A new ruling from PolitiFact gave a "Pants On Fire" rating to claims made by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in a newsletter/victory-lap regarding credit for the minuscule food tax cut. In case you were never a child: They're saying he lied, or at the very least least, has a short memory.
In the newsletter, Ramsey — or whoever wrote the unending celebration of "Two years of unified Republican Government" — said Republicans "gave every Tennessean tax relief by again reducing the food tax – reductions previous Democrat regimes refused to make."
"Say what?" said an unnamed PolitiFact staffer, we assume.
By referring to "Democrat regimes," Ramsey was making a partisan statement that Republicans cut the sales tax on food and that Democrats had refused similar reductions in the past. But Ramsey – or his newsletter writer — apparently has a short memory: the last reduction in Tennessee’s sales tax on grocery food was made in 2007 after it was proposed by legislative Democrats, who were still in the majority at the time, and signed into law by then-governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.
That cut in the state food tax from 6 to 5½ percent went into effect Jan. 1, 2008, when Ramsey was already speaker of the Senate. And it was double the food tax cut that Ramsey is now touting.
So, on its face, the claim flies in the face of basic facts, and a request for clarification to Ramsey’s office went unanswered.
But how about the credit Ramsey is taking?
Only last December, a cut on the sales tax on food was not on Ramsey’s wish list for the 2012 legislative session, and not only did he question the value of a cut on the sales tax on food, he also revealed that he had not been a proponent of the 2007 cut.
Ramsey hosted a press conference in his office on Dec. 15 to give reporters a preview of the upcoming legislative session. One question involved whether to cut the state sales tax on food, since Tennessee is one of only 11 states that still tax grocery food. He responded that since Tennessee has no income tax — which he steadfastly opposes — "you have to have a reliable source of income to provide the basic services … . And so the sales tax on food is that reliable source."
As for that 2007 cut, Ramsey said, "I’ll bet you that if you poll the citizenry, there isn’t 5 percent that can tell you that when you walk into a grocery store and you buy some pork and beans, your tax is 5.5 percent from the state and if you reach right beside it and get a box of toilet paper, it’s 7 percent. So I think it’s more psychological than it is anything else. We’re never going to do away with it completely so I don’t think that lowering it really does help that much and I think we could concentrate more on the taxes that we can actually eliminate."
PolitiFact also notes that the alternative budget, offered at session's end by House Democrats, provided for an even deeper cut to the food tax, which was opposed by Republicans.
Ramsey's flaming pants notwithstanding, he can be sure he'll be hearing Democrats talk about the food tax going forward. Advocating a deeper cut to the tax everyone pays is a no-brainer for a struggling minority looking to claw their way back to prominence.
Like PolitiFact, we've reached out to Ramsey's office for a response, but haven't gotten one yet.