For John Doyle, saving money at the check-out counter of the grocery store would free up money to pay for necessities he’s been overlooking lately — car repairs, heartier foods like meat, and new socks. That’s why Doyle, 46, thinks Oklahoma’s elected leaders should do whatever they can to make sure that legislation is passed to eliminate the tax on groceries, especially as people continue to lose their jobs and are affected by the slowing economy. "For right now, even a small reduction in grocery bills would help,” he said. He’s not alone. Multiple bills have been introduced in the Legislature that would eliminate, lessen or somehow change the tax on groceries in Oklahoma. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Oklahoma is one of five states that tax groceries and offer tax credits or rebates to help offset those costs. More than half of states exempt groceries. But while many like Doyle see that extra money as a win-win situation, others say there is no such thing as a free lunch. The Oklahoma Municipal League is opposed to all grocery sales tax bills, according to Missy Dean, the league’s director of governmental relations. She said some legislative bills would cut sales taxes at the local and municipal levels, wiping out much of the revenue base for cities and counties that rely on sales tax for as much as 70 percent of their budgets. "As the sales tax erodes,” Dean said, "utility rates and other fees increase to offset the loss.” She said this could hurt families more. However, other proposed legislation would lower the tax rate or allow municipalities to continue collecting the tax.
Is the timing right?David Blatt at the Oklahoma Policy Institute said he thinks taxing groceries is a mistake because it unfairly targets low and moderate-income Oklahomans. But he said now is not the time to eliminate the estimated $300 million a year the state receives from grocery taxes. "Given the state’s worsening budget situation, to say that the Legislature is going to eliminate the grocery tax is unrealistic this year,” he said. Instead, Blatt advocates expanding the grocery tax credit so more families can qualify for the rebate and get more money from it. For Doyle, the state losing a little revenue to help feed hungry families is a hard choice he thinks needs to be made. "It would affect everybody, from the single people to the large family positively” he said.