The City of Wichita is thinking about raising its sales tax and using the proceeds to lower property taxes (“City starts talks on 1-cent hike in sales tax”, May 14, 2008 Wichita Eagle).
While some debate the relative merits of sales taxes vs. property taxes, there is one thing I am certain of: if Wichita reduces its property taxes, politicians in overlapping jurisdictions will see this as an opportunity to raise the property taxes they levy.
Wichita city council member and vice-mayor Sue Schlapp recognizes this threat, as evidenced by reporting in the Wichita Eagle article: “But council member Sue Schlapp said the city must consider that other taxing entities, such as Sedgwick County and the Wichita school district, could see the reduction of the city’s share of taxes as an opening to raise property taxes, which would mean an overall increase for residents.”
If Wichita goes through with this plan, I would urge all other local governmental bodies to adopt resolutions requiring voter approval of tax increases. As it is, many of the taxes we pay have a built-in escalator. This is the case with sales and property taxes. As prices rise, people spend more, and sales tax receipts rise. As the tax assessor raises the valuations in property, people and businesses pay more property tax.