An Arizona House committee has advanced a bill that would prevent Phoenix from putting a sales tax on groceries. While the city currently does not have that and the bill would affect only any city over 625,000 in population, the idea is a dangerous one.
There is a popular argument against taxing such a basic need as take-home food, and the state does not do so. However, local governments need revenue to provide services, and cities in Pinal County and elsewhere rely considerably on taxing food along with other purchases. Traditionally, many consumers have bought some of their other goods elsewhere, and now they buy many things online.
Phoenix previously taxed food when its coffers were nearly empty, then allowed the levy to expire after five years.
Most people don’t like taxes, especially the ones they have to pay. The problem is, if the tax burden becomes too light, governments run out of money for services.
The legislator proposing the bill, Rep. Shawnna Bolick, earlier had offered another that would have placed the ban on all cities. It stalled after strong opposition from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee passed the bill with a close vote of 6-4. Some legislators questioned whether the state should block cities from making their own taxing decisions. That is the key point on the issue: Cities have mandated functions to perform, and they receive limited revenue from the state. They need the ability to generate revenue, and such decisions are made by officials elected by tax-paying citizens.
The Legislature meets for the first few months every year and unfortunately, many bad bills are proposed before adjournment, when there is a collective sigh of relief. Usually, however, the municipalities’ strong lobbying effort protects them. Singling out Phoenix with a food tax ban would be a bad precedent. House Bill 2638 is a bill that should die.