Wilton’s GOP legislators pan new food tax

Wilton’s two Republican state representatives, Gail Lavielle of the 143rd District and Tom O’Dea of the 125th, have both issued strongly worded statements in opposition to an increased tax on prepared foods that will take effect on Oct. 1.

O’Dea, Deputy Republican leader-at-large, calls the 7.35-percent tax on prepared meals “a direct burden” on middle- and working-class people. The tax was included in the 2020-21 budget passed this spring along party lines. Lavielle and O’Dea voted against the tax, state Sen. Will Haskell (D-26) voted in favor.

Lavielle, ranking member of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, calls the tax a “surreptitious, backdoor way” into taxing food items that unsuspecting residents had expected to remain exempt from this year’s new state tax laws.

The tax on prepared meals was originally presented as a 1-percent jump on items already taxed at 6.35 percent.

But, according to the CT Mirror, consumers will be taxed at the new rate for foods like popsicles and other frozen treats, doughnuts and bagels, pizza slices, hot dogs, smoothies, power bars, a hot bag of popcorn, and even pre-packaged bags of lettuce and spinach, according to written guidance prepared for grocery stores and other retailers by the Department of Revenue Services.

The 7.35-percent sales tax also applies to beer, fruit juices, milkshakes, hot chocolate, wine, and distilled alcohol like brandy or rum. It also applies to coffee and tea if purchased prepared to drink, rather than as coffee grounds or in tea bags, according to the Mirror.

Under the original plans for the tax, cities and towns were to keep the extra money generated by businesses within their borders. But when a proposal to tax investment earnings on the wealthy tanked, the sales tax money was diverted to the state.

The tax surcharge was expected to raise $48.3 million between Oct. 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, but GOP lawmakers have asked the Office of Fiscal Analysis to recalculate those projections based on the DRS guidelines, the Mirror said.

“When Gov. Lamont proposed a grocery tax earlier this year, it was not a popular idea. Nevertheless, Democratic legislators found a way to sneak it into the budget that passed in May without a single Republican vote,” O’Dea said.

“We knew these new taxes would hit the middle class on consumer staples. Now, we will all pay more for a sandwich, grinder, wrap, slice of pizza, soup, prepared bagel, macaroni, granola bar, and so much more,” he continued.

“If you thought that most of what you were buying at the grocery store was not considered a prepared meal, think again,” Lavielle said. “From Oct. 1, you’ll likely see a noticeable increase in your grocery bills.

“People like seniors on fixed incomes, students with limited budgets, those who work long hours and often buy food to go, and those living alone who buy food items in small quantities will be hit especially hard,” she said. “Next time you visit your neighborhood supermarket looking for a quick, economical meal after a long day at work, beware the grocery tax in disguise.”

“Combined with all the new mandates on small businesses, this session was one of the most damaging to Connecticut’s economy in decades, if not ever,” O’Dea said. “We went from a 2017 bipartisan budget that created one of the biggest surpluses in our history back to the old ways of one-party rule and ignoring the minority party simply because they could,” he said.