Archive for Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Taxes shouldn’t evict seniors

April 30, 2008

As a State Representative, I have always focused my legislative efforts around what I hear from my constituents. While affordable health care and illegal immigration are always hot topics, I have received numerous letters and e-mails from seniors on fixed incomes who are concerned about literally being taxed right out of their homes.

I never will forget the time I was campaigning east of Baldwin during the fall of 2004. I drove up the gravel drive of a small, clean farmhouse and knocked at the side door. An elderly gentleman answered at the door, holding a portable oxygen tank behind him. He explained to me that he and his wife were in their early 70s and were struggling with paying for their medications and ever-increasing property taxes. "You know, Tom," the kind old man told me, "these are supposed to be our golden years, but I don't know if we'll be able to afford to live here much longer."

I hear that same message time and again from seniors. Unfortunately, the property tax burden continues to grow larger for Kansas citizens, and the Legislature has not substantively addressed this issue. As a stop gap measure, however, I have been working on legislation for the past two years that would provide a voluntary property tax deferral program for qualifying seniors. House Bill 2928, the Senior Citizen Property Tax Deferral Act, is supported by the AARP and was passed out of the Kansas House on April 2 by a resounding final action vote of 93-32.

HB 2928 is designed to assist those limited income Kansas seniors whose homesteads are located in high valuation growth areas of the state or who face an unanticipated financial hardship. The Act would allow certain Kansas seniors age 65 or older to make an application to the Kansas Department of Revenue (KDOR) to defer either a portion or all ad valorem taxes levied on their homestead (annual maximum limit of $2,500). Homeowners would have to make a separate application for each year they wanted to defer taxes. The KDOR would pay the county treasurer the amount of deferred tax upon issuance of a certificate of deferral. Upon transfer of ownership, death of the taxpayer, or other qualifying circumstance, previously deferred taxes and interest are due. A provision has been made for the surviving spouse (provided he or she is at least 60 years of age and is residing in the homestead) to continue on with the deferral program if so desired.

I have always believed it to be imperative that we do everything as a state to avoid forcing Kansas seniors out of their homes as a result of burdensome property taxes. This legislation does that without requiring significant expenditures or changes to the state constitution. Sound Kansas tax policy must make allowances for those who are unable to fend for themselves economically. Maybe 2008 will be the year that the Kansas Legislature gives its limited income seniors a little piece of mind to enjoy during their golden years.

- Tom Holland, a Democrat, is a state representative from Baldwin.

Tom Holland, a Democrat, is a state representative from Baldwin

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