This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah's lawmakers are once again being peppered with proposals, from within and without, to make changes in the state's tax structure. The issues are complex and the solutions differ widely depending on whether the goal is to spend more money, mostly on education, to encourage economic growth or just to improve the perceived fairness of the system.
One thing our elected officials should not do is try to balance the budget on the backs of those least able to afford it.
That means not increasing the sales tax levy on groceries. Cutting that assessment, from the general rate of 4.75 percent to a special 1.75 percent, a decade ago was a move that was both smart and compassionate. But that move has always been unpopular in some quarters, with much grumbling about how the poor somehow aren't paying their fair share of the taxes that fund programs for the poor.
Usually, the kind of conservative Republicans who hold sway around here oppose taking money away from people so the government can turn around and spend it on programs to help those same people. Better, that line of thinking goes, to let people keep and spend their own money as they see fit.
People at low income levels see fit to spend nearly all of their money on the necessities of life, mostly rent and groceries. Lowering the out-of-pocket cost of those groceries helps those among us who are always counting pennies from payday to payday, putting off doctor visits, making due with old shoes, denying themselves to buy things for their children.
Raising it again would gain the state some revenue. But it would also add to the number of people who are teetering on the financial brink, pushing more of them to a situation where they need more state assistance.
A good change in Utah tax policy, meanwhile, would be to finally institute a state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. That's a system Ronald Reagan's favorite anti-poverty program where people who earn paychecks too small to owe income taxes would receive a small tax refund anyway.
It's just the government's way of saying thank you for making the effort to support yourselves and your families. And a way of boosting the overall economy by giving money to the people who are the most likely to turn around and spend it, mostly on necessities, right away.
The latest proposal for such a credit now before the Legislature would be small and targeted to families trapped in "intergenerational poverty."
Lawmakers should adopt that proposal, examine the many plans to righten, tighten and otherwise update the long list of deductions, credits and loopholes. And leave the sales tax rate on groceries where it is.