Accomplishing What Others Say Can’t Be Done

Published 3:41 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2023

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By Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth 

Alabamians may have felt their wallets bulge a bit last month when the Legislature approved our bill that slices the sales tax on groceries in half and implements the single largest tax cut in state history. 

Alabama was one of only three states that taxed groceries at the full rate – South Dakota and Mississippi are the others – and we were one of only 13 states in the nation that levied any tax on food.  

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But beginning on Sept. 1, Alabama’s 4% state sales tax on groceries will be cut to 3%, and another percent will be automatically deducted when revenues in the Education Trust Fund reach a trigger point that is set in the bill, which is expected to occur as soon as the next fiscal year. 

Safety provisions have been put in place to ensure that education dollars are protected as the $300 million tax cut goes into effect, and we remain dedicated to fully funding our K-12 public schools, community colleges, and public universities at all times. 

The bill uses the same definition of groceries as the federal food stamp program, known in D.C. nomenclature as SNAP [supplemental nutrition assistance program], which means all groceries will be covered except for pre-prepared, hot food from grocery store delis. 

A close in the legislation blocks cities and counties from raising their sales taxes on groceries so Alabamians can be assured of the intended savings, but it does allow officials in city halls and county complexes to follow the Legislature’s lead and cut the local food tax, if they choose. 

For several decades, elected officials and advocacy groups across Alabama have attempted to reduce or remove the grocery tax, but their plans always required other taxes to be raised in order to offset the revenue losses. Many of those suggested tax increases targeted middle-class families, which always doomed the efforts from the start, especially among hardcore Republicans like me. 

As lieutenant governor, though, I noticed that the conservative budgeting practices implemented since Republicans gained control of the Legislature in 2010 have provided Alabama’s coffers with a sizable financial cushion that did not exist before. 

Our state’s business sector – ranging from the largest employers to the smallest, mom-and-pop operations – remains healthy, and our continuing success in attracting both new and expanding industries is resulting in unprecedented revenues flowing to the treasury. 

Putting pencil to paper and running the numbers soon revealed to me that Alabama could afford to cut the grocery tax without needing to penalize any groups or individuals by raising their existing levies.

I met with countless experts, advisors, and associations, including the grocers who collect the tax at the point of sale, to rally them to take immediate action and worked with Sen. Andrew Jones (R – Centre), House Education Budget Chair Danny Garrett (R – Trussville), and Senate Education Budget Chair Arthur Orr (R – Decatur) to create a workable plan. 

Once lawmakers were briefed on our proposal, support for it spread like wildfire. All 35 members of the Alabama Senate agreed to serve as sponsors along with 100 of the 105 members of the House. I am told by many longtime State House observers that no major bill of such significance has ever achieved the same unanimous and bipartisan support. 

Our dinner table tax cut will save the average Alabama family the cost of two weeks of groceries, and that financial relief is much needed in the current economic environment because the liberal fiscal policies being pushed and promoted by Joe Biden and congressional Democrats have caused inflation to skyrocket. 

Between 2022 and 2023, the cost of food rose by an average of 7.7% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Eggs alone cost a third more than they did last year, bread and cereal are up by 25%, and meat, fish, and chicken are substantially higher. 

Our success in cutting the grocery tax demonstrates what can be accomplished if we stay true to our conservative beliefs, build consensus among lawmakers, and have the courage to attempt to accomplish what many say can’t be done. 

But the job is only half-complete, and work still lies ahead as I am determined and fully committed to abolishing the grocery tax altogether.  

I ask all of you to join me in thanking each member of the legislature for supporting this historic tax cut. It was a true bipartisan effort. Together, we will continue making an already great state even better.