The first step was taken Friday in a journey that could save Oklahoma families millions as Senator Jay Paul Gumm filed Senate Bill 1153, the “Freedom from Hunger Act.”
The measure would remove the state’s portion of the sales tax on groceries; if enacted, the bill would save Oklahoma families 4.5 cents on every dollar they spend at the grocery store. Families spending $500 per month on groceries would save $270 annually on sales taxes under the bill.
“Working families are feeling the pain of all-time high gas prices, and could use the relief at the checkout stand when they buy food for their families,” Gumm said. “Eliminating this unfair tax will allow Oklahomans to have more money in their pockets to spend on necessities and to boost their local economies.”
This will be the third year Gumm will try to end collection of the state’s portion of the sales tax on groceries. He introduced similar legislation last year, however that bill was never granted a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.
Gumm said the bill, which has strong grassroots support from Oklahoma taxpayers, faced fierce opposition from the organization that lobbies on behalf of Oklahoma cities and towns, the Oklahoma Municipal League (OML). The group fears the measure would strip cities’ and counties’ ability to tax groceries.
Gumm said that is “simply not true,” as his bill would not affect cities and counties. “The ‘Freedom from Hunger Act’ clearly allows cities and counties to continue taxing Oklahomans’ food, just like OML wants.”
He said the state’s participation in the Streamline Sales Tax Agreement would not allow a city or county option to end the tax on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis; the ability to tax an item must be uniform across a state under the agreement.
In short, Gumm explained, the state can only allow every local government to collect the tax, or prevent all local governments from collecting the tax. That component of the agreement protects local officials from enduring political pressure to end their grocery tax.
“Even though I would like to do away completely with the grocery tax, I realize OML would not allow that proposal to become law. Despite OML’s rhetoric to the contrary, their sales tax base is preserved under the bill.”
The lawmaker cited OML’s long opposition to the “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday as evidence the group “will pull out all the stops” to protect their sales tax base. Despite evidence that such a sales tax holiday would actually increase municipal revenues, OML stopped that bill cold for years before it finally passed in 2007.
“Getting rid of the state grocery tax is too important to risk on political gamesmanship,” Gumm said. “Removing the state’s portion of the grocery tax will make a real difference in the lives of Oklahoma families, and it is something to which I am deeply committed.
“If we aren’t successful this year, it will be back every year until it becomes law or my time in the Senate is complete.”