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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries
Peden and Smith v. Kansas Department of Revenue, Docket 75,205
December 20, 1996

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefoverr@kscourts.org.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 20, 1996

Saying a statute must clearly violate the constitution before it may be struck down, the Supreme Court today unanimously upheld the validity of provisions of the Kansas Income Tax Act that impose higher tax rates on some single taxpayers.

Justice Bob Abbott, author of the court's decision in Peden and Smith v. Kansas Department of Revenue, said, "This court not only has the authority, but also the duty, to construe a statute in such a manner that it is constitutional if it can be done within the apparent intent of the legislature in passing the statute."

The ruling came in an appeal by the state from a Shawnee County District Court decision declaring unconstitutional portions of the state income tax statute imposing higher rates on single taxpayers than on the highest tax rate imposed on married taxpayers filing jointly. The trial court found the disparity to be an unconstitutional violation of equal protection.

Since the trial court issued its ruling, approximately 5,000 single taxpayers have filed claims with the Director of Taxation requesting tax refunds. All of the requests have been put on hold pending the outcome of today's court decision.

Justice Abbott wrote in the court's decision that the state conceded a disparity exists between the taxation rates of some single taxpayers and married taxpayers filing joint returns, but the state's attorneys argued it could "conceive of four valid state interests which rationally justify the disparate tax rate classifications. These state interests are: the encouragement of marriage, an alleviation of the increased financial burdens associated with marriage, an alleviation of the "marriage penalty" under the federal income tax law, and the encouragement of taxpayers who can file one joint return to do so."

He said it is "reasonable to speculate that the Kansas income tax rates will provide some additional, if not great, incentive for taxpayers to marry and stay married," thus furthering a "valid state interest of encouraging marriage."

"It is rational to speculate that lower tax rates for married taxpayers will entice singles to marry and stay married in order to receive the benefit of the lower rates, even if there is no data to prove this speculation in reality. Importantly, there is no data put forth by Peden to disprove this speculation," Justice Abbott wrote.

The court noted that the constitutionality of federal income tax brackets, which also differentiate between single and married taxpayers, has been upheld.

"Further, all taxation schemes carry some form of discriminatory impact. 'The process of evaluating specific tax proposals and weighing their relative discriminatory impacts is primarily a legislative, not a judicial function," Justice Abbott wrote, quoting a federal court case on the issue.' Thus, we defer to the legislature and find that KITA is not an unconstitutional violation of equal protection," the court concluded.

The court's unanimous decision was decided with two judges substituting for Chief Justice McFarland, and Justice Robert E. Davis, both single taxpayers who, under the trial court's decision, were plaintiffs as members of the class action. Sitting in for them were Judge Robert J. Lewis Jr., of the Court of Appeals, and Richard W. Wahl, a retired Concordia judge participating in the state's Senior Judge program.