Capitol Alert

Trade sales tax on tampons and diapers for higher booze tax? No way, committee says

Whiskey cocktails at Canon, a cocktail bar in Seattle, on April 12, 2016.
Whiskey cocktails at Canon, a cocktail bar in Seattle, on April 12, 2016. The New York Times

A proposal to exempt diapers and feminine hygiene products from California sales taxes was killed in committee Monday after the authors refused to remove a provision that would have paid for the exemption by increasing an excise tax on hard liquor.

Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, and Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, introduced Assembly Bill 479 this session after similar efforts last year to lower the cost of these “basic necessities” were vetoed for not having a funding mechanism. The lawmakers urged their colleagues to put “babies before booze” by instead raising by about a third the tax on distributors buying hard alcohol from manufacturers, which they said would equate to less than two cents per drink for the public.

Members of the Assembly Tax and Revenue Committee, all but one of whom are men, were unconvinced. The liquor industry had vigorously fought the bill, arguing that higher taxes would costs jobs. Affiliated organizations such as the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of California and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States reported more than $700,000 in lobbying expenses during the first quarter of the year on all legislation, including AB 479.

Gonzalez Fletcher and Garcia refused to accept an amendment from committee chair Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, that would have stripped out the excise tax as a source of revenue for the bill. The authors said they chose hard alcohol because it is a luxury item and the excise tax has not increased since 1991. After framing the bill as a question of priorities, they asked for a courtesy vote, receiving only a single yes.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 10:28 a.m. on May 9 to reflect that one committee member voted yes.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff. Jim Miller of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.