Kansas Senate passes constitutional amendment restraining property tax valuations

By: - April 5, 2023 5:42 pm

Sen. Dennis Pyle said the real reason for placing a constitutional amendment on property taxes before voters on next year's general election ballot is to drive voter turnout. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Independent state Sen. Dennis Pyle questioned Wednesday the real intention of placing a constitutional amendment about property taxes on the November 2024 general election ballot.

The Senate declared an emergency and suspended rules Wednesday to take action on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1611 shortly after it materialized. The resolution asks voters to consider a constitutional prohibition on counties raising property tax valuations by more than 4% in any year.

Pyle, of Hiawatha, pointed out that a constitutional amendment on abortion had been placed on the primary ballot last year. GOP supporters of the amendment selected the date in an attempt to gain an advantage over Democrats and independents, but voters overwhelmingly rejected the amendment anyway.

Property taxes are a “hot button issue,” Pyle said, and sure to attract a lot of money in election ads.

“What is the purpose of this amendment?” Pyle said. “Is this purpose of this amendment to really just drive out the vote in a general election in the ’24 election, or is it really about achieving a cap on property taxes, which it doesn’t really achieve that. We all know that the mill levies are gonna get raised.”

Pyle said the real purpose of placing the amendment on the ballot is to drive voter turnout.

Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican, said “there is no hidden agenda here.”

“I know that a lot of people look for black helicopters when there are none,” Tyson said.

Lawmakers have considered ways throughout the session to address rising property values and the tax bills associated with them.

The proposed constitutional amendment would limit tax-assessed property values from growing by more than 4% per year. There are exceptions for new construction, changes in property class or when property is transferred to another owner.

“I hope the body will stand in support with limiting outrageous property valuations,” Tyson said.

The Senate passed the amendment on a 28-11 vote with Sen. John Doll, a Republican from Garden City, joining Democrats in opposition. The resolution now goes to the House for consideration, with two-thirds support needed to place the amendment on the ballot. If placed before voters, a simple majority of the popular vote would rewrite the constitution.

Before voting on the resolution, Tyson engaged in a back-and-forth debate with Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, about the best way to provide property tax relief.

Holland attempted to replace the language in the constitutional amendment with a resolution introduced last month by House Democrats that would decrease the residential property tax rate from 11.5% to 9%.

Tyson engaged Holland in a spirited back-and-forth debate.

Tyson: “So to be clear, what he’s attempting to do is lower residential property taxes at the expense of businesses and agriculture.”

Holland: “The good senator from Linn (County) has hit the nail with a hammer on the head. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with this.”

Tyson: “Well, I can’t even say I appreciate the senator’s efforts. He’s trying to take a bite at the apple, just from a different angle.”

Holland: “This is not a another way of skinning the cat.”

The Senate rejected Holland’s proposal on a 28-11 vote.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.