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Schwarzenegger Should Look at What Taxes Buy

August 26, 2003|Patt Morrison

Arnold Schwarzenegger, August 20:

"I am in principle against taxing, because I feel that the people of California have been punished enough from the time they get up in the morning and flush the toilet, they are taxed. Then they go and get a coffee, they are taxed. They get into their car, they are taxed. They go to the gas station, they are taxed. They go for lunch and they are taxed and [it] goes on all day long, tax, tax, tax, tax, tax. So even when they go to bed, you can really go into the bed and fear that you may be getting taxed while you are sleeping. There's a sleeping tax. This is crazy."

Wow, Mr. S. -- is it really as bad as that? A sleeping tax? Would that tax be a flat per diem rate, or hourly, so that insomniacs get a break?

I asked my truth squad to report on what Mr. S. was saying, and it turns out it's all on the up and up.

"From the time they get up in the morning and flush the toilet

"Then they go and get a coffee, and they are taxed." Right again. We're taxed so that, unlike some Third World countries, the water that comes out of our taps is drinkable -- and so that it does come out of the tap, period, whenever you want it, not just for a few hours a day. That cup of takeout coffee, like restaurant food, carries a sales tax. The groceries you buy in a California market -- unlike groceries in some other places, like the Arizona city where my mother lives -- are not taxed. So eat breakfast at home. It's a tax-free family value.

"They get into their car, they are taxed." Still batting a thousand here, Mr. S. Vehicle registration fees -- the controversial car tax -- have gone up and down like a Magic Mountain roller coaster. The fact that they're going to triple is one reason so many people signed recall petitions -- close schools and hospitals but don't mess with my car. Car taxes go mostly for local services like cops and firefighters; go ahead and cut, if you will, but don't pretend that we can have our popcorn and butter it too.

Driving in my 6-year-old car with a sticker proving I paid my car tax, I stop behind a school bus, paid for by tax money, taking children to public schools, paid for by tax money, where ideally they'll grow up to become, as we like to say, productive members of society and not illiterate bums who make a living by knocking over the homes of other kids who did go to school and became productive members of society. Mr. S. was educated at the University of Wisconsin-Superior -- the workshops and lectures he gave paid him a little money, courtesy of taxpayers. He also got a break on his public education, paying the lower in-state tuition fees, even though he finished up some of his classwork from Los Angeles, according to one of the professors who recruited him.

(Red light -- I brake to a stop. The traffic light is paid for by taxes. It keeps otherwise piggish drivers from careening through intersections, smashing willy-nilly into people like me, sending us to the hospital or the cemetery, or leaving us disabled and dependent.) "They go to the gas station, they are taxed. " Yes, well -- have you been back to top off your tank in Austria and checked out the gas taxes there? Don't expect to see a lot of Humvees on the Autobahn. Much of the California fuel tax goes for building highways and roads and keeping them in shape, and for public transportation to un-jam those highways and roads.

"They go for lunch and they are taxed and [it] goes on all day long, tax, tax, tax, tax, tax." And don't forget nighttime, too. I get home and switch on the lights. I pay a tax to the Department of Water and Power, a municipal utility that didn't bleed me dry during the state energy crisis. In my DWP light, I read a book I checked out of the tax-funded public library -- a book I was interested in, but not interested enough to pay 30 bucks to add it to my permanent collection. The next reader on the wait list may be someone who couldn't afford to buy the book at all. Afterward, I play with my dogs, for whose licenses I fork over 10 bucks a year, which helps to pay for treating and neutering other animals in need.

Oh yes, the sleeping tax. There's a hotel bed tax, on tourists. In the little town of Seaside, that and sales tax make up half the budget. In Anaheim, where Disneyland is money in the bank, bed taxes will help pay for a police substation, community center, better libraries and parks. Garden Grove voters OKd a higher bed tax last fall to help pay for cops and firefighters.

All this is, of course, assuming we get what we pay for, tax-wise. A big assumption, sometimes, which is why an audit of the state budget, as you suggested, is not a bad idea. But only 20% of the state budget, at most, is in play; the rest is committed and locked up as surely as I have to pay the mortgage. That's not a lot of squeeze in the Charmin.

The state budget, the state government, aren't a film script, with a straw-man villain who is easy to set up and, ultimately, a cinch for the hero to knock down. Nobody is pro-taxes; anyone thinking of running on a pro-tax platform would be better off starting up a theme park called "Root Canal Land." But please, Mr. S., in spite of the temptations to cinematic chest-beating, don't tease us by invoking some no-tax paradise, unless you also plan on having each of us go out and boil our own drinking water, pave our own roads, pour our own sidewalks, and dig our own sewers.

In that case, I'll be over to borrow a shovel.

Patt Morrison's e-mail address is

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