This is a great example of what I hate about anti-alcohol organizations and the Marin Institute in particular. Given that they’re trying to impose a new tax on alcohol in San Francisco using a mechanism that came about through case law (the Sinclair decision) where calling what would otherwise be a tax a “fee” allows them to circumvent the normal two-thirds vote needed for a new tax, it’s no surprise that they’re against one of the propositions on the November ballot — namely Prop 26. That’s because Prop 26 seeks to do away with the Sinclair loophole where taxes masquerading as a fee will no longer require a simple majority, but will instead need two-thirds to pass, just like every other tax. That would be a big blow to their efforts to get more taxes imposed in other communities in California. So it’s entirely natural that they’d oppose it. I’d have been surprised to hear any other scenario.
But here’s what I didn’t, but perhaps should have, expected: the low down dirty politics and propaganda by which their opposition has taken shape. In an e-mail blast today, the Marin Institute is blaming “big alcohol” for the proposition and acting as if it’s happening in a vacuum, with no responsibility on their part. It’s shameless spin and as ugly a piece of propaganda as I’ve seen. If I’d had a beer in mouth when I was reading it, I most likely would have spit it out in surprise on more than one occasion.
First of all, they characterize the proposition as one which would “essentially absolve companies that pollute, or otherwise cause harm to the public, from paying for that harm by subjecting fees to the same impossible two-thirds vote that taxes must garner to be enacted.” Horseshit. What the proposition does is subject all taxes to the same standard, in effect closing the loophole that Sinclair opened. Calling them “fees” to get around the 2/3 standard was simply a way to circumvent the state tax law.
A stated by the Yes on 26 advocates:
State and local politicians have been using a loophole in the law to raise taxes by disguising them as “fees” — costing consumers billions of dollars in higher costs for goods like food, gas, and cell phones. Prop. 26 requires politicians to meet the same Constitutional requirement to pass these Hidden Taxes as to pass other taxes — with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature at the state level, and with a vote of the people at the local level.
Next the Marin Institutes note “a review of the Yes on Prop 26 website shows Big Alcohol’s fingerprints all over the measure.” By “all over,” of course, they mean are supporting it and/or have donated money to support it. They go on to add that “August saw an infusion of $800,000 to the Prop 26 campaign by the Small Business Action Committee (SBA). According to an article in Capitol Weekly, the SBA “revealed that it received more than $1 million from alcohol, tobacco and real estate groups. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, donated $500,000. Anheuser-Busch, which brews Budweiser, gave $200,000 and the Wine Institute chipped in another $50,000.”
Hmm, in August there was infusion of donations to support Prop 26? What might have triggered that? What is the Marin Institute not telling you? July and August is when every company who makes alcohol, distributes alcohol and sells and serves alcohol realized they were under attack by the Marin Institute, who was pushing Avalos and supplying him him with all the resources for the test case to add a new tax to alcohol in San Francisco. That’s when most us even became aware of Prop 26. Before that, I’d wager, hardly anyone in the alcohol industry had paid it much attention. When you’re being attacked, you tend to defend yourself.
But the Marin Institute also makes it sound as if “Big Alcohol” and “Big Oil” are behind Prop 26. They’re not. The proposition was sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Taxpayers’ Association, not exactly radical organizations out to cheat the public the way the Marin Institute spins it. While the Marin Institute focuses on beer and wine companies, there are over 100 organizations who support the proposition, including nearly sixty chambers of commerce and tax organizations. The rest are primarily trade organizations from a wide range of businesses and industries. That alcohol companies seem over-represented is a direct result of the actions of the Marin Institute. So having caused this situation, using it in propaganda against the proposition without acknowledging it seems pretty shiftless to me.
But it’s their conclusion that has me sighing in exhausted frustration. “Instead of spending all that money to get out of paying for the harm its products cause, perhaps Big Alcohol could instead just pay its fair share to offset massive societal costs.” I’m so tired of this mantra of theirs. First of all, the harm isn’t caused by the products — alcohol — but by individual abusers, people who should take responsibility for their actions. And the vast majority of drinkers do not abuse it. Second, every good or service sold in the world has the potential to cost society something, and most in fact do. But the idea that only alcohol has to “pay” the costs that abusers cost society is maddening. Guns, red meat, high fructose corn syrup, oil, cars, fast food, and every freaking other thing gets a pass; economists even have a word for it — externalities. But the insistence that alcohol has to pay for the bad decisions by individual abusers just rankles, especially when that’s characterized as its “fair share.” Either everything — every company, every product, etc. — pays the individual costs to society that can somehow be ascribed to them or no one does. There’s nothing fair about making one pay while everyone else gets a pass.