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The government may tack a nickel tax on your cocktails

The government may tack a nickel tax on your cocktails
The Negroni at Scopa Italian Roots. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

A Northern California assemblywoman, Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), has proposed a 5-cent tax on every cocktail sold in bars and restaurants in the state.

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FOR THE RECORD:
Sept. 14, 3:46 p.m.: An earlier version of this article identified Susan Bonilla as a congresswoman. She is an assemblywoman. 
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The funds raised by Assembly Bill 18, introduced two weeks ago, would go toward funding transportation and supported-living programs for people with developmental disabilities. The bill has already been approved by the Second Extraordinary Session Committee on Public Health and Developmental Services.

The money raised from the Cocktails for Healthy Outcomes Act would help ensure the state's compliance with the Lanterman Act, a 1969 California law that provides people with developmental disabilities and their families the right to receive necessary services in their community, according to Bonilla's press release.

(It seems an odd marriage, but then overconsumption of cocktails does result in its own form of impairment, albeit a temporary one.)

"Now is the time to reverse the trend of devastating cuts to our DDS services," Bonilla said in a press release from her office. "The over 280,000 Californians who are our friends, family and community members should no longer endure being stripped of vital resources such as transportation, respite care, along with independent and supported living programs."

That may be true but what, you might you ask, does that have to do with relaxing with a nice chilled martini or gin and tonic? Why, specifically, are imbibers of "on-sale drinks containing distilled spirits" being asked to make up this shortfall? Good question.

"This very small charge — a nickel — will have a significant impact, easing hardships facing our developmentally disabled loved ones across California," Bonilla said.

The restaurant industry may not get on board, however, despite Bonilla's do-gooder intentions. The industry faces its own challenges, and adding a tax to cocktails — which are already costly — is unlikely to sit well with restaurant owners or patrons. There is also concern that bars and restaurants may just "round up" cocktail costs to the next dollar, since no one charges $11.95 or $12.05 for a drink.

And, of course, there's always the argument that the state government should try harder to balance its books without coming up with what are basically new vice taxes (or writing more parking tickets).

If passed, the Cocktails for Healthy Outcomes Act would go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

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