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Review of planned state tax on prepared foods under way

HARTFORD (AP) — Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday that Connecticut's tax department "too broadly interpreted" a planned surcharge on prepared foods and he has directed the agency to revisit which items should be affected.

The Democrat said his budget office and legislative Democrats, who crafted the final two-year state budget deal, had only planned on adding an extra 1 percent tax on items already subjected to the 6.35 percent sales tax, such as sandwiches and pizza sold at restaurants and many grocery stores.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns about a recent Department of Revenue Services memo regarding taxable meals. It extended the new 1 percent surcharge to food items sold in grocery stores that have never been taxed, including containers of lettuce and loose baked goods.

"Yeah, I think that DRS too broadly interpreted what was the intention of the Legislature and the intention of OPM," Lamont said, referring to the Office of Policy and Management. Lamont has argued that it's only fair that a prepared meal at a restaurant and a prepared meal at a grocery store be taxed comparably, so the restaurant is not put at a financial disadvantage.

The governor said he hopes the agency can clarify things before the new tax is set to take effect on Oct. 1.

Republican legislative leaders, however, insisted that a special legislative session is needed to change the underlying law.

"I think if you see the word groceries or grocery store in the legislation, the only way that that can be changed or taken out is by action of the legislature," said Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, the deputy GOP Senate leader. He questioned whether the state even needs to tax prepared meals, arguing that people pay enough taxes already in Connecticut.

"The citizens of Connecticut are saying, 'What are you doing?' You're raising the cost of us going out to dinner, but now if we want to cook at home, those prices have gone up as well," he said.

Republicans are expected to continuing pushing the issue, pointing out the provision was included in a budget crafted by Democrats. House and Senate Republicans have scheduled a news conference at the Legislative Office Building on Wednesday to voice their opposition to the meals tax in general. Many Democrats, meanwhile, have issued public statements in recent days, insisting they never intended for the tax to be applied so broadly.



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