Gov. Laura Kelly speaks with Laboratory Director Sally Flowers and KDA Secretary Mike Beam during a tour of the new Kansas Department of Agriculture Laboratory in Manahttan Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Nick McNamara/KMAN)

Gov. Laura Kelly Tuesday expressed optimism about the prospects of a proposed elimination of the state’s sales tax on food following a tour of the Kansas Department of Agriculture Laboratory in Manhattan.

“I don’t have any doubt we’ll get bipartisan movement on it,” Kelly said in an interview with Manhattan-based reporters. “There are a lot of people, on both sides of the aisle, who have wanted to do this for a while.”

Kelly announced her intent to introduce a bill on the matter Monday. She and likely gubernatorial opponent and current Attorney General Derek Schmidt have common ground on the topic.

(Nick McNamara/KMAN)

She says slashing grocery tax revenue will result in a substantial hit to the state coffers, to an estimated tune of $450 million plus, but says Kansas’ budget is in a place such that it can withstand the impact.

“We’ve really grown the economy in the last couple of years,” Kelly says. “Brought in $7 billion of new capital investment, 30,000 jobs, and the result of that has been — you can see it in our revenue numbers which have exceeded monthly estimates for over a year now.”

Kelly further questioned the morality of taxing food sales, calling it ‘really wrong.’

“It’s a very regressive tax,” she says. “Really hurts the people for whom food is a major portion of their monthly budget.”

Food insecurity in Riley County was 13.5 percent prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, rising to 14.8 percent in 2021 according to Feeding America. The 2021 number was 18.3 percent for children specifically. Numbers were provided to KMAN by Riley County Food and Farm Council Coordinator Vickie James.

(Nick McNamara/KMAN)

Kelly didn’t think the sales tax elimination would be enough to sufficiently address food insecurity in the state, though says there are other avenues through which the state is attempting to positively impact the issue.

“We’ve made a number of grants to our local communities to be able to shore up entrepreneurs and grocers — particularly our smaller grocers,” says Kelly. “We also work with our farmers’ markets, which is another place for people to go to get nutritious food.

“But when we eliminate the food sales tax, it will help people who shop at the farmers’ market or shop at these smaller groceries.”

Kelly was in Manhattan for her first look at the new KDA lab, which relocated officially from Topeka to Manhattan in March 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic beginning shortly thereafter, there haven’t been many opportunities for tours of the facility. She called the lab ‘incredibly impressive.’

“They have capabilities that maybe only 10 other states have,” says Kelly. “This is really not only a gift to Kansas, but it’s also probably very helpful all across the region.”

Kelly says the visit was important as Kansas prepares to enter budget season and helps give her a better idea how state dollars are being invested amid talk of need for further investment in higher education.

(Nick McNamara/KMAN)

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