by Scott Dreyer
Turkey, ham, chuck roast, pork loin, cornish hens, cranberries, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls, corn, cheese, flour, sugar, egg nog, hot chocolate mix.
Quick! What do these items have in common?
For one thing, they are popular food items, most not only year-long, but especially at the holiday season. Plus, if you are a Virginian, they are items you have been paying extra taxes on these past six months.
Doesn’t everyone pay a tax on groceries?
No. Five states have no grocery tax: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. A tax on groceries is called a regressive tax. According to investopedia.com, a regressive tax is “a tax applied uniformly, taking a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than from middle- and high-income earners …. With a regressive tax, the tax burden decreases as income rises.” In other words, imagine a low-income family with several children. Their grocery bill eats up (pardon the pun) a huge chunk of their total budget. In contrast, imagine you’re Sen. Mark Warner (D). With a net worth north of $300 million, and as the richest member of the Senate, his grocery bill relative to his total fortune is infinitesimal.
So what about Virginia?
When campaigning for governor, then-candidate Glenn Youngkin (R) pledged to end the state’s tax on groceries and some personal hygiene products (diapers, tampons, etc.). At that time, the state grocery was was 1.5%, and Richmond let local governments charge an additional 1% tax. So, when one spent $100 on groceries and some personal hygiene products, the tax was $2.50 total.
Working to keep his campaign promises, Gov. Youngkin urged the General Assembly to put the tax cuts into law. Amazingly, in our hyper-partisan environment, in February 2022 the House of Delegates voted 80-20 on House Bill (HB) 90, to end both the state and local grocery tax. In the state Senate, however, Republicans also tried to completely kill the grocery tax, but Democrats stopped it. As a compromise, the state dropped its 1.5% tax but let local governments continue to charge a 1% tax if they wished.
Of particular interest to Roanoke area voters and shoppers, the legislator who has been leading this charge for several years is Del. Joe McNamara (R-Salem, Roanoke Co.). As the only CPA in the General Assembly, McNamara speaks with conviction and experience on budgetary issues. He has pointed out that his efforts to end the grocery tax have been about the same for several years in a row. However, in a Democrat-controlled House, his reforms got nowhere; but in a GOP-led House this year, they came to fruition. Majorities matter.
Once both parties agreed to the tax cuts, however, the next issue was: when would they take effect?
In another amazing show of bipartisanship, the House of Delegates voted 88-1 to make the changes kick in on July 1, 2022. Senate Democrats, however, balked and insisted the tax end on New Year’s Day 2023. Democrats claimed it would take time for store owners to reprogram their accounting software and cash registers, etc. Some also claimed cutting the grocery tax too soon might endanger government funds, but the Commonwealth currently has about a $2 billion surplus. While many Virginians have been struggling, the state government has been taking in money hand over fist. A heart-breaking article from The Epoch Times claims 1 in 7 seniors has had to skip meals due to inflation.
Since politics requires compromise, the final result was: localities can keep levying a 1% tax, and the state’s 1.5% part ends this coming Monday. So, while inflation is at the highest rate since the 1970’s, Senate Democrats kept the food taxes in force from July 1 to December 31, so we won’t see the tax cuts till New Year’s Day. So, all your recent holiday grocery shopping has been taxed at the higher rate.
The state Senate currently has a 21 D to 19 R ratio. However, Lt. Governor Winsome Sears (R) can break ties. If the Senate has a 20-20 tie, the GOP could more readily enact its reforms.
Question: Which Roanoke politician is among the 21 Democrats who last summer postponed the tax cut, thus extending the tax burden on working Virginians till next week, and making the holiday season more expensive than it otherwise would have been?
Answer: Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke).
Sen. Edwards’ current term will end in about a year and he will face re-election in 2023, should he seek to run again.
Gov. Youngkin and General Assembly Republicans have indicated they may seek to end the 1% tax that localities can levy, if Richmond can “backfill” the budgetary needs for those local budgets. The 2023 General Assembly convenes in Richmond on January 11.
Scott Dreyer, M.A., of Roanoke has been a licensed teacher since 1987 and now leads a team of educators teaching English and ESL to a global audience. Learn more at DreyerCoaching.com.
This column first appeared in The Roanoke Star and is republished with permission.