Calif. Legislator Calderon Proposes 8 Percent Porn Tax

Calif. Legislator Calderon Proposes 8 Percent Porn Tax
Tod Hunter
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — State Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, has set an 8 percent tax on a bill that would impose a tariff on items sold by sex shops, sexually explicit nightclub acts and pay-per-view movies featuring unprotected sex or X-rated acts in a public place.

The bill, AB 1551, was reported by XBIZ in April. AB 1551 would not apply to materials used by schools or sold incidentally in stores, or to nudity in a legitimate theater, ballet, opera, concert or other such performance.

Revenue from the tax would be placed in a special state fund for legislative appropriation to law enforcement, health and other affected services. The measure could raise $100 million annually.

Calderon said he is not attacking adult material, only trying to ease the impact on neighborhoods where sex shops operate.

"I'm not concerned with the morality of it," Calderon said of adult material. "Is it good? Is it bad? I don't know."

Adult industry attorney Michael Fattorosi thinks the bill would be bad for the state of California on a business level.

"I spoke with Calderon about this when we went up for Free Speech Lobbying days. We spoke with him about this bill, and I said it's bad business," Fattorosi told XBIZ. "People talked to him about the free speech issues, and he didn't seem swayed. He was comparing porn to tobacco and alcohol, like a sin tax. I said we have an industry that's worth $4 to $6 billion to the state of California, and if the state is no longer friendly to the adult business, they will leave. There are centers of production — albeit not entirely legal — all over the world. In the age of the Internet, you don't need to be located in the San Fernando Valley any more. Nevada is very business-friendly, and you could lose a lot of business to Nevada.

"It's a legal industry in California, and it earns a lot of money. It generates revenues for the state, and provides for people to buy houses. I would dare say it's the largest employer industry in the San Fernando Valley. It certainly isn't aerospace anymore."

1st Amendment attorney Jeffrey J. Douglas said that lawmakers cannot legally use taxation to attack material they find objectionable.

"Why an 8 percent tax? Why not 18 percent? Why not 88 percent? The courts will not put themselves in the position of saying 4 percent is OK, but 4.5 percent is not," Douglas said. "It's totally inappropriate for government to favor one form of speech over another by using taxation, because of its power to destroy."

The bill also is facing opposition from Republicans who say they oppose tax increases of any kind.

The bill would require a two-thirds majority in each legislative house to pass, so it would need a "Yes" vote from at least six Republicans in the Assembly and two in the Senate.

"I see this as an attempt by Mr. Calderon to appeal to certain social conservative elements within my party as a way to get more money to spend for his special interest groups," Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, said. "I view the bill more as political theater myself."

A hearing on AB 1551 is pending in the Assembly Revenue and Tax Committee, which is chaired by Calderon.