Don’t Bring Back the Candy Tax

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

It’s not often that California voters support a ballot measure by over a two-thirds vote but that’s what they did in 1992 when rejecting a sales tax on snack foods and candy. Now Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez and Cristina Garcia want the voters to take a second look at that action by supporting a tax on snack foods and candy to offset a tax cut on feminine hygiene products, diapers and toilet paper. But when you look at the numbers, it appears a gambit to raise taxes rather than a balancing act of budget priorities.

Gov. Brown vetoed the tax exemptions on tampons and diapers, saying the state budget is “precariously balanced.” In total, cutting taxes on diapers and tampons would reduce revenue by $45 million. However the substitute proposal by Assembly members Gonzalez and Garcia would add $1 billion in revenue.

Voters put a prohibition on taxing food products in the state constitution, adding snack foods, bottled water and candy, following a tax increase on those particular products to help balance the state budget during the early 1990s recession. One year later more than 66% of the voters supported Proposition 163 to remove the tax on snacks and set up a safeguard in the constitution against taxing food.

The tax on snacks was so unpopular that no argument supporting the tax was published in the official state ballot voter guide. In the argument in favor of Prop 163 signed by two Democratic Assembly members and an executive with the bottled water association, the tax was called regressive and a first step in taxing all food.

Certainly, times have changed in the last 25 years. For instance, look at the reversal in support of legalizing marijuana then and now. However, snack foods are more common and more widely accepted than cannabis. Are the changes in attitudes so dramatic that a two-thirds support for cancelling a tax on snack foods can be turned into support to tax such products?

The Assembly members supporting a renewed candy tax might embrace a sentence in the Proposition 163 ballot argument that argues California has a proud tradition of not taxing the essentials of life. In pushing the tax cut on diapers and feminine products they have made a similar charge. But substituting a tax on food products for other items considered essential for life and adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the state and local treasuries in the transaction seems more like a budgetary shell game.

The idea of a constitutional amendment to tax candy and snacks puts another focus on the battle over Democrats securing a two-thirds margin in the legislature. With a two-thirds vote, a constitutional amendment eliminating the constitutional provision provided by Prop 163 could be put on the ballot.

If successful, another line from the ballot argument of Prop 163 would be put into question. If Prop 163 passed, the argument’s authors promised, taxes on candy and food products would be prohibited “forever.”

We shall see.

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