The evidence is mounting, and people in charge of Kansas’ laws have started to pay attention as KC Healthy Kids has led the charge to get rid of the Kansas’ tax on groceries.
Studies show that Kansas’ current grocery tax of 6.5 percent is hurting working families who are already strapped when it comes to the grocery bill.
Kansas shoppers pay that 6.5 percent plus whatever the local city and county sales tax is when they shop for groceries. That can add up fast — up to 11 percent of purchase totals in some cases.
Families with lower incomes see a higher percentage of their income going to this tax. Many families live in rural areas where salaries are lower and grocery options are fewer and can be more expensive.
States surrounding Kansas either exempt food sales when taxing customers or have a very small tax. Nebraska and Colorado do not have the tax and Missouri’s food sales tax is 1.225 percent. Only six other states have the full retail sales tax rate.
The impact is on local businesses as well. Grocery stores, especially in rural communities next to other states, watch customers go across state borders so they can make the most of their grocery spending.
Larry Adams of Phillipsburg, Kan., is on a fixed income and saves his shopping for when he goes to larger towns in Nebraska. Then he buys hundreds worth of groceries to make the most of his money.
Tim White of Hiawatha, Kan. spent six years attempting to keep the Thriftway there open for customers, but eventually he had to close the doors last year. His clients found opportunities to drive into Nebraska to buy groceries. Their money could go further in a state without sales tax. They could buy fresher foods without the added expense.
“Cost is one of the biggest barriers to access to healthy food in Kansas,” Ashley Jones-Wisner, State Policy Director for KC Healthy Kids says. “When state and local taxes are added to their bill, some Kansans are paying 11% sales tax on their groceries. Food is not a luxury item and should not be taxed as such. Lowering the sales tax on food would put money back in the pockets of Kansas consumers.”
The nonprofit commissioned studies from Kansas Public Finance Center at Wichita State University to illustrate how the grocery tax is a burden on rural grocery stores and families with limited incomes, and how the tax forces people to go across state lines to buy food.
KC Healthy Kids also partnered with Rep. Mark Hutton last session on his proposal to remove the LLC Tax Loophole and remove sales tax on food. Closing this loophole is bound to happen this year, according to Jones-Wisner.
Last legislative session Tom Holland, backed with support from the nonprofit and other lawmakers, proposed a constitutional amendment that would phase out the tax over the year, slowly eliminating the burden on grocery buyers. His legislation was to cut the tax to 4 percent by July of 2017 then cut in half to 2 percent the next year until finally the tax was eliminated for 2019.
It’s clear more and more lawmakers recognize the need for change.
By Traci Angel
What Does Your Legislator Think?
KC Healthy Kids surveyed every candidate running for the 165 seats in the Kansas Legislature to find out what they think about the Kansas grocery tax and other healthy eating and active living policy issues. See Their Responses (11×17 PDF)