Maximum Taxes Means Minimum Growth
By Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network
Kansas has high taxes. Even worse, the high taxes are high property taxes that stifle capital formation and hold down wages. Two new studies rank Kansas at the bottom of this region when it comes to soaring property taxes. That should not be too surprising since Kansas and Nebraska are the two states that provide their citizens will almost no opportunity to vote on whether or not property taxes should be raised.
The Tax Foundation as well as the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council both issued reports recently pointing out Kansas’ high property tax status. The Tax Foundation measured property taxes per person as well as a percentage of income and Kansas scored 13th and 14th highest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia on these two measurements.
All of the surrounding states in our region were lower than Kansas. Nebraska came closest to Kansas with slightly lower property taxes than Kansas. Oklahoma easily had the lowest property taxes in this region scoring 47th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to this Tax Foundation study using 2004 federal tax data.
High property taxes are a major burden stifling economic growth. So it really should not be a surprise that Kansas has had lagging growth for quite a while. While federal tax revenues have grown 30 percent over the last two years, Kansas growth has been less than 2/3 the national rate. That type of stagnation occurs when taxes are excessive.
Confirming the Tax Foundation was the Small Business & Entrepreneurship’s 2006 study ranking the business climate in all 50 states. The SBE property tax data also ranked Kansas with the 13th highest property taxes in the country. Nebraska was 18th, Colorado 33rd, Missouri 40th, and Oklahoma 47th.
If a business has a bad year and loses money, there is no corporate income tax due. The corporate income tax is paid only when a profit is made. Property taxes ignore profits or the lack thereof. These taxes must be paid regardless of the success or failure of the business, farm, or family.
Kansas high property taxes make this state a much harder place to successfully operate for the average business. In addition to having higher property tax rates, the fact that citizens do not get to vote on raising property taxes makes it easier to raise these rates even higher and this increases the uncertainty and risk of operating a Kansas business.
In the second largest county in Kansas, Sedgwick County commissioners took up a proposal to raise county property taxes as much as 14 percent last summer. The unanimous and bipartisan five member commission voted to raise the property tax over eight percent. This was in addition to the automatic property tax hike through higher appraisals that totaled six percent.
If Sedgwick County voters would have had the opportunity to vote on this tax hike, it is likely that this tax hike would have been defeated. Two of the three incumbent commissioners who were up for reelection who voted for this tax hike lost their office to challengers who opposed that tax hike and pledged not to make any further increases.
The largest private employer in Sedgwick County covering the Wichita area is Cessna Aircraft. Cessna and other large aircraft firms testified in support of raising this property tax to get taxpayer subsidies for training aircraft workers in this highly cyclical industry. Cessna President Jack Pelton personally testified in support of raising property taxes to subsidize his business by expanded worker training programs.
The aircraft industry layoffs in the Wichita area followed the September 11 attack and the 2000 recession. Since 2005 the aircraft industry has been on a cyclical rebound.
The Wichita aircraft industries were back in front of the Wichita city council seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax abatements in November. Sadly, this segment of big business in Kansas is supportive of higher property taxes for everyone else besides themselves.
Cessna has over 8,000 Wichita area employees. This is down several thousand from 2001. However, despite the declining workforce, the demands for special property tax breaks for Cessna and other aircraft firms continue to grow. Small business, homeowners, and other property taxpayers get to make up the difference for these corporate tax hypocrites. That shift in the tax burden is not apparent when examining Kansas’ overall property tax rating. This makes Kansas’ effective tax rate much higher for the Kansans excluded from the special property tax breaks. These are all reasons why Kansas growth lags.