The longer Utah's economic boom continues, the more unnecessary Utah's sales tax on groceries appears. According to estimates reported recently, the state will face another surplus of about $50 million this fiscal year. If lawmakers can't see fit to remove this tax now, under what conditions would they?
No one can escape the tax on food. It raises the cost of life's most basic necessity. More importantly, it hits hardest among those least able to afford it. Someone who earns $10,000 a year needs to eat as much as someone earning 10 times as much, but the poorer person ends up using a much higher percentage of disposable income for the sales tax. The resulting nutritional deficit ends up costing taxpayers in many ways.For a decade now Utah has run yearly budget surpluses. Some years, the total has been much higher than it is now. In the last seven years, the extra money has amounted to nearly $500 million. By comparison, removing the grocery tax would cost about $100 million.
During the last legislative session, two state senators, Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, and Scott Howell, D-Granite, sponsored a bill that would have gradually phased out the tax. The first year, every taxpayer would have received a $40 credit. The second year, the credit would have grown to $80, and by the third year, the food tax itself would have disappeared. Not only that, grocery prices would have dropped for everyone. It was a great idea.
The bill passed the Senate but didn't get even a token consideration by the House. Why? We hope it wasn't merely because the idea was championed by the state Democratic Party, the minority party in both houses of the state Legislature.
With highway construction funding under control and education enjoying record budgets, the Legislature's next priority has to be the elimination of the grocery tax. It is a cause all voters in the state should rally behind before the next legislative session.