Proposal would kill sales tax on food while slightly raising sales tax


There could be dozens of “tax reform” bills in the Utah Legislature, which started Monday.

But one that catches the early eye was introduced Monday by Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber.

Quinn wants to drop the current sales tax on food by 1.75 percentage points (making it 0 percent), and then raise the general sales tax slightly, from 4.75 percentage points to 4.94 percentage points.

The shift would make HB148 basically revenue neutral – neither a tax hike or cut statewide.

“For me, this is a moral question,” says Quinn.

His bill would do exactly the opposite of what lawmakers were considering just a year ago – removing the food sale tax break altogether in an effort to broaden the sales tax base and lower the rate slightly.

That 2017 effort dwindled after House Speaker Greg Hughes – an early backer of tax reform in the last 45-day Legislature – said further analysis had revealed that raising the food tax back to the general state sales tax rate (4.7 percent) would not have given the good-tax-policy benefits he’d hoped.

Quinn says he, like other GOP lawmakers, likes the general idea of having taxes have a broad base, low rate.

But he takes exception to the rule when it comes to the sales tax on unprepared food.

More well-off Utahns spend about 8 percent of their income on food, he told UtahPolicy.

But the lower-quarter of wage earners may spend as much as 35 percent of their monthly income on food.

“If we can help them even a little bit, we should,” said Quinn.

The change would mean that for every $1,000 a person would pay on sales-taxable items, an individual would pay $2.40 more in the slightly increased general sales tax rate.

To help their less well-off Utahns, others should be willing to make the small accommodation, believes Quinn.

Plus, he said, much of the slight increase would be paid for by non-Utahns, tourists and visitors who make purchases here, but may be less likely to buy unprepared food.

Quinn gives the chances of HB148 passing the House “at 50-50.”

“Much less in the Senate,” he added.

However, speaking politically, Quinn said if his bill – in getting the food tax discussion about LOWERING the rate – means others’ attempts to place all of the state sales tax back on unprepared (as was discussed last year), “then it will be worthwhile.”

For Utah’s poorer citizens should not have to pay an increased sales tax on unprepared food.