Governor candidates Kelly, Schmidt mark holidays by offering tax gifts to potential voters

Kelly working to end food sales tax; Schmidt urges tax relief in wake of wildfires

By: - December 23, 2021 11:29 am
Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he would recommend the Kansas Supreme Court approve new legislative district boundary maps after the redistricting bill was signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he would recommend the Kansas Supreme Court approve new legislative district boundary maps after the redistricting bill was signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The two leading candidates for governor in Kansas stepped into the holiday season Thursday with expressions of political generosity crafted to the ease tax burdens of their constituents.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly unwrapped text of a bill eliminating the state government’s 6.5% sales tax on food, while Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt advocated tax relief for farmers and ranchers rebuilding from wildfires that recently engulfed about 400,000 acres.

Both tax policy proposals would be subject to action by the Kansas Legislature, which convenes Jan. 10. Eliminating the state sales tax on groceries could cost more than $400 million on an annual basis. There is no estimate of financial implications for the state treasury if lawmakers approved a sales tax exemption for purchase of fencing supplies and other rebuilding materials associated with Dec. 15 fires that swept into western Kansas counties.

Schmidt, who is seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 2022, met Wednesday with emergency responders, farmers and ranchers, and community members in Russell County. He toured the area with Sen. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia, and Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill.

“The devastation is widespread and shocking,” Schmidt said. “Livestock was devastated, homes destroyed, property damaged, lives lost. It is encouraging in this Christmas season to see neighbors coming together to support each other as the recovery continues and the rebuilding begins. Many other Kansans who live far from the affected areas are stepping forward to care for displaced livestock, provide hay and feed, contribute money and needed goods, or otherwise provide assistance.”

In 2017, then-Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill granting a sales tax exemption to help property owners rebuild fences on agricultural land after wildfires scorched more than 1,000 square miles of Kansas. The Legislature passed that bill unanimously.

Kelly, a former state senator seeking re-election to a second term as governor, endorsed prompt passage by the 2022 Legislature of a sales tax exemption for fence materials and services related to damage caused by last week’s wildfires. She directed Mark Burghart, secretary of the Kansas Department of Revenue, to work with state legislators on the exemption.

The governor also pressed ahead with her “Axe the Food Tax” proposal to end the state’s assessment of sales tax on food purchases. Kansas is among seven states that fully taxes groceries.

“Eliminating the state sales tax on food benefits every family in Kansas. It supports our businesses and strengthens our communities,” Kelly said. “The importance of delivering food sales tax relief is recognized by legislators and policymakers on both sides of the aisle.”

She said the objective was to approach the issue in a bipartisan manner to secure passage of a “clean bill.” Typically, the Legislature creates massive tax bills that combine proposals of wide popular interest with obscure special-interest changes.

On Thursday, Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes and House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer released a draft of the food sales tax proposal.

The definition of food in the bill was cast in a broad sense “to provide the maximum benefit to Kansas families buying groceries,” the Democrats said. Their version of the sales tax overhaul would provide an estimated $500 annual benefit to Kansas families. The bill also would fully exempt food products sold at farmers markets from both state and local sales tax.

“I’ve heard from Kansans from every corner of the state who are ready for this relief and expect us to deliver,” said Sykes, a Democrat from Lenexa. “This is the right thing to do, and now is the time to do it. I hope my colleagues across the aisle will sign on to this bill. Kansans are counting on us.”

Sawyer said he would encourage all 125 representatives in the Kansas House to embrace an end to the state’s sales tax on food because it touches people in every corner of the state, of every political affiliation and within every income bracket.

“Republicans and Democrats across Kansas, including legislators and voters, publicly support cutting the food tax to 0%,” Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat. “A straightforward, clean bill free of partisan games or political schemes ensures swift passage and prompt tax relief for Kansas families. Big businesses got a break last year. Now it is time for hardworking Kansans.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.