Archive for Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sales tax extension offers little value to De Soto

September 22, 2005

Johnson County voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide if a quarter-cent county sales tax that delivers money to its seven school districts should be extended another three years. Popular three years ago when it passed with more than 61 percent of the vote, approval of the extension is rightfully far from assured.

The tax is back before county voters because of requests from Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission school districts. They were requests made with the full knowledge they could force the Johnson County Commissioners to advance the referendum.

The tax was approved three years ago during the August primary that included a hotly contested Republican gubernatorial race in which education was a top issue. This time, the tax stands alone in a special election. Turnout is going to be much lighter and it will be the challenge of those who support the measure to get out the vote.

Perhaps more important, the school revenue picture is much different than it was in 2002. That year, a Kansas Legislature facing revenue shortfalls cut education funding, forcing local districts to make headline-grabbing decisions to cut or eliminate programs. This year, voters will remember a court-coerced 2005 Legislature added $290 million to K-12 education.

Utterances of three years ago that the tax would be a one-time expediency were meaningless. Voters may rightfully wonder if anything short of the measure's defeat will wean the larger from the revenue. This is especially relevant given county government need of what is the last of its sales tax authority. It was with some guilt that officials from the two school districts acknowledged that need, offering the county what appears to be a face-saving pittance for its own needs.

De Soto voters, who live in a city with the highest sales tax rate in the state, have concerns in addition to those countywide issues and have every right to ask what they are getting for their money. Residents can take solace in the knowledge the tax is put to good use locally. It provides about $100,000 yearly to the city, performing better than anticipated with the state's move to collect sales taxes at the point of delivery.

The quarter-cent sales tax will provide USD 232 with an estimated $968,000 this year. The formula the large districts devised would cap it at that level.

But it's worth noting De Soto board members don't support the tax, insisting education funding is a state responsibility. If those who represent an institution that is supposed to benefit the tax don't support it, why should the general public?

Locally, voters have every right to consider what the tax does for them. And that includes whether it could be better applied to county projects -- a use that could indeed reduce property taxes.

Other than the additional revenue for the city, there is no real benefit to De Soto for extending the tax. De Soto voters should vote no, knowing the county would advance another proposal that would use the taxing authority for its needs. That would be a much better deal for this corner of the county.

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