By Clay Center Dispatch, June 20
A new Kansas law requires county treasurers to turn over the 20 mills property tax revenue they collect for local schools to the Kansas treasurer for distribution.
Many legislators weren’t aware of the provision, buried in a bill dealing with mineral severance taxes and oil and gas depletion funds, until after it passed. Yet it represents a power grab by the State that should be of concern to their constituents.
Now for the first time, Clay County Treasurer Christine Swaim will send at least $1.3 million in property tax revenue to the state instead of directly to USD-379. The district also receives general state aid in addition to the property tax revenue.
Republican leaders, who hustled the provision through a conference committee without general debate, said the change is necessary to establish an “audit trail” they say is required by the recent Supreme Court order on school finance, an excuse attorney John Robb, who represents school districts in the state, termed “ridiculous.”
The Supreme Court didn’t indicate any concerns about the existing system for tracking property taxes going to schools, Robb said.
The effect will be to create a half billion dollar pool of money for education that will be controlled by the state
Even though it won’t be easy for the legislature to raid those property tax funds to bail out their own budget mess, it will certainly be easier for them to attach strings to — or delay — the return of the money without interference from the courts.
Given the State’s erratic history handling money held for other units of government and Kansas’ current financial deficit, school superintendents have reason to be concerned.
During the financial crisis, Gov. Mark Parkinson reduced state payments to schools as tax revenues plummeted.
Kansas also has been late with its payments to schools in the past.
Then there’s the legislature’s history with the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction money, once collected by the state and rebated to counties, that now has entirely disappeared. Clay County used to get $500,000 of that money, $300,000 going specifically for roads and bridges.
Today, property taxes make up the loss.
Neither is this good news for local community banks for whom the school property tax funds have been a significant source of deposits. The Kansas Bankers Association, which is supporting Brownback, can only hope the funds are returned, and promptly.
We believe the change has nothing to do with audit trails. It is about giving the appearance that more school funding is coming from the state instead of local property taxpayers. It is about control of education by right-wing Brownback supporters. And it is about punishing school districts and the courts for daring to challenge the legislature’s funding decisions.
Given the legislature’s recent financial record and penchant for political revenge and micro-managing education, school districts, banks and property taxpayers all have very good reason to be worried.