Proposals to eliminate Missouri sales tax on groceries in limbo

Tax on groceries Nwes Graphic

(Missouri Independent) – Missouri is one of just 13 states that levies a sales tax on grocery food items.

Citing the hefty burden on low-income shoppers and the rising cost of food, several other states have moved to reduce the burden of the grocery sales tax. Kansas began phasing it out this year and Illinois suspended the tax for one year. 

But in Missouri, renewed bipartisan efforts to eliminate the sales tax on take-home grocery food this session appear stalled. 

A stand-alone bill to eliminate the state portion of the grocery sales tax, sponsored by Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, was approved by committee last month but has yet to be placed on the Senate’s debate calendar.

“I’m not as confident that that will have a path forward,” Coleman said in an interview Wednesday with The Independent, adding that typically, bills that haven’t reached the other chamber at this point in session “have a harder time” ultimately passing — although she is “not pessimistic” because it is a bipartisan issue other states have tackled.

Six bills in the House have been filed to eliminate the grocery sales tax but none have been assigned to the committee.

Proponents successfully added the grocery tax proposal as an amendment to an unrelated bill two weeks ago in the Senate. But last week, after the estimated cost of eliminating the tax was determined, the bill’s sponsor demanded it be removed, effectively derailing both measures.

Coleman said that she did not support the removal of the grocery tax provision last week.

“I was really disappointed to see that we were stripping that off,” she said.

The fiscal note for the grocery tax loss estimates that the state would lose over $1.3 billion in local funds and $200 million in state funds each year beginning in fiscal year 2025. Coleman’s stand-alone bill included only the state tax repeal.

Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, raised concern about the price tag, arguing during the Senate debate that the legislature’s income tax cuts negotiated last year would provide similar help to low-income families.

“This is going to be an interesting litmus test as to whether or not the majority of the (Senate) still continues to believe that we need to be lessening the tax burden more holistically, or if we’re starting to say maybe enough is enough,” Hough said, adding that “a number of reductions to the individual income tax…will continue to decrease the burden on individuals.”

Coleman, who proposed similar legislation in the House last year, said taxing essential items like food poses an inordinate cost to the lowest-income consumers.

“I don’t think that the taxpayer is wanting us to tax food,” she said. “I really don’t believe that.”

Clara Bates

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty for The Missouri Independent. She previously worked for the Nevada Current, where she reported on labor violations in casinos, hurdles facing applicants for unemployment benefits, and lax oversight of the funeral industry. She also wrote about vocational education for Democracy Journal. Bates is a graduate of Harvard College.