Cyber Monday spree? You owe ‘use tax.’

Finding some awesome holiday gift deals on this Cyber Monday? They may not be quite as awesome as you think, Californians: You owe taxes on those purchases.

California law imposes tax not only on in-state purchases, but also on items bought out-of-state for use in California; this “use tax” has been law since 1935, to prevent out-of-state retailers from having a competitive advantage over California-based vendors who were required to report sales tax beginning in 1933. And the advent of online shopping hasn’t changed anything.

So if an out-of-state or online retailer doesn’t collect this tax for an item delivered to California, it’s the purchaser’s duty to pay it, based on the tax rate for the area in which they live.

There are two ways to pay any use tax you may owe: Register and pay on the state’s eReg website after each purchase; or pay it as a line item on your state income taxes, using the Board of Equalization’s and the Franchise Tax Board’s use-tax calculation based on your adjusted gross income.

The average California family owes about $61 in use tax each year, and the Board of Equalization estimates that California consumers and businesses failing to report and pay the use tax they owe costs the state more than $1.1 billion a year. Like sales tax, this money helps fund programs such as public education, public safety, and transportation.


A few things for which I’m thankful

I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving 2012, in both my personal and professional lives. I’ll forgo the personal here, but share a few blessings I’ve had on the job this year:

The “pinch-me” bizarre campaign moments: Newt Gingrich promising to establish a U.S. moon base; Clint Eastwood berating an empty chair; Joe Biden chilling with the bikers; anyone at all taking Donald Trump seriously, ever, even for a nanosecond.

The stranger-than-fiction stories I covered: a U.S. Senate primary that featured, among many others, a surfing rabbi, a “birther” queen and an octogenarian mountain climber; the first one-on-one with Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi after her shoplifting conviction; a maniacally misinformed wedding-chapel owner in Reno; and, just this week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors suffering the consequences for banning public nudity.

My continued employment: The news industry’s massive downsizing in recent years has pushed out many talented and valued colleagues and friends. I’m a very lucky man to still be doing what I love, and I’m thankful for it every day.

My bosses: Many thanks to editors Ken McLaughlin and Mike Frankel for all the work, from the fine-tuning to the big revamps, they’ve put into my stories this year; I’m a better reporter and writer for working with them.

Some people I’ve covered have endured an awful 2012 to varying degrees, from the Oikos University massacre’s victims and their loved ones to the Lockyer family. I hold them and others in my thoughts today, and wish them a happier, healthier, brighter year to come.


Boxer leads call for student-loan justice for troops

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer this week led two dozen Senate Democrats in urging the student loan industry to ensure military service members have all the benefits that they’re entitled to by law.

Barbara Boxer “We were alarmed to learn that some student loan servicers are providing incomplete or inaccurate information regarding service members’ options for reducing their debt —often leading individuals to make decisions that have costly long-term consequences,” the senators wrote to Student Loan Servicing Alliance Executive Director Winfield Crigler. “In one particularly egregious example, a service member was guided toward a deferment plan that ended up increasing his total debt by $25,000. This is simply unacceptable.”

Boxer’s office noted about 41 percent of service members are now carrying student loan debt, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that the main reason why troops lose security clearances is because of financial problems.

Congress in the past has enacted loan repayment protections and benefits — such as loan forgiveness programs and interest rate reductions — to help service members manage their debt. But a report issued last month by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs found many military men and women are facing significant challenges in fully accessing these benefits. Specifically, it found that some student loan servicers aren’t providing clear, accurate information about available benefits or are forcing military borrowers to clear unnecessary hurdles in order to access the benefits they deserve.

“Our brave military men and women—and their families—make tremendous sacrifices each and every day in service to our nation. They should never have to fight for full access to the benefits they have earned, including student loan repayment protections,” the senators wrote.

Read the full letter, and a list of signatories, after the jump…
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Brown names 1st openly gay appeals court justice

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday announced the appointment of one of his top aides to serve as the first openly gay justice of the California Court of Appeal.

Jim Humes, 53, of San Francisco, if confirmed will be an associate justice of the First District Court of Appeal, Division Four, based in San Francisco.

According to an interesting 2011 profile of Humes by the Los Angeles Times’ Maura Dolan, this appointment has been in the cards for quite some time.

Humes has served as Brown’s executive secretary for legal affairs, administration and policy since 2011; earlier, he was chief deputy attorney general – basically running the attorney general’s office while Brown held that post – from 2007 to 2011.

He worked at the California Department of Justice from 1993 to 2007, including stints as chief assistant of the civil division and senior assistant attorney general of the health, education and welfare section. He served in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office from 1984 to 1986 and again from 1987 to 1993; he was an associate at Banta Hoyt Banta Greene Hannen and Everall PC from 1986 to 1987 and at Jay Stuart Radetsky PC from 1983 to 1984.

Humes holds a law degree from the University of Denver; a Master of Social Science degree from the University of Colorado; and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Illinois State University.

This appointment requires confirmation by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which consists of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris and First District Senior Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline.

If confirmed, Humes – a Democrat – will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Patricia Sepulveda. A Court of Appeal associate justice earns an annual salary of $204,599.


Swalwell to meet the masses on ‘Black Friday’

Last Thanksgiving, 15th Congressional District candidate Eric Swalwell made the rounds of the long Black Friday shopping lines, serving coffee to constituents while hearing their concerns and trying to win their votes.

As congressman-elect, having defeated Rep. Pete Stark in this month’s election, Swalwell intends to do it again this Thursday night and Friday morning. He intends to be at the Toys R Us at 6850 Amador Plaza Road in Dublin at around 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and sometime later on, at the Target at 2499 Whipple Road in Hayward.

“This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful the voters have put their faith in me to listen to them at home and work for them in Washington,” he said in a statement issued Tuesday. “Thursday night I’ll be back in the lines serving coffee, thanking voters and listening to their top priorities.”

“I promised to be accessible and accountable,” he added. “I learned last year that this is a great way to chat with constituents and I’m excited to be back in line.”