PARKERSBURG - A scheduled reduction in the state food tax today will be a benefit to local consumers and grocers.
The state's food tax is scheduled to drop from 2 percent to 1 percent today.
Jim Oppe, owner of the local Foodland stores and the chairman of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association, said cutting the tax benefits everyone, consumers and West Virginia businesses who lost business to other states because of the tax.
''This is a good thing,'' Oppe said. ''We have worked hard on getting that tax lowered.
''I am glad to see it is coming down.''
If an average family spends $150 a week on groceries that is $1.50 in savings each week, Oppe said. That would result in an extra $78 a year people would have available to spend on other things.
''It all does add up,'' he said.
The food tax was originally set at 6 percent in a time of financial difficulty for the state. Over the past few years as the state's financial position has continued to improve, state legislators have approved legislation to reduce the tax on an annual basis. The tax is scheduled to be eliminated in 2013.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was recently traveling around the state highlighting the eventual elimination of the food tax.
"Last year, I lowered the food tax from 3 percent to 2 percent. This year, I'm reducing the food tax to 1 percent. Because of good fiscal management, next year it will be completely eliminated," Tomblin said. "This tax cut will put money back into the pockets of hard-working West Virginians."
As Senate president, Tomblin worked with then-Gov. Joe Manchin to begin phasing out the food tax. In Tomblin's 2011 State of the State address, he called upon the West Virginia Legislature to continue reducing the food tax. Tomblin signed House Bill 2971 into law, lowering the tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in March 2011. Later that year, in a special session, Tomblin signed Senate Bill 1001, which outlines the plan to eliminate the food tax. The food tax will be eliminated July 1, 2013.
Tomblin's Republican challenger in the upcoming election, Bill Maloney, said Tomblin was for the food tax before he was against it.
"As Senate Finance chairman, Earl Ray created the food tax back in 1989," Maloney said. "Then, as president of the state Senate, he voted in 1999 to keep the food tax on the books. Now, he wants West Virginians to forget his record of helping to levy this regressive tax."
Maloney said the food tax hurts West Virginia and is simply a tax that never should have been.
In January 1989, as Senate Finance chair, Tomblin shepherded the largest tax increase in state history through the Legislature with Senate Bill 1, also referred to as the "$300 Million Tax Package," Maloney said, adding later as Senate president, Tomblin championed the tax, supporting it again in April 1999 and voting to keep the tax in place ever since.
"As unemployment increases in the Obama-Tomblin economy and West Virginia families are feeling pinched, Earl Ray is suddenly trying to say he is against the food tax that he helped to create," he said. "The food tax should've been repealed a long time ago and, candidly, should never have existed in the first place."
Items, such as soft drinks and non-edible products, are still subject to a 6 percent tax, Oppe said. The tax on soft drinks was a move to encourage people to be more healthy in their drink choices.
For a number of years the tax had put grocery stores in West Virginia at a disadvantage with stores in Ohio.
Oppe said they had a store in Ohio and there were many people who would come over from West Virginia, just to avoid the food tax.
The lowering and eventual elimination of the food tax "levels the playing field with Ohio,'' Oppe said.
Ultimately, it is the people who will benefit the most.
''Anytime the state can put money back into people's pockets, that is a good thing,'' Oppe said.