The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee (SFAC) advanced a bill that would eliminate the state sales and use tax of 1.5 percent on groceries and personal hygiene products. In its Thursday meeting, the committee combined Senator Jennifer Boysko’s (D-Fairfax) SB 451, focused on the hygiene products, with bills from Senator Stephen Newman (R-Bedford), Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), and Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) that included all groceries.
In a Tuesday SFAC meeting, McDougle said that legislators had had extensive discussion over how to deal with the tax, noting that the grocery tax is regressive.
“Everybody has to spend money on groceries, but a higher percentage of your income comes if you are lower income. Madame Chairman, I think we all took somewhat of a different approach in how we got there,” McDougle said. “But regardless, I think everybody was in agreement that we need to do something in order to address this and we are certainly behind many other states in addressing the grocery tax, which is one of the most regressive taxes we have,” McDougle said.
Boysko told the committee, “I know that there’s been a lot of work on this. I’ve been working on the menstrual tax issue specifically now, I think for six years, and it’s exciting to see that we’re finally getting to the finish line with it.”
The final bill is similar to a tax cut former Governor Ralph Northam included in his final budget proposal in December as Glenn Youngkin was about to take office. Youngkin campaigned on a full 2.5 percent grocery tax cut that also eliminates a local one percent tax; House Republicans have advanced a bill to eliminate state and local grocery taxes while including revenues from the General Fund to keep localities from bearing the burden of lost revenue which is used for education. The Republican senators proposed eliminating the full 2.5 percent tax, but the final version advanced by the Democrat-led committee only includes the 1.5 percent cut.
In the Tuesday SFAC meeting, the repeal was at risk after senators including Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta), and Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) worried about whether the bill would properly protect localities’ funds in the future. When a vote to pass the bill out of committee failed, legislators gave the bill a second chance to work out some details, acknowledging the importance of the bill to politicians and constituents.
In its Thursday meeting, the bill passed with bipartisan support, 13-2. Only Hanger and Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) voted against it. The bill is set to be voted on in the full Senate this week. After the House and Senate pass their own versions of the grocery tax repeal, members from both chambers will meet to work out a compromise.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Digital Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Jennifer Boysko” by Senator Jennifer B. Boysko. Photo “Bill DeSteph” by Senator Bill DeSteph. Photo “Steve Newman” by Steve Newman. Background Photo “Grocery Shelves” by Rakoon.