Welcome end to food tax
Eliminating the remainder of the state sales tax on food Thursday marked the end of a regressive tax on South Carolinians. We hope that new revenues are sufficient to offset the loss.
Low-income families spend a larger percentage of their limited means on food than middle- and upper-income families. Consequently, the food tax places a proportionately higher toll on the poor than any other group. As reported in this newspaper Wednesday, a family of four can expect to save some $225 a year with an end to the tax on most food staples (but not on household goods, pet food, alcohol, tobacco and deli items). The change brings South Carolina in line with most other states.
Local-option sales taxes, however, will remain in place on all groceries. In Charleston, that amounts to 1.5 percent.
Meanwhile, the annual loss of revenue from the elimination of the state food tax, projected by House Speaker Bobby Harrell to be about $180 million, will have to be made up elsewhere. The increase in the general sales tax from five to six cents on the dollar is designed to replace the revenue lost from the elimination of the school property tax on single-family homes.
Whether the sales-tax boost also will suffice to offset the money lost by finishing off the food tax over the long term is still a question, clouded by recent gloomy projections from state economists. Our intensified dependence on revenue from general sales taxes, which fluctuate markedly with the ups and downs of the state's economy, is cause for concern.
Regardless of those lingering fiscal questions, the Legislature rightly considered the plight of low-income South Carolinians by finally easing the grocery-tax burden that most affects those who can least afford it.