Lawmakers consider replacing 'Axe the Tax' with a new grocery sales tax plan
Lately, it seems like you need a master's degree in math just to figure out the sales taxes on your grocery bill. So why are lawmakers who just voted to cut grocery sales taxes last year already talking about scrapping the whole plan and starting over?
“If you look back at our tax… our taxing of our state, we would none of us, none of us in this room would lay out taxes as we have them today,” Sen. Ty Masterson, R Andover, told the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee Monday morning about his bill, SB 248. “So, this is meant to be a tool.”
As proposed, that tool would zero out both state and local sales taxes on groceries that the federal WIC (Women, Infants & Children) program considers healthy, like fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish, grains like brown rice, but not white, and peanut butter.
Any prepared foods would still be subject to all sales taxes.
The industries that have to figure out those taxes say just dealing with the lengthy list is a complication they don't want.
“The strawberry milk, the chocolate milk, the white rice, the brown rice, all those different pieces of the puzzle, are going to add a level of complexity. Where running to complete zero or leaving it where it’s at, would both be more…simple,” said Kevin Gregg, representing the Convenience Store Association.
“Kansas would be the first state in the nation to define healthy foods,” said Derek Hein, representing the Kansas Beverage Association. “That's been talked about. It's never been done. I think partially because each one of us would have a different idea of what healthy is.”
Senate President Ty Masterson says his bill would save the state money by lowering the total number of items eligible for cuts. That money would then allow Kansas to re-arrange how it handles income and property taxes while also encouraging the poor to make healthier food choices.
“We're not saying tax something to disincentivize. We're saying, ‘Don't tax the good decision, but then use the leverage from the other to take…buy down other taxes,’” Masterson explained when questioned. “Is this meant to only help those less fortunate? I think the answer is, No. They're there to be helped, but it's to help all Kansans, not just those less fortunate. Because…the best thing for them is a job.“
Opponents call the proposal discrimination against those who can't afford healthier foods if they can even find them at all.
“One in six Kansans live in a food desert. That means they don't have the financial and transportation means to get access to a grocery store. So, often, they have to choose convenience stores or grocery stores to buy their groceries. So, they might have to choose white rice over brown rice because that's what's available to them,” Jami Reever, with Kansas Appleseed, told lawmakers. “One in four Kansas kids lived in a household that cannot always afford to eat nutritious meals….That's a reality for way too many families.”
All of this, Reever says, is coming at a time when inflation has grocery costs skyrocketing.
“Kansans are still struggling. Their grocery bills are still, really, way too high. The stress that families experience when they go to the grocery store is not acceptable,” she said. “When you're making your meal plan for the week when you're making your grocery list and you're throwing food in your grocery cart and you see $6 for a dozen eggs. The whole grain bread that I've been buying for my family for years is $2 higher than it was a few years ago. It's well over $5 now. Those expenses are real for every Kansan.”