Cleaning our plate of the food tax

The end of the food tax in West Virginia is in sight. Now at a penny, the tax is set to be phased out next year as long as the state’s Rainy Day Fund is equal to 12.5 percent of its general revenue fund.

Here’s hoping.

The tax is onerous and regressive, hitting hardest both the poor and lower middle class as well as those who dwell in the state’s interior who don’t have the benefit, like many of us in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties, of fleeing to Maryland or Virginia to do our grocery shopping to avoid having a few dollars slapped onto every $100 grocery bill.

And that’s the other side of the coin. The tax, as well as being an affliction to households, also did no favors for area retailers and grocers whom West Virginians in the Eastern Panhandle forsook for stores in border states where food is not taxed.

The tax has its origins in both good intentions and bad state management; originally set at 2 percent, the rate fluctuated only for the tax itself to be eliminated in 1979 but revived and set at 6 percent 10 years later until Gov. Joe Manchin began overseeing a drawdown in it in 2008.

As this history shows, taxes on food items have become an almost reflexive go-to for governors and legislatures wanting to bring state revenues into balance, albeit one that only crimps the buying power of state residents, particularly the poor as expenses on essentials tend to make up a larger share of their overall budget.

Let’s hope future state leaders will look elsewhere when state budgets need balancing before taking it from the tables of West Virginians and their families.

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