Hope still alive for relief from Kansas’s food sales tax

One of the biggest issues on the agenda this legislative session has been languishing for months, but there is still hope for food sales tax relief.
Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 6:40 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) - One of the biggest issues on the agenda this legislative session has been languishing for months, but there is still hope for relief from Kansas’s food sales tax. Lawmakers gathered Wednesday tried to find a compromise to get that accomplished.

With essentially just hours left before state lawmakers break, the issue of the food sales tax is up in the air.

“It’s really important. We’re getting down to the end of the session, we’ve got to get this bill passed,” said Kansas House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita.

Relief from the state’s food sales tax has been a priority for Democrats and Kansas Governor Laura Kelly this session, but hasn’t been met with the same urgency in the legislative process.

“I was really hopeful that we’d do it earlier in the session [because] there is a lot of support for it. Things got bogged down together, but they are discussing it in conference committee,” Sawyer said.

There are also Republicans that want to get this done.

“Very optimistic we can come for a good solution, can’t guarantee it will look exactly like this, but I think we’ve got a good path forward,” Rep. Adam Smith, R-Weskan, said.

Wednesday, in the conference committee for taxation, there was some movement to ax the food sales tax. The latest proposal would reduce the state’s 6.5 percent food sales tax rate to 1.5 percent come July and zero out that rate in July 2023.

“A topic on everyone’s mind. A lot of people want to be fiscally responsible,” said Smith, House Taxation Chair. “They realize it’s, all the way to zero is a very large impact to the state’s budget. We don’t want to get ourselves in trouble.”

Smith said the late-session action on the food sales tax is due t o how state funds have already been allocated this session.

“We initially thought we had a little bit more room for tax cuts,” Smith said. “Looking at the budgets that have been passed, that number has shrunk a little bit, so we’re to be mindful of what the current budget requests are and modify our tax cuts accordingly.”

Sawyer said the state has the funds to do this now.

“Some Republicans, they view this as giving the governor a win and they don’t want to do that in an election year. So, I think that has played into it a little bit, but there’s a vast majority of members in the House and Senate that want to get this done.”

Kansas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt addressed the food sales tax issue, saying the proposed action to cut it should have already been done.

The campaign manager for Schmidt in his run for Kansas governor released the following statement, accusing Kelly of “failed leadership” on the issue.

“Attorney General Schmidt continues to encourage legislators to help Kansans endure rising prices by enacting a reduction or elimination of the grocery tax this year, despite Governor Kelly’s failed leadership on the issue. In fact, if she hadn’t voted for the largest tax increase on groceries in Kansas history as a state senator or if she had signed the Republican-led bill that would have cut the grocery tax in 2019, we would not have this problem now.”

If a food sales tax bill isn’t passed by Friday when the session first adjourns, it could be taken up when lawmakers return for the veto session in late April. Since it’s a tax bill, it is exempt from the fist adjournment deadline to be passed.

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