Calderon, Douglas Debate Tax Proposal

Joanne Cachapero
PASADENA, Calif. — Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) and industry attorney Jeffrey Douglas debated Calderon’s proposed bill to impose a sweeping 25 percent tax on “anything sold in an ‘adult entertainment venue,’” in order to generate revenue for the state’s shrinking coffers.

The debate was held live at 89.3 KPPC FM’s Pasadena studios today. Radio announcer Patt Morrison moderated the debate and accepted calls from listeners, most of whom had negative responses to the proposed tax bill.

Calderon first proposed a “porn tax” bill 10 years ago, only to watch the proposal languish in the Legislature. Similar bills have been proposed in several other states, including Utah and Texas.

This time, Calderon stated that revenue generated by the tax, which he figured at about $600 million, would go to fund programs that deal with the secondary affects of pornography, including “porn addiction” and related mental illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases and increased demand for law enforcement presence he claimed was required at adult entertainment venues like strip clubs and adult bookstores.

“I am not a great supporter of the porn industry, but it is legal and I am very concerned about freedom of speech, and to have a draconian tax … like this on one single industry,” said a caller named Cheryl.

“There is nothing that is earmarked [for] any of the revenue, for anything that has been established by facts to be a problem,” Cheryl said. “So far it seems like the money is going to be swept into the general fund and used for necessary programs, none of which have been connected to the porn industry. It seems to me this is … a tax on habits that the majority of people think are not good ones.”

Calderon argued that the Los Angeles County Sheriff had provided him with testimony that adult businesses do experience a higher than usual number of callouts for disturbances.

He also noted that “porn addiction” potentially caused an increase in unemployment claims, due to Internet users that might be driven from porn surfing at home by upset family members, who might then be caught looking at adult content at work and ultimately fired.

Douglas responded that there has not been any documented statistics for the “secondary affects” of pornography or its affect on state-funded resources including healthcare and mental health services. The attorney also pointed out that the Los Angeles County Sheriff is the only law enforcement organization in support of the proposed bill.

“All he’s got is anecdote. Whenever anyone says it has been estimated or it has been reported, what they actually are saying is they can’t prove it, or they wish it were true,” Douglas said.

“I literally started laughing when he started talking about porn addiction causing unemployment. That is ludicrous. This is pure, raw hostility toward the industry and the assumption that there is enough hostility out there to garner the votes,” Douglas added. “Fortunately, historically, we have not seen this to be true.”

A caller named Mark pointed out that there were other industries that could also be singled out as having a negative secondary affect on demand for state resources, including the alcohol and firearms industries.

Another caller named Raheem said, “I think it’s a ridiculous tax. I think there are other industries that could at least bear the load of this tax. The oil industry, for example. And just to counter the claims of increased police presence outside of strip clubs, I would argue that outside of normal clubs, there’s a need for more police presence because there is liquor served in regular clubs, whereas there is no liquor served in the strip clubs.”

When it was suggested that consumers of adult entertainment could bear the tax burden, as opposed to the businesses themselves, Calderon argued that the industry was really at the root of increased need for state services.

“It isn’t the consumers that buy porn or consume porn that are causing the problem,” he said. “It’s the industry that, because of its size, it has a natural outcome in many, many different areas of cost. So putting the tax on the consumer, versus the industry, it better falls on the industry.”

When a caller suggested that adult business contribute to a fund, in order to defray the cost of so-called secondary affects, Douglas quickly replied that adult industry business already contributes to many charitable causes, as well as funding low-cost STD testing and various other beneficial programs.

Perhaps the most common sense approach was taken by Kevin, who called in and said, “Come on folks, let’s call this what it really is. This is a spending problem — they want more revenue and they found a vulnerable industry and they’re going after people for more, and no one will object to it. Revenue will be generated not for any particular program, but it will go into the general fund.”