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Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Cost of Good Intentions in California

 Dan Walters at CalMatters:

Each tax, each appropriation and each regulatory action has a financial impact, thus motivating those affected to seek favorable treatment.

A classic example is the California Coastal Commission, created by voters more than a half-century ago with the stated goal of maintaining public access to beaches and other coastal property by regulating development. The commission holds immense authority within a 1.6 million-acre “coastal zone” that runs from Oregon to Mexico, superseding the land use powers of local governments.

From the onset, the commission has been besieged by lobbyists for and against specific projects, and its actions have often been tinged by scandal. Three decades ago commission member Mark Nathanson, a Beverly Hills real estate broker, pleaded guilty to soliciting almost $1 million from Hollywood entertainment barons seeking building permits.

During the early years of its existence, meanwhile, the Legislature saw numerous attempts to revise the coastal zone’s dimensions because land outside its borders became more valuable. One state senator even carried a bill removing his own family’s business from the zone.

Another hoary example is California’s “tied house law” that supposedly battles monopolies in the liquor business by making it illegal for someone in the production, distribution or retail levels to engage in more than one.

The law has long outlived whatever rationale it once had and should have been repealed, but it remains on the books and thus generates a brisk trade in legislation to carve out exemptions for particular businesses.
Still another: If a Californian buys some off-the-shelf computer software – such as the TurboTax, for example – sales tax is added. But three-plus decades ago, the Legislature bowed to pressure from Silicon Valley and exempted custom software, which can cost millions of dollars, from taxation.