Park City Rep. Tim Quinn breaks with party lines, supports eliminating grocery tax | ParkRecord.com

Park City Rep. Tim Quinn breaks with party lines, supports eliminating grocery tax

A shopper rifles through bunches of bananas as he peruses the produce section of The Market on Thursday, February 1, 2018. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)

Park City's Republican representative in the State Legislature, Tim Quinn, of Heber, is going against his party's grain in at least one area during this session.

H.B. 148 would amend the state code to eliminate the state grocery tax and, in its place, increase the general sales tax. State agencies estimate it would be a revenue-neutral move, and Quinn is aware that his proposal to raise a tax is unorthodox for a staunch fiscal conservative like himself.

"Food is different because we don't have a choice," Quinn said. "I just think it's the right thing to do."

Utah is one of 13 states that tax grocery purchases, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The state grocery tax, categorized under "food" and "food ingredients," currently runs at 1.75 percent of every transaction. Under Quinn's proposal, this would be removed and, to make up the lost revenue, the general sales tax rate would increase from 4.7 percent to 4.94 percent.

Quinn said the idea behind the legislation is to adjust the tax to be easier on people on low or fixed incomes who typically spend more of their budget on groceries than other products.

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"If we can help them in some small way and barely affect the rest of us on non-food (purchases), it seems to be a good policy from my standpoint," Quinn said.

The bill, owing to its unconventionality, has received some buzz from political and media circles. And Quinn thinks it's going to be popular among Utahns.

"I think the citizens of Utah would agree with it (the bill)," Quinn said. "It's going to cost the average person probably three bucks a month to make up that revenue. Most of us would be willing to do that."

Mike Holm, owner of The Market at Park City grocery store, and a member of Associated Food Stores' governmental affairs committee, said the bill likely wouldn't change the way he does business if it were to pass.

"I think overall it could be a benefit to the store in the form of more sales," Holm said. "Overall it's a good thing because it gives the consumer a better opportunity to have more money in their pocket. … They're (groceries) not a luxury, they're a necessity."

Nate Rockwood, capital debt, grant and budgets manager for Park City, noted the bill doesn't dictate city taxes, though Park City doesn't currently charge a grocery tax.

And while those who are on food stamps already don't pay the grocery tax, Rockwood said the spirit of the proposal aligns with the Park City government's goal of increasing social equity as the mountain town's cost of living continues to rise.

While a hearing for the bill hasn't been scheduled yet, Quinn said it would likely come during a flurry of other tax legislation.