Friday, March 6, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for March 6-12, 2009

Hello again, everyone! The best way to describe the Oklahoma Senate this week is that is was a “mixed bag”: not all bad, but certainly not all good.

You probably read this week the Senate passed a bill to do away with the grocery tax – one of the issues about which I am most passionate. As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s the rest of the story.”

The bill approved by the Senate only does away with the state’s 4.5 cents-on-the-dollar grocery sales tax; it leaves intact city and county sales taxes on groceries. Further, the bill phases out the state grocery tax over several years. Most families will hardly notice the reductions and every family will still pay a grocery sales tax if this bill becomes law.

A fair question is: Why would this be the approach to end the grocery tax? The answer is simple: The Senate’s new majority would much rather focus on reducing the income tax – a proposal, as I have written before, grossly skewed to benefit Oklahoma’s wealthiest citizens.

The only reason we see any movement on the grocery tax is because of the enormous political pressure being generated to end this most hurtful and regressive of taxes.

Any doubt of that was erased during debate on a bill this week to reduce the income tax in Oklahoma. I asked a simple question: Wouldn’t it be better to not reduce the income tax and use that revenue to be bolder in attacking the grocery tax?

The answer was talk about “macro economics” and how reducing the income tax is better to promote economic development than ending the grocery tax. Even though the facts do not bear that out, at least we get a consistent answer from those who prefer to put more dollars in the hands of the wealthy.

During my debate on the income tax bill, I spoke of “kitchen table” economics. The best way to improve family budgets is to do away with a tax that eats away at income every time we feed our families. Doing away with the sales tax on groceries is more direct and more meaningful to the people who deserve tax relief the most.

Outside of the “back-to-school” sales tax holiday, we have done nothing to reduce sales taxes – the levy that hits hardest those among us least able to afford it. If we are truly interested in helping those families who need it most, we should focus on reducing the sales tax – and the grocery tax should be target number one.

The reason this timid plan to whittle away the grocery tax was approved by the Senate this week is because it was the only grocery tax bill still alive. Despite the timidity with which some approach the grocery tax, I will continue my fight to get rid of this most insidious of taxes.

Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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