This week, a couple of different groups spoke to a Senate committee about sales tax on food. One was a grocer, close to a state line, who has a hard time competing for customers as people in their community duck across the border for groceries — most headed to Cornhusker territory, where the sales tax on groceries is nil.
Another group was pediatricians — who told the Senate committee that children in Kansas are only getting an average of one serving of fruits or vegetable per day. They claim lowering the sales tax on groceries would be a big help on nutritional status. They are right. Making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable and able to compete with fast food would be a big boost in the right direction.
The current state sales tax rate is at 6.5 percent. Local sales taxes bring the total to 8.5 percent in Harvey County, and 11 percent in some parts of Kansas. Under the proposal brought to the committee this the state sales tax on food would drop to 4 percent in 2019 and 2 percent in 2020. Local sales tax decisions would still remain the business of city and county politicians. Rep. Tim Hodge (D-North Newton) is on record as wanting to half the sales tax on groceries.
Honestly, we do not believe that proposal goes far enough. This state should consider eliminating the sales tax on food completely. Hodge is in that camp, but figures a halving of the tax is about as far as anyone could get.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 32 states and the District of Columbia exempt most food purchased for consumption at home from the state sales tax. West Virginia is the state that most recently eliminated its sales tax on food. Six others reduce the rate.
Only three states offer no relief of any kind — Alabama, Mississippi and South Dakota. Kansas is listed as one of four states that tax groceries, but later offers credits or rebates to those who qualify at tax time.
Offering the credit and rebate only creates a mess at tax time, and essentially asks the lowest wage earners in the state to loan the state money at no interest — something they cannot afford to do.
We believe the Kansas Legislature and our shiny new governor need to confront this head on. Time to move forward. Time to consider a real, impactful tax break for the lowest wage earners. This state gave a tax break to the wealthy wage earners, and the promise of new jobs and economic growth was not fulfilled.
Time to give the lowest wage earners a break.
— Kansan Editorial Board.