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Politics & Government

Utah lawmakers and community members want to end the sales tax on food items

A photo of a Black woman in a face mask holding a sign that says 'Month Groceries' with a list of items and $14.62 total Utah Sales Tax.
Ivana Martinez
/
KUER
Rev. Vinnetta Golphin-Wilkerson joined lawmakers and community members a day before Thanksgiving to urge state lawmakers to end the state’s 1.75% tax on food.

Utah community leaders and state lawmakers gathered on Wednesday afternoon in Salt Lake City to urge state leaders to eliminate the sales tax on food.

Behind them, cars were lining up in the Smith’s Ballpark parking lot to get free turkeys, and stuffing for Thanksgiving.

Earlier this week, Rep. Rosemary Lesser, D-Ogden, announced that she is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate the state tax.

She said low-income families or people on fixed incomes are disproportionately impacted and it takes up a big portion of their budget. One in 10 Utah households experience food insecurity, a report from the Utah Food Security Task Force found.

Right now the statewide grocery tax is 3% and more than half of that goes to the state.

“States have been attracted to a tax on food because it's a steady stream of revenue,” Lesser said. “However, in the last two decades, more states have come to the conclusion that taxing essential items such as food is not a good choice for their population.”

According to the national Center on Budget and Policies Priorities, 13 of the 45 states with a sales tax still impose it on groceries. Under Lesser’s bill, taxes imposed by cities and counties would remain unchanged.

Lawmakers like Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, who created the task force, joined faith leaders in the call to action. She said it’s one of the recommendations they will present to the legislator.

Escamilla said they can look at other places to find the money. She said she’s been having conversations with other lawmakers about creating a fund to make up for the lost revenue, but she’s still in the early stages.

“The reality is we need to find that money somewhere else, being punitive against working families is … almost unethical and immoral,” she said.

Rev. Kim James of the First United Methodist Church in Ogden, spoke about the impact taxes have on her expenses. She totaled her household's grocery expenses for a month with the state taxes, and found it amounted to $14.62.

She said that money might not mean much to others but for families who have to budget that in, that could mean a gallon of milk, or three large boxes of cheerios.

Rev. Vinnetta Golphin-Wilkerson of Granger Community Christian Church in West Valley, said in recent years her church’s emergency food pantry has turned into a survival one.

“I have no problem asking for generosity, for people to donate, to help somebody else. But that's not what we're here for today,” Golphin-Wilkerson said. “We're asking our neighbors who represent us in the state Legislature to do the right thing, stop this tax on food and do right by Utah families.”

Lesser said she'll be getting feedback and keep conversations going with other lawmakers about the bill.

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