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Activists call on the Utah legislature to eliminate the sales tax on food

Posted at 3:34 PM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 19:46:27-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A coalition of religious leaders, anti-hunger activists and Democratic lawmakers joined together to call on the Utah State Legislature to eliminate the sales tax on food.

As FOX 13 first reported last week, the legislature has roughly $1.7 billion in revenues and surplus from a booming economy and an infusion of federal stimulus dollars. With that much money, the activists say, it's time to eliminate the 1.75% state sales tax on groceries (as much as 3% when local sales tax options are factored in).

"I just can’t imagine stockpiling a billion dollars and then say 'Well, we’re going to take $14 dollars from everybody,'" said Rev. Vinnetta Golphin-Wilkerson of the Granger Community Christian Church in West Valley City, referencing the amount of average tax collected for groceries in a month.

Rev. Golphin-Wilkerson's church runs a food pantry, which she said has continually seen record numbers of people seeking assistance.

Alex Cragun of Utahns Against Hunger said eliminating the food tax will help those who are struggling to hang on to what they have.

"The grocery tax is the most impactful one for low income families when it comes to your day-to-day existence," he said.

But the legislature has continually rejected an all-out repeal of the sales tax on groceries. In previous bills, they raised the tax on groceries while lowering other taxes Utahns pay. The House of Representatives did pass one, but it failed in the Senate. In an interview with FOX 13 on Wednesday, Governor Spencer Cox said he was not opposed to the idea of repealing it.

"We’re looking at it, for sure. It’s something we’re interested in," he said.

A small income tax cut has already been introduced for the 2022 Utah State Legislature, but Gov. Cox said there may be more.

"We are going to to do a tax cut this year. I think there’s broad agreement on that. What that looks like? We’re working on some ideas around that," he told FOX 13. "Maybe a tax credit for families that will help them with food and the rising inflation we’re seeing right now."

Members of the coalition were not supportive of a tax credit.

"People who are living day-to-day, paycheck-to-paycheck can’t wait for a rebate to come at the end of the year," said Rev. Golphin-Wilkerson. "And some of these people don’t make enough money to file in the first place. It’s just not the best solution."

House Democrats announced they would run a bill to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. But as a super-minority in the legislature, it would need broad Republican support.

"I hope that as a legislature we don’t squander the opportunity with meaningless tax cuts and instead do something that will truly help our most vulnerable families," said Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City.

If the legislature failed to act, Bill Tibbitts of the Crossroads Urban Center acknowledged that a citizen ballot initiative to force a repeal of the sales tax on groceries is possible.

"I don't even want to talk about a ballot initiative. I think that the legislature...," he said, later adding: "I think it's possible."