Bill to remove state food tax also removes constitutional earmark for education

Personal donations to Utah Food Bank. House Bill 101, removing state food tax, is currently in the Senate but has multiple barriers to pass through before the tax is removed. (Heidi Canella)

HB101, a bill to remove the Utah state food tax, is currently in the Senate but has multiple barriers to pass through before the tax is removed.

Rep. Judy Rohner said Utahns have made it clear that removing dales tax on food is their top priority.

“HB101 was put in to be the removal of the food tax, just the state portion not the it has nothing to do with the city or county portion of the food tax at all,” Rep. Rohner said.

If HB101 passes and goes into law, it would result in a $200 million tax reduction. However, HB101 is contingent on SJR10 passing as well.

In a press release from Utah Senate, they said, “The Utah Legislature will consider H.B. 101 1st. Sub Food Sales Tax Amendments, which removes the state portion of sales tax on food, contingent on removing the constitutional earmark for income tax revenue, as laid out in S.J.R. 10.”

If both pass, Utah voters will get the chance to vote on the final decision on the November 2024 ballot.

SJR10 would allow the state more flexibility to restructure the budget. Currently, the Utah Constitution mandates that all income tax revenue be used for certain items such as eduction. “The leadership believes that it’s increasingly difficult to fund all the state’s needs because the income tax revenue seems to be outpacing the sales tax revenue according to estimates,” Rep. Rohner said.

With the removal of the food sales tax, the budget would have to change. Senator Ann Miller said, “Under the current budget structure, sales tax on food helps to fund all state needs, including Medicaid, homeless programs, public safety, courts, parks, etc. To continue funding these needed programs without the sales tax on food, we will need to restructure the budget.”

A concern educators have expressed is how this will affect public education funding. Rep. Rohner said that leadership is working on negotiations with the education community to ensure that education is properly funded. However, groups like the Utah Education Association openly oppose the bill.

“We are opposed to SJR10 because we have always believed that public education should be prioritized,” UEA President Renee Pinkney said.

Pinkney said there are three reasons why public education should prioritized: (1) it’s the foundation of democracy, (2) public dollars should go to public schools and (3) adequate funding is needed for a fully funded public education system.

The revenue from income tax and sales tax is going to be put into one big piggy bank Pinkney said, and the usage of the funds is at the discretion of the legislature. “Where’s the prioritization? Where is the protection? Where is the guarantee that we are going to have adequate funding?” Pinkney said.

Currently, Utah has a labor shortage and a shortage of certified teachers. When people ask what a fully funded public education looks like, Pinkney said a fully funded public education is when there are enough highly qualified educators in every classroom. Instead of 35 or 40 students, these teachers would have manageable classroom sizes of 18 students and there would be enough teacher aids, bus drivers, custodians, well-resourced classrooms and more.

“We do need to get better voter turnout and that we have the voters knowing more about the issues,” Rep. Rohner said.

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