Friday, April 19

Pravin Visakan: Removing unfair tampon tax would reduce financial burden on students

California Assembly Bill 479, which was introduced last month, would remove the state’s tax on tampons and place a sin tax on alcohol instead. This bill should be supported by students. (Daily Bruin file photo)

California Assembly Bill 479, which was introduced last month, would remove the state’s tax on tampons and place a sin tax on alcohol instead. This bill should be supported by students. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Like the children of a warm paternalistic guardian, some Bruins like to regard our state with tender and patriotic feelings. However, like a relative with a dark secret, California has a long history of unfairly extorting “blood money” from some of its citizens: Specifically, it taxes sales of menstrual products and diapers.

Most people who pay these taxes are parents or people who menstruate – those without the requisite anatomy don’t have to pay. These taxes unfairly discriminate on the basis of biology.

But there’s a possible way around this: Assembly Bill 479, introduced last month, would completely remove the state tax on both tampons and diapers.

Taxes on menstrual products negatively impact students at UCLA, and advocacy groups such as the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s external vice president’s office should make an effort to change that. One way to do so is to lobby the state legislature to pass AB 479.

A similar bill made it through the legislature last year only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who cited a projected decrease of approximately $45 million in state revenue. The new bill attempts to address the shortcoming by increasing the tax on hard liquor. The current tax is $3.30 per gallon of distilled spirits; the new tax would raise that to $4.50 for liquor 100 proof and lower, such as tequila and vodka.

The issue for students isn’t one of tampon availability. Students can walk into the Hill Top Shop and purchase a box of 18 Tampax Pearl brand tampons for $6.84. The running tax rate is set at 8.75 percent, which means $0.55 of that purchase goes to the state. This may not seem like a huge deal, especially when some programs offer free alternatives on campus. But that line of thinking just means the costs get passed on.

Someone has to pay these taxes – even for the “free” menstrual products paid for by a campus program and distributed by the USAC Student Wellness Commission, the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center and the LGBT Campus Resource Center. The popular program provides a tangible health benefit to students on campus.

The program is funded by a $10,000 grant from last year’s #UCLAWellness Referendum. Student Wellness Commissioner Christina Lee estimates that about half the money is spent on tampons.

To save you some tedious arithmetic, that’s about $5,000 dollars of tampon money. At a tax rate of 8.75 percent, that corresponds to $437.50 in taxes. At $6.29 per box, the Student Wellness Commission is out 69 boxes of 18 tampons each, or a total of 1,242 tampons plus change. That’s a lot of blood money.

To compare, Lee said students took about 1,000 products – which include pads and tampons – between November and February.

Lee added the Student Wellness Commission plans to expand the service onto the Hill, but that would require more tampons and more money. These efforts are hampered by the tax.

USAC’s external vice president should work to end the practice of blood money taxes and advocate for the passage of AB 479. The tax represents an unequal burden on specific groups and adversely impacts the UCLA community. Lobbying to repeal the tax would represent the interests of both Bruins and the state’s residents as a whole, including students on other University of California campuses.

Of course, the tax change isn’t without a catch. The increase in alcohol costs could be painful to local businesses.

However, assembly members estimated the cost would only rise by 2 cents per drink. According to Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, the money would not impose a significant burden on local alcohol vendors. Additionally, the tax would not affect beer and wine. Thus, the increase would not pose a significant setback to alcohol sales.

The menstrual product side of the tax would provide economic benefits to the families of students in communities around California. A tax of 55 cents might not be enough to deter a permanent, affluent resident of Westwood from purchasing a box of tampons or diapers. However, UCLA students come from a diverse array of backgrounds, and not all of them are necessarily so advantaged. The bill could provide a practical monetary benefit while ending a discriminatory practice.

Students at UCLA should be proud to live in California – but that pride shouldn’t be paid for in blood money. AB 479 is a positive step forward that students should embrace.

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Opinion columnist

Visakan is an Opinion columnist.

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