Sunday, September 22, 2019

Connecticut’s Food Fight

Kevin Rennie wondered in his blog “Daily Ructions” why, under “the grocery tax set to take effect Oct. 1, six bagels won't be subject to the higher sales tax, but five bagels will, because they're considered to be prepared foods for immediate consumption.” And he then proposed a solution to the conundrum: “The legislature needs to change this law.”

Governor Ned Lamont, Rennie wrote, is attempting “to erase the advantage grocery stores that sell prepared foods have over restaurants,” an alibi that seemed to him suspect. If Lamont were at all worried about the restaurant business in Connecticut, “he would not have singled it out for an increase in the sales tax from 6.35 percent to 7.35 percent. He wanted the money more than he cared about the cost of dining out and its consequences for restaurant owners, workers and patrons.”

And, truly, if Lamont and his handlers were worried about equity alone, the governor and the tax hungry crowd of Democrat progressives in the General Assembly could as easily adjust the disturbing inequity by eliminating both the restaurant and the grocery tax, leaving Rennie to buy his bagels at the grocery store without being harassed by Connecticut’s frothing tax man.

This is not likely because dominant Democrats in the General Assembly whose thirst for more tax dollars is never assuaged by tax increases are once again fighting a perpetual and losing battle against rising state employee salary and benefit increases and expanding “fixed costs,” according to the Yankee Institute.

Over at CTMirror, Mark Pazniokas honed in on the problem, which appears to have been caused by a statutory glitch: “At issue is the impact of two words in the new budget, ‘grocery store,’ on a longstanding interpretation by state tax collectors of one word, ‘meal.’”

A June provision in the state budget “increases the sales tax on meals by one percentage point, from 6.35 percent to 7.35 percent.” Nothing untoward there; the Lamont administration consistently has raised or extended taxes far beyond the tolerance levels of most people. The erratic toll proposals championed by Lamont and his progressive abettors in the Democrat dominated General Assembly have been temporarily derailed by a populist uprising, the “No Tolls” movement, but hope springs eternal, and the move to plaster the state with toll gantries is still very much alive, though quiescent.

The problem, Pazniokas tells us, is that “the new law lumps in grocery stores with restaurants and caterers when it comes to the taxation of meals, and while the meaning of the word “meal” has not been changed, the new law offers a troubling gloss: “A meal as defined in this subsection includes food products which are sold on a ‘take out’ or ‘to go’ basis and which are actually packaged or wrapped.” Hence, a head of lettuce bought at a grocery store is not taxable, while lettuce in a bag is taxable.

Now, a workable solution to the problem would require a re-write of the law.

No, says President Pro Tem of the state Senate Martin Looney. “The call for a special session is just the Republicans being alarmist and grandstanding.” Looney is one of the two tax famished progressive gate-keepers in the General Assembly – the other is House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz – who determine which bills will clutter the legislative calendar. Both rather like ambiguous laws that provide masterful Democrat leaders with great maneuverability.

Lewis Carroll the author of “Through The Looking Glass,” provided some guidance to the problem of mis-definition in a discussion Alice has with Humpty Dumpty.

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!' "

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

Democrat progressives in the General Assembly know and obey their masters, while some Democrat moderates silently resist the lash. But the problem outlined above is entirely political and statutory. Even progressives subscribe to the notion that whatever you tax tends to disappear, which is why they approve taxes on cancer causing cigarettes and fossil fuel products. Their faux “surprise” at the  public uproar caused by their clever statutory gloss is entirely contrived.

But it now appears that any remedy short of throwing Humpty Dumpty down from the wall will not be sufficient. Legislative masters of the universe fear only votes, and they know they have a safe number of them in their pockets.       

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