Friday, October 31, 2014

Finch calls Realtors’ attack misleading

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 7/23/2014

Voting against the mortgage registration fee phaseout this spring helped cost state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, an endorsement in the coming Aug. 5 primary election. But Finch’s voting record isn’t as simple as the endorsing group seems to think, Finch said.

The Kansas Association of Realtors political action committee endorsed former teacher Bob Fluke, Ottawa Republican, for Kansas House District 59 instead of incumbent Finch for several reasons, Luke Bell, the group’s vice president of governmental affairs, said Monday.

Voting against the mortgage registration fee phaseout this spring helped cost state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, an endorsement in the coming Aug. 5 primary election. But Finch’s voting record isn’t as simple as the endorsing group seems to think, Finch said.

The Kansas Association of Realtors political action committee endorsed former teacher Bob Fluke, Ottawa Republican, for Kansas House District 59 instead of incumbent Finch for several reasons, Luke Bell, the group’s vice president of governmental affairs, said Monday.

“The Kansas Realtors PAC believes that Bob Fluke will be a strong proponent of protecting private property rights and increasing the accountability and transparency of local governments that increase property taxes on Kansas property owners,” Bell said Monday. “Mr. Fluke has stated that he would have supported the Property Tax Transparency Act (HB 2047) if he had been in office during the 2013-14 legislative session, which demonstrates that he is committed to ensuring the local governments are accountable and transparent to their constituents when they choose to increase the property tax burden on Kansas property owners.”

Based on Finch’s voting record, the group concluded Finch does not share the same political beliefs as the Realtors, Bell said.

“The incumbent has a subpar voting record on issues relating to private property ownership and property tax reform,” Bell said. “During the 2013 Legislative Session, Rep. Finch voted against the Property Tax Transparency Act (HB 2047), which would have simply required local governments to notify property taxpayers by publishing a notice in the newspaper when the local government increased property tax revenues over the preceding year.”

But stating Finch’s voting record as “subpar” is misleading, Finch said, because the group’s reasoning for choosing Fluke over Finch is not entirely accurate, he said. Finch, who previously served as Franklin County Development Council president, voted to approve HB 2047 on final action, he said, but voted against an earlier draft of the bill, which is what the group focused on for the endorsement.

“I voted against an earlier version of the bill that was opposed by local governments within the district over concerns about the state taking away local control of budgetary matters,” Finch said. “When those concerns were addressed, I was happy to support the bill on final action this session.”

Bell also pointed to the mortgage registration fee phaseout, which Finch voted against, as a reason to endorse Fluke over Finch.

“[The mortgage registration fee] unfairly penalizes property owners that are forced to obtain a mortgage to purchase property in this state by making them pay an additional tax to the county on top of their property taxes and document recording fees,” Bell said. “During the legislative debate on this issue, Rep. Finch was engaged in the drafting of an amendment that would have imposed a real estate transfer tax on every property owner in Franklin County and the state of Kansas. Essentially, if his amendment was adopted by the Kansas Legislature and you sold your property in Kansas, you would be forced to give up a portion of the equity in your home and pay a tax to the county on the sale of your property.”

The mortgage registration fee phaseout amounts to a property tax increase for all residents in Franklin and Osage counties, Finch said, which was reason enough to vote against the bill, he said. Numerous county and city leaders from across the state, including Steve Harris, Franklin County Board of Commissioners chair, spoke out against the measure. Finch explained that the phaseout would force county governments to find new ways to come up with tax revenue that was previously funded through the mortgage registration fee.

“The costs are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars between Franklin and Osage counties,” Finch said. “The legislation also doubles, and in some cases triples, user fees on anyone using the register of deeds system in Kansas, so that all Kansans are paying higher fees on any document recorded to make up for the loss of the mortgage fee.”

In the early days of the debate on the mortgage registration fee bill, lobbyists working on the bill said the real reason they wanted the change was because their customers were losing business to Farm Credit Services thanks to borrowers using federal loans who didn’t have to pay the mortgage registration fee, Finch said.

“Several legislators, myself included, worked with those lobbyists to try to find ways to eliminate that difference in the system but not make radical changes that increased property taxes for everyone,” Finch said, alluding to the phaseout. “One of those suggestions was a transfer fee instead of a mortgage fee that would have applied to all equally. However, as is often the case, no middle ground could be found. No such amendment was ever offered by me or any other legislator.”

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