A proposal to eliminate sales taxes on tampons and diapers in California fails

A closely watched proposal to eliminate sales taxes on tampons and diapers, which aimed to recoup the lost revenue by increasing taxes on hard liquor, failed at the Capitol on Monday.

Democratic Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego and Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens said their measure was a question of values, arguing that the state shouldn’t favor lower alcohol taxes over taxing necessities for women and children.

“There is no happy hour for menstruation,” Garcia said.

The bill didn’t make it out of a Legislative committee Monday after the lawmakers’ colleagues expressed concern over raising taxes.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 479, was an attempt by Garcia and Gonzales Fletcher to tap into a national movement to exempt tampons and other women’s health products from sales taxes. Lawmakers in dozens of other states have introduced similar proposals in recent years.

The lawmakers brought a month’s worth of diapers to the committee hearing. While presenting their bill, they also took turns holding 7-month-old Sacramento resident Mariella Contreras, the daughter of Marie Contreras, who discussed the cost of diapers before the panel.

In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed separate legislation from Gonzalez Fletcher and Garcia that would have eliminated such taxes, arguing that the proposals cost the state budget too much money. Gonzalez Fletcher and Garcia responded with an alcohol tax hike — the lawmakers said it would cost consumers 2 cents a cocktail — to assuage the governor’s concerns.

But raising taxes requires two-thirds supermajority support in the Legislature, and the liquor industry has long been powerful. The alcohol companies Bacardi and Diageo lined up against the bill, as did groups representing restaurants and alcohol distributors.

Although California’s taxes on hard liquor are low compared with other states’, industry representatives argued at the hearing that the tax hike would cost $170 million in retail sales and 2,400 jobs.

David Ozgo, chief economist at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, referred to the the baby Gonzalez Fletcher and Garcia held as he spoke at the hearing.

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to go on record saying, I too like babies,” Ozgo said. “This is a particularly cute one. Unfortunately, there is nothing very cute about an unemployed cocktail waitress.”

Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) said such tax hikes should be put on hold given the federal government’s potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act and multibillion-dollar hit to state budget.

“To any industry that is interested in tax policy, you should be on notice that if the federal government reduces expenditures, no taxpayer will be spared trying to save healthcare in this state,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Garcia has a separate measure to eliminate sales taxes on tampons only, without an attached tax increase to make up the lost revenue. Her legislation is scheduled for a committee vote next Monday.

liam.dillon@latimes.com

Twitter: @dillonliam

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