Coastal Voices: Make DN sales tax-free zone

By Roger Gitlin February 11, 2012 12:35 am

Last week, friends asked my wife and me to join them in Brookings and do some shopping. As the perpetual cheerleader for Crescent City, I asked them what’s up there in Brookings that we don’t have in Crescent City.

“Roger, I go up there every week, fill up my gas tank at Fred Meyer and do a little shopping.  There’s no sales tax!”

I suspect there are many in our community who regularly travel to Oregon for the very same reason. Anybody with a vehicle knows one can drive the 20-plus miles to save up to 60 cents a gallon. It bothers me California is so grossly uncompetitive with the zero-sales tax state of Oregon. Gasoline or diesel fuel sold in Del Norte and Humboldt counties is the highest-priced petroleum in the lower 48.

I must admit I do occasionally fill up my tank in Oregon, but I am reasonably loyal to Joe’s Chevron on Highway 101 North.  Joe keeps my truck running perfectly. Plus, he’s a great guy and I take my business to him, accordingly.

Who isn’t looking to save money? These are hard times in America, California, and Crescent City. Lots of folks are out of work. I continue to be disappointed by Governor Jerry Brown, the Assembly, and the Senate, who believe the only way to fix California’s problems is to levy more taxes. As I write this commentary, the governor is promoting yet another “temporary” sales tax increase of ½ cent which would raise the tax in Del Norte County to 7.75 percent.

To quantify the increased rate, for every $1,000 in purchases one makes in Del Norte County, one will pay an additional $5, added to the $72.50 in California state sales tax due. Is that enough of an incentive to make you want to buy tires in Oregon?

In some of California’s other 57 counties, the rate may approach 10 percent. In addition, the governor wants to surcharge those who earn at least $250,000 on state income tax. More taxes are not the answer. Cutting entitlements for illegal immigrants and their native-born children, and removing worthless, duplicative agencies and commissions are some of the answers that will turn California in another direction.

I am going to take a polar opposite position on this issue. The Golden State needs to start behaving competitively and demonstrate business-friendly practices.

Is it now time for border county Del Norte to demand Sacramento designate Del Norte County a sales tax-free county? Due to our geography and state of contiguousness with Curry County, I believe the time has come to declare our county a state tax-free haven, a mecca for small business.

The concept of a tax-free enterprise zone exemption is not a new one. In 1967, Senator Robert Kennedy introduced this idea to stimulate growth in America’s inner cities with the assumption that employers would respond positively to tax incentives and reduced government regulation. Why couldn’t this concept work for rural Del Norte County, which currently endures an unemployment rate of 13.2 percent (the real rate is near double that). If this enterprise zone can work in economically devastated areas of our large cities, why couldn’t it work in hard-pressed, cash-strapped Del Norte County?

I harbor a healthy dose of skepticism that all the taxes collected by Sacramento actually end up helping the people. Other than perpetuating the over-regulated and onerous state government system whose family of agencies, boards, and commissions total near 600, I can tell you those taxes you involuntarily render to Sacramento actually accomplish little in solving California’s fiscal problems, except to support the self-serving interests of the bloated state bureaucracy.

Environmentally, is there a difference between the gallon of gasoline Brookings sells and the gallon of gas Crescent City sells?  And what about the special additives (which you pay for at the pump) California mandates oil refiners place in the California-sold gasoline for the purpose of keeping our air clean? Are those additives in the California fuel just phony science? Again, I would be challenged to tell you the additive-less gas in Oregon fouls the air in Brookings, Gold Beach, Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass or anywhere in the Beaver State.  

I favor removing much of these wasteful taxes (and subsequent fraud) from the federal and state system, and allow Del Norte County and Crescent City to implement its own tax collection system whose sole purpose it is to derive the necessary revenues and keep our community vibrant and growing. Just as all politics is local, all taxation should likewise be local. What a novel, refreshing idea it is which would permit the Crescent City Council or the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors to implement their own tax system.

It’s obvious our remote, sparsely populated county is going to realize less and less assistance from Sacramento. That writing is on the wall. Crescent City and Del Norte County need to look out for themselves.

Roger Gitlin is Crescent City resident.