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Why voters should tell Sacramento to bag it
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There are two kinds of people in California politics: those who want Sacramento to ban plastic grocery bags and those who just want state pols to pass a budget.The budget is after all — what? — only 39 days late.AB1998 would ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags in 2012. Shoppers would have to bring their own (presumably cloth) bags to the store or pay 5 cents or more per sack.I understand why a ban would appeal to Sacramento lawmakers. Who likes them? The bags, I mean. They're ugly. (Chi-chi shop bags are exempt.) They're uglier after they've been used. State pols can dis bags and the bags can't talk back.Even the California Grocers Association supports the bill because it would pre-empt local bag bans. (Only in California do you see a bag-ban war between busybody state lawmakers and busybody local officials.)Best of all, AB1998, authored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, allows Sacto lawmakers to do what they love best — tell other people how to live and profitable taxpaying enterprises how to run their businesses.State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who voted for the bill, argued that this is one fee that consumers don't have to pay because they can bring their own bags. "I think it's a mistake to see these bags as free," he noted.And: "The problem is both real and significant." The litter from those pesky bags seems to land everywhere. As a Democratic analysis of the bill noted, "Their light weight and expansive nature makes them especially prone to blowing into waterways." An estimated 90 percent of floating debris is plastic.Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, has some sympathy with the bill's goal. He lives near a convenience store and sees the litter, too.Jeffries, however, sees the downside of the bill. The California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce estimates that the bill would jeopardize "500 good paying manufacturing jobs in the Los Angeles region.""Could you not delay this bill," Jeffries asked, in light of a state unemployment rate of more than 12 percent, until the people who stand to lose their jobs have a strong chance of finding another job?The follow-up question would be: Why has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger indicated he will sign the bill if it passes in this sour economy?You know the answer. AB1998 scratches the Democrats' nanny-state itch. Given a choice between telling other people how to do their jobs and doing their own, Sacramento lawmakers always punt.Back to the budget. There has been some progress on that front. Democratic leaders now say they agree with each other.  On Aug. 3, Assembly Speaker John Perez of Los Angeles and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento presented the Democratic plan. Thus ended the speaker's dubious call for Democrats to "hold firm," not negotiate and propose more gimmicky borrowing to fuel more spending the state cannot afford.Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear observed, "It's nice that they're finally on the same page, but the speaker has wasted the last two months campaigning for what his own party has called an illegal borrowing scheme."The new Steinberg/Perez "tax swap" plan presents certain logic. The Democratic leadership proposes to raise income taxes for most Californians by 1 percent, increase the vehicle license fee to 1.65 percent from 1.15 percent, but cut the state sales tax from 6 percent to 3.5 percent. The idea, they say, is to increase taxes that are deductible on federal tax returns — thus getting Washington to absorb what Sacramento has funded — while reducing the tax burden at the cash register. The average tax filer making $60,000 per year would pay $473 more in state income tax, $118 in car fees, but $677 less in sales tax.The plan also includes an annual $1.2 billion oil severance tax that likely would be passed on to consumers and would spend nearly $4 billion more than Schwarzenegger has proposed.Allow me to salute the Dems for not going the soak-the-rich route. The top 1 percent of California taxpayers already pays almost half of the state's income taxes. As Steinberg noted, the income from raising taxes on those high earners is too volatile.But it's hard to imagine the Democratic caucus going along with a proposal that, the Republicans playfully have argued, places a disproportionate burden on the poor.Only 37 percent of Californians itemize on their tax returns. The Dems' plan would raise taxes for 57 percent of filers by 2012, Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer told the San Francisco Chronicle's Wyatt Buchanan. Hence, Republicans declared the proposal "dead on arrival" because it's a tax hike.To recap: Sacramento faces a $19 billion shortfall, the budget is seven weeks overdue and the only thing party leaders can agree on is that the other party is responsible for the budget impasse.But do not argue that Sacramento is good for nothing. If AB1998 passes, you won't have to hear the question "Paper or plastic?"— E-mail Debra J. Saunders at