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Opinion | Give Ainsworth his due on grocery tax cut

Ainsworth didn’t have to take on the grocery tax. But he did. And all Alabamians will benefit because of it.

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth
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It’s not easy to do uncomfortable things. Even when it’s the right thing to do. Even when it’s the obvious thing to do. Human tendency is to remain comfortable, not rock the boat, let someone else handle it. 

It’s the reason so many people stay in bad jobs and bad relationships – because there’s comfort in the known and comfort matters. 

That’s why Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, and several of his ALGOP colleagues, deserves some recognition for their work in finally – FINALLY! – cutting a huge chunk out of the grocery tax. 

That grocery tax cut – which will slice in half Alabama’s 4-percent sales tax on food when fully implemented – got final passage on Thursday. Gov. Kay Ivey is expected to sign the bill by next week. And families all across the state will see a reduction in their grocery bills soon – an estimated $300 saved annually for the average family.

That ain’t chump change. 

It’s the largest tax cut in Alabama history. And as far as I can remember, it’s the only major tax cut in Alabama’s recent history that focused on aiding the state’s poorest citizens.   

Now, look, I’ve been on record many times ridiculing Republicans’ oh-my-God-we-discovered-fire excitement over cutting the grocery tax. Democrats have been pushing this idea literally for decades now. Because it’s an absurd tax that essentially penalizes the people of this state for eating. 

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The tax was universally despised by pretty much everyone. But each year, when it came time to kill the tax, it was always just easier to not do that heavy lifting. To leave it in place because that money – some $150 million per year – did fill a rather large hole in the state’s Education Trust Fund budget. 

If you take it all out, you have to refill it with something, like a tax bump for the wealthy or a shift of other funds. And really, it’s a lot of work. And a whole lot of being uncomfortable for very little political upside. 

And that’s why I give Ainsworth credit. 

Because passing this grocery tax cut was a headache he didn’t have to endure. It was a ditch that he didn’t have to dig. He could have very easily left it for the next guy, went on about his business and it wouldn’t have cost him an ounce of political capital. 

But he didn’t. 

Instead, he started digging. And yes, he had help from a variety of groups, like Alabama Arise, who have long fought for this tax cut, but don’t doubt for a second that the job wasn’t a hard one. If you think that, you’ve never tried to push controversial, big-change legislation through to passage. I mean, it’s not actually digging a ditch, but it’s certainly less pleasant than just not doing it. 

Let me put it like this: You know all those lawmakers who we spend all year shaking our heads at and wondering just how in the living hell their eyes don’t dry out because they don’t have enough brain power to blink regularly? 

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Well, to get legislation like the grocery tax repeal passed, you have to get almost all of those people to understand the bill, to agree and to stay in line all the way to the end. You have to get them to ignore lobbyists and opposition lawmakers. You have to field calls from constituents with concerns. You have to talk to all manner of city and county politicians and constantly placate them and their fears. 

And you have to do all of that for three months.  

Look, it’s no secret that Ainsworth and I share about a thimble full of common political beliefs. But simply because we disagree doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t acknowledge it when he does something good. 

Especially when it’s something that will benefit so many good people. Especially when it was the right thing to do. Especially when he managed to get it done when so many before him failed. And especially when doing nothing would have been much easier and probably just as beneficial to his longterm political career. 

The grocery tax has been cut, and Will Ainsworth held the knife.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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