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Gov. Jerry Brown had a lot of ground to cover last week when he unveiled his $164.7 billion budget plan for 2015-16. Like all budget plans, his is wide-ranging, touching such serious topics like climate change, debt reduction and an ongoing battle over a proposed tuition hike at the University of California.
Yet, the most quoted line from his press conference was a seemingly off-the-cuff quip about taxing Pilates classes, and how it might make people not “as yoga-happy as they were before.”
A quote like that is catnip to a journalist – glib, kinda quirky and fits nicely into Twitter’s 140 character limit. (Indeed, San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez pounced on the Pilates line to promote her plan to make diapers tax-free.) But don’t let the governor’s tone fool you. Taxing services like Pilates classes figures to be one of the most hotly contested issues of this Legislative session.
California’s tax system does not reflect the modern economy. The Golden State taxes products, though a huge portion of what we actually spend our money on is services. This gap is widely perceived to have destabilized state finances. Many believe our out-of-date tax system is at least partially to blame for California’s boom-and-bust cycle of budgeting.
Talk of expanding state taxes to services has been in the ether for quite a while, but it appears this year it will actually be addressed in a substantive way. That’s because new Los Angeles Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a former Assembly speaker, is pushing the issue. In December, he introduced S.B. 8 to widen the state tax base to include services, including professional services like lawyers, financial services and construction services. Hertzberg says his bill will generate $10 billion in revenue.
The proposal isn’t a finished product and, since voters shockingly don’t like the idea of more taxes, isn’t likely to go very far. But Hertzberg seems committed to starting the conversation.
The governor, for his part, tried to have it both ways when he discussed tax reform last week. Sure, he said that taxing Pilates classes would make people unhappy. But he also said he was interested in seeing what Hertzberg came up with. Typical Jerry: He wants to leave his options open so he can follow the political winds when he sees which way they’re blowing.
‘Blackfish’ Bill Author Is Waiting for Atkins’ Exit
Wonder what happened to the explosive “Blackfish” bill that was introduced, then tabled, last year?
According to The Dodo, an animal rights site, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, whose district includes SeaWorld, won’t allow a vote on the bill. So the bill’s author, Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom, is waiting until 2016, when Atkins will be out:
“AB2140 will not be reintroduced this session, but this is a temporary delay,” Naomi Rose, a killer whale expert and marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, wrote to activists, scientists and journalists in an email on Wednesday. “As many of you know, the current political climate in the Assembly, with Speaker Toni Atkins having SeaWorld in her district, is difficult for this bill, so Assembly member Richard Bloom has chosen to wait for 2016.”
If Naomi Rose sounds familiar, that’s because she played a big role in our SeaWorld panel last year.
Jumping in the Ring to Replace Boxer
The race is on to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2016.
San Diego Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez is considering a run. Ditto former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez and mega donor/environmentalist Tom Steyer. Attorney General Kamala Harris is already in. And the man thought to be her biggest challenge, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, won’t run for the seat.
• Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins is going to push Gov. Jerry Brown on expanding funding for social services. (Capitol Public Radio)
• The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating the National Organization for Marriage, the largest anti-LGBT organization in the country. (San Diego Gay & Lesbian News)
• The Legislative Analyst’s Office says the state could produce billions of dollars more in revenue than the governor anticipates. (L.A. Times)
• Voice of San Diego contributor Clare Leschin-Hoar notes the awkward timing of California’s Prop. 2, which just went into effect and gives chickens more room to roam. It’s happening right as foie gras has made it back to California menus, meaning we’ve swapped one form of poultry cruelty for another.
• UC campuses see an uptick in freshman applications, but will the battle over tuition cut off any chance at growth? (San Jose Mercury News)
• State workers hoard vacation days — lots of vacation days. (Center for Investigative Reporting)
• California state legislators target police violence. (Sac Bee)
• The central figure in a CalPERS scandal has apparently killed himself. (Sac Bee)
• Is the FBI looking into an environmental bill carried by new Senate leader Kevin de Leon? (L.A. Times)
Prediction: There will be a lot of news generated by Hertzberg’s proposal, but ultimately it won’t go anywhere — simply because voters don’t like it.