Is there a point where sales taxes become so high that consumers need to be warned?
Sales tax is already high in the northeast Kansas college town of Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas Jayhawks. After July 1, the combined sales tax rate — state, county, and city — will be 8.85 percent.
Lawrence has two districts where an extra one cent per dollar is added to that. Like Wichita, Lawrence is considering creating Community Improvement Districts, where merchants add up to another two cents per dollar in sales tax. The proceeds of that extra sales tax go to the exclusive benefit of the district.
In Lawrence, therefore, the sales tax in some parts of town could reach 10.85 percent. On in round numbers, eleven cents per dollar spent.
That has the mayor and some city council members concerned, according to reporting in the Lawrence Journal-World. According to the article: “Commissioners said they have heard multiple concerns from residents who fear they may buy products at locations without knowing they are paying the extra tax.”
That’s a problem. Most people are generally aware of their state’s sales tax rate, and of that in the city where they live. But shoppers are just starting to realize that different stores in a city may charge different sales tax rates. A Kansas Reporter story has more on this.
So the issue is this: should high-tax zones be required to post signage warning shoppers that they’ll pay more sales tax by shopping there?
Some in Lawrence are worried that the signs are bad for business, both within the high-tax districts, but also for the city as a whole. I think they’re right: taxes — and the realization thereof — are bad for business and consumers.
In Wichita, the only community improvement district approved so far is for a hotel. According to Wichita City Council Member and Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell, the fact that the extra sales tax will be paid almost exclusively by visitors to our city is a wise economic development strategy.
With or without signs warning of high sales tax districts, local shoppers will eventually learn where these districts exist. Our out-of-town visitors, however, probably won’t learn of the high tax rates until they receive their bill. Then, one of two realizations will set in: They’ll either curse themselves for staying at a hotel in a special high-tax district, or they they may form an impression that sales tax is very high in the entire City of Wichita or State of Kansas.
Either way, Longwell’s soak-the-visitors tax strategy isn’t likely to make Wichita many friends.