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Kansas House considers bills to eliminate food sales tax

A look down the aisle of a grocery store in Wichita, Kan.
A look down the aisle of a grocery store in Wichita, Kan.(KWCH)
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 9:13 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) - A perennial issue at the statehouse in Topeka is back again. But with a push from Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and lawmakers from both parties, eliminating the state’s food sales tax has support from lawmakers and groups around the state.

“My constituents and yours have been asking for this for decades,” said Rep. Ken Corbert, R-Topeka.

Looking at the current state of the economy, John Shively is among Kansans voicing support for the food sales tax elimination.

“Especially given the economic impacts of the last two years and the current inflation rate last year of seven percent, this policy makes sense right now,” he said.

Retail Grocers Association of Kansas and Missouri President Jon McCormick said the sales tax on food has been detrimental to many mom and pop stores in cities near the Kansas’ borders, as neighboring states have little to no food sales tax.

“I’ve surveyed approximately nine cities in that area, northwestern Kansas, and there’s been about 20 stores that have succumbed to volume deficit,” McCormick said.

Dave Baker, R-Council Grove, is a Kansas lawmaker who used to own a supermarket. He said the volume deficit ripples down.

“You lose all the employees, mostly those grocery stores (that) have anywhere from 10 to 50 employees. You lose property tax they pay, you lose all the revenue those employees spend in that community,” he said.

The Kansas Department of Revenue estimates food accounts for a quarter of the state’s sales tax revenue and would cost the state next year about $320 million. The state’s surplus could make up for some of the decrease. That’s money Kansans will keep in their pockets. Supporters say the biggest impact will be those at lower or middle-income levels.

“They’re not going to be taxed on meat, produce, mile and egg, which is, I think, extremely important for the state of Kansas,” McCormick said.

Between two bills in the House related to the food sales tax, one of the biggest differences is whether prepared food, like you would get at restaurants, will be included. One of the bills includes that in the proposed food-sales-tax elimination. The other does not. A group representing restaurants in Kansas, wanted to see all food treated the same and have restaurants included.

“I think we ought to understand who it’s helping, who it’s not and not put our restaurants at a competitive disadvantage,” said Scott Schneider with the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association. The bills would still allow cities and counties to levy local food sales tax.

In Topeka Tuesday, the lone group speaking against eliminating the food sales tax was the Kansas Farm Bureau. The organization said their members are concerned with the long-term financial impact to the state and that in the future, this could lead to some other forms of taxes.

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