Sales tax incentives yes, but no relief on grocery sales tax

Is it equitable for business firms to pay no sales tax, while low-income families pay sales tax on groceries?

Last week I wondered if the city’s agenda packet for economic development incentives proposed for BG Products was complete. 1 Since the city’s narrative had no mention of a sales tax exemption, but the accompanying ordinance that was passed authorized a sales tax exemption, I wondered if the analysis performed by the Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research was correct.

Now that I’ve received the document, it appears that CEDBR’s analysis properly included the cost of the sales tax exemption incentive. 2 The city’s narrative did not mention the sales tax exemption.

According to the CEDBR analysis, the sales tax exemption has a cost of $368,417. It is shared among the city, county and state, with 88 percent born by the state. 3

From a public policy perspective, we must wonder whether this incentive, and the other incentives BG Products received, are necessary for the company to proceed with its expansion in Wichita. The Industrial Revenue Bond program, which is the enabler of these incentives, does not require the applicant companies to demonstrate financial need. There are a few requirements, but none have to do with economic or financial necessity. 4

The State of Kansas applies the full sales tax rate to groceries, and is one of the few states to do this. 5 This tax disproportionally harms low-income families. 6 This is a problem in equity, in that business firms may request sales tax exemptions without showing need, while low-income families have no way to avoid the sales tax on their groceries.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita Business Journal grants city council excess power. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-business-journal-grants-city-council-excess-power/.
  2. Analysis by Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MZXJaOVhzUzBJc2M/.
  3. From the analysis performed by the city by Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University, these are the values of the sales tax incentives:
    City: 29,109
    County: 14,308
    State: 325,000
    Total: 368,417
    With the sales tax rate of 7.50%, this implies taxable spending of $4,912,227.
  4. “The percentage of taxes abated is based on capital investment and job creation. Majority of goods or services sold must be destined for customers outside of the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Company must pay average wages equal to or greater than the industry or Wichita MSA wage rate. City benefit/cost ration must be at least 1.3 to 1.” City of Wichita, Economic Development Incentives. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Economic/Pages/Incentives.aspx.
  5. “Kansas has nearly the highest statewide sales tax rate for groceries. Cities and counties often add even more tax on food.” Weeks, Bob. Kansas sales tax on groceries is among the highest. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-sales-tax-groceries-among-highest/.
  6. “Analysis of household expenditure data shows that a proposed sales tax in Wichita affects low income families in greatest proportion, confirming the regressive nature of sales taxes.” Weeks, Bob. Wichita sales tax hike harms low income families most severely. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-sales-tax-hike-harms-low-income-families-severely/.

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