Connecticut Taxes Prepared Foods or Maybe Not
Gov. Ned Lamont has decided to scale back a 7.35% tax on prepared foods because legislators complained it is being interpreted in a broader fashion than they intended. The tax would apply not just at restaurants but also to a wide variety of foods sold at grocery stores including single-serve ice cream bars, sealed bags of lettuce, doughnuts, bagels, pizza slices and rotisserie chickens as well as all beverages sold with any of those items.
“I think that DRS too broadly interpreted what was the intention of the legislature and the intention of [Lamont’s budget office]," the governor said Tuesday. He said the intention was to increase the existing tax on certain prepared foods by 1% to 7.35%, not to tax new items.
“That was what was put in the budget, those are the numbers we assumed in the budget, and I think DRS will go back and revisit that so that the original intention that we had, and the legislature had, is reflected in those definitions," Lamont said.
Melissa McCaw, head of the state Office of Policy and Management, Lamont’s budget office, said the goal was to complete the review and adjust the guidance before the tax begins next month.
“The legislation could have been written with greater specificity," McCaw said Tuesday, “and that is what we intend to try and do to make sure what was negotiated in that room is what’s reflected in the policy that was implemented. At the end of the day, we know what we negotiated with our partners in the legislature and it is our intention that that is what is implemented and that will be done in short order."
Republicans accused Democratic legislators of being hypocritical because they voted for the state budget in June that included the additional tax on prepared foods.
“It’s absurd that Democrats are blaming a commissioner whose job is to enforce the law that they wrote,” Senate Republican leader Len Fasano said Tuesday. “The DRS commissioner isn’t the one who wants to tax people on their groceries. He is doing his job and reading the law that Democrats drafted and passed. For Democrat lawmakers, and now the governor in yet another flip flop, to lay blame on the DRS commissioner and ask him to ignore the very language that they wrote is absurd. What good is any law if it can simply be ignored by request of a legislator.”
Fasano and other Republicans have called for a special session to address the prepared foods tax issue.
“We have three branches of government with checks on each,” said Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton. “The executive branch doesn’t have the right to change what the legislative branch has enacted.”
All restaurant meals are already taxed at the 6.35 percent rate but that will increase to 7.35 percent under the changes beginning Oct. 1.
Witkos said the public grew alarmed after news of the new tax spread.
Democrats, Witkos said, “are feeling the pushback ... this is just one more tax. Whether it’s the income tax or payroll tax, gas tax, ... tax tax tax....do we really need to tax additional food items in Connecticut? Don’t people pay enough taxes in our state?'