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What they’re saying about the ‘Amazon tax’ delay

Gov. Jerry Brown has just signed a compromise that puts off making online retailers like Amazon.com collect sales taxes in California for one year, giving the industry time to lobby Congress for protection.

My colleague Steve Harmon was at the signing event in San Francisco and will be filing a full report shortly, but meanwhile, we’ve got stakeholders comments pouring in.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, was among architects both of the “Amazon tax” bill passed in June and of this compromise delay, which convinced Amazon to drop its plans to spend millions on a repeal ballot initiative next year.

“The issue of eFairness is all about protecting jobs and businesses in California,” Skinner said in a news release. “AB 155 ensures a level playing field for California stores so they can keep their employees and support our communities, and it means new revenue that can be used for our schools, seniors and safety.”

“AB 155 is an historic compromise that sees online companies and brick-and-mortar retailers coming together. Businesses already face a lot of troubling uncertainties these days. AB 155 and Amazon dropping its challenge to eFairness in California takes some of that uncertainty away.”

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, also pushed hard for the tax.

“This is a classic compromise that will greatly benefit the state,” Hancock said in her news release. “For the first time, Amazon acknowledges that it is obligated to collect and remit California sales tax and that it will begin doing so, without further challenge, in September 2012. Amazon has also agreed to forgo any further attempt at a referendum and will not pursue court challenges. We now have a clear path to creating a level playing field where the state’s brick-and-mortar businesses will not be at an unfair disadvantage.”

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said California today “has moved forward towards achieving fairness. AB 155 closes a loophole that gives out-of-state online retailers an unfair advantage over stores in California, giving retailers time to achieve a federal solution. Overall, more jobs will ultimately be protected and created within the state.”

Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, issued a statement saying the company is grateful to Brown and the Legislature’s bipartisan leadership “for this win-win law.

“We’re excited that we now can create 10,000 jobs and cause $500 million in investment in California in addition to reinstating our California-based affiliates,” he said. “We’re committed to working with Congress, retailers and the states to pass federal legislation as soon as possible and as analysts have noted, we’ll continue to offer customers the best prices, regardless of whether sales tax is charged.”

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No press at President’s Bay Area fundraisers

Apparently there will be no press access to President Obama’s fundraisers Sunday in Woodside and Atherton.

This is different from his last Bay Area fundraising trip: In April, the White House travelling press corps and a designated local pool reporter – responsible for filing a report to the White House which is then disseminated to any interested media outlets – were allowed in. I was the pool reporter for the exclusive dinner at salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff’s San Francisco home, as well as for the big Masonic Auditorium rally that followed; the Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci was the pool reporter for a breakfast at San Francisco’s St. Regis Hotel the next day.

At the Benioff dinner, the press was ushered in essentially through a back door and kept in a holding area. We were walked into the courtyard where the dinner was being held just in time to hear the President begin his remarks; we were walked out just as he started taking questions from the guests. At no time did we have an opportunity to ask questions of the guests, and certainly not of the President.

But at least we heard what he said. The President will hold one open-press event during this trip: a town-hall style meeting on job creation Monday at the Mountain View headquarters of networking site LinkedIn.

I can think of a few possible reasons why Sunday’s fundraisers won’t be open to the press like April’s were.

For one, when the President was here in April, he hadn’t just announced plans to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help solve the nation’s fiscal woes. Perhaps he doesn’t feel this is the right time to be seen accepting massive donations – the dinner costs $35,800 per plate, with $5,000 to his campaign and the rest to the Democratic National Committee – from those very same wealthy Americans.

For another, Sunday’s fundraisers are happening right across the Bay from ground zero of a situation that’s still rippling through his Administration: the bankruptcy of Fremont-based solar manufacturer Solyndra after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee under the Recovery Act. It’s not an issue White House officials – or Solyndra executives, for that matter – have been eager to discuss, but it’ll certainly be on the minds of the Bay Area hoi polloi at these fundraisers.

I asked Marjan Philhour, a San Francisco-based fundraising consultant who is executive director of the Bay Area Democrats PAC, about my ideas. “I don’t believe the decision you’ve described on press carries any particular significance,” she replied.

Naturally, I always come at situations like this from the standpoint that the press should have access to everything the President does on a trip like this. Not everyone sees it that way.

“I have never understood the practice of letting press into fundraising events,” said Michael Fraioli, a Washington, D.C.-based fundraiser with experience in California campaigns. “There is never a ‘good’ story about political fundraising. Some are less objectionable than others but that’s as good as it gets.”

“Donors attend events to mix with each other and with the guest(s) of honor – not with reporters. President Obama has held firm to his position on PAC money and lobbyist money. I can’t say I agree but he has held firm and it does eliminate a fairly large pool of potential donors,” he continued. “Unlike the ‘good’ government groups which are in the habit of accusing politicians of granting special access to contributors, you will be able to see every contribution to these events on line and with details about the donors (employer and occupation). The watchdog groups give us only the information they choose to give when they choose to give it.”

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Mike Honda speaks out on deficit reduction

Letting the Bush-era tax cuts sunset and ending military spending in Afghanistan and Iraq would go a long way toward getting the nation out of its deficit hole, Rep. Mike Honda told constituents today.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, held a conference call to tell voters how the Budget Control Act passed last month will affect their lives and what the so-called “Super Committee” is tasked with doing now.

The bipartisan, 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has until Nov. 23 to decide how to further reduce the nation’s deficit; if Congress doesn’t approve a plan for $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction by Jan. 15, bone-deep cuts will be automatically triggered.

Honda said today that the debt-limit showdown that led to the committee’s creation was “engineered” for political reasons.

“This was a manufactured crisis” in which Republicans “turned our routine housekeeping issue of raising the debt limit into a crisis when they should have been focused on jobs,” he said. “We do have deficits and we do have debt, but we need to look at how we got there.”

The committee should focus on job creation initiatives that will help buoy the economy and reduce the deficit, while increasing revenue by returning rich Americans’ tax rates to what they were during the Clinton era’s surplus years and continuing to draw down military resources from Afghanistan and Iraq, Honda said. He had listeners follow along with a presentation posted on his website to advance his arguments.

Honda spokesman Michael Shank said word of the call had been put out on Facebook and Twitter, on the congressman’s website and e-newsletter, and via a mailer; “a couple hundred” constituents actually dialed in, he said. “Definitely not as big as our telephone town halls (where we have a several thousand) but that’s because we do those in the evening and use a calling service to call out to constituents. Here we relied on people calling in of their own volition.”

Honda serves on the House Budget and Appropriations committees. He also chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Budget Task Force and so elped draft the caucus’ “People’s Budget,” which the caucus says would eliminate the deficit in 10 years, put Americans back to work and restore the nation’s economic competitiveness. The budget among other things calls for letting the Bush tax cuts sunset, ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, creating a public health care option, eliminates the individual Social Security payroll cap and invests in education and infrastructure.

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Governor vetoes medical marijuana zoning bill

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would’ve barred medical marijuana dispensaries from being located with 600 feet of a school or residential area, unless city or county officials enact their own ordinances.

The bill was SB 847 by state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. The state Senate had passed it 31-2 in June; the Assembly had passed it 68-5 in August; and the state Senate had concurred in the Assembly’s amendments on a 34-4 vote in August.

“I have already signed AB 1300 that gave cities and counties authority to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries – an authority I believe they already had,” Brown said in his veto message. “This bill goes in the opposite direction by preempting local control and prescribing the precise locations in which dispensaries may not be located. Decisions of this kind are best made in cities and counties, not the State Capitol.”

SB 847 had originated with the city of Anaheim and was supported by groups such as the Peace Officers Research Association of California; advocates contended it would create a buffer zone until local governments can enact their own ordinances.

Groups including Americans for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project had opposed SB 847, saying it would force a one-size-fits-all zoning scheme on local governments, and would lead to a lack of access to medical marijuana in some high-density urban areas.

Don Duncan, Americans for Safe Access’ California director, blogged today that the veto followed a groundswell of opposition from medical marijuana advocates, proving “that grassroots participation makes a difference.”

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California bellies up to the bar for infused liquor

Cocktail lovers can rejoice, as California Jerry Brown today signed a bill ending the state’s ban on infused alcoholic beverages.

SB 32, by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, updates state law to recognize the widespread artisanal practice of infusing small amounts of alcohol with fruits, vegetables, herbs or spices for use in cocktails. The fight for the bill dates back to early last year, when state liquor regulators started cracking down on Bay Area bars.

Leno said today he’s pleased Brown saw the need to change the regulations. “In San Francisco and other cities where tourism is critical to the local economy, restaurant owners have been asked to stop serving infused cocktails in the name of an outdated law written decades ago,” he said. “This Prohibition-era statute did nothing more than punish California restaurants and small businesses that are using culinary innovations to survive in this difficult economy.”

The bill was supported by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, California Chamber of Commerce, Family Winemakers of California, California Music and Culture Association, California Restaurant Association, San Francisco Small Business Commission, Small Business California and various individual small businesses.

In this age of hyper-partisanship, apparently nothing unites lawmakers like a threat to their booze. The state Senate had passed SB 32 in June on a 39-0 vote, and the Assembly passed it in August on a 78-0 vote. The bill contains an urgency clause, so it becomes law immediately.