The Georgia Legislature, desperate for new sources of funds to plug a yawning budget gap, are now attempting to hit us where we live -- or eat.
That’s right. The grocery tax is back, or it will be if some of our elected representatives have their way. On the table in Atlanta right now is HB 67, which would reinstate the 1996-repealed state sales tax on groceries. (Read the text of the full bill at ledger-enquirer.com).
The impact on Georgians would be muted, backers say, by a tax credit that would leave the real impact of the tax on out-of-state grocery shoppers.
On Friday, we reported in an Associated Press article that House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s office said the bill could reach a vote before the full chamber this week.
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The AP reported that State Rep. Chuck Sims, who led prior failed efforts to restore the grocery tax, said the change could yield as much as $250 million a year. The plan was approved Thursday by the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, according to the AP.
Meanwhile HB 39, which would increase the state’s 37-cents-a-pack cigarette tax by a full dollar, seems to be aimed at plugging the same part of the budget deficit hole. Estimates put the savings from this bill at around $350 million. HB39 was introduced in February.
So what we have here, it seems, is a tax-hike showdown. A mano-a-mano battle between good and evil. A battle royale. In this corner, we have baby formula and Rice Krispies. And in this corner, smoker’s rights advocates and the tobacco lobby. Can it possibly be that simple?
Well, yes. Or so says the Georgia Alliance for Tobacco Prevention, backed by the American Heart Association, among others.
Here are a few stats GATP passes along:
• For every 10 percent increase in the retail price of cigarettes, there is a corresponding 3-5 percent overall decline in smoking.
• An internal document from R.J. Reynolds shows that if prices were 10 percent higher, youth smoking would be 11.9 percent lower.
• And one study showed that a 10 percent price hike resulted in a 7 percent drop in smoking among pregnant women, according to a
2001 article in the American Journal of Public Health. So what’s the best argument on the other side? Freedom. Freedom to kill yourself one puff at a time. This newspaper believes in freedom, and we support every Americans’ right to engage in any legal activity. What we do not support, however, is your ability to engage in a lifetime of self-destructive behavior and stick your fellow citizens with the (hospital) bill. HB 67 vs. HB 39? It’s no contest. Tax smokers who will eventually create far more health costs for their fellow Georgians. Don’t tax food, even in a scheme to lay the burden at the feet of our much-needed visitors.