Tax collectors bite taco trucks

July 16, 2012

By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — We all would laugh at a man who, sinking in millions of dollars in house payments, car loans and credit card bills, decided to fix his cash-flow problem by looking for nickels, dimes and quarters lurking underneath the sofa cushions.

Likewise, we should shake our heads at the way the state of California — groaning under a budget deficit approaching $16 billion and hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded pension and retiree medical benefits — is stepping up tax collection to help plug a hole caused by its chronic overspending.

I met Tuesday in Santa Ana with about 12 owners of catering trucks — mobile eateries that sell mostly Mexican food — and they told a disturbing tale of how the state’s Orwellian-named tax agency, the Board of Equalization, is targeting and mistreating them. The business owners assembled in the room blamed their tough times more on state tax authorities than on the economy.

The truck owners say the state is handing them tax bills for tens of thousands of dollars, based on unrealistic estimates of their taxable sales. When you buy food at the trucks, a burrito and Mexican-bottled Coca-Cola (the kind with real sugar, rather than the icky corn syrup) may cost, say, six bucks. That’s all you pay, as opposed to a restaurant, where state tax would be added onto the transaction. The trucks don’t collect a per-item tax, but owners later estimate their sales and send their money to the tax man.

Unrealistic estimates

The BOE, truck owners say, used to tax them based on realistic sales estimates and used to account for the fact that many of the items they sell are nontaxable. They say the BOE also used to work with them to make their tax bills and treated them respectfully.

No more.

Desperate for cash, state officials now concoct unrealistic estimates of food sales and employ heavy-handed tactics, the truck owners said.

To make matters worse, the truck owners say police harass them — due, in part, to city officials who don’t like having the trucks around. Every city has different rules for placement of permits on the truck, and most of the owners report getting multiple citations for minor infractions. Each citation can cost $700, which can eat up days’ worth of taco sales.

The people I met with spoke mostly Spanish, which was translated for me by Lou Correa, the Santa Ana Democratic state senator who organized the group at my request. I promised to print only the first names of the attendees because of their fear of retribution from authorities.

“It reaches the point where you have to think about your health,” said Veronica. “They filed lawsuits against me. They said they would charge me as a criminal in court. I’m out of business. I sold my truck. There are people out there who get government aid who are driving brand new cars. They come after a person like me, who is not asking for anything. As long as I have two feet and two hands, I want to work.”


Officials suggested to one truck owner that he apply for benefits from the welfare office. That’s just like California these days — hardworking people are ill-treated, but there are plenty of benefits available for those who prefer to live on the dole.

Many of those I met with told stories of long waits, complicated audits, confusing instructions, unhelpful officials, of bureaucratic indifference. Some also said the state tax agency reports violations to the IRS, which they say, can trigger a federal tax audit.

Those who work other jobs have their wages garnished to pay the state.

“We were paying an acceptable amount, and then the state needed more money,” Gilberto said. He told me that this is a group of mom-and-pop business owners who cannot afford attorneys and accountants.

I talked to the Board of Equalization’s Michelle Steel, the elected official who represents Orange County on the tax agency. She promised to pull the records of the truck owners and see what can be done to help them.

At the gathering in Santa Ana, one man blurted out the word “pensions.” Everyone laughed. In English or Spanish, these business owners understood that the state is shaking them down for money to pay for its reckless overspending, on programs including six-figure pensions for many government employees.

Concern for the poor

The state Capitol is controlled by liberal Democrats, who frequently invoke concern for the poor, working-class people and immigrants to justify spending schemes. Yet here is another example of how these officials, lawmakers and bureaucrats, put the demands of the well-paid and powerful public-employee unions over the needs of cash-strapped immigrants and working people.

State officials refuse to tackle solutions for the pension debt or rein in public spending. Indeed, they are busy approving fanciful projects such as high-speed rail. Yet, the state has no money. This is the end result of an infantile progressive movement that refuses to make hard choices, always blames the private sector and figures that higher taxes will solve every problem.

Sen. Correa also planned a meeting with owners of nail salons, who say they are being targeted by state regulators for large fines based on picayune regulatory violations.

I’m not arguing that small businesses shouldn’t pay their fair share of taxes or comply with reasonable rules, but it’s a sad day when the state government treats them like criminals – or like a piggy bank.

Read those surveys of business owners, including at least one that ranked California last in the nation in terms of business friendliness. The owners don’t complain so much about the state’s high tax rates, but about the prevalent attitude in which they are treated with hostility by authorities.

I love California. But if I depended on a catering truck for my living, I’d fill it up with my belongings and drive to Nevada.

No comments

Write a comment
  1. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 16 July, 2012, 08:29

    Greeny— Ya know why yo see these trucks on every corner?

    Free market baby—they make a mint.

    Regulation keeps em clean Greeny— nice try on the connection to high speed rail and pensions….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Reply this comment
  2. BobA in San Diego
    BobA in San Diego 16 July, 2012, 09:03

    It’s inherently unfair to pick on the “roach-coach” vendors. What about lemonade stands, shoeshine boys, baby-sitters and dope dealers? They need to be regulated and forced to pay their “fair-share” too!!

    Reply this comment
  3. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 July, 2012, 09:14

    Why not tax political contributions for the “kids”.

    Why not tax lobbyist perks and contributions for the “kids”.

    Why not tax all nonprofits based on gross receipts for the “kids”.

    Reply this comment
  4. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 16 July, 2012, 10:11

    The Roach Coach ™ industry is HUGE and dirty….. I say regulate and tax— all must pay–(except the rich they will create our jobs soon…)

    Reply this comment
  5. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 July, 2012, 10:28


    The rich trickle on the economy and it gets better. Art Laffer talks on it with Grover Norquist all the time. It must be true, but I’m worried Donkie and Wonder are not benefiting for some odd, strange, puzzeling reason!

    Reply this comment
  6. PJ
    PJ 16 July, 2012, 10:53

    The PC tax collectors went out recently to inspect businesses and mop up any taxes the owners “evaded.”

    Why should the roach coaches be exempt?

    Reply this comment
  7. BobA in San Diego
    BobA in San Diego 16 July, 2012, 11:13


    Let me ask you a few questions: What poor person you know that has ever created a single job or company? How many poor people that you know or are aware of that are hiring these days? Do you think the government creates jobs and if so, name the company? Name and item that the government invented, manufactures and sells? Name one item or product that you can buy anywhere that was produced and/or manufactured by a government created company. If I take my life savings and start a company that makes a product that is wildly successful & profitable and makes me and my employees rich, should I somehow feel guilty for my success?

    Reply this comment
  8. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 July, 2012, 12:03

    Bob O:

    Trickle tax breaks plus easy money plus globalism plus class warfare plus hope and change all in play right now!

    It looks the huge public school educated unskilled workforce and liberal arts colleges did us in….

    Reply this comment
  9. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 16 July, 2012, 15:26

    Bob, you’re engaging in class warfare- 80% of ALL new jobs come from SMALL businesses and they are not millionaires buddy..teh fact si most FORTUNE 500 COMPANIES HAVE BEEN CREATING THEIR NEW JOBS overseas, NOT HERE in America

    Reply this comment
  10. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 16 July, 2012, 15:28

    I used to go to AB Laffer’s office when he was in La Jolla, he is not totally on base, or off base, we need low taxes,but there must be some basic level of taxation, just not a high basic level to make millionaires out of GED cops and FF’s…….

    Reply this comment
  11. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 July, 2012, 16:08

    What about bunker troughies? What should they be paid. Who made Wonder and Donkey Commisars in charge of worker pay!

    Reply this comment
  12. JLSeagull
    JLSeagull 16 July, 2012, 16:09

    BobA of SandyYego. But didn’t you hear that yesterday Body Odor said you can’t make your success yourself? It is made for you by the gubment and all those you walked over on the way up.

    Reply this comment
  13. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 16 July, 2012, 16:18

    Pack n Ship– Good points– they still love Laffer because of their Raygunz fetish—- although he was a true tax raiser! Shhhhhh— let them sleep…..coooooooooooooozy all up in here….mmmmmm

    Reply this comment
  14. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 July, 2012, 16:26

    Laffer bailed out….only curve he ever worked correctly was the bend in his driveway in Tennesee!

    Reply this comment
  15. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 16 July, 2012, 17:00

    CalTURDS 2012 Return= 1%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The sky just fell!….. On Teddy,…… Teddy died today with CalTURDS!

    Reply this comment
  16. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 16 July, 2012, 17:01

    AB is Long Gone ………. Nashville is very nice-I could live there 🙂

    Reply this comment
  17. BobA in San Diego
    BobA in San Diego 16 July, 2012, 17:42


    Quite true. And given the the tax burdens & regulations the government puts on American businesses, you have no recourse but to go overseas if you want to stay in business and make a profit. Otherwise what’s the point? It would be wiser, cheaper and less stressful to close up shop and go out of business. As I’ve said elsewhere, businesses are not in business just for the sake of creating jobs.

    I once considered going into business with several former colleagues but after reviewing the costs of licenses, permits, bonds, equipment, office space, insurance requirements, etc., etc., just to start the business, we all came to our senses and said screw that. Pooling our money and investing in the stock market was less risky. I haven’t regretted it since.

    Reply this comment
  18. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 16 July, 2012, 22:27

    234.4 billion strong baby!

    type now troll– hurry !!!!!

    Reply this comment
  19. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 16 July, 2012, 22:29

    234.4 billion strong baby!

    What was CP’s return in 2010? Hmmmmmm

    type now troll– hurry !!!!!

    Reply this comment
  20. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 16 July, 2012, 22:39

    7.73 % over 20 years baby !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  21. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 17 July, 2012, 00:42

    1%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%5 Teddy DIED!!!!!!!!!! The sky fell on him….. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  22. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 17 July, 2012, 00:42

    2.01% over 10 years baby….1%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% BOOM! Did you hear that-it is the SKY FALLING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  23. BobA in San Diego
    BobA in San Diego 17 July, 2012, 07:03


    Obama stammered and stuttered because he had to be careful to not sound like a naked Marxist but I seriously doubt the people in that audience even know what Marxism is.

    I am not one who believes that all problems can be solved if we just make government big enough. A government that’s big enough to give you everything you want is also a government big enough to take everything that you have. Even your liberty & freedom and your life if the government perceives you as a nuisance or threat to its paramountcy.

    My success is based on my own efforts and no on else’s. All the government has done is put up barriers and/or stood in my way.

    As a veteran of the US Navy, I once swore an oath of fealty to the US Constitution; not the government. That oath has no expiration date.

    Reply this comment
  24. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 17 July, 2012, 08:06

    The black helicopters working GPS looking for you gloomers……back to your bunker!!!!

    Reply this comment
  25. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 17 July, 2012, 09:01

    Poor Poodle—- He hates the 20 year average……

    spin troll !! Type now!!!!

    Reply this comment
  26. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 17 July, 2012, 15:25

    Trolls may have left the bunker. The fat worms from TREMORS were testing their perimeter about noon time!

    Reply this comment
  27. us citizen
    us citizen 20 July, 2012, 09:52

    “I promised to print only the first names of the attendees because of their fear of retribution from authorities.” Wait a minute……stop right here. That means these people are ILLEGALS? They dont speak English? Dont give them licenses……throw them out. They DONT belong here. They have sneaked in illegally. That’s the first step. It takes the stink and heart burn smell out of the air and the cops will be happy too.

    Second step……..if I have to have a business license and pay fees…..then so do they. If they get side stepped, then so should I and everyone else in business. No group gets special priviledges. Its a cash business…….yeah they are reporting the truth. Give me a break.

    Wait until we become a cashless society….it will happen, it is already starting……then see how long they stick around. BTW when it does become cashless……you all are SCREWED. The govt will know EVERYTHING. I would think twice about those little cards you use being a savoir of time.

    Reply this comment

Write a Comment

Leave a Reply

Related Articles

Public Servants Lack Accountability

May 2, 2011 Union arguments in favor of their members’ lush pensions are falling by the wayside as the public

Is Jerry Brown eyeing the White House again?

Gov. Jerry Brown’s crack public relations team has been hard at work convincing the rest of the country that he

Lockyer Lives In State Of Delusion

DEC. 26, 2010 California Treasurer Bill Lockyer raised eyebrows last week by arguing in a newspaper column that “California isn’t