I live in Petaluma (and have for over 30 years) but my business, Zone Music, is located in Cotati – where in desperation for some cash, Cotati has proposed an increase in sales tax of 1/2 a percent – funds which would go directly to the city.

Like most responsible citizens, I support Cotati in it’s time of need – but it’s a deeper need than just being able to provide city services.  It goes to the core of what responsibilities a civilized society has for its members, for our society’s vision of positive values and a future worth living in.

You’d think that I’m primarily interested in just being loud – right? And I’m the first to admit that the rock ‘n roll lifestyle is a lot of fun – I mean, consider that I established 11:00 AM as the hour my store opens, because I figured that most musicians (including me) would prefer to sleep in!

But beyond an interest in sleeping in, I have a passionate interest in music and the arts, and I’m deeply concerned about the over all quality of our lives.  As a member of our community, I’m deeply concerned about our disappearing music, art and P.E. and after hours sports programs for kids, along with closing schools, and libraries, and the erosion of public services, such as increased fire response times, under staffed police departments, and decaying infrastructures. 

And making things worse, as a state, California leads the nation in incompetent and corrupt politicians – with prison, internet, big oil, and other corporate interests providing us with the finest government that their money can buy them.  The gridlock that keeps anything positive from happening exists on purpose — it’s not the result of the clash of the two parties, it’s collaborative and designed BY the two parties to eliminate personal accountability while in office.

I’ve tried talking to both state and federal legislators about the sales tax issue – about the necessity for a fair sales tax that doesn’t put the entire burden of sales tax collection on ‘brick & mortar’ businesses, while excluding internet resellers from the obligation to do the same.

State legislators point to the Feds — saying “this is a national problem of interstate commerce regulation – and it will have to be solved at the Federal level.”  And our U.S. Senators and Congress people point back to the states and say “this is obviously a states rights issue, and we have no business telling states what to do.”

I’ve also heard “the internet is a fragile new institution that needs the protection from burdensome regulation and oversight that sales tax collection would cause.” (This from Lynn Woolsey of all people!)

Get the picture?

What you may not realize is that if the state of California had been collecting sales taxes on all purchases by individuals and businesses, within the state and online, over the past ten years,         we would not have a budget crisis.

Californians are big online buyers — we’re computer literate, and with one of the world’s largest regional economies, we account for over 20% of the nations internet sales.  But other states are feeling the loss of revenue, as their citizens also purchase online to avoid paying sales taxes.  Are there other reasons to purchase online?  Yes – but everyone admits that not paying sales tax is an immediate savings and advantage of internet sellers over brick & mortar stores.

Would it surprise you to know I received some super heated blow-back from my recent blog on Petaluma Junior High’s Rock & Roll 101 program, in which I mentioned this sales tax issue, and suggested that you purchase your musical instruments and equipment from local retailers like Tall Toad and Zone Music?

I understand that you do not want your taxes increased.

I understand that a 10% savings by buying online is not illegal.

I also understand that the avoidance of sales tax is putting everything we hold dear about the quality of life in California at risk.

Politicians will never do anything about this if they can help it.  The incentives are too great, compelling them to go along with the way things are.  Yes, their corruption and incompetence are problems, but the bigger problem is one that WE can do something about.

The next time you are online, and go to Amazon to buy that book you heard about, or to check out those boots your friend told you about – THINK! 

“Wouldn’t my money be better spent downtown?”