Will Idaho Balance Its Budget by Making Food More Expensive for the Poor?

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If the recent rumblings about eliminating Idaho’s grocery tax credit become more than talk, the state will join a handful of others (Virginia, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Georgia) to address budget shortfalls on the backs of their most vulnerable residents. 

Some lawmakers seem to think the Gem State can no longer afford the annual $100 million cost of the grocery tax credit.  But, a growing number of Idahoans are living in poverty (the state’s poverty rate increased from 12.9% in 2008 to 14.3% in 2009) and those individuals can also ill-afford what amounts to a regressive tax increase as they work to make ends meet during challenging economic times.

When Idaho first adopted a state sales tax in the 1960's, lawmakers decided to leave groceries in the sales tax base and created a refundable grocery tax credit to partially offset the cost of sales taxes paid on the most basic of goods. 

Recently, the per person credit was increased and made available for the first time to those too poor to owe income taxes but who still must pay sales taxes on groceries.  While the credit is available to households at all income levels, taxpayers with taxable income under $1,000 and older adults receive a slightly larger amount per person. 

Understanding that fiscal times are tight, limiting the grocery credit to low- and moderate-income households, those who are most impacted by the regressive nature of the sales tax, is a smarter approach than outright eliminating the credit.






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