Snack Tax Foes Announce Start of Repeal Drive
Five months after Californians began paying a tax on snack foods, Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) kicked off a campaign Monday to place an initiative on the ballot to repeal the tax.
Flanked by anti-tax activists in the parking lot of a Ralphs Grocery Co. store at Katella and Tustin avenues, Conroy compared the “Stop the Food Tax Initiative” to the Boston Tea Party, which was celebrated 218 years ago Monday.
“Our founding fathers could no longer endure the taxation of King George,” Conroy declared. “Today we hope to start another revolution against high taxes that are gouging California families and running business out of the state.”
In June, Gov. Pete Wilson signed the snack tax into law to help offset a $14.3-billion deficit in the state budget. Franz Wisner, deputy press secretary for the governor, said Monday that the tax was part of a bailout package, and “the removal of any component of that package would make the attempted balanced budget unbalanced.” The governor would be willing to take a look any proposals that would cut taxes so long as there are adjoining spending cuts, Wisner said.
“You have to cut spending to make up for the lost revenues.”
Also present Monday in support of the initiative were Richard Avard, president of the Orange County Taxpayers Action Network, and recently elected school board members Maureen Aschoff and Rosie Avila.
Supporters must gather 615,958 signatures by March 30 to place the initiative on the November ballot. Conroy, who is Southern California coordinator for the campaign, said organizers expect to have 1,000 people collecting a total of 1 million signatures.
Conroy opposes the snack tax because, he said, it hurts the poor.
“When we start taxing food, we’ve hit rock bottom,” he said.
Don Beaver, president of the Sacramento-based California Grocers Assn., which represents chain stores, independent grocers and convenience and neighborhood stores, said the organization is leading the battle against the tax.
“It is impossible to draw a clean line to say what is a snack food,” he said. For example, graham crackers shaped like a teddy bear are taxed, while those that are square are not. “The only difference is shape. They’re made of the same ingredients.”
Beaver said the tax puts a tremendous burden on the 16,000 stores in the state which do not have scanners to read items and automatically determine which items are taxable. Clerks in those stores have to memorize which items are taxable, and they often forget, he said.
The sales tax is “a terrible burden to place on an industry for $240 million in taxes, when it could have been gotten in a much cleaner way,” he said.
Brad Sherman, chairman of the State Board of Equalization, said he opposes the tax because it taxes the poor and wealthy alike.
“If you’re going to tax food, start with caviar,” he said.
Sherman also said the sales tax on food is an “administrative nightmare,” but said he doesn’t support an initiative to repeal it.