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Kansas House Members Mull Cutting Food Sales Tax

Dan Skinner
Kansas Public Radio/File photo

Lowering the state sales tax on food is an idea with broad support in Kansas, but it hasn’t happened because lawmakers haven’t figured out how to pay for it. Health advocates and grocery store owners asked lawmakers Monday to find a way to make it happen.

A proposal in the House would reduce the sales tax rate on groceries by one percentage point. Proponents say that would be a big help to Kansans on tight budgets.

The plan would lower the state sales tax on groceries from 6.5 to 5.5 percent. Local sales taxes would still raise the total tax rate.

Grocer Cherie Thomas Schenker told lawmakers that lowering the tax would keep her store in McCune competitive with stores across the border in Missouri or Oklahoma, and would help many of her customers.

“Even $25 a month more into the hands of our elderly and lower economic folks, that’s $25 more that you have to spend on healthier food,” she said.

The Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Chamber of Commerce spoke against the plan. The Farm Bureau is concerned it could be the first step towards other major tax changes.

The Kansas Chamber said the rules in the bill aren’t clear. A spokesman for the group said the plan exempts candy from the lower tax rate, but a Twix bar wouldn’t be considered candy under the bill because it contains flour.

Cutting the sales tax on food is popular with many lawmakers, but the bill would reduce state tax collections by $60 million in the first year. How to pay for it has been the sticking point in recent years.

Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson said there might also be better ways to get low-income Kansans a break.

“Certainly, food sales tax does help a number of Kansans,” the Republican said in an interview. “However, it may or may not be one that targets who you’re really trying to help.”

Johnson said tax credits might target lower-income Kansans more directly.

If lawmakers do trim the food sales tax, they may also consider collecting more taxes from online purchases to make up for it.