UPDATE: At the end of the week, under pressure from legislators and consumers, Governor Lamont walked back the proposed controversial tax on prepared meals from grocery stores. On Thursday Scott Jackson, the state tax commissioner announced that no new food items would be taxed.
By State Representative Livvy Floren, 149th District – Greenwich & Stamford
Whether you are a college student working two jobs to pay tuition, a young professional trying to balance parenthood and a high-demand career or a senior living on a fixed income, picking up a prepared meal at the local grocery store may be a saving grace during the week, especially when time is limited. Unfortunately, this popular go-to option for millions across our state will become more expensive in the coming weeks.
Beginning October 1, prepared meals at grocery stores will be taxed at a rate of 7.35 percent – a one percent increase for some goods, and a new 7.35 percent tax for others. For some individuals, this amount may seem manageable, but for many, it will stretch household budgets to the limit – yet another money grab that will make Connecticut less affordable for the middle class and those with limited means.
In February, the governor proposed a tax on groceries to help fill a projected deficit, but countless residents and many legislators, including me, voiced objections. Governor Lamont abandoned the proposal, but legislative Democrats were able to secure its passage in the overall state budget, which was adopted on May 4 without a single Republican vote.
The “meals tax” has existed in Connecticut for some time, but until now, this levy only applied to foods served in restaurants. Grocery stores were not required to tax these items in the same manner. Now, however, they are considered one in the same.
“Groceries” considered taxable under the new budget include sandwiches; salads from salad bars; bagels, donuts, muffins, rolls, and pastries sold in quantities of five or fewer; prepackaged snacks in amounts of five ounces or less; pizza (whole or by the slice), cooked chicken (by the piece or whole); soups in containers of eight ounces or less; smoothies; meal supplement bars; food from hot buffets; and beverages sold with meals.
Not only will this affect big chain supermarkets, but also smaller, family-owned grocery stores. Many businesses are likely to overtax customers since the definition of “prepared meals” will become more vague and far-reaching than ever before, creating confusion and more work for store owners and their employees.
Unfortunately, this is just the icing on a session clouted with anti-business legislation and other taxes on the elderly, working families, and the underemployed. With the increased minimum wage, the new 0.5 percent payroll tax on all private sector workers, an expanded sales tax, increased fees, and the possibility of tolls in the near future, residents and small businesses owners are certain to face a higher cost of living.
Clearly, this is not just a tax on convenience items. For many, it is a tax on essentials. For all, it is disappointing and unnecessary, and once people see the financial impact at the checkout line, thousands will be forming a new line towards the state borders. Prepare for the inevitable “food fight.”