Taxing Problem
James Dudlicek
Editor
(847) 405-4009

I hate the idea of an extra “snack tax” on so-called junk food. But what about a tax break on healthier food items?
Minnesota legislators are looking to exempt milk, yogurt and other better-for-you items sold in vending machines from the state’s 6.5 percent sales tax. Food and food ingredients are already exempted from sales tax in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but not so restaurant food, deemed a luxury.
The vending industry challenged the apparent inequity all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which upheld the policy based on the notion that vending machines are more like restaurants than grocery stores. The state’s dairy industry likewise has tried to get milk exempted from the tax.
But a new effort to reward “healthy behavior” has a vending tax exemption on an apparent fast track in Minnesota. While it would cost the state about $1.3 million in annual revenues, the measure’s supporters reportedly say it would give vending machine operators an incentive to devote more space to fresh food and net more money for schools that share vending profits.
Minnesota is one of 10 states where sales taxes apply in vending to food that would otherwise be tax-exempt.
With opportunities for dairy vending sales continuing to expand, Minnesota’s plan is a good one and, with luck, those other states will follow suit. A good next move would be for the 40 remaining states to exempt food — a staple of life — from sales taxes to help make better nutrition less burdensome for all.
You may ask, why not just exempt healthy foods from sales taxes, in retail or vending? Well, who gets to decide what’s “healthy”?
Case in point: Junk food ads are banned during kids’ TV shows in Britain, but under the standards used, cheese is considered junk food (breast milk reportedly would be, too). Of course, now the animal rights fringe (which probably hates the Minnesota plan) wants to do that here, sending out press releases noting that cheese has more saturated fat than a candy bar. Well, show me the candy bar that has more calcium and protein than cheese, and then maybe we’ll talk.
What’s needed is more realistic standards for defining “healthy.” Not just calories, not just fat, not just salt — a complete, balanced nutritional package that takes wellness and — oh, God, yes — taste into consideration.