Will Utah end sales tax on food? Community groups rally for support from lawmakers
‘If they are not for eliminating the food tax, we’re going to give them bread because we do believe that ... food is a human right and everybody deserves to eat,’ Leonard Peoples said
Community and religious groups gathered at the state Capitol Thursday to urge lawmakers to do away with the state grocery sales tax, which they say is disproportionately burdensome to low-income Utahns.
Leonard Peoples, with United Today, Stronger Tomorrow — the group that helped organize Thursday's "More Bread for Utahns!" rally — said the group planned to ask lawmakers where they stand on eliminating the food tax. To help make their point, attendants would hand out cookies to those in favor, and a regular piece of bread to those against nixing the tax.
"If they are not for eliminating the food tax, we're going to give them bread because we do believe that ... food is a human right and everybody deserves to eat," he said.
Peoples said Americans of all kinds have faced economic difficulty over the past few years thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation. He said eliminating the food tax is "the one thing that can ease all these burdens."
And though sales tax is a relatively small percentage, Peoples said when it comes to those who are just scraping by, "every little bit helps."
Will Utah end the food tax?
Whether or not to end the sales tax on groceries has been a topic of debate for several years in the Utah Legislature, including last year when Gov. Spencer Cox recommended it but the proposal failed to gain traction before the end of the session. Instead, Senate and House leaders said most lawmakers favored an income tax rate cut and more targeted tax cuts.
Although lawmakers have set aside at least $400 million for tax cuts during this session, they say it's not as easy as simply cutting sales tax on grocery store items. That's because Utah's constitution earmarks all income tax funds for education, and they're concerned about an imbalance in income and sales tax revenues.
"So, how do we accommodate that, taking a cut on that side when we don't have flexibility on the other side with the use of revenues for income tax?" Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner, R-Ogden, told reporters on Thursday. "So, I think this has to be a larger conversation that we'll have ... focused on overall tax policy that would allow us to decide what's the best way."
Changing consumer habits like spending more on services and travel while spending less on physical goods has meant that the education fund has grown about 10 times as fast as the general fund, Millner said.
Executive Appropriations Chair Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said senators are still negotiating the finer points of tax policy for this session, but he expects to have more details by a week from this coming Monday.