California Considers Sales Tax Revolution

California is one of the sleeper states — the states that haven’t yet updated their sales tax regulations in response to Wayfair. Wayfair is the Supreme Court’s landmark 2018 decision overturning Quill and changing the definition of “nexus.” This decision allows states to make laws which compel remote sellers to collect and file sales tax even without physical nexus.

About half the 50 states have made those laws. California, however, has a different and much more radical idea. A new bill has been introduced in the legislature to study the idea of replacing sales taxes altogether with a carbon tax. Consumers would pay less for sustainable products and more for those that affect the environment more.

All products would be ranked on the basis of “carbon intensity,” the carbon footprint of the manufacture and presumably also the supply chain of the product. Sales and use taxes would be abolished, and consumers would instead pay a carbon tax based on the product’s carbon intensity.

The object of the new tax system would be to encourage consumers to choose more sustainable products. It would therefore be more like the “sin tax” on cigarettes and junk food than like an ordinary sales tax. Sales taxes are intended to raise revenue for the states and municipalities, more than to influence consumer behavior.

Study

The carbon tax bill is not proposing an immediate change in taxes. Rather, it would start a study of the possible effects of making that change. If the carbon tax becomes law, there would be a five year transition period to figure it out.

Some of the issues that have already come up in discussions:

  • Would the carbon tax hurt the state budget?
  • Would prices overall rise or fall?
  • Would the carbon tax affect manufacturers who already pay for carbon emissions in California?
  • How would the carbon tax be calculated for products not made in California?

The calculation of the carbon tax might be an added responsibility for manufacturers. In the European Union, manufacturers are required to produce information on chemicals used in producing their goods. No data, no access to the market — it’s that simple.

California is the sixth largest market in the world, ahead of most nations. If California decides on a carbon tax, manufacturers may have to go along, just as they have had to go along with the EU’s chemical regulations.

Latest Articles

Sales Tax Revenues Are Up

Sales Tax Revenues Are Up

Through most of 2020, states worried about their sales tax revenues. Headlines about mandatory closures of businesses forecast huge drops in state revenues, largely because of the loss of sales tax revenues from businesses that had to close. Retailers,...

read more
Sales Tax and the U.S. Manufacturing Strategy

Sales Tax and the U.S. Manufacturing Strategy

There has been a lot of talk about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States. One of the most common tactics is the tax cut. In 2017, corporate taxes were cut from 35% to 21%. Did that make a difference for manufacturing -- and in particular...

read more
Faster Sales Tax Remittance in Your Future?

Faster Sales Tax Remittance in Your Future?

States are suffering economically during the pandemic, and they're looking for solutions. Sales tax is an area that has been hit hard, with many states seeing tumbling sales tax revenues as businesses close or contract. So states are looking for ways to...

read more