Democrats in the state Legislature are prevented, at least for now, from extending a bundle of temporary taxes for five more years. They look on helplessly as vehicle, income and sales taxes they imposed two years ago all are set to expire by July 1.
But Sacramento's tax-and-spend party, two votes short of the needed two-thirds majority in the state Senate and Assembly to impose taxes, is nothing if not persistent. Democrats now propose authorizing local governments to tax personal income, as state and federal governments do.
While they are at it, they also want to give all 58 counties the ability to impose additional taxes on soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, cars and trucks and, for good measure, the ability to adopt oil-severance taxes.
Ostensibly, the new local taxing powers would provide money for local services the Legislature may shift to cities and counties to ease its own budget deficit. However, the broad new local taxing authority is just as likely intended as leverage to pry loose the Republican votes needed for the Legislature to extend the temporary taxes or otherwise raise taxes.
"Having 58 different counties levying targeted taxes on anything and anybody is going to be harmful to the economy," California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg told Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain. As Mr. Morain noted, it's probably not coincidental that the new local taxes target major Republican campaign contributors, including the oil and tobacco industries.
Mr. Steinberg indicated he intends to amend Senate Bill 653 to also authorize school districts to impose these taxes.
SB653 wouldn't raise anyone's taxes. It only would open the doors for counties and, perhaps, school districts, to ask voters to approve taxes historically denied to local governments by statute and the state constitution. The specter of counties and school districts imposing income taxes, and all the rest, should send a chill down taxpayers' spines.
Sadly, this tax-and-spend mentality assumes government holds a priority claim to taxpayers' hard-earned money. When government spending increases and revenue sources ebb, the inclination inevitably is to seek more in taxes.
Whether Mr. Steinberg's bill, scheduled for a Senate committee hearing May 4, intends to provide new taxing power to local governments, or to pressure legislative Republicans, it is an affront to taxpayers, who do, indeed, have better uses for the money that belongs to them.