It’s getting increasingly difficult to mock the California Legislature given the fusillade of nearly unbelievable legislation that makes its way through the Capitol’s hallowed halls. In the old days, when California had enough legislative Republicans and moderate Democrats to temper things, zany bills would be introduced only to die in committee. These days, the crazy stuff almost always makes it to the governor’s desk.
With the introduction of a new tax bill last week, the Legislature has officially gone beyond parody. Seriously, I had to double check the quotations in the official press release to make sure someone wasn’t pulling my leg. The bill, A.B. 479, promotes gender equality by reducing taxes on tampons and diapers and then significantly raising them on one of the few escape mechanisms left for Californians — alcoholic beverages.
“There is no happy hour for menstruation,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens and chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. “Our tax code needs to reflect the fact that it’s not OK to tax women for being born women.” She added that “liquor is a choice and human biology is not.” At least Garcia recognizes the ill effects of taxation, but California’s tax code isn’t at war with biology — it’s at war with productivity and hard work.
Last year, Garcia introduced a bill that would help women save a few pennies a month on their purchases of feminine-hygiene products simply by eliminating the sales tax on them. Republicans went along with it, reasoning that any tax cut is a good one. Because California Democrats so rarely propose anything other than a regulation or tax increase, the GOP approach was sound.
Also last year, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, proposed a bill to eliminate sales taxes on diapers. “This is about valuing the health of women, seniors and families over things that aren’t necessary to the lives of tens of millions of Californians. It’s babies over booze,” Gonzalez Fletcher said in supporting the new bill, which packages the two concepts together. They call it the “Common Cents Tax Reform Act.”
The saving grace of Jerry Brown’s governorship has been his refusal to sign bills that increase the budget deficit. He has nothing against massive spending programs, mind you, as long as they are paid for. (Well, except for his $68-billion-plus bullet-train boondoggle, or that $39-billion project to reroute the Sacramento River underneath the Delta through a system of tunnels, or myriad climate-change measures. But other than that…)
Brown vetoed a package of seven bills, including the diaper and tampon exemptions, that would have diverted $300 million from the budget. In his veto message, Brown expressed concern given that “the state’s budget remains precariously balanced.” That’s Brown to a tee. He gets upset at piddling tax cuts, even as the total state budget soars to around $159 billion and its unfunded liabilities approach $1 trillion, according to some estimates.
Brown also argued that “tax breaks are the same as new spending,” which would be true if the state government had a legitimate claim to every penny every Californian earns. Are my real-estate tax deductions that let me keep more of my money the same as new laws that ramp up public-employee pensions or welfare programs for the indolent? Obviously not, but at least he is imposing some limit on how much the Legislature spends.
Californians are forever ramping up taxes on sin products. Voters in November approved a $2 a pack tax increase on every pack of cigarettes and an equivalent increase in taxes on vaping and smokeless tobacco — even though such products help people quit the smoking habit. A large percentage of the new money isn’t even being spent on tobacco-cessation programs or research. Even the new law legalizing marijuana has such an immense level of taxation that some marijuana-legalization supporters opposed it, figuring it’s better to keep buying weed from that guy down the street than it is to put up with the new tax rates and bureaucracies.
Sure, those efforts to fund new programs on the back of “sin” products are nothing new. It’s not just California that does this, of course. What’s new is the effort to turn the tax code into an endless fight over gender-equity issues. When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill eliminating sales taxes on feminine-hygiene products, he called it “a matter of social and economic justice.” Well, at least we’re done talking about bathrooms for transgendered people.
This is becoming another one of those faux social-justice battles — reminiscent of the law that requires dry-cleaning businesses to charge the same amount for women’s blouses as men’s shirts (and has led, of course, to an increase in dry-cleaning prices for men), as if the pricing difference were a reflection of sexism rather than marketing.
Meanwhile, the state’s Democratic leaders ignore serious issues that make life actually dispiriting for poor Californians. I wrote for the Spectator last week about two recent efforts that directly harm the poor. One involves efforts by the ill-performing Los Angeles Unified School District to crack down on demonstrably successful charter schools that serve low-income, inner-city populations.
The other involved a bill that could dramatically increase the cost of private housing construction by expanding the payment of those inflated union-wage rates on such projects. California’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rates are driven by our housing prices, which are the result of policies ranging from no-growth rules to rent control to out-of-control local fees. Meanwhile, the prices of utilities and gasoline are inordinately high, because of a battle against climate change that isn’t tempered by any discernible concern about costs. Hey, when the future of all humanity is at stake…
Those policies involve real dollars, often hundreds and even thousands of dollars a month in a family’s budget. Of course, the denizens of social justice will vote for all that junk and then announce their battle to save a family 50 cents a month in tampon taxes or a couple bucks in diaper taxes.
And it’s so easy. It will be paid for by a tax increase of $1.20 to $2.40 (depending on the liquor’s proof) on every gallon of Jim Beam or Popov’s vodka. By the way, that same family buying those diapers is most likely stocking up at the liquor store, too. And now they have to pay an extra buck or two a month to buy paper bags now that plastic ones have been banned, thanks to recent efforts by the state’s Democrats.
Never mind. This is becoming too hard to parody.
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