A working group of Idaho lawmakers, all of whom will have to face reelection in exactly one year, spent their Election Day at the Idaho Statehouse considering Idaho tax policy, with particular emphasis on Idaho's grocery tax.
There has been increasing conversation on both sides of the aisle about the possible elimination of Idaho's sales tax on groceries and, Tuesday morning, members of the Idaho House and Senate heard from a number of speakers about the grocery tax and the grocery tax credit—for most Idaho residents, it averages about $100 per person.
If the 2016 Idaho Legislature makes a change to the grocery sales tax, Pam Eaton, representing the Idaho Retailers Association, told lawmakers Gem State shopkeepers will need ample time to make the change.
"After approval and rule-making, retailers would still need about 90 days notice for any kind of change," Eaton told the Legislature's Tax Working Group.
"Additionally, if it were to go into effect at the beginning of a month, it would be extra burdensome or hectic because of how many SNAP recipients come for their groceries at the start of the month."
SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps), exempts recipients from paying any sales tax on their food purchases—something Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman
told lawmakers was unfair to most Idaho taxpayers.
"Because SNAP recipients don't pay sales tax on their groceries, they can buy 6 percent more than taxpayers," said Hoffman. "Idaho's grocery tax is actually an incentive for people to go on food stamps."
Boise Democratic Rep. Mat Erpelding
took exception to Hoffman's remarks.
"You say that it's an incentive to go on government services? Psycho-social research shows us that going on food stamps is one of the most humiliating things a family could do. It's a total misnomer to say that we incentivize people to go on the SNAP program."
Hoffman said since most Idahoans receive a grocery sales tax credit when it comes time to complete their income taxes, Idaho's grocery tax was like a "mandatory Christmas Club account. You have to participate in it."
"Have you ever stood in line at the grocery store and watched someone closely watch the total on the register? And as the total accumulates, knowing that they have to pay sales tax, they're scrambling to put food items back," said Hoffman. "It's devastating to watch."
After a few questions about Idaho taxes and tax policy, Hoffman finally lashed out at lawmakers:
"Nothing gives me more of a headache that to watch a bunch of elected officials trying to discern what would or wouldn't help the economy," Hoffman said in his final remarks. "It's as if you think you can wave a magic wand and let the economy dance to your tune. Let the free market system work. Nothing has lifted more people from poverty than a free market economy."