In his latest capital report column, Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, explains his support for legislation that would bring about property tax relief for Missourians:
I’ve spent a great deal of time in these columns talking to you about the things we do in Jefferson City to improve the quality of life for you and all Missourians. As I’ve said before, the thing I am most proud of during my time in the legislature is that we have been able to accomplish so much, including turning a budget deficit into a surplus, without a single tax increase. That’s because I know Missourians work hard for the money they earn and they expect government to do its job without forcing the taxpayer to shoulder an additional burden. However, while we in state government have taken a firm stance against increasing your taxes, the same cannot be said for all of our local government entities. While the legislature has worked diligently to reduce your burden rather than increase it, local entities have not adopted the same philosophy.
The issue at hand is one we are all familiar with, and one that I have discussed in this column in the past. The problem begins every two years when your home is reassessed and you spend time hoping it won’t increase in value too dramatically. Where it should be beneficial to own a home that is worth more, instead it means you will be forced to pay even more when your property taxes are due. For far too many Missourians these increases have been excessive to the point where they simply cannot afford them. Even for those who can, this issue remains unfair and, even more importantly, it does not follow the intent of the law.
According to our Missouri Constitution, any time your assessed property value rises by more than the rate of inflation, local taxing entities must roll back their tax rate so the total amount of taxes they collect remains relatively the same. If this were followed by all local governments, a dramatic increase in your property value would not in turn mean a dramatic increase in the property taxes you have to pay.
The problem is that some local governments have avoided rolling back their tax rates and ignored the intent of the law. They do this by setting their tax levies below the current maximum amount allowed. That way when a roll back is required they simply lower that maximum allowed amount rather than rolling back their current levy. So when your assessed values increase, and the tax rate remains the same despite the fact it is required that it be reduced, the taxing district receives a huge financial windfall it was never intended to have.
As I mentioned earlier in the year, we are considering a number of ways to help people suffering from the financial strain caused by excessive property taxes. One measure that has already cleared the House, and that could be on the ballot for voter approval in November, offers a very simple solution to the problem I outlined. House Joint Resolution 43 would make a change to the Missouri Constitution to require a local taxing entity to roll back its current levy rather than the maximum authorized levy. By changing just a few words we can ensure that local taxing districts lower their tax rates to compensate for increased property values just as the law intends. This would eliminate the financial windfalls many districts have reaped and reduce the financial burden placed on far too many homeowners.
With that said, it is important to note our local taxing entities should not be vilified for their actions. We have more than 2,700 entities in Missouri that levy property taxes ranging from cities and counties to school districts and fire districts. These are entities that provide services we all need and use and they require our tax dollars in order to operate. Unfortunately, there are some who do not follow the intent of the law and their actions are causing an excessive financial strain for residents in their districts. The purpose of House Joint Resolution 43 is simply to bring us back in line with the true intent of our Constitution and to provide Missourians with some much-needed property tax relief. Even with the change, these local entities would still be able to grow but they would be forced to live within their means just like the people they serve.
I am confident we will pass this proposed constitutional amendment through the legislative process and have it on the November ballot for your consideration. With the approval of Missouri voters it will provide a simple fix to a complex problem that is currently plaguing Missourians from all walks of life. It’s all part of our effort to keep your tax burden as low as possible so that more of your hard earned money stays in your pockets where it belongs.