Chandler City Councilman Mark Stewart held a conversation during the Thursday City Council Meeting regarding the elimination of the city’s grocery tax to provide inflation-relief aid.
“We have an opportunity to help people in their homes, especially the working poor and those folks that don’t qualify for government assistance, or those that don’t want to take government assistance,” Stewart said. “So, mom shouldn’t decide on whether or not to pay for groceries or school clothes because eggs are seven dollars. If there’s a little we can do better, I’d like to consider that.”
Currently, the city charges a 1.5 percent tax on “all non-prepared foods;” however, he estimated that ending this tax would cost the city roughly $14 million annually.
Nonetheless, Stewart emphasizes that the city is in a financial situation to take on this burden. He shared that the city has a $10 million emergency fund and a $38 million contingency fund, totaling $48 million in unallocated funds. The contingency budget is decided as a percentage of the city’s overall budget. Stewart said that if the percentage were lowered to 12 percent, as it has been in the past, those funds could cover the costs of inflation relief.
Additionally, he shared that city revenue is currently above forecast for the fiscal year, meaning there is yet more money available to cover the costs. Furthermore, he said if this proposal were drafted into an ordinance, it could be revisited annually so the city could make changes depending on its needs.
“So, the fact remains, we are doing very well folks, and this is an opportunity for us to give back to those that need it the most,” Stewart said.
However, Stewart’s push would not be long-lived, as his motion did not receive a second from another council member, so the discussion in the council ended. One council member, Christine Ellis, shared concerns about the tax cut but did say she wanted to have further discussions on other ways to provide inflation relief. She motioned to have these discussions at the next council meeting on March 20th, and this motion passed. Stewart said he would likely bring this issue before the council again in the future after further discussions.
What Stewart presented is similar to a bill Republicans in the State Legislature are attempting to push into law. Senate Bill (SB) 1063, sponsored by State Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu), would prohibit all municipalities in the state from levying a sales tax on groceries.
However, Stewart mentioned the legislature’s efforts but spoke against it, stating that a blanket ban on the tax by the state would “usurp local control.” He said that while Chandler is financially able to handle the burden of the cut, not every other city is.
Yet, Kim Quintero, the Arizona Senate Majority Caucus spokeswoman, told The Arizona Sun Times via email that providing inflation relief is a statewide issue, so “the Legislature is the appropriate body to address it [the tax cut].”
Nevertheless, the bill still needs to pass the Senate floor and receive Gov. Katie Hobbs’s approval to become law.
“At the end of the day, if she chooses to veto this bill, she’ll have to answer to the people of this state who she let down, and Senate Republicans would explore other avenues to give back to our taxpayers,” Quintero told The Sun Times.
On Thursday, Hobbs vetoed a similar bill that would have eliminated the rental tax in Arizona, stating it lacked enforceability and a guarantee renters would feel the relief.
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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Mark Stewart” by Mayor Kevin Hartke. Background Photo “Grocery Store” by Fikri Rasyid.