A Modest Proposal: Sales Tax, Lobbyists

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

I was talking this week with a gentleman, who is registered to lobby our elected leaders in Sacramento. He was decrying the possibility that the sales tax could be applied to services, including perhaps the lobbying services he provides.

"That sounds like a fantastic idea," I said, goading him.

"We’d just pass that cost along to our clients," he said, desperately.

The light bulb went on in my little head. The governor wants budget reform. The governor needs more tax revenue. While his people deny it, they are clearly looking at the sales tax. Why not combine all three policies into one?

Structured correctly, the right policy could get the Third House — that’s the disgusting name for the lobbying community in Sacramento (And shouldn’t we journalists be the Third House?) — to help us balance budget.

How? Here’s my modest proposal. Extend the sales tax to lobbying services–but do it with incentives that are linked to whether the budget is structurally in balance.

We’d use numbers from the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The higher the budget deficit, the higher the sales tax on lobbying. Maybe a quarter cent extra for each $5 billion the budget is out of whack? And if the budget is structurally in balance, the lobbyists would be excused from paying the sales tax in that fiscal year!

Ah, but the politics don’t work, you say. The lobbyists would certainly kill this proposal in the legisalture, so we’d have to take it to the people. An initiative then. Paging Mr. Nielsen? Mr. Merksamer? Mr. Hiltachk?

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