Capitol Alert

Soda, water, guns, and tires: They could all be taxed if California Democrats have their way

These things would all be taxed if California Democrats have their way

California Democrats have proposed several tax-raising bills to the Legislature. Among the items that could see tax or fee increases include oil and gas drilling, firearms, soda, water meters and tires.
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California Democrats have proposed several tax-raising bills to the Legislature. Among the items that could see tax or fee increases include oil and gas drilling, firearms, soda, water meters and tires.

It’s a standard California Republican talking point that Democrats want to raise taxes. And it’s true that Golden State Democrats have introduced, or plan to introduce, legislation that would raise or create several new taxes.

If there’s one thing the proposals have in common, it’s that they all reflect some facet of the California Democratic Party’s larger environmental and social justice bent.

From a new excise tax on firearm sales to one on sugary beverages, from an oil and gas “severance tax” to an increase in the California tire fee, here’s a rundown on tax-and-fee-increasing bills currently under consideration in Sacramento.

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Firearms excise tax

“Although California has the toughest gun laws in the nation, more effort is necessary to curtail gun violence,” Assembly Bill 18, sponsored by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, reads in part.

AB 18 “would express the intent of the Legislature” to impose an excise tax on the sale of handguns and semiautomatic rifles, with that revenue going to the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program.

According to the bill language, between 2014 and 2016, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that gun homicides in the state increased by 18 percent.

While AB 18 would express the Legislature’s intent, the actual tax would come in the form of another bill.

Soda tax

For the third time in as many legislative sessions, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, announced that he plans to introduce a bill to create a “beverage fee.”

“We have ignored this crisis for too long,” Bloom said in a press conference announcing his plan. “We are standing on the edge of a cliff, and addressing this health crisis requires a multi-pronged approach...”

Bloom has not yet set the proposed fee, but in past years he has argued for a 2-cents-per-fluid-ounce tax.

The soda industry has fought the proposed soda tax before, and likely will again. They have allies in Republicans like Assemblyman James Gallagher of Yuba City, who said of the idea, “Californians don’t want to be treated like children.”

Tire change fee

Getting a tire changed could soon get a little pricier.

Assembly Bill 755, sponsored by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, would raise the tire change fee from $1.75 per tire to $3.25 per tire.

The additional revenue would go into the state’s Stormwater Permit Compliance Fund, created by AB 755, to pay for “competitive grants for projects and programs for municipal storm sewer system permit compliance requirements that would prevent or remediate zinc pollutants caused by tires in the state.”

Tires are made up of 1 to 2 percent zinc, and that zinc can break off into “rubber crumbs” that then get into the ground, the water supply and the air. While people and animals needs a small amount of zinc to survive, large amounts can be toxic and contribute to kidney and pancreas damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Water tax

Gov. Gavin Newsom has made clean water a priority of his new administration, and in his first budget he called for a drinking water fee that would pay to provide clean water to nearly 1 million Californians.

Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Bill Monning, D-Carmel, follows Newsom’s lead by creating a “Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund.”

Monning’s bill states that nearly a million people, “particularly those living in small disadvantaged communities, may be exposed to unsafe drinking water in their homes and schools, which impacts human health, household costs, and community economic development.”

While SB 200 doesn’t lay out the specifics of how that fund will receive money, he previously proposed a 95-cent monthly tax on residential water customers, as well as fees for dairy and feedlot owners and fertilizer production.

Oil and gas severance tax

A California lawmaker has called on oil and gas companies to pay “for the privilege of severing oil or gas from the earth or water.

Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, is the author of Senate Bill 246, which would impose a tax of 10 percent of the average price per barrel of oil or unit of gas.

That money would go directly into the state’s general fund.

Wieckowski’s bill is opposed by Robert Gutierrez, president and CEO of the California Taxpayers Association, who wrote in an op-ed for the Bakersfield Californian that the tax would not only harm oil and gas industry workers, but also be “an especially big dent in the wallets of those who drive for a living or are forced to commute long distances to and from jobs.”

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.