has tried – unsuccessfully – to compensate for lost tax revenue with higher sales taxes – one of the revenue remedies proposed by past Sinquefield tax-cutting ballot initiative efforts in Missouri. Another effect, though, that has not received much attention is the effect on property taxes. The Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution notes in a recent report (pdf) that:
The variation in property tax burdens across counties is almost exclusively because of across-state variation, rather than within-state variation. What this means is, variation in property tax burdens is almost exclusively the result of differences in state tax regimes, not county-level differences in tax rates or housing prices.
So, given the “tax regime” in Kansas, it’s not surprising that property taxes in Kansas have increased over the past several years and are now a major source of revenue:
Property tax is the #1 source of tax revenue in Kansas, accounting for over 31% of all taxes collected in fiscal year 2012 by state and local governments. Data collected from the Kansas Department of Revenue, Property Valuation Division shows that property taxes increased 102% between 1997 and 2012. Over the same period population increased 11% and inflation increased 40%.
How do property taxes in Missouri compare to those in Kansas? This interactive map which tracks property taxes at the county level makes it clear such taxes across Kansas are significantly higher than in Missouri. But if you want numbers, the related brief (pdf, see Table 1), tells us that the mean property tax as a percent of home value in Kansas is 1.39%, in Missouri, it’s .97%.
To put the comparison in even more concrete form, look at a few border counties on the map. For example, in Linn County in Kansas, the average amount of property taxes paid is $1,167 and the average home value is $98,000. Across the border in Missouri’s Bates County, the average property tax paid is $717 while the average home value is $103,100. In these two counties, taxes paid as a share of home values stand at 1.19% in Kansas and .74% in the Missouri county. Similar discrepancies prevail across the two states with the exceptions of a few counties around Kansas City where values are relatively even.
The conclusion is clear: it costs regular, everyday people more to live in Kansas. Property taxes are higher, sales taxes are higher. Additionally, everyday taxpayers aren’t getting much for their money apart from a state government struggling with budget shortfalls, resulting in problems like that posed by an educational system facing massively lowered funding. And, if nothing changes, it’s only going to get worse:
… there is evidence that local governments are feeling enormous pressure to make up for reductions in state support by increasing their property tax rates. Hannes Zacharias, Johnson County’s Manager said, “Indeed, we are at the end of the food chain, and we’re the ones who have to clean up the mess.” And as the Associated Press reports: “the county has lost state revenue for jobs such as inspecting sewer septic tanks for new residents in rural areas. In addition, furloughs in district court operations caused by limited state funds mean defendants must stay in county jails longer while awaiting trial, a cost picked up by local governments.”
Is this what those Missourians who put the GOP in control of our state legislature really want? Bad schools, bad services, higher property and sales taxes? And if they do, are the rest of us going to let them get away with it? If the answer is “no,” remember that 2014 is nearly here.