Private investigators and some other services that Kansas lawmakers consider “non-essential” may soon be subject to the state sales tax.
The House on Monday passed a bill 78-42 that would impose the state’s 6.5 percent sales tax on a relatively short list of currently exempt services.
In addition to private investigation and security services, the list includes plumbing and pool cleaning, towing, non-residential janitorial services, debt collection and pet care excluding veterinary services.
The measure, which now goes to the Senate, also would lower the sales tax on food, but only by a percentage point and not until 2020, when lawmakers hope to finally have the state’s budget problems behind them.
The change would generate $110 million in additional revenue over the next two budget years, only a fraction of the $900 million that lawmakers need to close a projected gap in the fiscal 2018 and 2019 budgets.
Rep. Dennis “Boog” Highberger, a Democrat from Lawrence, voted against the bill, calling it a random approach to solving the state’s budget and revenue problems.
“I support the goals of broadening the tax base and eliminating the food sales tax, but this is not the way to get there,” Highberger said. “The groups to be subjected to taxation were selected by a handful of people, and the revenue gained serves primarily to reduce the likelihood of income tax reform.”
A six-member conference committee finalized the list of services included in the bill.
Highberger said if lawmakers stick to their promise to reduce the food sales tax to 5.5 percent, it would save a family of four only about $1 a week.
The Senate defeated a bill last week that would have raised approximately $1 billion a year in additional revenue by substantially rolling back the income tax cuts that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through the Legislature in 2012.
A majority of Democrats voted against the measure because they feared it would not generate sufficient revenue to close the budget gap and increase funding for public schools by enough to satisfy a recent Kansas Supreme Court order. Conservative Republicans who favor spending cuts over tax increases also voted against the bill.
Legislators are now in the third week of what they hoped would be a two-week wrap-up to the 2017 session.
Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.