A Missouri legislator is working again to enact a law that would let senior citizens not have to pay property taxes, and he said he does not anticipate it would be catastrophic for public education funding.
"When we did the fiscal note on this, it came back widely variant, because nobody quite knows. If I remember right — you'll have to qualify these numbers, because (when) we're going to do it again this year, we'll do another fiscal note — somewhere between $70 (million) and $105 million" less for public education statewide, Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Buckner, said.
Kidd, who represents the northeast part of Jackson County, which includes parts of Independence, later added that sum is "not terribly a lot of money to let mom and dad, grandma and grandpa live in their home."
Kidd's proposed legislation would institute a five-year phase-in of a 20 percent per year property tax reduction, for a person's primary residence where they've lived for at least two years. The person would also have to be eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits the year before reaching the assistance.
Kidd added once qualified, if a person moved, they would not have to requalify for the tax reduction.
"When you're a senior and you're on a fixed income, and your house is paid for — I have seniors whose houses now, their property taxes are more than their house payments were. So, they've lived in their house for 40 years, house is paid for, they had $120 a month payment, they paid their house off and now their taxes are $1,400-$1,600 a year, more than their house payment was," he said.
"The problem is they never get to own their house. They're always renting it from the county," because their homes would be foreclosed on if the taxes aren't paid. "Every year, the assessment value goes up, so every year, your taxes go up," Kidd said.
He said another bill he's already filed that would let school districts vote to make their operating levy exempt from tax increment financing projects is not connected.
"The reason we did the TIF bill was school districts usually only have about two votes on the TIF board, and so — and not all TIFs are bad, not all districts vote against TIFs, so it's not an automatic thing; it's just they had no way to ever get out of (a TIF). They were kind of trapped with only two votes. This allows (school boards) to exempt that, or at least get out of it — they have to public notice it, and they have to have a hearing on it, and then they have to have a school board vote on it. So it's not an automatic thing," Kidd said.
He said his legislative district overlaps with the Independence 30 and Fort Osage R-1 school districts, "and a just a little bit of Blue Springs (R-4), not much."
"Everybody's assuming that this is going to be catastrophic to the district, and that's not true," Kidd said. "Everybody is so ingrained that they have to pay (school) taxes, that when somebody says, 'No, you get to truly own your home, that's what the American Dream was founded on, being able to own your home.' Everybody freaks out like, 'oh, you have to pay a school tax,' well, shouldn't my primary dream be able to own my home? Shouldn't we care about the seniors and those people who are on fixed incomes as much as we care about our kids?"
He said he's recently spoken with the superintendent of the Fort Osage school district, and "he didn't think it would impact him very much, at all." He said he had not yet spoken with the superintendent of the Independence school district.
He added he looks forward to continuing to fund the state's education formula.
"I see more and more support all the time for this kind of legislation. Seniors are becoming more and more of an issue, and it's time somebody stood up and had a voice for our seniors and said, 'Look, don't tax them out of their home. Let them own their home,'" Kidd said.
"No, they're on my list to call," he said of whether he's reached out to organizations that represent seniors, such as the AARP.
Blair Oaks R-2 Superintendent Jim Jones said, "Living on a fixed income as expenses increase is a difficult obstacle to overcome," and creating opportunities to address that is important.
The Blair Oaks district has a limited tax base that's primarily residential, and the district has been running up against the reality of its limited bonding capacity as it's looked into building a new high school.
Jones said with any tax credit or reduction proposals, he just asks that a plan be in place to backfill the loss of revenue, or else "we have to reduce our level of expectations for those (state programs)" that revenue funds.