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Kansas Senate passes plan to cut sales tax on groceries

Updated: 2013-05-24T04:23:03Z

By BRAD COOPER

The Kansas City Star

— The Kansas Senate on Thursday set up a showdown with the House over a tax plan that cuts income taxes along with sales taxes on groceries.

The Senate voted 25-14 Thursday evening to pass the tax plan after failing to reach an agreement earlier in the day with House members over a dispute about how much of a sales tax increase should be renewed.

The Senate plan keeps the state sales tax rate at 6.3 percent but would slice it on groceries to 4.95 percent. It now goes to the House, where approval is questionable.

“I don't think it will have a lot of appeal,” said Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Coldwater Republican.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has called for keeping the current sales tax rate of 6.3 percent to fill a hole caused by income tax cuts enacted last year and to reduce income taxes even deeper in the future. The sales tax is scheduled by law to roll back to 5.7 percent in July.

House leaders are proposing to reduce the sales tax to 6 cents and have shown no signs of moving off that position, leading to a protracted debate that has left lawmakers with little to do in recent days.

The sales tax issue is particularly sensitive in the House, where many members either opposed the increase in 2010 or campaigned against it to get elected.

Senators, however, are hoping that the food sales tax cuts will be enough of a carrot to coax the House into agreeing to a tax plan.

But some Capitol observers are skeptical the House will go along, even though the Legislature on Thursday moved past the 90th day scheduled for this year’s session.

“We have to find a way out of town,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican.

“I would say the House is at a point where they have to vote on something. I think they just to have to decide how long they want to be in Topeka.”

The Senate signaled that it is willing to work into the Memorial Day weekend to finish the session.

Rep. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican who watched the Senate proceedings, said he thought the Senate’s tax plan would get a good look in the House.

“I would say there’s going to be some serious consideration by the House members as a solution to satisfy both chambers and the governor,” Suellentrop said.

The Senate plan also would:

• Cut the top income tax bracket to 3.5 percent by 2018 from 4.9 percent currently.

• Cut the bottom income tax bracket to 2.5 percent by 2017 from 3 percent currently.

• Phase out itemized deductions by 2018, except for charitable contributions.

• Reduce the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly to $6,500 from $9,000. The standard deduction for heads of household would be slashed to $5,000 from $9,000 currently.

Brownback quickly praised the Senate’s plan, saying in a statement that it would reduce the tax burden on all Kansans.

Among the opponents in the Senate was conservative Republican Jeff Melcher of Leawood. He voted against the Senate plan.

Melcher said reducing the sales tax on food was a form of social engineering that would cause people to buy more food in lieu of other products with higher sales taxes. He suggested it would cause people to eat more.

“It seems to me we are encouraging the behavior of purchasing food and discouraging the behavior of purchasing anything else,” Melcher said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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