There’s good news and bad news in a plan adopted by members of the Kansas House.
First the good:
Kansas is one of only a handful of states that taxes groceries the same way other items are taxed. Right now, at 6.3 percent, the regressive grocery tax forces those with lower incomes to spend a disproportionate amount of their expenditures on sales taxes on food. The current sales tax on food creates a distinct disadvantage for Kansas families, while making food slightly costlier for consumers than it is in other states.
So, when the House passed the bill to end sales taxes on groceries, it looked like a win for consumers.
The downside, however, is that state and local government coffers are dependent on grocery sales taxes to fund a significant portion of their budgets. According to the Kansas Legislative Research Department, dropping the state’s 6.3 percent sales tax on groceries would carve $350 million from state coffers. That’s money the state can currently ill afford without additional spending cuts.
It’s unfortunate that Kansas places such a high tax rate on basic necessities like food. Lowering that rate should be a goal of future legislatures.
Unfortunately, there are a few other things that must be done in advance of eliminating the state’s sales tax on food. One, local governments need a little more warning. In most locations, including Gardner, Edgerton and Spring Hill, a local tax is layered above and beyond state sales tax to supplement their municipal budgets. Local grocery sales taxes are especially critical for governments in communities with little or no retail except grocery stores, and the law must be clear on whether local taxes can continue to be placed on grocery items.
And store owners must be given more than a few months to adopt any new sales tax initiative. Retailers need ample time to determine which items will have different sales tax under the law, and they’ll need time to implement those changes in their computer systems.
In the meantime, the Legislature should make the appropriate spending cuts to allow for the difference in the amount the state receives from the sale of groceries.
Good idea. Bad timing, but we applaud the effort.