Tennessee Food Tax Reduction Goes Into Effect July 1
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation earlier this week to reduce the state sales tax on groceries by .25 percent at a ceremony at Sloan’s Grocery in Vonore, Tenn.
The Memphis Business Journal reports that the state portion of the sales tax on groceries was 5.25 percent, now it is 5 percent.
“We’re lowering taxes and balancing the state budget by managing conservatively, making strategic investments in our priorities and finding new ways to make government more efficient and effective,” Haslam said.
The bill was introduced by the governor. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) co-sponsored the bill.
The reduction goes into effect July 1. The reduced tax rate does not apply to restaurant meals, candy, alcoholic beverages or tobacco.
Minnesota Ups Cigarette Tax $1.60 Per Pack
The Minnesota Legislature this week approved a tax bill that will increase the cigarette tax by $1.60 per pack and also increase the tax on other tobacco products.
The state projects that the tax increase will raise $434 million in new revenue over the next two years (fiscal years 2014-15).
With Minnesota’s increase to $2.83 per pack, the average state cigarette tax will be $1.51 per pack.
Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, issued the following statement: “It is terrific news for Minnesota’s kids and health that the legislature has voted to increase the state cigarette tax by $1.60 per pack and also increase the tax on other tobacco products. The tobacco tax increase is truly a win-win-win solution for Minnesota—a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a financial win that will help to balance the state budget and fund essential programs and a political win that polls show is popular with voters. We look forward to Gov. Mark Dayton signing this legislation into law.
“We applaud Gov. Dayton and legislative leaders for siding with kids over the tobacco industry by supporting the tobacco tax increase. We also congratulate the Raise It for Health Coalition that has fought tirelessly to reduce tobacco use and save lives in Minnesota.
“The evidence is clear that increasing the cigarette tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about 6.5 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.” Minnesota, according to Myers, can expect the $1.60 cigarette tax increase to:
• Prevent more than 47,700 Minnesota kids from becoming smokers;
• Spur more than 36,600 current adult smokers to quit;
• Save more than 25,700 Minnesota residents from premature, smoking-caused deaths; and
• Save more than $1.65 billion in future healthcare costs.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Minnesota, claiming 5,500 lives each year and costing the state $2 billion annually in healthcare bills, according to Myers. While Minnesota has made significant progress in reducing youth smoking, 18 percent of high school students still smoke and 6,800 more kids become regular smokers every year, he says.
NGA Calls For Comprehensive Immigration Reform
The National Grocers Association (NGA) has released a formal position statement calling for comprehensive immigration reform. The position, unanimously approved by NGA’s executive committee and board of directors, calls for immigration reform to be comprehensive, preempt state and local laws and include the following key principles:
• Border Security: U.S. borders must be secured and the rule of law must be enforced.
• Employer Verification: NGA supports mandatory E-Verify of new hires for all employers, at no cost to the employer. Employers must be afforded a strong safe harbor of protections in exchange for good faith compliance of E-Verify.
• Expanded Guest Worker Program: Expand guest worker program to include workers with skills such as bakers, butchers and foodservice, in addition to other low-skilled workers important for the supermarket industry.
• Path To Legal Status For Undocumented Immigrants And Their Children: Clear path that allows the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and undergo background checks and face penalties.
At NGA’s board of directors meeting in February, a task force of member companies was created to review various proposals and challenges facing the supermarket industry with the ultimate goal to develop a position on immigration reform for the association. The task force, chaired by board member Bob Ling, president and CEO of Unified Grocers, recommended a position in April that was ultimately approved unanimously by NGA’s executive committee and board.
“I appreciate the hard work of NGA’s immigration task force, a group that included representatives from both retail and wholesale companies,” Ling said. “Employers are facing an ever-growing patchwork of state and local immigration laws that further complicate a broken system. The lack of progress in developing an effective national policy has adversely impacted our customers, employees and their families. Now is the time to enact meaningful reform, and NGA and its members can play a key role in the process.”
“The immigration issue is one that directly impacts our industry,” said Peter J. Larkin, president and CEO of NGA. “NGA’s position takes a common-sense approach by addressing border security, undocumented workers and important employer provisions and protections. We look forward to working with Congress, the White House and other stakeholders to help pass comprehensive legislation that is inclusive of NGA’s position and the priorities of the independent supermarket industry.”
Relationship Building Critical During Busy Legislative Sessions
by Ron Fong/CGA president and CEO
Special to The Shelby Report
The California Legislature is in full swing and despite talk of legislators taking it slow and not introducing a number of bills, this session is shaping up to be one of the busiest in quite some time.
California Grocers Association (CGA) staff is sifting through hundreds of introduced bills, closely analyzing each one to determine its potential impact on your business. It is a laborious undertaking but critical to the success of our government relations program.
Some of the key issues CGA will advocate on include the Beverage Container Recycling Act, a statewide plastic bag ban, WIC, CalFresh, soda taxes, food waste and more. Of course, there are always bills that impact the grocery industry, as well as other businesses generally. Some of those include a minimum wage proposal to adjust annually (AB 10), workers’ compensation changes for independent contractors (AB 360) and more.
In this column, I have talked a lot about grassroots advocacy. I have stressed that CGA members can play a major role in assisting the association in its advocacy efforts.
This was reaffirmed recently at CGA’s Grocers Day at the Capitol. This one-day lobbying event allowed state lawmakers to hear first-hand on key issues facing our industry. But more importantly it helped build relationships that will help CGA for years to come.
Relationship building is critical to a successful government relations program.
What’s great about relationship building is that it can occur at any time and in any place.
When I started lobbying in 1996, one of the first legislators I met and developed a professional relationship was a freshman Sen. John Burton. Years later Sen. Burton became the most powerful and influential leader in the state legislature and is now chairman of the California Democratic Party.
Similarly, when I first met California Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, he was a city council member. Over the years we have maintained our friendship, meeting more so to listen than to lobby. In both cases, these relationships have helped CGA’s overall lobbying efforts.
CGA understands that engaging in government relations can be daunting to a grocer or supplier. To many the process is foreign and distant to the day-to-day operations of selling groceries, and yet what happens in the State Capitol, and in city halls statewide, has a dramatic financial impact on your company.
By understanding how the system works, our members will be more willing to develop these same types of relationships and engage dialogue with their elected officials. Developing relationships at the local level can benefit CGA years down the road. Quite often, state legislators cut their teeth at the local level. The relationship you develop now may one day open an important door in the State Capitol.
And remember, we’re here to help. If your company is interested in engaging in grassroot advocacy, I encourage you to contact our office in Sacramento and talk with our government relations team. We look forward to hearing from you.
Food Retailers Show Support For Common Sense Nutrition Information
Grocery retailers met today with their members of Congress to continue building support for the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (House Resolution 1249), which addresses proposed chain restaurant menu labeling rules that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded to include supermarkets.
Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and National Grocers Association (NGA) food retailer and wholesaler members visited their congressional representatives to explain how, under FDA’s s proposed rule, taking a piece of fruit from a produce department and cutting it into slices for a customer would be considered “similar” to a chain restaurant. The rule contradicts state and local menu regulations and would place a regulatory burden on supermarkets that exceeds $1 billion dollars, according to a news release.
“Supermarkets are often seen as a resource to their shoppers, emphasizing nutrition and health and wellness information with their customers through wellness programs, dietitians and store tours,” said Jennifer Hatcher, FMI’s SVP of government and public affairs. “I fear we’ll witness a reverse trend in freshly prepared food offerings to more standardized, pre-packaged items if the proposed rule is enacted.”
Greg Ferrara, VP of public affairs at NGA, said, “The chain restaurant menu labeling issue has nothing to do with helping consumers make wise nutritional choices. Instead, the restaurants have been lobbying the FDA and Congress to subject food retailers to cumbersome regulations under the Affordable Care Act intended for chain restaurants that serve uniform menu items.”
The bipartisan Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act would ensure that grocery and convenience stores are included in the restaurant nutrition-labeling regulations only if they are primarily engaged in restaurant activity. It also provides some flexibility for those businesses that are included in the regulations, restaurants or otherwise, the release says.
Michigan Grocery Exec Receives FMI Public Affairs Award
Linda M. Gobler, president and CEO of the Michigan Grocers Association (MGA), has received the 2013 Donald H. MacManus Association Executive Award from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). The 28-year industry veteran was honored with the public affairs award Wednesday.
“Linda Gobler is a steadfast champion of the grocery industry and ambassador to her home state of Michigan,” FMI President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin said. “Linda has a remarkable reputation of protecting grocers from government overreach and helping reduce the cost of doing business.”
Gobler is best recognized for fighting to reform Michigan’s Item Pricing Law, because it meant significantly higher operating costs for Michigan retailers. In 2011, Gobler worked closely with the bill’s sponsor and the governor to enact the Shopping Reform and Modernization Act—which saved the Michigan food industry, and the Michigan economy, in excess of $2.2 billion annually.
In addition to her efforts to help protect the slim profit margins of the food retail industry, Gobler fought for legislative victories that repealed the job-killing Michigan Business Tax, prohibited state-specific ergonomics standards and authorized in-store wine tastings and similar beverage sampling events to boost sales—to name a few of her notable accomplishments.
Gobler is invested in the community in which she serves. She is a founding board member of the Lansing Food Bank and led Michigan Grocers Association’s pioneering (and award-winning) “FoodAid for Michigan” program for 13 years. In 2000, Gobler participated in Habitat for Humanity’s “First Ladies Build” alongside Michigan First Lady Michelle Engler. In 2012, Gobler was drafted by Michigan’s governor to sponsor and promote Pure Michigan FIT, leading the fight against childhood obesity through in-store educational efforts. In 2013, she has broadened the food industry’s role by having MGA partner with the Michigan Department of Community Health in launching the Michigan Healthier Tomorrow initiative to help reduce obesity in adults.
Gobler also is well connected at the national level, serving on the FMI government relations committee (2005-2006), regularly attending FMI conventions, participating in joint industry Day in Washington programs, FMI regional meetings and every annual FMI State Issues Retreat since the program’s inception.
FMI celebrated the efforts of Gobler on Wednesday on behalf of the Michigan Grocers Association at the annual FMI, National Grocers Association and the Food Industry Association Executives Day in Washington congressional fly-in, where the supermarket industry proactively dialoged on priority issues—healthcare, tax reform, FDA menu labeling and swipe fees—with their representatives.
Grocers Gather In Washington To Advocate On Industry Issues
Grocery retailers, wholesalers and food industry state association executives representing more than 30 states assembled in Washington, D.C., today to urge Congress to act on pro-business reforms that impact the bottom lines of supermarket retailers and wholesalers.
Members of the National Grocers Association (NGA), Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Food Industry Association Executives (FIAE) joined together for the annual “Day in Washington” congressional fly-in, during which grocery company executives and operators meet with their members of Congress and key Congressional staff to discuss issues of importance to the supermarket industry such as healthcare, tax reform, FDA menu labeling and swipe fees.
Regarding healthcare, the supermarket industry supports changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would increase their ability to maintain health coverage and comply with the law. Such changes include amending the ACA’s 30 hours per week, full-time employee definition to be in line with the current workforce and fair labor standards; supporting House Resolution 1254 to repeal a redundant and confusing mandatory auto-enrollment provision; and restoring the ability for customers to use their Flexible Spending Account (FSA) card for purchases of Over-the-Counter (OTC) medicines without a prescription.
Supermarket operators also are urging members of Congress to co-sponsor HR 1249, the Common Sense Nutritional Disclosure Act, bi-partisan legislation that would, in part, ensure that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not capture mainstream grocery stores in chain restaurant menu labeling regulations.
“Supermarkets are job-creators, employing 3.4 million workers, and they’re also inherent to the financial health of their communities, as evidenced by an average of $92 per U.S. household in weekly sales,” FMI President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin said. “It’s great for members of Congress to hear directly from the grocers in their districts about how even the slightest nuances to legislation or regulation can impact their 1 percent profit-margin businesses.”
With Congress focused on taking up tax reform, attendees are urging their elected officials to ensure reform is fair and equitable among both C-corporations and pass-through entities such as S-corporations and LLCs, while preserving pro-growth tax provisions such as bonus depreciation and expensing. The industry believes Congress should also focus on reforming the tax code, and not try to raise revenue from other areas. The Last In, First Out (LIFO) accounting method is not a tax provision and repeal would create a new, phantom tax that does not meet the basic standards of fairness and equity, a news release says. The supermarket industry also is urging members of Congress to support the Marketplace Fairness Act (HR 684/S 336), legislation that closes a 20-year-old loophole and helps create a level playing field for brick and mortar retailers.
“The presence of the supermarket industry in Washington, D.C., this week is significant given the many important public policy issues facing our industry,” said Peter J. Larkin, president and CEO of NGA. “The momentum gained by having industry executives educate their elected officials on these issues will help keep up the pressure on Congress to take action.”
In addition, attendees of the Day in Washington are addressing the issue of credit card swipe fees, which remain one of the highest operational expenses for retailers. With no ability to negotiate or decrease these fees, the average credit card swipe fee of 2 percent is often higher than the profit margin for many transactions. The supermarket industry strongly supports swipe fee reforms through maintaining and improving debit reform and moving toward more fair and equitable credit card swipe fees.
Food Workshops Scheduled In New Mexico
New Mexico’s farmers, ranchers and food processors are invited to attend one of three workshops across the state to help them better understand how new federal food safety legislation could impact their business.
New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) and the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center at New Mexico State University (NMSU) are hosting the workshops to explain the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FSMA is federal legislation that is being implemented by and will be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the FDA, the new law “enables FDA to focus more on preventing food safety problems rather than relying primarily on reacting to problems after they occur.”
FSMA provides for FDA to mandate new produce safety standards and preventive controls for food facilities, among other new measures of authority. Because FSMA covers such wide-ranging areas as prevention, inspection, response and imports, FDA will implement it portions at a time over the next few years.
“The first goal of these workshops is to share the most current, useful information about FSMA with New Mexico’s food producers,” said New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte. “The second goal is to ask for input from attendees so I can share with the FDA just how this law will affect our farmers, ranchers and others who are in the business of producing food in New Mexico.”
Debra Garrison of PrimusLabs, a food safety consulting firm that works with companies throughout the produce and manufactured foods industry, and Tyler Holmes, food safety manager for Morrow Farms, a family-owned farm in Hatch, will lead the workshops.
Because FDA is seeking public comment on FSMA, NMDA also will use the workshops to gather input on the first parts of the law to be implemented. NMDA will compile that feedback and send it to FDA before the current public comment period ends May 16.
Each of the three workshops will begin at 3 p.m. No end time has been set:
• April 29: Colfax Room, Corbett Center, NMSU, near the corner of Stewart and South Locust streets, Las Cruces;
• April 30: Roosevelt County Extension Office, 705 East Lime St., Portales; and
• May 1: Room 203, NMSU Albuquerque Center, 4501 Indian School Rd., NE, Albuquerque.
The workshops are free and are open to any farmer, rancher or food producer in New Mexico.
For more information about the workshops, call 575-646-4929 or go here.