The Kansas Senate passed a bill to lower the tax on groceries from 6.3% to 4.95%. If the measure passes the House and is signed into law, $50 worth of groceries before tax would go from $53.15 to $52.48. A difference of 67 cents. There is a lot to think about with tax policy: how much is too much? Should tax rates or budget sizes be decided first, or should both be looked at in tandem? Is it best to tax items like groceries that people will buy one way or the other?
Anyway, plenty to think about, and one Kansas State Senator, Jeff Melcher (R), is vigorously opposed to the reduction in grocery taxes. See if you can guess why. It's one of these five choices.
a) Kansas has a budget crisis and can't afford any tax cuts, especially not a reliable one like a grocery sales tax.Consumers won't notice a small tax reduction such as this one, but it will force state legislators to make painful cuts to popular programs.
b) Melcher thinks that a grocery tax reduction gives an unfair advantage to men, who consume more food than women.
c) Kansas' budget has already been agreed on for this year, and reducing revenue in the middle will force the state to backtrack on business it has already agreed to, and Melcher is anxious to move on to laws concerning unions and voter IDs.
d) If Kansas reduces taxes on food, people will only buy food, and won't buy anything else.
e) People will buy too much food, get too fat, and then Kansans won't be able to keep up, literally or metaphorically, with people in other states.
Got your answer?
Here's the big reveal...
The reason Kansas State Senator Jeff Melcher is opposed to lowering the state's grocery tax is...
d) If Kansas reduces taxes on food, people will only buy food and won't buy anything else.
Yes, it's that 67 cents per $50 that is restraining people and forcing them to spend their money in a variety of industries and not just food. Don't believe me? According to the Kansas City Star:
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.
To be fair, taxes can alter behavior. New York City has a famously high tax on cigarettes, and it has been credited with reducing smoking in the city. To be fair in a different way, what Melcher is saying is crazy. If everything in Kansas was taxed at 15%, and the proposal was to reduce grocery taxes to 5%, then yes, that would have a measurable effect on behavior, and we could argue if that is a good or bad thing. The tax that is being proposed however is nowhere close to anything resembling social engineering. Especially given that, umm, taxes already exist. Calling this tax reduction social engineering is like calling people with smart phones cyborgs.
Oh, and the idea that this discourages people from buying other stuff? Alright, so let's say the tax passes, you spend $50 on groceries and find yourself with 67 cents you weren't planning on having! Do you:
a) Not notice.
b) Keep it.
c) Spend it on more food
d) Spend it on something else
e) refuse to buy other stuff because of this barely noticeable price reduction in food (Melcher is pretty sure this is your answer)
f) Wonder how people like Jeff Melcher get elected