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Richard Piatt ReportingTalk of tax relief at the state capitol is taking an unexpected turn this week. That's because a Utah lawmaker has brought up the idea of eliminating the sales tax on food, at what some consider the last minute.
The tax you pay for everything from milk and bread to popsicles isn't that big of a deal for most people. But for the poorest among us, the tax is a bigger chunk out of their spending money. And eliminating that tax has been a fight that's gone nowhere in state government--until now.
Eliminating the sales tax on food has been a battle for at least 10 years, mostly waged by advocates for the poor. Linda Hilton is one of those advocates.
Linda Hilton, Crossroads Urban Center: "We were very surprised that this came up yesterday. Pleasantly surprised."
The surprise: a resurrection of the idea in a tax task force meeting at the Capitol. Representative Steve Urquhart presented a proposal he says was based on public hearings across the state.
Urquhart went against current tax reform proposals, calling the food sales tax, "a vile, regressive, morally reprehensible, unfair tax." They're strong words that shocked Legislative colleagues who thought the issue was dead.
The idea also upset the apple cart because it means the money would have to be made up somewhere else. The latest figures from the state indicate that adds up to 260-million dollars. And the proposal calls for making it up with increased sales taxes for other goods or services.
Mike Jermain, Utah Taxpayers Association: "The big issue here is the huge, and I emphasize huge, tax increase on businesses. And I don't think the legislature will hesitate to raise taxes on businesses to that amount."
Governor Huntsman has supported eliminating the tax in the past.
Governor Huntsman: "I will tell you that the sales tax on food as an issue will continue to be discussed right up until the start of the legislature."
In the meantime, watchdogs are bird-dogging the issue, with hope it will actually get through.
Linda Hilton, Crossroads Urban Center: "This is a very big deal to low income families. They spend a larger amount of their income on food than middle or high income families."
There is talk that Representative Urquhart is trying to get publicity for himself because he's running against Senator Orrin Hatch next year. But there are a lot of people who both insist and hope his intentions are not just political in this fight.