Some hot political topics around a Bento box
Had lunch yesterday here in Oakland at Ozumo (fantastic Japanese food) with Nancy Light and Gladys Horiuchi, two friends from Wine Institute. I’ve known both for many years; Gladys, communications manager, has always been so helpful to us working reporters, and Nancy, communications director, handles what much be a stressful job with poise and lightness. I asked them what’s up these days at W.I. and they said the #1 and #2 priorities for the institute and Robert Koch, the president and CEO, are defeating HR 5034 and, here in California, defeating Proposition 25 and passing Prop 26.
They asked me if I was writing about HR 5034 and I said no. There are bloggers who know far more about it than I do — Tom Wark obviously is one — and why should I weigh in on a topic about which I am less informed than others? It’s distributors that are behind the HR 5034 threat. The entire wine, spirits and beer industries are united against it, Gladys and Nancy explained. It’s a non-partisan issue, with Democrats and Republicans both for and against it. It’s clear that the anachronistic distribution system is breaking down and will dissolve one of these days, but the wholesalers, who are a very powerful special interest, will fight tooth and nail to preserve it. Bobby Koch apparently is spending a lot of political capital and money to defeat 5034. More power to him.
As for the California propositions, 25 essentially would allow the state to raise taxes and fees with a simple majority vote, instead of the 2/3 supermajority now required. True, the initiative’s sponsors claim that the 2/3 threshold would be maintained in order to raise taxes, with the simple majority needed only for passage of a state budget. But this seems like a complicated and potentially slippery slope these days, when municipalities are scrambling to find every dollar they can. If the state can pass a budget with a simple majority, it seems obvious that taxes or fees or whatever you call them could be increased on alcoholic beverages, including wine, with a simple majority. And with the wine industry in such a fragile state, that’s the last thing we need. So I’m voting no on 25, even though that puts me in the company of conservatives. Most liberal groups are in favor of Prop 25.
Prop 26 would lock in the 2/3 supermajority and make it pertain not only to taxes but to the kinds of fees imposed by local governments, e.g. hazardous materials fees or fees on alcohol retailers. This is a complicated issue, since it has to do with the difference between a “tax” and a “fee,” and it also calls into question the power of the California Legislature to interpose itself into strictly local budgetary affairs. To the best of my understanding, if Prop 26 passes, the state would have to approve, by a 2/3 supermajority in the Legislature, any California taxpayer paying a higher tax on anything, with most “fees” being re-defined as taxes. That means, for example, that if San Francisco decided to pass a nickel-a-drink law, the California Legislature would have to sign off on it by a 2/3 supermajority.
Once again the pro-26 crowd is largely the business and anti-tax community, while those against it argue that it will help Big Oil and Big Tobacco. I wish it was easier for average voters like me to penetrate through the fog of political ads, arguments and counter-arguments and to know how these propositions really do or don’t address the issues. It always seems like a guess. I’m not entirely comfortable voting no on 25 and yes on 26, but I will.