Idaho, let’s eat 6% better

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It never came up during last week’s town hall meeting with three local legislators, but by the time the 2019 session is over, repealing the Idaho sales tax on groceries might go down as one of the lawmakers’ best moves in years.

All signs point to Idaho finally killing an onerous tax that bites virtually every Idahoan but hurts the poor the most. We almost got there once.

Repealing the 6 percent sales tax on groceries was overwhelmingly approved by legislators in 2017, but Gov. Butch Otter vetoed the measure. His concern was that the deficit created by eliminating the tax could prove perilous to properly financing important programs like education.

Legislators sought Supreme Court support to overcome Otter’s veto, but failed. Knowing the governor would veto a new measure in 2018, there simply wasn’t much sense in fighting that battle again this year. But 2019 is shaping up differently.

That’s largely because Gov.-elect Brad Little supports eliminating the grocery tax, so long as the definition of groceries is clear and barring a significant jolt to the state’s revenue stream. By all accounts, repeal looks imminent. Thank goodness.

In today’s front-page story by Judd Wilson, local legislators consistently point out that taxing something so basic to survival is wrong. That the 6 percent tax actually keeps food off hungry citizens’ plates should be an unpalatable proposition to any conscientious Idahoan.

While Idaho offers a grocery tax credit, it’s an extra step that therefore isn’t always capitalized upon. Nor does it go far enough.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture study done back in 2013 showed that most American families of four were spending $150 to $300 a week on groceries. Food prices have risen since then, but assuming a reasonable average of $250 a week, the 6 percent sales tax on groceries is costing Idaho families $780 a year — nearly double the $400 tax credit for that family. A far simpler, more equitable and humane approach is to eliminate the tax at the cash register.

We would also argue that a bottom-line pinch to the state’s tax pocket would at least partly be offset by the likelihood that consumers will spend some of that 6 percent savings on other taxable products. A boost to almost everyone’s disposable income only bodes well for Idaho’s economy.

Feeling good because we’re doing the right thing is even better.

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