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Time to eliminate food tax

As recently as 1990, this page opposed removing the sales tax from food, noting that the state was in no position to absorb the estimated annual loss of $100 million in revenue. The 1980s were years of economic uncertainty in Utah, with more people moving out than in.

But times have changed. Since 1989 the state has experienced annual budget surpluses. It is a time of prosperity and growth - both economically and in terms of population. The state is now in a position to remove the sales tax on food, and it should.A bill sponsored by Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, and Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell, D-Granite, merits serious consideration. Their bill would remove the tax over a three-year period starting in fiscal year 2000.

The bill would give every Utahn filing a state income form a $40 "food tax credit" on their 2000 tax returns. For 2001, each citizen would get an $80 income tax credit. By 2002 the food tax would be dissolved completely. Obviously, there would be no more income tax credits, just lower food costs.

Since Utah tax revenue growth is climbing at a rate of about $100 million a year, the $100 million loss from the food tax would not be nearly as critical as in the past.

The food tax penalizes those who need money most - the poor. According to the state Tax Commission, someone who makes $10,000 a year needs 25 percent of that for food. Of that 25 percent, $220 goes to the food sales tax.

While prosperity by no means is guaranteed in the future, the state's impressive financial picture since an initiative to remove food tax failed in 1990 makes the practice of taxing food seem cruel. Because the tax is levied as a flat percentage, those with the smallest incomes end up paying a much higher percentage of their income than others. Why, in a time of prosperity, should Utah continue this burden on the poor?

No one can escape this tax. Everyone needs food. It is life's most basic necessity.

A majority of states - 31 - have no tax on food. Several others have credit or refund programs that lessen the impact of a food tax.

Waddoups and Howell have proposed a way out that is reasonable and that minimizes the impact on state coffers.