Utahns Against Hunger Statement on H.B. 148: Tax Revisions

March 12, 2018

This year’s legislative session held many disappointments for everyday Utahns, but for Utahns Against Hunger, one of the biggest was the failure to remove the sales tax on food.

Last Monday, the Senate Revenue & Taxation Committee, with the exception of Senators Deidre Henderson and Jim Debakis, voted down a tax cut for all Utahns.

H.B. 148 was not defeated in the Utah Senate, because it was not allowed to go there. The Committee didn’t even permit it to be debated on the Senate floor, but killed it in a committee room. Meanwhile, this same committee greenlit additional tax cuts for business, including the film industry (S.B. 185) and new tax exemptions for commercial property (S.B. 76).

Research by Auburn University on grocery taxes found that every 1% in taxes on food increases the probability of households being food insecure by 0.6%. H.B. 148 would have cut food costs for all Utahns. It would have especially helped low-income families that spend an average of 34.1% of their income on food (higher-income families, by contrast, spend an average of 13.4% of income).Taxing food also hurts those on fixed incomes, including seniors, students, and people with disabilities, and increasingly the middle class, who are pressed more and more by stagnant wages and rising living costs.

Many members of the Legislature talk about “broadening the base and lowering the rate,” as if it is the only possible tax policy, but Utah is one of only 13 states that still taxes food. This tax cut is popular across the state and would have been revenue neutral. It included a .24% increase to the general sales tax rate, which would mean an additional $2.40 of tax for every $1,000 spent. We also know that while the vast majority of food taxes are collected from Utahns, about a quarter of the general sales tax is collected from visitors to our state. H.B. 148, therefore, effectively both broadened the base and lowered the rate. But the majority of the Senate Revenue & Taxation Committee still rejected it.

This bill wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was good policy. Our legislator should be as willing to give a tax cut to everyday Utahns, and those most in need, as corporations and businesses.

Utahns Against Hunger is very grateful to Representative Tim Quinn for his exceptional leadership in sponsoring H.B. 148. We would also like to thank the floor sponsor, Senator Luz Escamilla, the co-sponsors, & all members of the House of Representatives and the Senate who supported this bill. H.B. 148 was a bi-partisan effort and an example of cooperation; we hope that everyone involved will support the effort to remove the state sales tax on food next year.