By Dan Walters
The Sacramento Bee.
As the Legislature reconvened this week, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia quickly introduced a bill to exempt female hygiene products from sales taxes.
“Here we are underpaid, every penny really matters, and every month we have a necessity we can’t control,” Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat, told The Sacramento Bee. “We’re being taxed for being women.”
Her colleague from San Diego, Democrat Lorena Gonzalez, quickly tweeted support: “Love it! My diaper tax exemption is still stuck in Assembly Appropriations, TP next. No tax on necessities!”
Assemblywoman Young Kim, R-Fullerton, also advocates exempting “necessities” from sales taxes. Her bill, introduced this week but awaiting a hearing, would exempt, for two days only, “qualified disaster preparedness products,” to encourage Californians to stock up on what they’d need in event of a major storm, fire or earthquake.
The concept of not taxing “necessities” certainly has a lot of popular appeal. And it’s been lodged in law for many decades, most obviously in the exemptions for most foods and prescription drugs.
The minor expansions that Garcia, Gonzalez and Kim, among others, propose would have almost infinitesimal effects on the tens of billions of dollars that state and local governments collect each year from taxing the $600 billion-plus in taxable sales.
And yet, one wonders how far we are willing to take the notion. Garcia decries “being taxed for being women,” but all of us are being taxed for being humans and needing certain necessities of modern life.
The electricity and natural gas that keep us alive and functioning are taxed, for example, as are the houses, apartments, trailers and other dwellings we occupy. Is a home any less a necessity than a tampon?
Most of us would consider a car a necessity of modern life, yet it is taxed at purchase and taxed again annually. The parts to repair the car are taxed and the fuel that keeps it running is taxed at an inordinately high level.
Gonzalez wants to add toilet paper to the list of sales tax-exempt commodities, and that makes as much sense, certainly, as diapers and feminine hygiene products, but why not toothpaste or the tissues we use to blow our noses?
The point is that all taxation is arbitrary and the sales tax is particularly so. There’s no rhyme or reason to which transactions are taxable and which are not.
Buy a cold deli sandwich for lunch and it’s tax-free, but if you have it heated, it’s taxable.
Theater popcorn was once taxed as a hot food, until a theater chain persuaded tax authorities to exempt it, because it was cold by the time it was eaten.
Buy TurboTax software to do your income taxes and you pay a sales tax on the software disc, but when your employer spends millions on a custom software program from PeopleSoft, it’s tax-free.
If we are serious about exempting “necessities” from taxes, the list will become very long, but if we do it, we should also be willing to do a top-to-bottom overhaul of taxation to close egregious loopholes.