Kansas Dems Force Property Tax Relief Vote

By John Celock

A routine bill to eliminate personal property taxes on amateur built aircraft was shaken up Wednesday by Democrats in the Kansas House of Representatives who successfully attached a property tax relief amendment.

The Republican-controlled House approved a Democratic amendment to add millions to the state’s LAVTRF fund for a new property tax relief measure. While final passage of the aircraft and property tax cut bill is expected Thursday, lawmakers warn that the Democratic property tax relief program won’t go anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

State Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told The Celock Report that the aircraft tax cut will be rescued and dismissed the rest as a “postcard vote”. Claeys said the vote will allow Democratic lawmakers to claim on campaign literature that they are supportive of property tax reductions and blame the GOP for not passing the final bill.

Democrats though argue that they are pushing real property tax relief for Kansans. The amendment did gather GOP support to win inclusion in the final bill.

“We need to do all we can to hold the line on property taxes,” state Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) told The Celock Report. “Property taxes have gone up in 86 out of 105 counties in the past few years and they are projected to rise even more. We need to reverse this trend.”

Republicans questioned how the amendment would be paid for, with Claeys noting that the $46 million would need to come from some other part of the budget or an increase in other taxes. Whipple said that the funding for the program would be determined in the “appropriations process.”

Sources told The Celock Report that the Senate will likely keep the aircraft tax cut in the final process, but remove the property tax relief program. Claeys, who has been pushing the aviation cut, said that the cut is needed for the state’s economy.

Under current Kansas tax law, owners of amateur built aircraft will be charged a tax after they finish the project. Claeys said that while educational institutions in the state are exempt, student groups who form to build their own aircraft do have to pay the tax. He said under one scenario a student group could be forced to pay over $10,000 in aviation taxes.

“These things are strictly expensive and time consuming and if you tax them they won’t do it or they will go to other states to do it,” Claeys said. “We are alone in our extremely high taxes on personal property.”

Kansas State University’s Salina campus, located in Claeys’ district, has an aviation program where students have engaged in amateur aircraft construction outside of class.

“It is important to my district,” Claeys said.

Whipple told The Celock Report that he hopes the Senate will follow the lead of House Democrats and back the property tax relief program.

“Well I can’t speak for the Senate,” Whipple said. “But today in the House we fought to lower property taxes for Kansans. I would hope they would consider doing the same.”