Numerous bills currently under consideration among the State Legislature were a key topic of conversation among the Harvey County Commission at its meeting on Tuesday, but none more so than two bills (one in the House and one in the Senate) addressing the same issue — the state food sales tax.
Brought up during County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber's legislative update, the food sales tax cut was addressed more fully in a report from the Food and Farm Council seeking the commission's approval to send support for said bills — namely Senate Bill 76 (with Sedgwick Senator Carolyn McGinn having a major hand in that legislation).
Senate Bill 76, as proposed, would see the state sales tax on food drop by one percent (from 6.5 to 5.5 percent) as of July 1, 2019 and then drop an additional percent each successive year through 2021. Currently, Kansas' sales tax on food is one of the highest in the U.S. — outpacing neighboring states Oklahoma (4.5 percent), Missouri (1.225 percent), Colorado and Nebraska (both of which have no food sales tax).
That disparity has caused economic issues in Kansas cities and towns near the borders. While Harvey County is not in that position, Food and Farm Council president Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs did state the detriment the food sales tax poses to local citizens, especially those who are financially challenged. Part of the council's mission is to ensure access to healthy, nutritional food and members see SB 76 as a means to do that.
"We all purchase food, and to provide the assistance to those who are more financially challenged by lowering that state food sales tax would be a great benefit to help support our community's access to healthy food," Hobbs said.
"Folks with limited money, they only spend so much," said Food and Farm Council secretary Greg Nickel. "Lowering the food sales tax would include an increase in the buying power, certainly, so it'd be an economic benefit locally."
Positive as the progressive lowering of the state food sales tax was viewed to be, it was also noted the cuts would have a financial impact — decreasing state revenue by $60 million each year.
Commissioners see the potential good a drop in the state food sales tax would provide (especially for families in need), but they also wanted to make sure the cuts would not come back to bite local governments — something they wanted to be outlined in any type of statement in support of SB 76.
"I support it, but I only support it if they have a plan to fill the $60 million gap before they pass it," said commissioner Randy Hague. "If they end up cutting funds to us because of the shortfall of income, then I'm not sure there's gonna be any winners."
Asking that Swartzendruber review a draft before it is sent to the Legislature, the commission authorized the council to send a letter of support for the bills addressing the food sales tax cut.
In other business, the county commission:
Also heard updates on legislation currently under consideration regarding open record laws, legal notices, political signs and more.
Learned that 10 representatives from Harvey County will be participating in a regional emergency management tabletop exercise on Thursday regarding hazardous material transport.
Heard of efforts underway to prepare for this week's forecasted inclement weather.
Approved a grant application for the Remote Control Club to place a shelter (for spectators, pilots, drivers, etc.) near the runway of the R/C Park currently under construction at East Lake.
Approved a bid from Wichita Kenworth for a T800 semi-tractor for the Road and Bridge Department at a cost of $105,655. It was the lowest bid to meet specs of five received.
Approved a bid request for the Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA) overlay program for R&B to cover 23.7 miles of road throughout Harvey County.