Do 57 percent really want higher CA property taxes?
February 1, 2013
By Wayne Lusvardi
A new public opinion poll reported 57 percent of all California “adults” would favor lowering the majority threshold required to pass “local school parcel taxes.” But only property owners — not all “adult” residents — can vote for a parcel tax in California. Thus, the findings of the Public Policy Institute of California poll are slanted in favor of making school parcel taxes easier to pass and are misleading.
A parcel tax is a new tax that was created in California to get around the requirements of Proposition 13 for a two-thirds vote on property taxes. Property taxes are based on the market value of a property. Conversely, a parcel tax is a flat tax per parcel per year not based on property value. Property taxes are progressive because they tax wealthier property owners more. Parcel taxes are regressive because they tax property owners with modest priced homes equally with those with expensive homes.
What the new PPIC poll asked California residents was whether they would vote to reduce the majority percentage required to pass a parcel tax for “local public schools” from two-thirds to 55 percent.
Here is the misleading question the PPIC poll asked:
“16. How about replacing the two-thirds vote requirement for voters to pass local parcel taxes for the local public schools?
“57 percent — good idea
“37 percent — bad idea
“6 percent — don’t know”
The PPIC poll failed to clarify that voting for vague “local public schools” includes voting to raise taxes on all property owners to fund teachers’ salaries and pensions and high administrative costs.
Biased PPIC poll inflates percent favoring parcel taxes
The PPIC poll numbers are inflated in favor of lowering the vote threshold for parcel taxes. The poll reported that 57 percent of all adults — but only 51 percent of “likely voters” — would vote for a reduction in the voting threshold for parcel taxes. Thus, the proportion of actual voters favoring the tax is inflated by at least 6 percentage points. But again, it isn’t registered voters but all property owners — whether registered to vote or not — that can vote for a local parcel tax.
However, 68 percent of those responding to the PPIC poll inconsistently said they were registered voters and 32 percent said they were not. It is more likely that homeowners who pay property taxes are registered voters and that unregistered voters are renters. Thus, 32 percent of those responding to the poll would likely be those who would not have to directly pay for any parcel tax increase and would be ineligible to vote on it.
Those who respond to opinion polls are more likely to favor taxes as long as they don’t have to pay for them. Therefore, the PPIC poll on Question 42 reported contradictory findings: only 51 percent said they were “likely voters,” but 32 percent also said they were not “registered voters.”
The sampling method used by the PPIC pollsters is also questionable. The poll disproportionately measured the opinions of Democrats and moderate Republicans; 59 percent of Democrats considered themselves “strong Democrats.” This is compared to only 47 percent of Republicans who described themselves “strong Republicans.”
In other words, the PPIC poll oversampled “strong Democrats” by 12 percentage points and oversampled moderate “Republicans” by 8 percent. And Republicans who answered they “didn’t know” if they were “strong Republicans” or “not very strong” Republicans numbered 3 percentage points higher than Democrats. The cumulative error is 23 percentage points in oversampling of Democrats over Republicans.
PPIC Poll Sample for Strength of Political Party Affiliation
Ballots for parcel taxes can legally only go to property owners, regardless of whether they are registered to vote or not. Renters cannot vote on parcel taxes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of renter occupied housing in California is 43.3 percent. Thus, asking “adults” — 43.3 percent of whom are not property owners — is likely to overestimate those property owners who would be willing to vote on higher parcel taxes for local schools.
In sum, the PPIC polls is biased in favor of lowering the voting threshold for a vaguely described parcel tax for “local schools” due to the cumulative effect of the following:
* Oversampling of “adults,” rather than “likely voters,” by 8 percentage points;
* Oversampling of Democrats over Republicans by a cumulative 23 percentage points;
* Oversampling of non-registered voters who are less likely to be property owners by 32 percent age points
* Likely oversampling renters who cannot vote on school parcel taxes by 43.3 percentage points.
The question that was not asked
One wonders what poll respondents would have answered if they were asked if they would vote on a parcel tax for the unfunded portion of teacher’s pensions and health care benefits considering the combined effect on the value of their property of:
* Pending Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3 that would lower the voting threshold for police and firefighter pensions to 55 percent with inestimable costs per household per year;
* An estimated water rate increase of about $240 per year per household for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan;
* An estimated increase in household electricity bills, higher gasoline prices, and higher cost of all goods by $1,800 the first year, then rising to $2,800 by 2020, due to California’s Cap and Trade law;
* In Los Angeles County, the state-mandated storm water tax of $54 for a single family home and $20 per condominium unit per year.
* 15 percent higher water rates imposed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, reflecting from about $104 to $178 added water bills per year per household;
* Estimated cost of $58 per year per household to pay for the proposed $11.1 billion state water bond on the ballot in 2014;
* Cumulative impact of all of the above would minimally be $1,982 to $3,032 per household per year, not considering increased parcel taxes for “local schools” and “police and firefighter” pensions.
Raising parcel taxes without pension reform
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office reported in 2012 that fully funding the California State Teachers’ Retirement System would gobble up an additional $3.9 billion per year for the next three decades, for a total of $117 billion. There are 852,000 members of CalSTRS. No widespread reform of teachers’ pensions has been initiated across the state as yet. Instead, the state Legislature and local school districts are proposing to get around Proposition 13 by funding the unmet pension gap with parcel taxes at a lower voting threshold.
This early PPIC opinion poll concerning the issue of raising taxes is meant to get voters to “hop on the bandwagon” of voting for taxes regardless of the evidence. Informed voters should beware that they are likely to get run over by the school parcel tax bandwagon in California.