In 2019, when the Utah Legislature thought-about rising the state’s meals tax as half of a bigger scheme to chop revenue taxes, I grew to become an advocate. I joined a whole bunch of others throughout Utah, a gaggle with wide-ranging political beliefs, to collect signatures opposing the regressive tax change.
Happily, the Legislature lastly listened. After passing the unpopular tax reform package deal that included an elevated meals tax, solely to face a backlash of indignant residents mobilizing a repeal effort, the Legislature repealed the entire tax proposal.
However Utah’s present tax on meals, even at its decrease fee of 1.75% in comparison with the complete 4.85% gross sales tax fee, remains to be incorrect. It disproportionately hurts low-income Utahns and contributes to meals insecurity. Almost 1 in 5 Utah households skilled meals insecurity over the past yr, which means they lacked constant entry to sufficient meals for each particular person of their family to reside an energetic, wholesome life.
That is why now, as a legislator, I’m sponsoring a invoice to remove the state portion of the gross sales tax on meals.
The gross sales tax on meals is unfair as a result of meals is such a giant a part of the household finances for low-income and dealing households. In accordance with the U.S. Division of Agriculture’s Financial Analysis Service, low-income households pay 36% of their revenue on meals whereas higher-income households spend solely 8%.
Taxing grocery meals is a secure income for the state, which is why some economists prefer it. However the fundamental unfairness of taxing a necessity like meals makes the gross sales tax on meals very unpopular. Thirty-seven states don’t cost any gross sales tax on meals. If Utah voters had their approach, Utah would be a part of these states and cease charging a gross sales tax on meals purchases. Polling on the 2019 proposal to extend the gross sales tax on meals confirmed that 67% of Utah voters opposed the concept.
When Jon Huntsman Jr. efficiently ran for governor in 2004, he campaigned on abolishing the food tax. “Gross sales tax on meals is among the most regressive taxes in our society. It particularly hurts seniors on mounted incomes and dealing households,” he mentioned then. That is nonetheless true right this moment, and folks realize it.
My legislative colleagues have begun contemplating tax cuts within the upcoming session. Utah has some of the sturdy economies within the nation and is on monitor to earn $3 billion extra in tax income than final yr. This may lead to greater than a billion-dollar surplus. If my legislative colleagues wish to actually assist the Utahns who want it most, reducing the meals tax is the best way to go.
Cities and counties in Utah are allowed to levy their very own native gross sales taxes on grocery meals, and my invoice wouldn’t change that. The state at present earns near $149 million from its 1.75% gross sales tax on meals. The state can afford to let Utah households maintain this portion of their hard-earned incomes.
Now could be the time to take motion to repeal the state’s unfair gross sales tax on meals. As we transfer past a really troublesome chapter in our state’s historical past, with the pandemic — hopefully — within the rearview mirror, the Legislature can afford to take this equitable and ethical step ahead.
Rep. Rosemary Lesser, a Democrat, represents Home District 10 within the Ogden space.