Editor’s Note: 27 News is examining the governor’s 2018 campaign promises. This is the second story in a series that will be released in the coming weeks.
TOPEKA (KSNT) – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly made many promises before and after she ran for office, but did she deliver?
One of Kelly’s foremost promises was to “axe the food tax” in Kansas by getting rid of the state’s 6.5% food sales tax to provide relief to Kansas families. This promise can be seen featured prominently in one of her YouTube campaign ads that aired for the 2018 General Election. It was also part of an announcement she gave at a Dillons in Topeka in 2021.
“At 6.5%, we are the second-highest rate in the country,” Kelly said. “In the coming weeks, I’m going to have legislation drafted to eliminate the state sales tax on food…We are going to axe the food sales tax.”
Kelly achieved this goal officially on May 11 when she signed a bill to phase out the food sales tax following years of debate. However, the bill that was signed underwent many revisions in the Kansas Legislature, and a full cut of the food tax was struck down by the Kansas GOP. One of the changes made to the bill required the food sales tax to be reduced gradually over the next few years instead of all at once.
The food sales tax will not be completely “axed” until 2025. The tax will be reduced to 4% on Jan. 1, 2023, and again on Jan. 1, 2024, to 2% before disappearing altogether on Jan. 1, 2025. So, while the original plan did not pass, the food tax cut was achieved by Kelly.
However, an opportunity to reduce the tax on food in Kansas did come across Kelly’s desk in 2019 in the form of Senate Bill 22. This was vetoed by Kelly on March 25, 2019, and failed to acquire enough votes from the legislature for an override. A second attempt to reduce the sales tax on food also came in the form of House Bill 2033. This was also vetoed by Kelly on May 17, 2019.
At the time, Kelly received condemnation for her veto decisions from both political opponents and Kansas business leaders.
Alan Cobb, CEO and President of the Kansas Chamber, put out the following statement on May 17, 2019, in response to the veto of HB 2033:
“It’s extremely disappointing to learn Governor Kelly vetoed a reasonable effort to show middle ground on addressing the tax increase Kansas businesses and individuals are experiencing,” Cobb said. “She campaigned as a governor willing to reach across the aisle but has nothing but empty promises and record spending to show for it. Instead of building bridges, she’s flown in like Daenerys into King’s Landing and torched any hope of common ground.”
Schmidt also gave out the following statement on April 19, 2022 via social media:
“When Governor Kelly says she wants to ‘axe the food tax’ she’s not being upfront about the fact Kansans would be paying close to zero right now in grocery taxes if she hadn’t vetoed House Bill 2033 in 2019,” Schmidt said. “I would have signed that bill into law, and as a result, Kansans would already have some relief from Joe Biden’s out of control inflation at the grocery store. Once again, the Legislature is left to clean up Laura Kelly’s mess.”
Kelly explained her reasoning around the veto decisions in two letters for SB 22 and HB 2033. She said signing HB 2033 would “decimate” Kansas’ ability to pay its bills and invest in its residents and that it would create a $1 billion deficit within three years had it been signed. She also accused SB 22 of being another “tax experiment” and that it “would throw our state once again into a self-inflicted budget crisis.”
Gov. Kelly’s communication team, told 27 News Kelly’s reasons for vetoing HB 2033 were based on the state’s recovery from the fiscal crises caused by the Brownback tax cuts. The team also pointed out the Kelly administration was focused on other fiscal improvements at the time, such as closing so-called the “Bank of KDOT,” paying off debt incurred from previous administrations, coming to terms with a constitutional school funding plan, and making full and on-time payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
To check out last week’s article on Kelly’s promise of fixing the foster care system, click here.