Is Kansas City A ‘Low Tax’ City?
The conventional wisdom seems to be that Missouri is a “low tax state,” but to come to that conclusion, you almost have to ignore how taxes are actually levied and collected in practice here. Indeed, I believe that a closer examination of Missouri taxes produces a very different conclusion. Consider, for instance, Kansas City:
- Kansas City has a top marginal income tax rate of 7 percent — the state’s 6 percent income tax, plus the city’s 1 percent earnings tax. Kansas has an income tax of 4.9 percent. In 2018, it will be 3.9 percent. No earnings tax. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Income taxes hurt growth, penalizing productivity and deterring greater investment. And this is to say nothing, of course, of the 100 percent deduction Kansans get for non-wage pass-through income. For Kansas businesses organized as LLCs, S-corporations, and sole proprietorships, the tax rate is effectively 0 percent. (And as we all know, 0 percent is also a lower tax rate than 7 percent.)
- Not counting its special taxing districts (TDDs, CIDs, etc.), Kansas City’s sales tax ranges from 8.1 percent to 8.85 percent, depending on the county. Those are pretty comparable to the rates charged on the Kansas side of the metro area — generally between 8 percent and 9 percent on sales, also not including special taxing districts. Not a huge difference. But what if we include special districts? Kansas City’s “1200 Main/South Loop TDD and DT Streetcar (KC Live!)” area — in other words, the Power & Light District — has the top sales tax in the bi-state area, with a whopping 12.35 percent tax on the sale of prepared food. (Click that last link to see the rates not only of the city, but also of the special districts. I found them startling.) One special tax costing a fraction of a cent may not seem like much, but put a few together and — as we’re seeing across the city — it adds up to real money. And the new, and bad, sales tax ideas keep coming.
- As our own David Stokes would note, apples-to-apples property tax calculations are tough to come by because property valuation norms can vary wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If I’m charged a 5 percent tax on a property valued at $100,000 by one set of assessing criteria, or a 6 percent tax on the same property valued instead at $83,333 using different criteria, I’m still paying the same amount in taxes ($5,000) regardless of the legislated property tax rates. Kansas property taxes, driven in Johnson County by taxes for schools, generally sit at higher rates, yet that doesn’t say a great deal on its own. What is notable on this front is that both Kansas and Kansas City have a bad habit of concentrating their property taxes on fewer and fewer taxpayers with special incentives. Check out the latest example on the Kansas City side; I’ll have more to say about that project later.
And we won’t even go into the city’s hotel taxes, rental car taxes, water and sewer fees, which are all high. Kansas City is one of the highest-taxed cities in the region, and Kansas Citians are the first to tell you as much. Especially after Kansas’ tax reforms, is it credible for Kansas City, Mo., policymakers to suggest the region has been or is tax competitive with its Jayhawk neighbors? Do they really believe the city’s businesses, particularly its small businesses, don’t know what’s happening in Kansas and won’t consider moving under these circumstances?