Sacra­mento wants to tax soda, tires, guns, wa­ter, pain pills, lawyers, car bat­ter­ies ...

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY GE­ORGE SKEL­TON

To pla­gia­rize T.S. Eliot, April is the cru­elest month. But not for the rea­sons the poet wrote. Rather, for all the taxes.

And there are bills in the Leg­is­la­ture to make taxes sting even worse.

By April 10, Cal­i­for­ni­ans must pay their lo­cal prop­erty taxes. Five days later is the dead­line for fil­ing state and fed­eral in­come tax re­turns. Also, the state and the feds want any ini­tial pre-tax pay­ment that’s re­quired on cur­rent earn­ings.

So tax col­lec­tors get three swings at us this month.It’s a per­fect storm for mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans be­cause of the fed­eral tax over­haul en­acted in 2017 by the Repub­li­can Congress and Pres­i­dent Trump. For the first time, de­duc­tions for state and lo­cal taxes on fed­eral re­turns are lim­ited to $10,000. That’s much less than Cal­i­for­ni­ans have been de­duct­ing in this high-tax state.

Mak­ing the bite even sharper for salaried em­ploy­ees who re­ceive a W-2, non-re­im­bursed job ex­penses are no longer de­ductible on fed­eral re­turns. That hits teach­ers par­tic­u­larly hard be­cause they of­ten buy their own class­room supplies and have been de­duct­ing the costs.

So blame that tax shaft on Trump and Repub­li­cans.

But in Cal­i­for­nia un­der Democrats, it’s tax, tax, tax — a drip and a drop, nickel and a dime — all the time. That’s not a po­lit­i­cal state­ment. It’s a fact.

Not all taxes are evil. Some are jus­ti­fied. But many are un­war­ranted. And oth­ers are eye-rollers.

One of the more con­tro­ver­sial and an­noy­ing taxes cur­rently be­ing pro­posed is a state levy on sug­ary soft drinks. More on that later.

Here’s an eye-roller: A bill that would au­tho­rize San Fran­cisco to turn its crooked Lom­bard Street — a tourist at­trac­tion af­ter so many movie ap­pear­ances — into a toll road, maybe even re­quir­ing reser­va­tions. Think they have a traf­fic jam now on week­ends? Wait un­til cars are lined up be­hind a toll­gate.

There are a whole bunch of tax­ing ideas in the Capi­tol: on new tires, firearms, wa­ter, pre­scrip­tion painkillers, lawyers, car bat­ter­ies, cor­po­ra­tions based on their CEO pay, es­tates worth more than $3.5 mil­lion, oil and gas ex­trac­tion. The list goes on.

The oil and gas ex­trac­tion tax is long over­due. We’re the only ma­jor oil-pro­duc­ing state with­out one. It would raise an es­ti­mated $1.5 bil­lion a year.

The Cal­i­for­nia Tax Foun­da­tion has counted more than $6.2 bil­lion worth of tax in­crease pro­pos­als pend­ing in the Leg­is­la­ture. It ex­pects the fig­ure to grow sub­stan­tially as bills are amended with de­tails.

Polls show that Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers al­ready think they’re over­taxed. No sur­prise there. When vot­ers were asked re­cently by the Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia whether they paid more or less state and lo­cal taxes than they should, the an­swers were: more 63%, the right amount 32%, less 4%.

Asked whether the fed­eral tax changes had a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive ef­fect on their fam­i­lies, vot­ers replied: pos­i­tive 18%, neg­a­tive 35%, no ef­fect 42%.

“As the April 15 dead­line looms, many Cal­i­for­ni­ans are com­plain­ing about the state and lo­cal tax sys­tems and the im­pacts of re­cent changes in fed­eral law,” PPIC Pres­i­dent Mark Bal­das­sare says.

“What part of ‘tax fa­tigue’ don’t th­ese law­mak­ers un­der­stand? It’s po­lit­i­cal mal­prac­tice,” as­serts Demo­cratic con­sul­tant Steve Mav­iglio, re­fer­ring to the pro­posed soda tax that he’s fight­ing against on be­half of the bev­er­age in­dus­try.

The bill, AB 138, is be­ing car­ried by Assem­bly­man Richard Bloom (D-Santa Mon­ica) with back­ing from the Cal­i­for­nia med­i­cal and den­tal as­so­ci­a­tions. It would hike the tax on sug­ary soda by 2 cents an ounce, or 24 cents for a 12-ounce can.

That would raise around $3 to $4 bil­lion a year to spend on health pro­grams.

But the tax’s main purpose, back­ers say, is to dis­cour­age un­healthy soda drink­ing by rais­ing the price — just as Cal­i­for­nia has done by jack­ing up to­bacco taxes.

“Chil­dren are con­sum­ing over 30 gal­lons of sug­ary drinks ev­ery year,” the spon­sors’ pitch reads. “About half of adults and two-thirds of youth con­sume a sug­ary drink ev­ery day.”

“Sug­ary drinks are the sin­gle largest source of added sug­ars in the Amer­i­can diet,” the pitch con­tin­ues, lead­ing “to in­creased risk of di­a­betes, heart and liver disease, obe­sity, tooth de­cay and some can­cers.”

There also are other anti-soda bills pend­ing. One is an anti-“Big Gulp” mea­sure that would ban soda con­tain­ers larger than 16 ounces. An­other is a pro­hi­bi­tion against gro­cery stores stock­ing sug­ary drinks near the check­out counter.

“Soda con­sump­tion is go­ing down on the nat­u­ral while obe­sity is in­creas­ing,” coun­ters Dana Wil­liamson, who was a po­lit­i­cal ad­viser for for­mer Gov. Jerry Brown and now is a strate­gist for the bev­er­age in­dus­try. “There doesn’t seem to be a con­nec­tion be­tween the two…

“We’re sin­gling out one prod­uct with­out look­ing at oth­ers. There’s far more sugar in some other prod­ucts, like candy.”

Right. How about choco­late shakes, cot­ton candy and other yummy stuff sold at the ball­park?

At least they have some nu­tri­tional value, the anti-soda lobby an­swers.

Both sides in the fight — bev­er­age and med­i­cal in­ter­ests — are ma­jor po­lit­i­cal donors in the Capi­tol.

Mean­while, there’s a leg­isla­tive pro­posal to lower the mar­i­juana tax. We want more pot­heads but fewer soft drink sip­pers. Crazy.

It smacks of too much nanny state for me.

The state should just leave us alone some­times. Back off on tax, tax, tax. April hits hard enough.

Ge­orge Skel­ton writes for The Los An­ge­les Times.

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