Letters for February 28, 2008

Letter of the week
Sailing into the red

With a $16 billion state-budget deficit, you would think that everyone could agree that the time has come to close the notorious “yacht-tax loophole.” Sadly, Republican Assembly members voted once again to allow California’s yacht purchasers to avoid paying taxes.

Here is how the yacht-tax loophole works: When you and I buy something at a local store, we pay a sales tax. If you are rich enough to buy a yacht and park it out of state for 90 days, you can bring it into California and avoid paying the sales or use tax. Just sail southward, choose one of the many “90-day yacht clubs” available in Ensenada, Mexico, then stash the boat there.

This is a tax loophole big enough to sail a yacht through, and it costs the state about $21 million a year in lost taxes.

Earlier this year, I introduced legislation to eliminate this “sloophole.” My proposal to eliminate the yacht tax became a part of the Assembly Democrats’ package of budget solutions to respond to the current year’s budget deficit.

These budget solutions included cuts to important programs like education, health care and funding for our courts. While these mid-year cuts are painful, they are also necessary to bring this year’s budget into balance. Taken together, these budget solutions reduce next year’s budget deficit by $7 billion.

Included within the package of budget bills that the Assembly voted on was a bill to eliminate the yacht-tax loophole. Even Governor Schwarzenegger proposed closing the yacht-tax loophole in his budget proposal.

Incredibly, not one single Assembly Republican voted to support eliminating the loophole, and it failed to pass. Thurston Howell III would have been proud.

Assembly Republicans justified their refusal to close this special-interest tax loophole by arguing that it hurt the economy to collect taxes from yacht purchasers. This is simply not the case. The loophole was closed for a time earlier this decade. The nonpartisan Legislative Analysts Office, in reviewing the impact of closing the loophole earlier this decade, found no harm to the economy.

It was also argued that the taxes not paid were small in amount. I don’t know about you, but $21 million is a lot of money to me.

It is simply unconscionable to protect rich yacht purchasers while the rest of us are expected to pay taxes on goods we purchase. It is even more outrageous to vote against closing special-interest tax loopholes at the same time cuts are being made to education, health and other programs that help ordinary Californians. We should immediately close the yacht-tax loophole for good.

Dave Jones

Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) represents the 9th Assembly District in the California Legislature.

Shots? Cheap and cheaper

Re “Somebody’s cranky” (SN&R Letters, February 21):

Cheap shot about resenting Griffith because he has a job. You miss the point. I don’t like him because he doesn’t know music, yet he writes about it for your paper.

My info was that Merle [Haggard] was born in Oklahoma in a converted boxcar in 1937. Bakersfield is Buck Owens country, not Merle Haggard. Merle speaks of Oklahoma, not Bakersfield. So who would know?

And it’s obvious that most of you 20s-30s set aren’t interested in musical history or what’s original, either. It’s the disrespect you have for what’s been forged and mined from the ’60s period.

He, Griffith, constantly puts down the S[an] F[rancisco] hippie and Summer of Love bands as though they weren’t anything good. He gets paid to drone on about the locals. Whoopee, Bud.

One big problem. I know different, and quite to the contrary. The best, he never writes about. Why? He’s not going or he’s just plain ignorant about it all. If I believed him, I’d be one sorry person. The True Love is Carnegie Hall to this guy. Now he’s on the Sal [Valentino] bandwagon. Why? He’s from S[an] F[rancisco]. Is he in a time warp, too? “Laugh, Laugh” and “Just a Little” [were] from 1964.

The “local superstars” thing—have you noticed, Mr. Editor, that no one outside of downtown knows of them or cares? It’s merely a social clique of surface relationships.

Charles Hollingshead

The editor replies: Charles, I’ll give you this: Merle Haggard was indeed born in a boxcar. But why must you make things so easy for us? It was a boxcar IN CALIFORNIA!!! Go to the Country Music Hall of Fame Web site, and you’ll see they list Merle being born in Bakersfield, California. Don’t believe those crackers? Then go to Wikipedia or dozens of other reputable sources or, best of all, this link—http://www.wargs.com/other/haggard.html—which reveals the “Ancestry of Merle Haggard compiled by William Addams Reitwiesner,” an ancestry which places Merle’s birthplace as Bakersfield. Along the way, you may also pick up that, along with Buck Owens, Haggard and his band the Strangers are credited with helping create the “Bakersfield Sound” of the ’60s that’s known for twangy, Telecaster guitars, tight vocal harmonies and a rough edge that was unlike the overproduced Nashville Sound. See, Charles, despite what your AARP newsletter tells you, advanced age does not always translate into greater knowledge. Our intrepid Jackson Griffith—who, like me, lived through the ’60s, as did at least half of my staff—points readers to the good and steers them clear of the crap, whether that’s being played by some snot-nosed kid at True Love or some Summer of Love burnout at your rest home.

But aren’t two heads better than one?

Re “Two heads for the price of one” (SN&R Bites, February 21):

Take issue with McCain’s policies, votes and positions; point out his hypocrisy if and where evident; tweak him for being boring or uninformed—but attack the man for having cancer and ridicule his physical condition? Is that what “progressives” do?

While we’re on hypocrisy, we can probably assume Bites would never attack people with disabilities just because they have disabilities, or people of color because of their color. Why is having a deadly disease with physical symptoms or aftereffects any different? Are victims of deadly diseases uniquely subject to disparate treatment?

Seems a little beyond the usual cheap shot and not a little ironic, considering the source.

Steve Boreman
via e-mail

Bites responds: OK, what does “ironic, considering the source” mean? Bites doesn’t have a second head. Bites doesn’t even have a first head. In any case, Bites’ brand new human host, Cosmo Garvin, would like to assure readers that the column would never unfairly pick on the sick or the disabled. But he will call out second heads he sees popping out of possible future leaders of the free world.

Privatize, he sez. It’ll be cheaper, he sez.

Re “There will be blame” (SN&R Editorial, February 14):

Your editorial’s assessment of the blame for the state’s budget woes proceeds upon unstated and, I think, unproved premises.

To achieve a balanced budget, one’s expenses must not exceed one’s revenues. You rightly point out that the governor’s rollback of the vehicle licensing fee, the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds supermajority to adopt a state budget and the property-tax limiting Proposition 13 have all substantially decreased revenues, thus requiring a commensurate decrease in expenses to reach a balanced budget. But you then contend that such purse-tightening cannot happen because Californians want police, schools and clean water.

Yet your argument presupposes both that, first, Californians want the government, as opposed to private enterprise, to provide some or all of the aforementioned services, and second, those services form the lion’s share of the state’s expenses. On both of those scores, I would submit that the evidence is at least debatable, and perhaps contrary to your assessment.

Certainly, the state’s not-insignificant welfarist programs consume a sizable amount of the budget; were these to be eliminated, and the satisfaction of the needs of indigent persons which those programs currently rather ineffectively meet were instead to be left to private, charitable efforts, a balanced budget could easily be achieved.

Damien M. Schiff
North Natomas

Get out of the Buddha suit before you talk politics

Re “Before you commit her to hell …” by Joey Garcia (SN&R Ask Joey, February 14):

In her meditation for this issue, rather than watching the candidates “through the lens of the Zen Buddhist,” as she purports, Joey appears to be watching the candidates though the fog of her own projections and prejudices. She has been very clear about her support for Sen. Barack Obama, which is fine, but then she criticizes Sen. Hillary Clinton, inappropriately disguising personal political views as gentle Buddhist musings.

Joey concludes that Clinton was in denial about her husband’s affairs, and then suggests that this tells us something about how she might govern.

How in Buddha’s name does Joey know how Clinton dealt with the issue of her husband’s infidelity? We all have read news accounts, but to assume that she knows that Clinton is “in denial” demonstrates Joey’s arrogant belief that she is able to know and understand Clinton’s thoughts and actions without benefit of any personal interaction. Joey engages in conjecture that the way Clinton deals with her husband predicts how she will govern. Conjecture is absurd when there are actual examples of Clinton’s governance style for us all to examine.

Joey can certainly express support for any candidate of her choice, but using pseudo-psychological/spiritual advice column language to make critical political commentary is not appropriate.

Marshall Wilson
via e-mail

SN&R and sex slaves

I am writing a piece, and I wanted to know where you stand on this and what your course of action will be. I am not sure if you are aware of the epidemic of boys and girls and women (possibly some men) who are forced into sex slavery in the United States. I find it hard to believe you are not to some degree informed on this issue. California is one of the central places where thousands of people are shipped and distributed to work as sex slaves. Sacramento is no exception.

The majority of ads for massage parlors in the back of your paper are places that participate in sex slavery. This is not just consensual sex work/prostitution. When people see those ads that are printed, it only continues the tragic cycle of devastating abuse and, essentially, an absolute crime against humanity.

Since I am bringing this to your attention, my question is, if you have known about this, why has your paper continued to support human trafficking in this manner? Is it just to generate money for SN&R? And if you really honestly have not known about this, how long will it take before you take action and do what is right (addressing this issue in your paper; educating readers on the pervasiveness of this problem, which is forced sex; and not supporting businesses that are possibly and most likely involved in this)?

You are one of the only major papers (even if you’re an alternative, non-mainstream paper) that support these ads. The Sacramento Bee does not. When more people realize this, it is not something I know you really want to be a part of.

Again, I take no issue with sex work or if a person chooses to pay for services—despite legalities—if it is consensual. That area should be kept separate.

Care to comment?

via e-mail

The editor responds: For someone who does not want to divulge his/her name, you sure have a lot of questions. I’ll answer them in order: I have not and we do not; no; no time at all because we do not make major operational changes based on anonymous letters; I just did.

Confidential to …

… the gentleman who called, provided a first and last name and claimed to have had gay sex with John McCain. Tell you what, Edward, turn to this week’s Editorial, take our “McCain pop quiz” and phone us back with your score. Depending on how well you do, we’ll be able to determine whether you know John McCain as intimately as your original voice-mail message suggests. Or you could be an unwitting sex slave, in which case: Wanna buy an ad?