TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to eliminate the state’s hefty food sales tax will be getting a hearing in the House Taxation committee this week.
The governor’s plan, announced in November of last year, could save Kansans hundreds of dollars on groceries every year. It’s expected to save about $500 each year for a family of four.
“Kansas is one of a handful of states that fully taxes food,” said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. “We’re the second highest food sales tax in the country. It’s time we get rid of it.”
It’s a sentiment that some Democrats and Republicans share. The bill, which would nix the state’s 6.5% food sales tax, is set for a hearing Tuesday afternoon in the House Taxation Committee. If approved, it would move to the House floor for debate.
According to Rep. Adam Smith, R-Weskan, who chairs the House Taxation Committee, although it’s an issue that has bipartisan support, the main factor will be the cost.
“This isn’t a new idea, and cost has been the major prohibiting factor, and it continues to be,” Smith said. “We want to take a look at the out-years and the longevity, and make sure that we’re not going too far too fast completely eliminating sales tax on food.”
While it comes with a pricey fiscal note that’s expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, some could argue that the benefits may outweigh the cost.
“The sales tax is very regressive when you tax food because food is a very basic need,” Sawyer said. “In Kansas, we already don’t tax residential utility bills and prescription drugs because we recognize it’s a basic need. Food is also a basic need. It’s important we don’t tax it as well.”
In 2019, Republicans also had their own proposal to gradually phase out the state’s food sales tax, which supporters say has less fiscal impact than eliminating it all at once.
However, the governor vetoed the plan, which some Republican leaders have pushed back on this year, as she prepares to run for re-election, facing off against GOP-frontrunner Attorney General Derek Schmidt. Schmidt has also expressed support for a reduction in the state’s food sales tax.
Smith said the measure is very likely to be considered, especially now that state income is up.
“The revenue has probably created the motivation behind this now,” Smith said. “As tax chairman, I’m trying to act on it with caution, and make sure that we’re being responsible.”