Lawmakers say reinstating the state portion of sales tax on food is a non-starter this year

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When the final sales tax reform passes the Utah Legislature, is told it will not include increasing the sales tax on unprepared food.

Several legislative sources say putting the state portion of the sales tax, about 4 percent, back on food is a non-starter, and simply won’t happen.

And that would be a smart political move. A recent UtahPolicy poll from Dan Jones & Associates finds that two-thirds of Utahns either “strongly” or “somewhat” oppose putting the tax back on unprepared food, like cereals, fruits and meats. Removing that tax was a hallmark of the administration of former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Current Gov. Gary Herbert was Huntsman’s lieutenant governor when that removal took place. So Herbert isn’t an advocate of putting the tax back on.

The DJA poll found:

  • 66 percent of Utahns don’t want the sales tax put back on food.
  • 26 percent favor that action as part of the Legislature’s overall sales tax reform effort this session, which ends in just three weeks.
  • And 7 percent don’t know.

It would be unwise, politically, for the Republican majorities in both the state Houe and Senate to mess with the food tax:

  • Republicans oppose putting the sales tax back on food, 68-24 percent.
  • Democrats oppose it, 61-32 percent.
  • And political independents are against putting the tax back on, 70-25 percent.

More than 80 percent of legislators are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And DJA finds that “very active” Mormons oppose putting the sales tax back on food, 69-25 percent.

Perhaps next week we will see an outline of sales tax reform – which both Herbert and GOP legislative leaders promise is coming this session.

But time is running out.

And with only a promise that “most” of Utah’s service industries will be placed into the sales tax broad arms of inclusion, lawmakers have not really heard from industries affected, certainly are not hearing from voters – yet.

Political timing is crucial here.

Wait too long, and leaders and Herbert can be accused of rushing through tax hikes on all kinds of services, from haircuts to plastic surgery to attorneys and tax preparers.

Bring the bill out too early, and lobbyists – even citizens at large – will have time to beat up on their individual House and Senate members, stalling, blunting, or hamstringing the whole sales tax reform push.

Jones polled 822 voters from Jan. 3-15. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.