Will Kansas eliminate the tax on all foods or only healthy items?

While Gov. Laura Kelly has been campaigning to abolish the sales tax on food, a movement has emerged to limit the tax exemption to only healthy foods.

While Gov. Laura Kelly has been campaigning to abolish the sales tax on food, a movement has emerged to limit the tax exemption to only healthy foods.

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While Governor Laura Kelly has been campaigning to repeal Kansas sales tax on food, a movement is brewing to limit the tax credit to only healthy foods.

The idea for a limited exemption from the food tax surfaced during a public forum for the South Central Kansas legislature Tuesday night. This was suggested by Jane Burns, a health and fitness advocate who works for the Bicycle and Walking Advisory Council in Wichita.

“If you eliminate the tax from Kansan’s healthy foods, Kansas will know,” Burns said. “Most people don’t know the difference between healthy, evidence-based foods and additives, heavily marketed snacks and sugary drinks that don’t support health.”

Burns’ proposal garnered positive reviews from some lawmakers, who said they wanted to do away with the tax on essential food, but not unhealthy luxuries.

“I’m right in what you say,” Representative Bill Riley, a Wellington Republican, told Burns.

“Let them (the federal government) decide what foods are healthy — what’s actually on Dillons Walmart’s cashbooks. They got it all, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Burns suggested that the food tax relief follow the list of approved foods for the supplemental feeding program for women, infants, and children.

WIC-eligible foods are limited to a relatively short list of staples such as fresh vegetables, dairy products, eggs, beans, tofu, canned fish, reduced-sugar cereals, whole-grain bread, some baby foods, and formula. Pure fruit juices and soy drinks are allowed under the WIC, but not soft drinks or diluted and sweetened fruit drinks.

Senator Mark Stephen, an anesthesiologist in Hutchinson, said unhealthy food does harm to Kansas.

“Removing taxes from food that naturally cause health problems, that’s not a good idea,” Stephen said. “The concept of not taxing healthy food, I think, is great.”

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

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

Senator Oletha Faust Godow, a Democrat from Wichita, said she supports the Democratic leaders’ bill.

“I’m hearing from some of those families who have lost their jobs because of COVID and they’re struggling to just, you know, put food in the house,” said the senator, who has proposed a food tax exemption for years. So I will definitely support the legislation. I’m sure some adjustments will come back and forth.”

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Senior journalist Dion Leffler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics, and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he has worked for LA Daily News, Pasadena Star-News, and other newspapers. He’s a father to twins, director of public service services at the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the old baseball team Cowtown.

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