The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

RICHMOND – Virginia is one step closer to joining the list of currently 36 states that do not levy taxes on groceries after a House panel on Wednesday approved a proposal that would eliminate the current 2.5% tax on groceries and hygiene products, such as diapers and bed sheets. 

House Bill 90, sponsored by Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, would also help establish a recurring fund to pay for school construction. Under current law, the revenues from the tax are split between the state and localities to fund K-12 education, highways, rail, harbors, and airports. 

However, similar legislation has stalled in the Senate Wednesday because of concern from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle over how to close the gap to fund school construction without the appropriation from the grocery tax. A vote in that chamber was postponed until next week.

Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County.

McNamara estimates that repealing the tax would on average save individual taxpayers $75 per year and $300 for every family of four. “This bill helps low income families. I can’t think of another tax that is more regressive,” he told members of the House Finance Committee Wednesday. “It is also an opportunity where we can really get together and do some great things together.”

During his campaign last fall, Gov. Glenn Younkin had made the grocery tax repeal a key pledge of his economic platform, designating it a part of his day one agenda. 

Democrats have also been eyeing to at least partially repeal the grocery tax. But Gov. Ralph Northam – who talked about eliminating the tax when he first ran for governor in 2017 – didn’t push this policy to the General Assembly until December, when he proposed slashing the state’s 1.5% portion of the tax in his final two-year budget. Yet Northam’s suggestion retained the 1% grocery tax rate that benefits local governments. 

McNamara’s bill would do away with the entire tax rate, of which 1% currently goes to the state to fund local schools. To make up for the latter, he proposes using the state’s slush general fund to pay for local school construction – with up to a total of $500 million. “The localities will be kept whole, but we need to give Appropriations a strong signal that this is something we want to happen, and we need to make sure that we have that funded,” he said.

House Bill 90 passed on a 13-7 vote and was referred to the House Appropriations Committee. 

* * *

Screenshot of Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, speaking to subcommittee.

March bill on bus decal legislation dies

Also in the House of Delegates, newly elected Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, on Wednesday faced a committee unwilling to even consider her proposal that would have allowed school systems across the commonwealth to display a U.S. flag decal, a In God We Trust decal or a One Nation Under God decal on the sides or back of school buses. 

“All these three symbols are important to our nation to create and foster a sense of patriotism for our next generation,” March said before a House Education subcommittee, underscoring that her bill would not mandate school boards to participate. Her bill would help “to represent and teach us a sense of pride, unity and connection for all Americans,” she said.

March first discussed her proposed legislation in an interview with conservative podcaster Scott Bunn a few weeks after defeating Democrat Derek Kitts in the general election for Virginia House District 7.

In the interview, March said that she hoped the measure would expose communists among Democratic lawmakers inclined to vote against it. “If there are communists in the House of Delegates, let’s figure out who they are,” she said.

But neither Democrats nor Republicans on the committee on Wednesday saw a need for March’s proposal – there was no motion to vote on the measure. 

March had made news in December after abruptly ending her association with a GOP strategist convicted of several federal corruption charges and pardoned in 2020 by then President Donald Trump. 

John Tate, owner of JFT Consulting, had joined March’s team in the final stages of her campaign along with his wife Beth, whom March had introduced as her legislative aide in her interview with Bunn. But following an inquiry by Cardinal News, a spokesman for March said that the Tates were no longer affiliated with the delegate-elect. 

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.