According to State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), what has been said about him and his involvement in a local grocery tax cut is inaccurate.

In Garrett's district, the city of Clay cut its grocery tax in half. City Manager Ronnie Dixon came up with the idea to give residents some relief during strained times. Dixon used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) definition of groceries to clarify what would no longer be taxed by 4% but now by 2%.

1819 News spoke with Dixon Thursday, and he said he was unhappy that some had tried to say what Clay was doing was illegal. He claimed Garrett approached him about the tax after speaking with the attorney general's office and requesting an opinion. Garrett acknowledged he went to the AG's office and received an opinion written by former Alabama Attorney General Troy King that he believes makes the tax cut illegal.

"I am not opposed to local cutting their sales tax. I was never opposed to Clay doing that," Garrett said Friday after the story was published. "I was just aware that there might be a legal problem with that. I think they are confusing or conflating discussions because it may have been that he was surprised to know they couldn't do it. But I told them you've done it, so as long as no one brings it up, you're going to be OK."

"I was not trying to be an obstacle. I was trying to be helpful to Ronnie."

Garrett said he had already been discussing legislation to allow local municipalities to decrease grocery tax, but a previous bill didn't pass. He said he supported cities having that ability and had already approached State Rep. Chris England (D- Tuscaloosa) about the bill he plans to introduce.

"The definition under the law, 'groceries' is a defined term, and so, what Chris wanted to do was allow locals to say, 'we're going to change the definition of what we tax so we can tax groceries or not tax groceries,' and that didn't pass," Garrett explained. "So, what Clay is doing, I've been told, is not in accordance with the law, but as long as nobody challenges them, it's not going to be a problem."

While Dixon believes the city is doing nothing wrong, Garrett said he wanted to be sure they had the information he found after he said multiple people contacted him about it.

"It was determined that it wasn't lawful because, and this is where it gets complicated," added Garrett. "The city can set a tax rate but has to tax the same base that is found in the code. They can't change the definition of what groceries are. I've gotten calls from people saying that Clay is basically changing because they're not taxing groceries, and there is no authority under the law to do that. I was just giving him a heads-up. I was not arguing that they shouldn't do it … I was just giving them information."

Clay Mayor Charles Webster said he doesn't think his city has anything to worry about.

"Who's going to file a lawsuit for you helping people by reducing taxes?" Webster said. "That would be a disaster. A public disaster."

Webster said state lawmakers should strongly consider what they can do for people, so cities are not left with the burden.

"It's not for everybody," said Webster. "Not every city can afford it. I had other mayors calling me asking, 'why did you do that?' I told them, 'Well, because we can, and we're not trying to make y'all look bad. We just want to help our citizens in any way we can. It's not a lot. It's a lot for the city, but for every household, it's not a lot, but it's what we can do, and everybody I have talked to appreciates it."

For some cities that use sales tax revenue to fund education, there could be a lawsuit if those funds were taken off the table.

"Hoover uses local money to fund schools," said Garrett, the chairman of the House Education Trust Fund budget committee. "If they did that, AEA or something would probably file suit. But Clay doesn't fund schools."

Garrett said as for a statewide grocery tax cut, discussions and ideas are in the works, but he said money has to come from somewhere, and Alabama already has the lowest property taxes in the nation and the second-lowest sales tax in the nation. In the meantime, Garrett said he would support cities being able to change their own grocery tax rates.

"I wasn't opposed to it, but I wanted them to know that they're doing something that if somebody files a lawsuit, you may hear from (the Department of) Revenue, you may hear from the AG," he said. "I think practically, as long as no one files suit, you're OK, but that's not really where you want to be. My concern now is that so many people know about it, somebody might try and file suit."

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