FOR OUR FRIENDS with good taste, a bit of news: your "sparkling" Perrier is considered nothing more than another soda by the District government and is subject to the new 8 percent tax on soft drinks, candy, confectionary items and chewing gum. But all is not lost; bottled water that lacks natural effervescence is not considered a soft drink and will not be taxed.
While the confusion surrounding the tax on "sweets" is causing headaches, those problems are not likely to last long. The city government is now mailing out to store owners 30,000 flyers explaining the tax. As a rule of thumb for shoppers, any drink that is not more than 50 percent fruit juice or that is carbonated will be taxed; and any candy or confectionary that is glazed, dipped or covered with sugar, with the exception of cakes, pies and doughnuts, will be taxed.
The confusion that may not end as easily has to do with the gasoline tax. A superior court judge yesterday overruled the gas dealer's argument that the new tax might violate federal price ceilings -- an argument that was a stall tactic on a narrow technical point of regulation. The gas dealers do not want the city to impose the new gas tax no matter how the city goes about it, and it is likely that the gas dealers will now go to Congress to try to block the new tax that they say could cause them to lose business to Virginia and Maryland. The dealers are ignoring an important point in their protests: a convenient, available supply of gas is going to attract customers even if it is slightly more expensive.
As a result of the confusion, the city government will lose about $4.5 million of the extra $24.1 million it hoped to get this year from the new and increased taxes. That means less help from the federal Treasury, depleted by the budget crisis. But considering the speed with which the city government constructed the tax plan, some problems were to be expected. The crucial test for the new taxes is not how firmly they were in place on Aug. 1. but that they are in place and working on Oct. 1 so they can be of full benefit for all of the next fiscal year.