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Survey: Kansas Legislative Candidates Support Easing Sales Tax Burden On Food

Mike Sherry
Heartland Health Monitor
After Mississippi, Kansas has the highest sales tax on food in the country.

There is widespread, bipartisan support for eliminating or reducing the sales tax on food among candidates for the Kansas Legislature, according to survey results released Monday by an advocacy organization.

However, when the winners of next week’s election show up at the Statehouse in January, they may again decide the state can’t afford to do without the revenue it generates.

KC Healthy Kids sent surveys in late October to candidates running for all 165 seats in the state House and Senate. Each of the more than 80 who responded indicated that they supported reducing or eliminating the sales tax charged on food sold at grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

“There is broad and deep awareness of this issue,” says Ashley Jones-Wisner, state policy director for the nonprofit organization. “Lawmakers understand the tax on food in Kansas is out of proportion and something needs to be done.”

Only three states have sales tax levies higher than Kansas’ 6.5 percent, but two of them, Minnesota and Washington exempt food. Mississippi has a sales tax rate of 7 percent and, like Kansas, doesn’t exempt food.

The combination of state and local sales taxes are increasing the grocery bills of some Kansas consumers by up to 11 percent, Jones-Wisner says.

Last session, the Legislature considered but ultimately rejected various proposals to reduce or eliminate the sales tax on food. With revenues regularly coming in below official estimates due to income tax rate cuts approved in 2012 and recent downturns in key economic sectors, lawmakers concluded they couldn’t afford the estimated $350 million annual cost of the food sales tax exemption.

Candidates responding to the KC Healthy Kids survey weren’t asked whether their support for easing the sales tax burden was conditioned on the state’s budget situation.

Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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