Kansans pay more sales tax on groceries than everyone in the country except residents of Mississippi.
And legislative candidates speaking at a Douglas County forum last week showed there is bipartisan disdain for the state sales tax on food.
“A tax on food is one of the most regressive taxes we have in the tax code,” said state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and the ranking minority member on the Senate tax committee.
“Personally, I think it’s kind of morally wrong to tax a commodity like food,” said Republican Patrick Bengtson, of Lawrence, who is running for House District 44.
But what are the chances of actually getting rid of the sales tax on food?
Every year or so, there is a preliminary vote in the Legislature to repeal it, but the effort usually fizzles under the pressures of funding government, or in the case of the last legislative session, cutting other taxes.
During the 2012 session, the Kansas House approved massive tax cuts, which included an amendment by state Rep. Jana Goodman, R-Leavenworth, to remove the state sales tax from food.
But Republicans who supported Gov. Sam Brownback’s desire for individual income tax cuts and eliminating income taxes for owners of 191,000 sole proprietorships, Subchapter S corporations and limited liability companies, quickly jettisoned the proposal to remove the sales tax on food, saying it was too expensive — about $300 million — to be added to the other cuts.
Brownback has said the tax cuts he signed into law will expand the economy, create jobs and increase revenue to the state. But critics say the cuts will rob needed revenue from schools and critical social services while benefiting wealthy business owners.
State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said she supports getting rid of the food sales tax but added the difficulty would be replacing those funds at the state and local level on top of Brownback’s tax cuts.
According to the Federation of Tax Administrators, 45 states have a sales tax, and 31 exempt groceries from the tax.
Of the remaining states, only seven subject food to the full general sales tax rate, and that includes Kansas, Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.
Kansas’ 6.3 cents-per-dollar sales tax is the second highest among those, trailing only Mississippi at 7 cents per dollar.
In addition, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma and South Dakota allow a rebate or income tax credit to compensate poor households.
Kansas has offered a food sales tax rebate for low-income residents and those with disabilities because it was seen as the best way to mitigate the effect of sales taxes on low-income families. But that rebate program was eliminated under Brownback’s tax cuts.