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House approves grocery tax reduction bill

The bill now heads to the Senate, but any delay could leave it on the cutting room floor.

Unrecognizable woman checking a long grocery receipt leaning to a full shopping cart at store.
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It wasn’t immediately clear Thursday whether the House was going to get to the bill reducing the state tax on groceries would be considered. 

In an exchange between the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, and House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, early in the day, Garrett informed Daniels that the bill was not on the day’s agenda.

“There are only 24 hours in a day,” Garrett said, implying there might not be time to consider the bill alongside the state’s historic education budget.

However, the grocery tax suddenly did make it before the body later in the afternoon and despite some attempts to change language in the bill regarding whether municipalities can raise their local sales tax on food, passed without changes to the version passed by Garrett’s House Ways and Means Education budget Wednesday.

Eliminating or reducing the state’s tax on groceries has been championed by Democrats and advocacy organizations for years, as the tax is regressive no the state’s lowest income earners. But this year, the bill gained bipartisan support on the back of support from voters.

“I think people assume the legislature doesn’t listen to them, but that’s not true,” Garrett said on the floor. “We listen more than they think. This is truly an issue that came from the people.”

In the form passed by the House, the grocery tax would decrease 2 percent in two steps, with the tax being rescued 1 percent on Sept. 1 of this year, and another 1 percent on Sept. 1, 2025. However, the second reduction comes with a safety net— the projected Education Trust Fund growth must be at or above 2 percent at that date or the reduction will be delayed until such requirement is met.

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Opponents of the bill on Wednesday said the tax cut removes too much annual funding from the ETF without bringing an adequate replacement.

But the opposition that has appeared to have the biggest impact is the question over whether municipalities should be limited on setting their own taxes.

Multiple amendments were brought to the floor to address the bill’s language, which was already amended in committee in an attempt to alleviate some of those concerns. One amendment sought to strip the language entirely, but the body tabled that amendment quickly. Another amendment by Rep. David Faulkner, R-Montgomery, sought to allow for a city to raise the sales tax after five years and a referendum.

Faulkner said he was trying to “balance” the bill, which he said goes too far by forever preventing municipalities from being able to make a decision to raise the sales tax on food.

However, after multiple conversations on the floor, Faulkner moved to withdraw his amendment.

Both chambers burned a legislative day Friday after budget conference committees lingered late into the night.

There will be three days remaining in the legislative session when the Senate committee first gets this bill. Any delay could leave the bill on the cutting room floor.

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However, all 35 Senators have co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill, which remains almost identical.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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