Tax on Candy Should Be Rejected … Again

candyIt’s not often that California voters support a ballot measure by over a two-thirds vote but that’s what they did in 1992 when rejecting a sales tax on snack foods and candy. Now Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez and Cristina Garcia want the voters to take a second look at that action by supporting a tax on snack foods and candy to offset a tax cut on feminine hygiene products, diapers and toilet paper. But when you look at the numbers, it appears a gambit to raise taxes rather than a balancing act of budget priorities.

Gov. Brown vetoed the tax exemptions on tampons and diapers, saying the state budget is “precariously balanced.” In total, cutting taxes on diapers and tampons would reduce revenue by $45 million. However the substitute proposal by Assembly members Gonzalez and Garcia would add $1 billion in revenue.

Voters put a prohibition on taxing food products in the state constitution, adding snack foods, bottled water and candy, following a tax increase on those particular products to help balance the state budget during the early 1990s recession. One year later more than 66 percent of the voters supported Proposition 163 to remove the tax on snacks and set up a safeguard in the constitution against taxing food.

The tax on snacks was so unpopular that no argument supporting the tax was published in the official state ballot voter guide. In the argument in favor of Prop. 163 signed by two Democratic Assembly members and an executive with the bottled water association, the tax was called regressive and a first step in taxing all food.

Certainly, times have changed in the last 25 years. For instance, look at the reversal in support of legalizing marijuana then and now. However, snack foods are more common and more widely accepted than cannabis. Are the changes in attitudes so dramatic that a two-thirds support for cancelling a tax on snack foods can be turned into support to tax such products?

The Assembly members supporting a renewed candy tax might embrace a sentence in the Proposition 163 ballot argument that argues California has a proud tradition of not taxing the essentials of life. In pushing the tax cut on diapers and feminine products they have made a similar charge. But substituting a tax on food products for other items considered essential for life and adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the state and local treasuries in the transaction seems more like a budgetary shell game.

The idea of a constitutional amendment to tax candy and snacks puts another focus on the battle over Democrats securing a two-thirds margin in the legislature. With a two-thirds vote, a constitutional amendment eliminating the constitutional provision provided by Prop. 163 could be put on the ballot.

If successful, another line from the ballot argument of Prop. 163 would be put into question. If Prop. 163 passed, the argument’s authors promised, taxes on candy and food products would be prohibited “forever.”

We shall see.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Legislative Democrats Gift Awards to Family, Friends

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

At a time when voters are increasingly believing that the system is rigged, some state legislators are making that perception worse by giving district-wide awards to their family members, critics say.

While it’s not uncommon for legislators to participate in award ceremonies recognizing constituents for their accomplishments, it’s becoming more common for those constituents to be friends and family members of the legislators.

In March, members of the Legislature honored women from their districts to be Woman of the Year: Assemblyman Luis Alejo picked his mother. In May, Assemblywoman Nora Campos selected as Small Business of the Year a brand new political strategy firm both her brother and her longtime political consultant work for, which had also held fundraisers for her. And just a few weeks ago, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez picked her boyfriend, Nathan Fletcher, a former state legislator, to be Veteran of the Year.

“These ‘awards’ are a generally cost-free technique for buying some goodwill in the community,” said John J. Pitney, Jr., a Roy P. Crocker professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “Generally, they are harmless, but when lawmakers give them to their relatives, friends and squeezes, they just contribute to the sense that the political system is rigged.”

“We already have a surplus of cynicism, and this nonsense makes it worse,” Pitney said.

Hurts the association

This was the first year Campos, a San Jose Democrat, chose to participate in the Small Business of the Year award, selecting Voler Strategic Advisors, which had been in business less than one year and does not have a working website.

The same month the award was given, Voler held a fundraiser for Campos’ Senate campaign — Campos is challenging Sen. Jim Beall, a fellow San Jose Democrat.

“This is absolutely not the spirit of the award,” said Samantha Toccoli, legislative coordinator for the California Small Business Association, one of the groups in charge of the program.

California Small Business Day was created by an Assembly resolution in 2000. Toccoli said she was unaware of any familial relationship between Campos and Voler and added that the organization is run by volunteers who have no way of efficiently vetting every honoree.

“I would hope that this reflects on the legislator and not the integrity or intention of our organization and the 25 other organizations that host the event,” Toccoli said.

A Campos spokesperson countered that the award was technically given to Voler’s owner, not Campos’ brother, Xavier, who is a senior vice president, or her longtime political consultant and former communications director, Rolando Bonilla, who is Voler’s chief strategy officer.

Look no further

For Alejo, a Watsonville Democrat, it’s his last year in the Legislature, having been termed out and elected to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors — he said he “could not think of anyone better” for the award than his mother, Maria Luisa Alejo Covarrubias.

“I wanted to honor my mother during my last year in the state Assembly,” Alejo said in a statement at the time. “Our mothers are our first teachers and made us who we are today. My mother has done so much for my family and for our local communities, and I could not think of anyone better for this year’s Woman of the Year for Assembly District 30.”

Alejo did not respond to requests for comment.


Because Gonzalez’s boyfriend is a former legislator, her awarding Fletcher was more conspicuous than the two prior examples. On Instagram, Fletcher said: “Honored to be chosen as Veteran of the Year by my Assemblywoman:)”

San Diego Republicans blasted Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, for choosing her boyfriend, which she defended on Facebook by highlighting Fletcher’s work with veterans, by denouncing the attacks as partisan and by blaming the media. She pointed out that others, including Republicans, had done the same.

“It is well known that Nathan and I are in a committed relationship, but there is a long line of assemblymembers who have picked husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and other relatives for recognition,” Gonzalez wrote. “Never once has it been questioned.”

Not who it is but how it looks

But the question isn’t so much whether Fletcher or any of the others are deserving of the awards, it’s a question of what message these actions send to the public, which is already weary from the perception of widespread double standards and cronyism.

“These examples reflect poorly on the Legislature,” said David Wolfe, legislative director for the right-leaning Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “We need to ask if the awards program as a whole is in the best interest of California taxpayers.”

“If the Legislature truly desires to honor [taxpayers] it should rededicate the hours that they currently spend on pomp and circumstance shows like these and instead focus on fixing real problems, like our state’s $500 billion unfunded pension liability,” Wolfe said.

Lax leadership?

So far, the three incidents are isolated to Assembly Democrats and it’s unclear if Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood — who waited more than two months to take action against a committee chairman accused of domestic violence and under a temporary and then three-year restraining order — will ask fellow legislators to abstain from taking actions that give the appearance of cronyism.

Rendon did not respond to requests for comment.

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California bill would require double pay on Thanksgiving

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

As Californians start brining birds and mashing potatoes, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, is again hoping to dish out meatier wages for Thanksgiving workers.

She plans to amend and revive stalled legislation guaranteeing double Thanksgiving pay so it would only apply to workers at large retail businesses that have more than 500 employees in California.

Earlier this year the Assembly rejected a version that would have covered more workers. Gonzalez said she hoped the amended version would fare better by focusing on big retailers.