SACRAMENTO – California shoppers will start paying more at the register when a quarter-cent sales tax increase kicks in Tuesday.
Officials estimate the increase will cost a family of four an average $120 a year. And it has prompted intense debate for months, including a new wave of Republican-sponsored radio ads blasting Gov. Gray Davis’ handling of the state budget.
The California Republican Party’s ads hit the airwaves Thursday in some of the state’s major markets, signaling the official start of a political ad season that likely will focus heavily on Davis, taxes and the state’s fiscal condition.
The quarter-cent sales tax increase will kick in automatically Tuesday — the first day of 2002 — because of falling state revenues and a shrinking emergency reserve.
Republicans blame Davis, saying he failed to build a large enough reserve into the budget and planned poorly for a slumping economy. Key GOP lawmakers held back their votes for the budget this summer over the sales-tax trigger, forcing an impasse in the Legislature and causing Davis to sign the state’s spending plan nearly a month late.
But Davis and other Democrats say the sales-tax trigger, signed into law by Republican former Gov. Pete Wilson and supported by Republican lawmakers, is meant to funnel dollars back to taxpayers when the economy soars and help fill the state treasury when times are tough.
Davis supporters also say he signed into law $3 billion in tax relief in his first two years in office and that he isn’t responsible for the economic downturn and dwindling revenues.
“Governor Davis has been a fiscally prudent governor,” said Roger Salazar, spokesman for Davis’ re-election campaign.
The state is one of many facing revenue shortfalls from an already-weak economy and the fiscal fallout of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Analysts estimate California faces a $12 billion budget deficit in the coming fiscal year.
But Republican party consultant Rob Stutzman said the party thinks it’s fair to blame Davis for lacking “the foresight to plan well when times were good.”
The new ads feature two elves discussing the tax increase, with jingling holiday bells in the background, and blaming Davis. The ads, which will cost the state GOP about $75,000, are scheduled to air through New Year’s Eve and possibly New Year’s Day in Los Angeles, Sacramento and the Central Valley.
The ad is the first of many in the final two months before the statewide primaries when three Republicans will battle for the nomination to challenge Davis in November. Advisers for all three Republicans and Davis have said their ads will start airing in January.