A Libertarian Dilemma
Last week, I noticed that there’s a measure on the November ballot to impose a sales tax on revenue earned by cannabis dealers in Pacific Grove. I went on the Pagrovia Facebook site to ask if anyone was writing a ballot argument against it.
An aside on ballot arguments: In California, when you get your sample ballot in the mail in September, it’s quite thick because typically each proposition has someone or some people arguing for or against it. When I moved to California from Canada in September 1972, and one of my fellow Ph.D. students brought his thick set of ballot arguments to UCLA, I thought this was the one of the strangest things I’d seen. In those days, I thought of Canada as being more socialist than the United States. I still do. For that reason I was surprised that various levels of California governments used tax dollars to subsidize the propagation of particular viewpoints.
Back to the issue. One person on the Pagrovia site answered that he might be willing to sign if I did the hard work of writing. What made this offer particularly interesting to me is that he and I have tangled before in front of the Pacific Grove city council. I’m an avid pickle ball player who wants the city government to allow us to use some of the tennis courts for pickle ball. He lives by the courts, can’t stand the noise, and opposes allowing us.
On the Pagrovia site a few months ago, I had said something nice about him and he reported it, without mentioning me by name, in his local newspaper. I always like reaching out to former political opponents and so this offer from him interested me.
I wrote up the argument and took it to his place. He answered the door and we had a nice conversation. He quickly realized that he had thought I was writing an argument against a different measure, namely the measure to allow cannabis sales in Pacific Grove. So he wasn’t interested in signing. He pointed out, though, that probably the same people were behind both measures. Some people wanted to allow cannabis sales and they figured out that the way to sweeten the deal was to tell Pacific Grove voters that the city government budget would increase with the sales revenues. The city government is always trying to figure out ways to extract more money from us.
Why not combine them in one measure? Possibly because sometimes there’s a rule against including disparate items in one proposition.
That made me rethink. On the one hand, I wanted the government to allow sales. (I hadn’t known that they weren’t allowed; I’m not typically in that market.) On the other hand, I didn’t want the discriminatory tax. I had pointed out in my ballot argument that the proposed 6 percent tax on gross revenues is not small, but huge. I linked to this 2018 post by AEI economist Mark Perry. But what if my ballot argument persuaded people to be against the tax and against allowing sales?
That was a dilemma. I had very little time to think it through. The deadline was the next day at noon. I let the deadline pass and didn’t submit the argument, even though a California friend of mine, who has written ballot arguments to successfully fight a number of tax measures, thought it was really good.
For those of you who agree with me that sales should be allowed and that there shouldn’t be a discriminatory gross revenue tax against sellers, did I make the right call?
Another aside: Fun ending to my conversation with the pickle ball opponent. He said, with a twinkle in his eye, that the big thing that divided us was not cannabis but pickle ball. I grinned and said, “Yes, but in a sense we both won. We get to play on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and you get peace and quiet the rest of the time.”