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Tax ReformCalifornia Governor Jerry Brown vetoed bills last week that would have repealed the sales tax on diapers and tampons, saying that they would cost the state budget too much money. He didn’t comment on the lack of wisdom in trying to create distinctions in what should or should not be subject to the sales tax. Or who should make any such decisions.

Democratic Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens, authored the diaper and tampon bills, respectively. To make Brown’s budget argument irrelevant, they want to tax candy instead. In fact, they believe the state’s sales tax system needs a broad overhaul.

“If you had to tax something, and it had to be candy or tampons and diapers, which would you choose?” Gonzalez asks. She wants to give consumers tax breaks for products such as toilet paper, diapers and tampons, and pay for them through new taxes on items such as candy, soda and chips.

While these folks are putting the emphasis on fiscal considerations, isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? Don’t we first have to decide what items should be teed up for favored or disfavored treatment under our sales tax system? That’s if it’s appropriate to create any such distinctions in the first place. And if we are going to entertain such distinctions, who should make those decisions? And based on what and whose criteria? After all, didn’t someone once say “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”?

Consider California’s checkered history of tinkering with the notion of what items should be subject to sales tax, which history might be compared to the process of deciding just what goes into making sausage:

Under existing California law, according to a 2015 report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office: Christmas trees are taxed, but pear trees aren’t; newspapers are taxed, but magazines aren’t; to-go sandwiches aren’t supposed to be taxed, but to-go sandwiches on toasted bread are.

In recent years, proposals have been made to expand sales taxes to purchases of services from service providers, such as attorneys or accountants, rounds of golf, auto repairs, veterinary care and other services during the state’s budget crisis.

If golf, then how about tennis, lawn tennis, bowling, shooting hoops in the local park? If lawyers, accountants and veterinarians, how about doctors, chiropractors and massage therapists? Don’t lawyers and doctors already cost you enough?

It should be obvious that tinkering with the sales tax is no simple matter. The underlying social issues are far more complex than just considering the underlying dollars and cents. It also requires sense. Are our political representatives really up to the task?

Who says? What sales?


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