Capitol Alert

Tampon, diaper taxes will endure in California

Women buying tampons and parents buying diapers will continue to pay sales taxes on those items thanks to vetoes Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Tuesday.

Both measures advanced to Brown on the strength of arguments that California needs to rethink its tax policy to reflect which items are most important to consumers. Advocates of Assembly Bill 1561 argued that taxes on feminine hygiene products amounted to a tax on being a woman, given that women have little choice about buying such products. Supporters of Assembly Bill 717 likewise pointed out that parents are compelled to buy diapers.

They noted that California has exempted less indispensable consumer products, such as candy, from sales taxes. The measures passed the Legislature with bipartisan support.

But the fiscally moderate Brown tends to be wary of tax-related measures. If he had removed taxes on feminine hygiene products by signing AB 1561, it would have reduced state general fund revenue by about $10 million in the 2016-17 budget year. Nixing diaper taxes would have resulted in a state and local revenue loss of about $35 million annually, according to a legislative analysis.

In addition to vetoing the bills to remove taxes on tampons and diapers, Brown rejected bills to suspend taxes on things like museum materials and animal blood. He rebuffed a measure offering income tax relief to homeowners who got relief on their underwater mortgages.

“Tax breaks are the same as new spending – they both cost the General Fund money,” Brown wrote in a veto message that covered all seven bills he vetoed. “As such, they must be considered during budget deliberations so that all spending proposals are weighed against each other at the same time. This is even more important when the state’s budget remains precariously balanced. Therefore, I cannot sign these measures.”

In a statement, the author of the diaper tax bill called Brown’s decision “disappointing.”

“We will continue working to achieve sales tax reform and bridge the diaper gap that forces too many of California’s working families to struggle,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

The author of the tampon bill, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, took to Twitter, where she charged Brown had chosen to “balance the budget on women’s backs.”

And Garcia issued a statement blasting Brown as being “on the wrong side of history ... Today Governor Brown sent a clear message to all women in California. He told us periods are a luxury for women. Let me be clear; biologically, periods are not luxuries and they are definitely not something women should be ashamed of. We have a long way to go in our journey for equity in California.”

It’s not just a California idea. Tampon taxes have become a national political issue.

Fifteen of the 40 states with sales taxes on feminine hygiene products introduced bills this year to repeal them, according to AB 1561 supporters. Proposals have succeeded across the political spectrum, with both Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois signing repeals.

Policymakers in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom have weighed lifting such taxes in recent years, with Canada deciding to do so in 2015.

Even President Barack Obama has weighed in on the issue, saying during a January interview that “I have no idea why states would tax (feminine hygiene products) as luxury items.”

“I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed,” Obama said, calling campaigns to remove such taxes “pretty sensible.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert