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Editorial: Eliminate tax on groceries

It likely won’t succeed, but the effort to do away with the most regressive sales tax is a noble cause.

The Douglas County Food Policy Council is right to advocate for eliminating sales taxes on groceries, even though the effort may be futile.

The council is a joint city-county board and one of its initiatives is the Food System Plan, developed with local focus groups and community forums. One of the plan’s five goals is to foster expansion of city- and county-led initiatives to make food more affordable, including reducing and eliminating the sales tax on groceries.

“I think one of the things we heard most as we did different listening sessions across the county was that affordability of healthy food was a big concern,” said Helen Schnoes, Douglas County sustainability and food systems planner and liaison to the council.

Sales taxes in general are the most regressive form of taxation, in that the tax burden increases as income decreases. And charging sales tax on groceries is the most regressive form of the most regressive tax.

The Douglas County Community Health Assessment estimates 17 percent of people living in Douglas County are “food insecure,” meaning they have limited or uncertain access to adequate food. One in 5 children live in households that are food insecure.

Most states don’t assess sales taxes on groceries. Kansas is among 13 that do. Of those 13, six charge a lesser rate on groceries. Kansas, Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Dakota are those that charge full sales tax rates on groceries.

But getting state and local government to give up the revenue from the sales tax on groceries — in favor of taxes elsewhere — is a nearly insurmountable task. The Kansas Legislature controls the state sales tax rate and doesn’t allow local governments to exempt groceries from sales tax. Not that it would if it could.

In 2016, the city collected more than $5 million in revenue from local sales tax on groceries, according to sales tax reports. That was 13 percent of the city’s sales tax revenue and about 2.5 percent of the city’s overall revenue for the year.

“We can’t talk about that until we talk about lost revenue and how that would impact our budget and how we would work around that,” Mayor Leslie Soden said. “In reality, that would be detrimental to our budget.”

Ironically, the city just passed a .05 percent sales tax increase in order to raise $1 million per year for affordable housing initiatives. Arguably, more lower-income residents would have benefited from a break on sales taxes than will ever benefit from the affordable housing programs.

The Douglas County Food Policy Council is fighting the good fight, even if it is a fight it can’t win.

Comments

Charles L. Bloss, Jr.

I am opposed to any tax on groceries, though I doubt it will ever be taken away.

6 months ago

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Ken Lassman

Kansas does have an Earned Income Tax Credit of 17% that helps mitigate the regressivity of sales taxes on food, perhaps making sales tax collections less regressive than a food sales tax exemption would. For details, check out: https://itep.org/wp-content/uploads/p...

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Bob Summers

Liberal government people taxing food is pretty low.

It is disgusting of these types of people taking food out of your mouth for their petty made-up needs.

These types of people will sink to any depth to confiscate what is yours.

Do they not have any shame?

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Ken Lassman

Sales taxes were first implemented on food, among a whole host of other purchases, in 1937 by a Republican dominated legislature and a fiscally conservative Republican governor. Sorry to screw up your one note song, Bob.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Bob Summers

Republican is a choice.

Congenital Liberal is not.

Get with science. Science is good.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Ken Lassman

Sorry, Bob; if you want to swallow the eugenics pill, it works all across the political spectrum. Conservatives have a tendency toward overactive amygdalas, which is no doubt just as genetically based as your novelty seeking gene you say "controls" those you label "liberals." Either admit that the DRD4 polymorphism is not a determinant in behavior or accept that conservatives are similar slaves to their genetic makeup. There is no "science" that says that the 1937 legislature and governor were driven by the DRD4 gene to implement a statewide sales tax. Indeed, Bob: get with science.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Lynn Grant

And I believe it is the republican dominated Legislature and executive branch that has retained the sales tax on food over the years.

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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Steve King

Yo Bob. We have Republicans in power in Kansas. They are the gatekeepers don't you know? Another lame attempt at deflection. This one so bad we feel sorry for you and your addiction to blaming everything on "Liberals". Sad.

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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Bob Summers

You justify taxing food out children's belly by labeling people with the Liberal condition Republican.

Too funny.

Not funny for the hungry children though.

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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