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Kansas Legislators Stalled Over Changes in Property Taxes

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Kansas lawmakers' efforts to cut property taxes were stalled late last week by the lack of an agreement over alternative sources of revenue for the schools.

The legislature did, however, approve a school-finance formula that would earmark $733.3 million in general-fund money for precollegiate education--$26.9 million more than was provided this year.

But observers said that continuing concerns about a shortfall in state funds might force legislators to approve an across-the-board budget cut, which would include education funding.

The current debate over property taxes comes a year after Kansas homeowners and small businesses were hit with sharply higher taxes as a result of a state program of property classification and re-evaluation. (See Education Week, April 18, 1990.)

Property-tax reform could have a profound effect on Kansas's school districts, which rely on local property levies for about half of their funding.

Although there is broad sentiment to lower property taxes, legislators have been unable to agree on any proposal to limit or reduce these taxes. One of the biggest obstacles, observers said, is that the debate over which taxes to use to make up lost revenues has yet to be resolved.

The new school-finance formula, which is expected to be approved by Gov. Mike Hayden, is widely seen as a one-year measure to protect districts from shifting valuations.

The new formula would give districts the same amount of state aid per pupil as they are receiving this school year. Under the old formula, more state aid would have been directed to property-poor districts, and less sent to wealthy districts.

The formula would allow all districts to raise their budgets by 1 percent, and increase local property-tax rates to provide the additional funds. Districts that spend less than the median amount per pupil would be allowed to raise their budgets by up to 2 percent.

Leaders in both the House and the Senate have said they will appoint a task force to study ways of updating the equalization formula when the session is over to reflect the changes in the property tax.

As of late last week, however, observers said they could not predict when the session would end, or if property-tax reform would be finished before lawmakers adjourned. Governor Hayden has said he will call a special session on the issue if no bill is approved.--ef

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