No new sales taxes (Opinion)

Scott Robbins / Guest column
Scott Robbins

Our City Council continues to push tax hikes on locals, avoiding any new taxes on tourists. At their last meeting, the council voted 4-0 to push a new 6% sales tax on cannabis. This November, I’m voting No on measure G — no new taxes on locals.

This is the second time in the last two years this council has unanimously voted to push increased sales taxes on locals, while ignoring options that would tax only tourists. The council insists they need more money but has avoided any consideration of raising the tourist occupancy tax or developing a vacant second-home tax, options which would exclusively tax tourists instead of locals.

Vancouver, for example, has a vacancy tax of 5%, and Oakland just passed a vacancy fee of $6,000/year. Similar legislation here could generate enough revenue to not only offset this cannabis tax, but also the recent general sales tax hike, cutting taxes for locals and bringing in enough money to start making real dents in both the housing crisis and desperately needed roadwork.

Cannabis taxation in California is absurdly high, choking the very industry legalization was intended to foster, limiting both business and employment growth. Our leaders have made legal options so expensive that illegal, cartel-grown cannabis is often cheaper — a boon to criminals who pay no taxes at all. These cartels, armed to the teeth, hide their grow operations in our forests bringing pollution and fire hazards. What’s worse, local police encounters can, and have, led to shoot-outs — one of which recently killed an El Dorado County sheriff’s deputy. A cop was killed because violent cartels can make money growing illegal weed in a state that voted to legalize it.

The actions of our City Council make this situation worse.

Further, the council’s description of this tax is intentionally misleading. The city calls this a “Business and Professions Tax,” but it is in fact a sales tax – 6% on every sale (a.k.a. “gross receipts”). This use of unnecessary technical language, rather than simply calling it a sales tax, serves to hide its consequences — that its costs will be passed to consumers in higher prices.

This proposed tax continues the City Council’s pattern of dishonesty with the taxpayers they represent — this isn’t the first time the city has intentionally misled the public about taxes. The ballot text for the recent 2020 sales tax increase described a “1¢ transaction tax” plainly implying that it was 1¢ per transaction, when it was actually a 1% sales tax (they never said “1¢ per dollar”). City Attorney Heather Stroud called this use of language “common.” I call it deceptive. Whether or not steep new taxes on cannabis is good policy, deceptive governance never is.

The City Council needs to better consider the effects of their tax-happiness on the lives of our local workforce struggling to keep up with rent, our retirees on fixed incomes, the businesses who need workers, the local entrepreneurs invested in our economy, and the lives of officers who are still dying in a war on cannabis that was supposed to have ended six years ago. Councilmember Tamara Wallace is often keen to declare that “tourism is our manufacturing industry.” I agree, but I think it’s long past time that that industry starts providing for locals, rather than demanding their sacrifices.

Today, locals pay more every time we buy school supplies, ski gear, or tools from the hardware store — costs that are compounded on top of already skyrocketing inflation. The council’s efforts to find new ways to tax locals only make living here harder. I call on the City Council to repeal their sales tax hikes, both this new proposed 6% cannabis tax, and the recent 1% sales tax hike, and to replace both taxes on locals with taxes on tourists, in the form of a TOT increase, and a vacant second-home tax.

We need a City Council that puts locals first.

Scott Robbins is a South Lake Tahoe resident and former city council candidate.

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