Right time to  cut grocery tax

Published 12:53 pm Friday, March 4, 2022

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Typically, we’d be skeptical of a proposal to eliminate Virginia’s sales tax on groceries. While crowing about cutting taxes, Richmond politicians would just find a creative, alternative way to take the same amount of money from taxpayers.

This time is different.

The proverbial perfect storm of circumstances has created a rare opportunity for the General Assembly to give citizens some sorely needed relief without cutting important government services or levying new taxes or fees elsewhere.

Anyone who has been to the grocery store lately has felt the sting of soaring prices on everything from bread to milk and all of the nonessential items in between. The fundamental responsibility of feeding one’s family has pushed many people to the breaking point. Those who live paycheck to paycheck even in “good” times find themselves on the verge of food insecurity.

Rapid inflation and lingering problems with supply chains show no signs of easing, so relief from high grocery bills is nowhere in sight.

Meantime, the commonwealth of Virginia finds itself flush with cash — a record $2.6 million budget surplus, to be exact, thanks to federal COVID-19 stimulus money over the past couple of years and an economy that performed much better than expected during the global pandemic.

New Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned on a promise of eliminating the state’s 2.5% grocery tax. He’s made it a priority during his first tango with the General Assembly, which, thanks to a Democratic majority in the Senate, has handed him more defeats than victories to date.

This looks to be one of those rare issues where bipartisan consensus is possible. The Senate’s proposed budget would eliminate the state’s share of the grocery tax but preserve the 1% that currently goes to localities. That might be necessary unless lawmakers find a way to keep local governments whole. The budget passed by the Republican-majority House would eliminate the tax entirely.

Not surprisingly, 76% of Virginia voters like the idea of relief from the grocery tax, according to a recent Christopher Newport University poll. We’re pleased that Richmond is listening.