Alabama House Takes First Step Toward Helping Low- and Middle-Income Families

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The Alabama House of Representatives this week passed a constitutional amendment that would improve the states tax system in three very important ways. Though the vote was contentious, with the amendment gaining only the bare number of votes needed to pass, each of the changes would result in a tax cut for the vast majority of Alabama families and would bring the state tax system closer in line with what most other states have been doing for years.

The centerpiece of the proposal is an elimination of the state's regressive sales tax on groceries. Alabama is currently one of only two states that provides no tax relief whatsoever for groceries, and a majority of states already exempt groceries completely from the sales tax.

Additional tax cuts would be given to almost all Alabama families by tying the state standard deduction to the larger, federal standard deduction. The personal and dependent exemptions would also be increased, though they would not increase with inflation. The most important impact of these changes would be a reduction or elimination of state income taxes for low-income families, but all Alabama families paying the income tax would see a benefit.

Revenue loss associated with these progressive cuts would be offset by ending the state's rare and regressive state income tax deduction of federal income taxes paid. The beneficiaries of the existing deduction are primarily those wealthier taxpayers who have the largest federal income tax liabilities. Unfortunately, there are already rumblings that this change may have to be scaled back in order to get the amendment through the full legislature. Instead of entirely repealing the deduction, it may be the case that the deduction is capped at some amount. Though this would preserve the benefits of this proposal for middle-income taxpayers while eliminating huge tax cuts currently being handed to the rich, it would would produce only a fraction of the revenue generated by a full repeal. Without the revenue created by a full repeal, ending the grocery tax and increasing the standard deduction and exemptions would be much more difficult. Additionally, scaling back the deduction for federal income taxes paid may be seen by some as enough, and could serve to stall a needed repeal of the entire deduction in the future.

An additional problem for the amendment may be a dispute over whether it was fairly passed. The Alabama legislature has a history of allowing other people to cast legislators votes for them when they cannot be in attendance. In this instance, however, there was some question about whether legislators votes were cast in the opposite direction from what they intended. One Democratic legislator admitted to voting in favor of the amendment on other legislators machines, though after this was discovered a motion to reconsider the bill failed and the passage of the amendment was not reversed.

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