Asa’s Politics of Candy and Soft Drinks

Over several years, former Governor Mike Beebe (D) worked to reduce the Arkansas sales tax on groceries.  He wasn’t able to eliminate the tax completely but succeeded in removing nearly all the state tax. In 2017 Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) got the full sales tax put back on candy and soft drinks. (Note: In addition to the sales tax on soft drinks, Arkansas also collects a special soft drink tax.)

Although Governor Hutchinson treated candy and soft drinks as different from groceries to get more tax money, he sat on his hands and failed to support a bill to treat candy and soft drinks different from groceries concerning what items could be purchased using food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP).

House Bill 1030 of 2017, by Representative Mary Bentley would have excluded candy and soda from the items eligible for purchase with food stamps. (Note: the bill originally applied to all junk food but was later amendment to narrow its scope.)

The food stamp program was created to provide nutritional items to low income families.  Bentley saw candy and soda as not being nutritional items and thought they should not be included in a nutrition program.  Had Bentley’s bill passed food stamp recipients would have still received just as much in food stamps. The recipients just would not have been able use the food stamps to purchase candy and sodas.

The House of Representatives passed Bentley’s bill and sent it to the Senate.  But, in the Senate it got bottled up in the Senate Public Health Committee, where six of the eight members are Republican.  The bill died in committee.

Governor Hutchinson’s move to raise the tax on candy and soda has inspired the Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force to consider the possibility of raising the tax on all groceries.

Let us hear your thoughts. Where do you stand on:

  • Governor Hutchinson’s tax increase on candy and soft drinks?
  • The continued use of food stamps (SNAP) to purchase candy and soft drinks?