- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas lawmakers are discussing a proposed constitutional amendment that would gradually eliminate the state’s sales tax on groceries, along with a bill that would reduce the sales tax and end a sales-tax exemption for businesses.

Unlike many other states, Kansas charges its full state sales tax rate on groceries. The rate was increased last year from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent.

The constitutional amendment would reduce the tax to 4 percent beginning in July 2017, then to 2 percent in 2018 and to zero by July 2019, The Kansas City Star reported (https://bit.ly/1SEtxfU ).

The proposals come at a time when the state is struggling to address a multi-million deficit in its budget. If the sale tax is eliminated, the state could lose about $350 million in annual revenue.

“It’s not a total repeal first thing, because we can’t afford that,” said Sen. Kay Wolf, a Prairie Village Republican who is one of 12 senators sponsoring the bipartisan proposal. “But it’s a means to an end to helping people.”

Groceries are exempt from state sales taxes in 32 states, while six states charge a reduced state sales tax for groceries. Five states don’t have sales taxes, which many critics contend are regressive because they are more of a burden for lower-income households.

The second proposal would reduce the grocery sale tax to 2.6 percent while also ending a sales tax exemption for about 330,000 businesses.

Rep. Marvin Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican and chairman of the House Taxation Committee, plans to hold hearings on that proposal, which was offered by Rep. Mark Hutton, R-Wichita. Kleeb said the proposal is “problematic” because it forces a shift in tax policy.

“But I think it lays the groundwork for reviewing our overall revenue-generating plan,” he said. “I’m interested in hearing all the pros and cons.”

Critics say Kansas’ sales tax rate on groceries is high compared to other states. Missouri’s state sales tax on groceries is 1.225 percent, with local sales taxes added. Colorado and Nebraska exempt grocery items, while Oklahoma’s 4.5 percent state sales tax applies to groceries.

KC Healthy Kids, a nonprofit that focuses on nutrition and youth, has advocated for reduced grocery taxes.

“With local sales tax on top of the 6.5 percent state tax, you’ve got people paying 9 percent to above 10 percent on sales tax on food in some places,” said Ashley Wisner-Jones, the group’s state policy manager. “Food is not a luxury item.”

The group worked with Wichita State University, which released a series of reports concluding that the tax on groceries puts an unfair burden on low-income Kansans, hurts rural grocery stores and damages the economy in counties bordering other states that charge lower rates.

Kleeb said no evidence exists to show large numbers of Kansans are driving to other states to buy groceries.


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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