Will Kansas repeal tax on all food, or just healthy items?

As Gov. Laura Kelly campaigns to eliminate sales tax on food, a movement is surfacing to limit the tax relief to healthy foods only.

As Gov. Laura Kelly campaigns to eliminate sales tax on food, a movement is surfacing to limit the tax relief to healthy foods only.


As Gov. Laura Kelly campaigns to eliminate Kansas’ sales taxes on food, a movement is brewing to limit the tax relief to healthy foods only.

The idea of limited food tax relief surfaced during a public forum of the South Central Kansas legislative delegation Tuesday night. It was suggested by Jane Byrnes, a health and fitness advocate who serves on Wichita’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board.

“If you remove the tax from healthful foods for Kansans, you’d be educating Kansans,” Byrnes said. “Most folks don’t know the difference between evidence-based healthful foods and the extras, the heavily marketed snacks and sugary drinks that do not support health.”

Byrnes’ proposal got favorable reviews from some lawmakers, who said they want to ditch the tax on necessary food, but not unhealthy luxuries.

“I am right on with what you’re saying,” Rep. Bill Rhiley, a Wellington Republican, told Byrnes.

“Let them (the federal government) decide what is the healthy foods — what’s already been keyed into the Dillons and Wal-Mart cash registers. They’ve got it all figured out, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Byrnes proposed food tax relief follow the approved list of foods for the federal Women, Infants and Chlldren supplemental nutrition program.

WIC-eligible foods are limited to a fairly short list of basic products such as fresh vegetables, dairy and eggs, beans and tofu, canned fish, low-sugar cereals, whole-grain bread and certain baby foods and formula. Pure fruit juices and soy beverages are allowed under WIC, but not sodas or diluted and sweetened fruit drinks.

Sen. Mark Steffen, a Hutchinson anesthesiologist, said unhealthy food causes unhealthy Kansans.

“To take the taxes off the food that is inherently creating the health problems, this is not a good idea,” Steffen said. “The concept of not taxing healthy food, I think that’s brilliant.”

Steffen said as a conservative Republican, he supports lower taxes in general, but also cautioned that whatever revenue the state gives up by cutting food taxes will have to be offset by cuts in spending.

A bill already introduced by House and Senate Democratic leaders in response to the governor’s highly publicized “axe the food tax” plan would exempt nearly all groceries, including many items not on the WIC-eligible list, including fresh meat, canned goods, candy, soft drinks, bottled water, dietary supplements and any food sold from vending machines.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat, said she supports the Democratic leaders’ bill.

“I hear from some of those families that have lost their jobs to COVID and they are struggling to just, you know, put food in the house,” said the senator, who has proposed food tax relief for years. “So I’ll certainly be supporting the legislation. I’m sure some amendments will be coming back and forth.”

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.