No wonder grocers and consumers find California's new snack tax law confusing: Matzo crackers are taxable, but not matzo bread. Sugar-coated beer nuts get levied, but not peanuts.
Muffins from a local bakery are not taxed, but packaged Hostess muffins are. And marshmallows are considered an essential food.Cake icing, semisweet chocolate bits, candied lemon drops, cinnamon graham crackers and spicy fried pig skins are exempt. But most cookies, gingerbread cake, chocolate mints, gum, breath mints, jelly beans, spice drops, and licorice, among other items, are taxed.
There is one way way to avoid the confusion.
"I just slap on higher prices, and they pay it," said Valdi Biern, owner of the Paradise Petite snack shop.
Biern tacked a nickel onto candy bar and gum prices after the state sales tax was raised from 6 cents per dollar to 7.25 cents on July 15 - and was applied to certain foods for the first time. He figures he'll pay taxes based on total receipts, not individual sales.
Abal Cabral's morning fix of cinnamon rolls used to cost him 99 cents. Now he pays $1.07. "I had to break another dollar, and I have all this change that I don't need," said Cabral, a clerk for San Francisco Visiting Nurses Hospice.
The tax on snack food is expected to raise about $234 million a year.
An 87-page compendium of munchies, sweets and goodies lists, by brand name, items that are taxable and those that are not. The definitions of snack food may sound confusing, but they follow industry standards, said Johnnie Rosaf, an aide to one of the law's co-authors, state Sen. Wadie Deddeh.
It's largely up to store clerks to decipher the list.
In the grocery chains, computerized check-out scanners do the hard work.
"It's the 15,000 other stores in the state that don't have scanning that are having trouble getting their clerical people to remember which items the tax applies to," said Don Beaver, director of the 8,000-member California Grocers Association.