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A tax solution that could make things a lot worse
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Do you drink alcohol? Perhaps you smoke cigarettes. Maybe you drive a vehicle. Do you earn a pay check? Are you among the folks who buy items at retail stores or dine in restaurants?

If you are prepare your wallets for an all-out assault.

The California State Senate - not exactly a bastion of problem solving - is pushing a state law to give counties, school districts and community colleges the authority for the first time ever to call elections to impose excise taxes and even personal income and state taxes.

On the surface this sounds great. After all, if local voters are willing to tax themselves to help their schools, community colleges and county government why shouldn't they be allowed to do so?

The best way to answer that is to ponder this question: Would people be more likely to vote for general taxes that impact them or go for the weakest and impose local sin or excise taxes? Those excise taxes are for cigarettes, alcohol, medicinal marijuana, and gasoline. Anytime something else is subject to an excise tax by the state - let's say soda with sugar - that becomes fair game on the local level as well.

If you don't think people will support taxes targeting specific groups in the belief they deserve it for drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or pot or using too much gasoline then you are in denial about human nature.

Let's see. I buy taxable goods, drive a vehicle and earn a pay check., But I don't smoke cigarettes or medicinal pot, I don't drink alcohol, and I drive less than 9,000 miles a year using a hybrid that gets me pretty good gas mileage. And - if the state ever succeeds in their efforts to place an excise tax on soda and junk food - I consume neither.

So what do you think most people in my position are likely to support: Increasing general taxes or socking it to folks who have what others may consider vices?

Personally, I have no stomach for culling the weak taxpayers from the herd. The reason is simple. If you support that premise then there is nothing stopping them from coming after you next to tax a perceived vice. The lessons of heavy-handed government should never be forgotten whether it is done by representatives or the masses at the ballot box.

There is one other important thing to keep in mind before anyone jumps for joy with the ability to save schools, community colleges, and county services from lack of state funding. The same power is not being proposed for city governments to impose excise taxes.

The reason is simple. This is about the state shifting their obligations as well as the cost of programs they mandate off to the local jurisdictions.

And if anyone falls for that trap, there is a rich line of judicial precedents starting back with the Serrano-Priest decision that could easily be used to reduce state support of local schools in areas with voter-imposed local sales and excise taxes and shift them to district that don't.

The California Constitution is clear that we have a state-run school system. Of course, those within a local community must and need to support the schools whether the taxes are collected locally or are sent to the state regardless of whether it is in the form property, sales, income or other taxes.

Where this genus plan cooked up by the Senate Democrats to pressure Republicans into temporarily extending vehicle and sales taxes goes haywire is with funding formulas.

Locally imposed taxes in all likelihood would create an uneven landscape which is what led to the original Serrano-Priest decision that was reaffirmed in another challenge. The state was in the process of getting ready to shift some funds from high wealth districts to low wealth districts when the voters broadsided them in June 1978 with the passage of Proposition 13. That forced the state to flatten things in a hurry in terms of per pupil school classroom funding.

Assuming it isn't simple political brinksmanship, the shifting of the funding of state mandates to local jurisdictions where voters may stomach imposing local taxes lets Sacramento off the hook and does nothing to realign priorities and spending that have delivered California to the fifth demission of state budgeting.