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UPDATED/4:05 p.m.

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday proposed eliminating Kansas' sales tax on groceries, a move that would save many families hundreds of dollars a year.

The Democratic governor outlined her plan for providing roughly $450 million a year in relief to consumers three days after Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt called on the GOP-controlled Legislature to reduce or eliminate the tax next year. Schmidt hopes to unseat Kelly in the 2022 governor's race.

“That's something we've been trying to get done for some time,” Rep. Eric Smith, R-Burlington, said Monday afternoon. “It's good to have both sides on board... It's one of those that nobody can argue with.”

But another Lyon County lawmaker was cautious about the announcement. Especially that $450 million part.

“Neither one of them gave any details on how it will be paid for,” Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, said. “If it's a straight reduction in revenue, you've got to weigh that with what services would have to be eliminated.”

The support of both leading candidates for governor is likely make reducing or ending the 6.5% state sales tax on groceries a top issue for lawmakers once they reconvene in January. But Republicans have in the past tied modest reductions in the tax to income tax cuts that Kelly has opposed, and she's vetoed the bills.

“I don't think we can afford to do both,” Longbine said.

An end to the “food tax” probably won't give grocery stores any more work to do.

“We've already got things which are encoded into the system,” said Matt Good of Good's Cash Saver.

He thinks the “axe the food tax” idea would be helpful for families. But he pondered whether the proposal would entice people to spend more on groceries and less on restaurant dining.

“If it creates more of a separation between you and other options, it could potentially lead to more business,” Good said.

Kansas is among only 13 states that imposes a state sales tax on groceries —and its 6.5% is the second-highest rate, behind only Mississippi's 7%, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.

Good, who sits on the board of the Kansas Retail Grocers Association, noted that stores located near state lines could benefit from the proposal.

Colorado and Nebraska currently do not have a sales tax on food, while Missouri and Oklahoma do.

The potential savings for consumers would be $6.50 for every $100 of groceries they buy. And Kansas is flush for now. Tax collections from July 1 through Oct. 31 were 18.9% greater than projected for a surplus of $440 million.

“We've looked at, in the past two years plus, revenues exceeding expectations,” Smith added. “It's time to start giving back.”

Kelly promised during her 2018 campaign for governor to push for cutting the tax.

(1) comment


Those tax-and-spend Republicans! Jeff Longbine never met a tax increase he didn't like.

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