Senate approves bill to raise Utah sales tax on food

Published: Monday, Feb. 28 2011 9:46 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed increase to sales tax on food passed the Utah Senate on Monday.

SB270 would raise the sales tax on food while lowering the general sales-tax rate, presumably keeping the amount of revenue the same. The bill now moves to the House, where it may be combined with other tax proposals.

"This may not be politically correct, as we see how people are spinning it. But it is financially correct," said bill sponsor Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

Adams said the change would make Utah more competitive with Internet sales and stabilize the tax base.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, called the bill a manipulation of numbers so lawmakers can argue that they didn't raise taxes. "This is a tax increase on everybody because it's a tax on food, which everybody consumes," he said.

On a motion from Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, the Senate amended the bill to slightly lower the sales-tax rate from 4.38 percent to 4.35 percent. He said the change would ensure the net result is not a tax increase as the measure leaves the Senate.

Stephenson, however, said the bill will probably be combined with others, so "this rate is not likely to remain the same."

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, joined mostly Democrats in voting against SB270. He said it would not impact people with higher incomes who buy big-ticket items like cars and furniture.

"This is obviously going to be a tax cut for those most able to pay," he said. "I think this is going the wrong way."

The sales tax on food was lowered three years ago under then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

"It a very volatile tax, and we've made it more volatile by taking food out of the base," Adams said.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, said he doesn't understand why after fighting so hard to reduce the food tax that legislators would want to raise it. Lawmakers, he said, are saying asphalt is more important than food.

"I guess we want to pave over people's ability to eat," he said. "I think this is very, very wrong."

Opponents of raising the sales tax on food are planning to rally Tuesday against what they believe will be a tax increase for all Utah families earning less than $150,000 annually.

"It just isn't possible for most Utah families to spend enough money on nonfood items to make up for what they will pay in new food taxes under this bill," said Bill Tibbitts, director of Crossroads Urban Center's anti-hunger project.

Participants at the rally also plan to present House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, a petition opposing SB270 and urge her to join the Senate president in voting against the bill.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

e-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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