A bill that would have lowered the sales tax on groceries is dead due to political wrangling, according to Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican.

Whitmer attached an amendment to lower sales tax on food by 1.1 percent to a bill that would have exempted taxes on gold coins. To pay for the reduction in the grocery tax, Whitmer’s amendment eliminated sales tax exemptions on some luxury services like massages, hair styling, detective and dating services.

“It was going to pass,” Whitmer says. “Leadership was behind it. Half the Democrats were supporting it.”

However, Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, asked that the question be divided, which meant lawmakers would be asked to vote on a series of five sales tax exemptions and then one vote on lowering the grocery sales tax rate.

“That was his point. Ward now gets the Republicans on the record voting for five tax increases,” Whitmer says. “That was his point. It was all politics. Are they five tax increases? Technically, but when you do it as a one-to-one that’s neutral, that’s good policy.”

Whitmer withdrew his amendment, though he blames Ward’s election year politics for defeating a popular measure that Whitmer says had wide-ranging support.

“The sad part is there are Democrats who wanted this. It would be a great vote for them. It’s great for people. It’s great for folks on fixed incomes, and it all got killed because Jim Ward wanted to get a bunch of gotcha votes on Republicans,” Whitmer says.

The Wichita Republican has been trying for the last several years to grease legislation through that lowers the sales tax rate on food, but the credit for the effort often goes across the aisle.

Recently, Rep. Tim Hodge, a North Newton Democrat, offered legislation to cut sales taxes on groceries by half. He proposed a massive tax increase of 10 percent on income above $500,000 per year.

It was full-blown class warfare. It garnered significant media coverage, even as the proposal for a hefty tax on wealth drew defiant opposition. Whitmer said Hodge’s proposal had no chance of passing. It’s unlikely to be passed out of committee.

“Here’s the sad part: the Democrats have been campaigning on lowering the sales tax on food,” Whitmer says. “They had one chance. They killed it.”

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