The oil industry is so last century, with its pumps, spills and exhaust.
Amazon.com couldn't be more 21st century, with its cool technology that instantly delivers electronic books on sleek devices, at a discount.
Images aside, there is not a dime's worth of difference between the two when it comes to taxation. They aggressively fend off any effort to impose taxes on them, and they win.
Republican lawmakers repeatedly say California doesn't have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem. The state often does spend stupidly.
But the tax system is a mess, too, as became apparent last week.
Lawmakers grappling with the perennial budget deficit contemplated two tax proposals, one aimed at the oil industry and another directed at Internet companies.
First, the gasoline tax idea.
Democrats want to let counties place before voters local gasoline tax hikes. Voters would approve the measures by simple majorities and earmark the money for alternatives to internal combustion engines, including public transit and bike paths. The money also could be used for transit operations, wages, pensions, consultants, whatever.
The idea seems direct enough. Voters would have final say. But nothing related to taxation is simple, as lobbyists from industry and anti-tax groups made clear at a Senate hearing last week.
Critics implied that local government couldn't be trusted to manage the money. There's another problem. California has a long-standing rule that tax hikes require a two-thirds vote. Industry almost surely would sue or mount a referendum to challenge any legislative attempt to permit counties to raise taxes by majority vote.
Even if lawmakers were to approve the measure, oil companies have an insurance policy in the corner office of the Capitol. Gov. Schwarzenegger almost surely would veto it.
"We're confident that the governor will do the right thing," said Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, the trade group.
The upshot: Don't expect to see a gasoline tax on your local ballot any time soon. Oil money speaks loudly in California. Oil companies have spent $100 million on campaign donations and $89 million more on lobbying since 2000. That's tough to beat.
The oil industry long has played power politics. Amazon, by contrast, has a very different public face, one unsullied by unseemly things like lobbying. But as it goes about its business, Amazon is racking up ever bigger sales, and it is fighting any effort to force it to collect state sales taxes.
Years ago, sales tax revenue accounted for half the state's budget. But the sales tax is antiquated. The state taxes the sale of many goods but not services. As California has become a service economy, sales tax revenue has fallen to less than 29 percent of the pie.
Given Republican opposition to taxes and lack of unison among Democrats, lawmakers won't muster a two-thirds majority to tax movie tickets or greens fees, let alone accounting or legal services. But you'd think the state could figure out how to tax Internet sales. It can't.
The state Senate last week approved legislation to force Amazon to collect a sales tax. The measure could generate $150 million annually. But just as you won't see a gas tax on your ballot, you likely won't see sales tax charges on your Amazon invoice any time soon. Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation last year.
Amazon's lobbyists aren't making their arguments in public.
Instead, they meet with lawmakers privately. But Republicans channel the company line, warning in the Senate debate that requiring Amazon to collect sales taxes would prompt it to close operations in the state, cease advertising on California-based Web sites and cost jobs.
It's a curious argument. Out-of-state Internet companies contend they shouldn't be forced to collect California sales taxes in part because they don't have significant operations in the state.
The Seattle-based Amazon does have a significant presence in Washington, D.C. It spent $1.8 million to lobby the feds last year and opposed congressional attempts to deal with Internet taxes nationally.
The company's Sacramento operation is more modest; it spent $78,000 on lobbying here last year. But Amazon has powerful allies. Its board of directors includes Silicon Valley venture capitalist L. John Doerr III.
Doerr, a Democrat, has given $22 million to California campaigns since 2000. He and his partners at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers have spent lavishly on charter public schools, and clean energy and stem cell initiatives.
There is an incongruity here: High-tech executives battle Internet taxes but want tax money for what they view as important — public schools, research and universities.
"They have more interest in the state than they seem to appreciate," said Senate Budget Committee Chairwomen Denise Ducheny, a San Diego Democrat. who is on a mission to force Amazon to collect sales taxes.
Doerr's spokeswoman didn't call back, and Amazon representatives here and in Seattle ducked when I tried to ask why the company doesn't see fit to collect sales taxes.
"We're going to respectfully decline the opportunity to comment," Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako wrote in an e-mail.
At the advent of Internet commerce, tech company representatives argued that they should not be taxed because they were part of an emerging industry that needed a break. Politicians agreed.
Amazon certainly has benefited.
The company disclosed last month that its net sales rose 28 percent to $24.5 billion in 2009, and its net income increased 40 percent. The company says in its disclosures that its business model still depends in part on fending off state attempts to force it to collect sales taxes.
"A successful assertion by one or more states or foreign countries that we should collect sales or other taxes on the sale of merchandise or services could result in substantial tax liabilities for past sales, decrease our ability to compete with traditional retailers, and otherwise harm our business," the company said in its 2009 annual report.
In that same report, Amazon also said any requirement that it collect sales taxes "could create administrative burdens for us." How precious.
Don't get me wrong. Amazon Kindles are slick. I bought a novel the other day. The book appeared within seconds. Amazon charged $8.99, no sales tax. My local bookstore sells the same book in paperback for $9.99, plus 87 cents sales tax.
For the record, I would have paid the sales tax, if asked. But of course that would have imposed an administrative burden, and who would want to do that to a company as cool as Amazon.com? That's a question for the governor of a wealthy state and a lucrative market of 35 million people.
THE SACRAMENTO BEE