Opinion Columns & Blogs

Is coffee the new gold standard?

sflores@fresnobee.com

Since 1971, the United States has been off the gold standard. Instead of the value of the dollar being defined in terms of gold, our currency is said to be backed by “The full faith and credit of the United States.”

However, listening to politicians, the new standard for backing taxpayer dollars may be coffee, or, more specifically, the latte.

Endorsing efforts to impose a parcel tax on property owners to support parks - parks that have been purposely ignored in the Los Angeles County general fund budget - Supervisor Hilda Solis trivialized the tax saying, “For Pete’s sake, what does it amount to for the average voter, a latte a month at Starbucks?” Her colleague, Sheila Kuehl, upped the ante, gleefully saying the permanent property tax increase would be like, walking into Starbucks and getting anything you want because parks are free. “I proudly support taxing and spending,” she added.

A dozen years ago, I wrote the following about the way politicians deceptively describe tax increases: public officials pushing for a tax increase love to break the cost to taxpayers down to insignificant sounding amounts, usually the cost per month, or even the cost per day, and add the words “it’s only.”

I added that the award for the most arrogant example of using “it’s only” should go to the Los Angeles Community College chancellor who had described the cost of a new bond as “the equivalent of one regular latte a month,” and I asked if the latte - a drink now costing nearly four bucks - would become the new standard by which taxes are measured.

Regrettably, I was prescient. Those promoting taxes in this manner assume that everyone can, like them, afford to hang out at trendy boutique coffee shops.

The reality is that millions of Californians, including millions of homeowners, buy their coffee already ground, and, for them, four dollars will pay for several weeks’ worth of the caffeinated beverage. These are the same folks who are already hammered by California’s high sales, gas and income taxes. Few of them can afford to spend much at Starbucks, or any other place serving overpriced, exotic coffee drinks.

However, if the tax raisers could be permanently bought off for four dollars a month, many taxpayers would gladly take that deal. Sadly, that would not even come close to satisfying the greed of the political class.

For example, Los Angeles County is considering a second new tax for homeless services. The city of Los Angeles is seeking its own “homeless” tax and the local transportation authority is asking voters to approve an increase in the sales tax.

Those outside the Los Angeles area should be careful not to be tempted to relax, since scores of additional taxes, and as many as several hundred bonds that increase property taxes, are expected to be placed on the November ballot by other local jurisdictions. And let’s not forget the income tax and tobacco taxes that will appear on the state ballot.

These taxes are cumulative, not just a latte here and a latte there. Los Angeles Supervisor Don Knabe, who voted against the parks tax, may have best summed up the problem for California taxpayers when he observed that between the state, the counties and the cities, government agencies are asking everyone to buy a Starbucks franchise.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association - California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

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