Editorial: The plight of the poor — Low expectations over Alabama’s attempt to remove sales taxes on food
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Feb 19, 2014 | 2881 views |  0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this photo taken April 17, 2013, Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, is pictured during a meeting of the Senate Health Committee at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala. Dial was in charge of a committee that drew Alabama's senate districts and has denied the process was intended to create more Republican districts. Dial testified in federal court Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013 that his only goals going into the redistricting process were to prevent incumbents from facing each other, to avoid reducing the percentage of minorities in majority black districts, and to protect communities of interest. "The whole plan is like dominoes. If you change one district you have to change the whole state," Dial said. Photo: Dave Martin/The Associated Press
In this photo taken April 17, 2013, Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, is pictured during a meeting of the Senate Health Committee at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala. Dial was in charge of a committee that drew Alabama's senate districts and has denied the process was intended to create more Republican districts. Dial testified in federal court Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013 that his only goals going into the redistricting process were to prevent incumbents from facing each other, to avoid reducing the percentage of minorities in majority black districts, and to protect communities of interest. "The whole plan is like dominoes. If you change one district you have to change the whole state," Dial said. Photo: Dave Martin/The Associated Press
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Alabama’s lawmakers live in a fantasy world in which it’s heresy to raise taxes — of any kind, at even miniscule levels, for any reason — and acceptable to cut programs vital to Alabamians’ lives.

These are the same lawmakers who, through their inaction and political shrugs, effectively sanction the state’s poor rankings in education funding, education results, middle-class job creation, poverty and college affordability.

In short, the Statehouse is hardly a bastion of progressive, modern thinking.

We say that out of frustration over the state’s frustrating annual attempt to remove the sales tax from groceries. It’s worth repeating: Only two Southern states, Alabama and Mississippi, the twins who often sit at or near the bottom of countless metrics, tax food. Other Southern states see the wisdom in making it easier for those in or near poverty to put food on the table. They must look at us and say, “Are Alabama politicians that callous?”

It certainly looks that way.

This year’s attempt is a two-pronged approach. Each aim for the same goal — removing the state 4 percent sales tax from groceries. We wholeheartedly support that basic premise.

But the two plans are different. The bill introduced by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, would remove the grocery tax but replace the lost revenue by raising the state sales tax on other items. The bill introduced by Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, would replace the lost revenue by removing Alabama’s state income tax deduction for federal income taxes paid.

Knight’s strategy is the better of the two. Low-income Alabamians would pay less for food. Well-to-do Alabamians would have to chip in a little more during tax season. It’s the fair way to proceed.

But Alabama is Alabama — that is, the state Legislature can’t get out of its own way. The path is obvious. Knight’s plan is the equitable and moral choice. But even Dial, in comments to the Associated Press, admits that raising taxes, regardless of who gets a heftier tax bill, is a no-go in Montgomery. “This is just not going to happen in this Legislature,” he said.

That leaves Alabama in its usual place — selecting between two choices, one bad, the other not as good as it could be. Concerns raised by Alabama Arise, which advocates for low-income residents, that raising the state sales tax on all other purchases would be a blow to those who live check-to-check are spot-on. That’s why the Legislature should approve Knight’s plan.

Our expectations, however, are low. The Legislature has considered removing the sales tax from food for more than two decades, and the needle hasn’t moved. Poor Alabamians have to wonder if anyone in Montgomery truly understands their plight.
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