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Gov. Herbert Supports Food Tax Proposal, With Caveats

Julia Ritchey, KUER
Gov. Herbert speaks to reporters at the Capitol on tax reform proposals on March 2.

Gov. Gary Herbert says he’s open to a Republican proposal that would lower overall tax rates while reinstating a higher sales tax on food.

A plan floated by the House GOP caucus this week would restore a 4.75 percent state sales tax on food, an increase from 1.75 percent. This would be in addition to lowering the overall sales tax on other items.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Gov. Herbert says he’s not surprised to see this idea come up again, but any discussion of an expanded food tax would need to include exceptions for low-income earners.

“I think if we do that, those that are impoverished, those living below the poverty line, those most vulnerable amongst us, need to be protected from any kind of harm or additional cost,” he says.

Citing food stamps as an example, the governor says exemptions can be made for basic staples.

But he was more ambivalent toward a question about whether he’d support a tax on just junk food or soda as some cities and states have done.

“Well, I try to avoid junk food so it wouldn’t bother me,” he said jokingly. “But I’m a little reluctant to have too complex of a tax policy. It gets a little hard to understand. I think we ought to have a simplistic tax policy.”

With just six days left in the session, it’s unclear if legislators had enough time to push through such an overhaul.

But Herbert says he wants to find ways to broaden the tax base and keep rates low enough to continue the state’s economic growth.  

CORRECTION: This story has been modified from it original version to clarify that the current state-only portion of the food sales tax is 1.75 percent. The overall grocery food sales tax is 3 percent with the addition of county and city taxes.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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