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Editorial: Tax equity

Monday, April 14, 2008

A proposed constitutional amendment that would limit property-tax increases following mandatory statewide property reassessment in Missouri has passed the House by a wide, bipartisan margin. The Senate earlier in this session approved a change in state law that would have a similar effect, but asking voters to change the constitution would better withstand legal challenges, backers say.

If approved -- and it should be -- the constitutional amendment would require approval of Missouri voters at an election later this year, possibly at the same time as the general election in November.

When Missouri adopted mandatory statewide reassessment a few decades ago, the aim was to equalize assessments from property to property. Under the old assessment system, property values for tax purposes rarely changed unless the property was sold. Now county assessors are expected to reassess property every two years in an effort to keep pace with market values.

But currently some taxing entities -- school districts, cities, counties -- are reaping windfall revenue increases when reassessment values -- minus new construction and improvements -- increase faster than the pace of inflation. This is because those entities set their tax rates lower than the maximum allowed by voters rather than setting higher rates. As a result, taxpayers in those entities see their tax bills jump after every reassessment.

Opponents of the amendment say it could have the effect of forcing taxing entities to raise their rates, which would also mean higher tax bills for taxpayers. Even so, the aim of making property assessment equitable includes the aim of making tax bills equitable as well.

The amendment proposal approved by the House now requires Senate action to be placed on the ballot. A majority of the Senate already has indicated it favors a resolution to this issue. Approving the amendment would be a step in that direction.


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