The Kansan - Newton, KS
  •  Governor should practice what he preaches

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  • So much of politics is finesse, nuance, spinning the facts to make a point. That's a nice way of saying they make the facts fit their platform and truth is just another tool to be used to reach whatever the goal is at the moment.Most politicians don't blatantly lie. It's too easy to check things out. But they do manipulate the truth.The governor's recent "transparency in taxation" proposal is a great case in point.Property taxes, which local governments use to finance themselves, are based on the valuation of your property and the milage rate. Property values rise over time and the governing body gets more money even if the milage rate stays the same.So the cities, counties and school boards are getting more money and then they brag about how they didn't raise your taxes because they kept the tax rate the same.Even so, you are paying more taxes because your property value went up.So the governor wants to put a stop to this by adjusting the milage rate when values go up so that the tax revenue does not increase.That way even if your property value goes up, your property tax bill would not because the tax rate would be lowered.The local governing body would have to vote to raise the milage rate to get that extra revenue that has been quietly coming in.On the surface it sounds good, and there is enough truth involved to make it sound logical. There is a lot the governor isn't saying though.Actually cities and counties do this already. If the increase reaches a certain level they have to post a legal notice in the newspaper to let taxpayers know. This proposal would just make it more obvious that your taxes are being raised and the blame would go on your local government.But here is what the governor isn't saying. You often hear about the state cutting your taxes. In order to do that the state has been cutting back on what it sends to the cities, or cutting services and requiring cities and counties to pick up the tab.So while the state is bragging about cutting your taxes, they have just passed the tax to the local level. They cut your taxes but virtually force cities and counties to raise theirs because they passed costs to them. It’s just a tax shift.One example of this is in the county jail. People convicted of domestic abuse are sent to jail as the state got tougher on crime. Those inmates usually served their time at the state prison. Now county jails have to house them, and the county has to pay for that.Some years ago the state cut property taxes and told cities and counties it would give them some of the money back so they could keep operating. The state did for a couple years, but stopped, leaving a big hole in local budgets.The payments – called demand transfers - stopped in 2001. The city of Newton used to get $130,000 annually, according to assistant city manager Lunda Asmani. Had that fund continued, it would have been around $200,000 for the 2013 budget year.Also related, Asmani said, is interest earned by the city. In 2007 the city earned $400,000 in interest income, and expects to earn about $8,000 in 2013.Asmani said that is largely due to the faltering economy and much lower interest rates, but the loss of demand transfers is also a factor as the city has had to use its reserve funds more so there is no money to earn interest.Asmani estimated the city of Newton has $690,000 less than it would have had if not for the loss of demand transfers and interest income.We are all for transparency in government. But there should also be honesty, and transparency should go both ways. If the governor wants cities and counties to be transparent with taxpayers, it seems only fair that he and the state legislature do the same thing. James Jordan is news editor at the Kansan.    
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