TOPEKA – Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday that he would support the creation of a food sales tax rebate program.
The Kansas Senate’s top Democrat quickly pointed out that the state did have a food sales tax rebate program until 2012, when it was eliminated to help pay for income tax cuts that Brownback championed.
Kansas has one of the highest food sales tax rates in the nation. Most states exempt groceries from sales tax or tax them at a significantly lower rate than other items. Kansas does not, and it raised its sales tax to 6.5 percent last year to help cover a budget shortfall.
Asked if he would support lowering the rate on food, Brownback said it would be difficult to pay for that, given the state’s budget constraints. According to estimates, every 1-cent reduction in the sales tax on groceries would cost about $66 million in revenue.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
The governor said he would prefer to create a rebate program for low-income Kansans.
“These are always balancing acts,” Brownback said. “I think (Revenue Secretary) Nick Jordan would tell you, and I think this is true, that you’d be better off going off with some sort of rebate program, low-income rebate, on food sales than doing it across the board. That would be much more targeted.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the state used to have that rebate, but ended it in the same 2012 bill that lowered income tax rates across the board and exempted certain business owners’ income taxes.
The old rebate program allowed Kansans who earned less than $35,401 and met another requirement, such as being 55 or older or living with a dependent under 18, to receive a rebate for the sales tax they spent on food when they filed their income taxes.
It was replaced with an income tax credit program for lower-income households. Critics said the tax credit program was smaller and benefited only those who owed income taxes.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy,” Hensley said about Brownback’s suggestion for a rebate now.
“He basically took this money away from poor people so he could give these tax breaks to rich people. And now he’s saying we’ve got to have a food sales tax rebate program for poor people,” Hensley said. “It never should have been repealed in the first place.”
Contributing: Edward M. Eveld of The Kansas City Star