State’s grocery tax needs to go
by James Phillips
Feb 17, 2012 | 1606 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
James Phillips
James Phillips
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With the 2012 Alabama Legislature now in session, I wanted to take up a small amount of space to campaign for a particular bill that I would like to see passed.

As a member of a household that has a very tight budget, I look to issues that would impact our family the most. Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, has sponsored legislation for many years that would remove the state sales tax on groceries. Each year it has failed to pass, many years not even making it out of committee.

Alabama and Mississippi are the only two states in the nation that fully tax food. If other states can survive without taxing food, why can’t our state?

Eliminating the state grocery tax, which is 4 percent, would save every Alabama household the cost of two weeks’ groceries every year. There would be a $4 savings for every $100-worth of groceries. The average family spends $150 per week on groceries, leading to a savings each year of $312.

For a household making $100,000 to $149,000 per year, that amount of money might not seem like much, but for households making $25,000 to $49,999 the savings would be a welcomed help to making ends meet. Families making less than $25,000 per year would definitely welcome the extra $300.

Only 8 percent of households in Walker County make more than $100,000 per year. The majority of Walker County households (66 percent) make less than $50,000 per year, with the median household income being $35,150. Winston County numbers are also very similar. Those statistics are straight from the U.S. Census, 2010 American Community Survey.

Taxes on food hit the hardest on lower income families, and that is what makes up most of Walker County. The tax is unfair because food is a neccessity. We all have to eat to live, but taxing the food puts a huge burden on the poorest of our state’s citizens.

If you buy a vehicle, you have to pay sales tax based on the price of the vehicle. I paid sales tax on my 1992 Mercury Sable station wagon, based on its worth, while a family member of mine has to pay a higher sales tax for the brand new Camaro that she recently purchased. That’s about as fair as a tax can get. There isn’t a whole lot of difference in the price of food. A tomato is a tomato, and a peach is a peach. You may find them for a lesser price, but it’s only going to be a matter of cents, so all of us pay the same for taxes on food.

Legislators that I have spoken with have all said they would like to eliminate the tax on food, but the state budget is already too tight and couldn’t withstand losing those tax dollars.

By taking the basic necessities of life, low-income families are falling even deeper into poverty. The elimination of the food tax would put money in people’s pockets, which could be used in other areas. Those other purchases would be taxed and the state would receive funds from those transactions.

The elimination of the state tax would not eliminate local taxes on food, which are used by city and county governments. Those tax dollars could still go to providing services for citizens at a local level.

If a food tax bill is passed, it would have to be voted on as a statewide constitutional amendment. I think that’s one amendment that would pass easily.

Most of the things that are voted on and discussed in Montgomery really don’t seem to affect my family. If polled, I would guess most citizens would say the same thing. Repealing the grocery tax would affect us all in a positive way.

James Phillips is managing editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or james.phillips@mountaineagle.com.