Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Wary Eyes Track Food Sales Tax ; Grocers, Child Advocacy Group Watch Legislators' Plans to Alter State's Rate for Groceries

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Wary Eyes Track Food Sales Tax ; Grocers, Child Advocacy Group Watch Legislators' Plans to Alter State's Rate for Groceries

Article excerpt

As the Kansas Legislature continues its prolonged search for a solution to the state's $400 million budget gap, grocers and child nutrition advocates are watching what happens to the state's sales tax rate for unprepared food.

Most states and the District of Columbia don't collect sales tax on food and many states that do offer a lower tax rate for food compared to other items. Kansas, however, currently taxes food at the same rate -- 6.15 percent -- as other consumer goods. Only Mississippi, with its 7 percent sales tax rate, places a higher state sales tax on food purchases than Kansas.

On Tuesday, the Kansas Senate adopted an amendment to set the sales tax rate for food at 5.7 percent but didn't vote on the underlying bill.

In a plan that didn't pass the Senate on Monday, the sales tax rate on food would fall to 6 percent, but not until six months after the overall sales tax rate was increased to 6.5 percent. On Saturday morning, Gov. Sam Brownback put forth a plan that wouldn't create a separate sales tax rate for food, meaning the rate for food would increase to 6.5 percent.

Two of Kansas' four neighboring states, Oklahoma and Missouri, tax unprepared food sales. Oklahoma's tax rate is 4 percent while Missouri's is 1.225 percent.

John McCormick, president and CEO of the Retail Grocers Association of Greater Kansas City, represents grocery stores in both Kansas and Missouri. McCormick says residents on Kansas' northern and eastern borders often cross into Nebraska and Missouri for cheaper groceries.

"It's just one more thing that could, and does, push people across the line," McCormick said. "Gas is fairly cheap right now so they may drive across for cigarettes and liquor and while they're there, they're going to buy their groceries over there."

McCormick said minor changes to the sales tax on food would create a lot of work for grocery store employees, who must electronically reset the rates at which each item is taxed, while providing very few savings for consumers.

Shannon Cotsoradis, CEO of Topeka-based nonprofit child advocacy group Kansas Action for Children, agrees. …

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