Governor’s Council recommends food sales tax refund

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — The Governor’s Council on Tax Reform met for the final time Tuesday before the legislative session begins in January.

The council made several recommendations for Governor Kelly including bringing back a refund program on food sales tax for low-income Kansans.

For some families, this will have a significant impact. The high sales tax in the state makes it difficult to put food on the table.

Nicole Purce is a single mother to five children. She said trips to the grocery store are stressful and take a lot of planning.

“Sometimes our grocery shopping needs have put us in a bind to where we can’t even afford our bills because we need to eat,” said Purce. “And I’ve had to juggle, ‘will I pay the lights this month?'”

Due to health restrictions, Purce’s family eats vegan and gluten-free, which adds extra cost.

“It’s for health reasons so I can’t go somewhere else,” says Nicole. “I have to buy what we need.”

Nicole says she clips coupons and buys in bulk when items are on sale. She is also a member of many loyalty programs at local grocery stores in order to get discounts.

But Nicole is not alone in her struggles, Kansas has some of the highest tax on food sales in the country. For every $100 grocery bill, the tax can range from $7.50 to $11.50. An insignificant amount to some could mean less food for Nicole.

“Sometimes my sales tax has made me have to put items back,” said Nicole. “I’ve had enough for when I did the math in my head, then I get to the register and it’s ten more dollars.”

The food sales tax refund program would allow qualifying residents to fill out a form with their income tax return that would refund them based on the number of people in the family. This will bring back the refundable sales tax on food program that was in place prior to 2012.

The council considered an alternate recommendation that would eliminate food sales tax completely but decided against the option.

“Take the whole thing off and it’s about a 400 million dollar hit to the general fund and the state can’t really afford that at this time. So I view this refundable sales tax on food as sort of a short-term fix,” said Senator Steve Morris, Chair of the Governor’s Council on Tax Reform.

The council also made recommendations on internet sales tax. The first would allow the state to collect tax on third-party online vendors. For example, a website like Amazon sells items from third-party sellers, right now, those items are not taxed. This recommendation could make those items taxable. The second recommendation would allow taxation on ‘digital products’; this could include items such as buying an e-book online.

The council also recommended that the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund (LAVTR) be restarted. The fund goes to local governments across the state to reduce mill levies and property taxes in Kansas communities.

These recommendations will now go to Governor Kelly who can decide to pass them on to the legislature in the 2020 session.

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