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Lawmakers can lower Mississippi’s sky-high grocery prices

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Lawmakers can lower Mississippi’s sky-high grocery prices

Jun 09, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Bobby Harrison
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Lonzell Wright pays for his items at Farmacy Marketplace in Webb, Miss., Friday, October 28, 2022. Farmacy is the only grocery store in the town. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today
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Lonzell Wright pays for his items at Farmacy Marketplace in Webb, Miss., Friday, October 28, 2022. Farmacy is the only grocery store in the town. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

California and Mississippi are not normally viewed as having much in common, but the Golden State and the Magnolia State do have one similarity: high grocery prices.

California, according to a recently released analysis of U.S. Census data, is the most expensive state in the nation to purchase groceries. Mississippi is the third most expensive state to buy food, while Nevada is second.

The fact that California is at the top of the list is not surprising. Most everything is more expensive in the left coast state. But Mississippi — the hospitality state — being near the top of the list is surprising. Mississippi, after all, is known for its low cost of living.

Then again, Mississippi is used to being at the top of the bad lists (like highest infant mortality rates) and at the bottom of the good lists (like lowest wages). State leaders have been talking about improving Mississippi’s standing on multiple lists for decades. For the most part, their efforts have been unsuccessful.

But politicians could improve Mississippi’s standing on the list of most expensive states to buy groceries by passing one piece of legislation to reduce the grocery tax.

Mississippi has the highest state-imposed grocery tax in the nation — a 7% tax on food sales. No doubt, Mississippi’s high grocery tax contributes to its high standing on the aforementioned bad list. By simply reducing or eliminating the grocery tax, Mississippi would move down the list and, more importantly, leave more money in the pockets of the state’s highest-in-the-nation percentage of low-wage earners.

It should be pointed out that the two states where groceries are more expensive – California and Nevada – do not have a grocery tax. Groceries are just more expensive in those states.

According to the analysis from HelpAdvisor, the average household in Mississippi spends $290.66 per week on groceries. The national average is $270.21 per week, according to the study.

Granted, that seems high, but assuming those numbers are correct, Mississippians are paying $20.35 weekly in taxes on groceries. If Mississippi did not have a grocery tax, the weekly cost of groceries would be nearly identical to the national average.

Only thirteen states tax groceries. Of the states that do, most tax groceries at a lower rate than the general sales tax they levy on other retail items. Mississippi politicians levy the same 7% sales tax rate on groceries as they do on most other retail items.

First-term House Speaker Jason White, R-West, recently outlined a plan to cut the sales tax on groceries in half and to phase out the personal income tax. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, also has voiced support for cutting the grocery tax.

White has appointed a select committee to study the state’s tax structure and to make recommendations to the 2025 Legislature on how to presumably accomplish his stated goal of cutting the grocery tax and eliminating the income tax.

As the select committee studies the tax structure in anticipation of enacting tax cuts in the 2025 legislative session, Mississippi already is phasing in a $525 million cut to the state’s personal income tax. When fully enacted in 2026, Mississippi will have the 5th lowest rate of the 41 states with a personal income tax, legislative leaders said in 2022 when they passed the plan.

Even if the grocery tax is cut in half as White proposed, Mississippi still will have one of the highest grocery taxes in the nation, and the cost of food still will be higher than the national average.