Beware of lawmakers selling Prop. 13 snake oil

Dec. 4, 2012

By Katy Grimes

Like geese migrating South for the winter, every year a combination of journalists, editorial boards, and “experts” join California’s liberal politicians in calling for the repeal of Proposition 13. They can’t stand the 1978 ballot initiative which revolutionized the property tax system in California.

The latest clarion call comes from Democratic Sen. Mark Leno from San Francisco, who announced last week that he plans on introducing a constitutional amendment that would turn Prop. 13 on its head. Leno’s amendment would allow local parcel taxes for schools to pass with 55 percent of the vote, instead of the two-thirds currently required by Prop. 13.

“This change in law would give voters the power to make decisions about public education at the local level, allowing schools much-needed flexibility to improve instruction, fund libraries, music, the arts or other programs, or hire more teachers to reduce student-to-teacher ratios,” Leno said in a statement.

Despite the annual arguments predictably attacking Prop. 13, “The $55 billion in property tax revenues is 11 times what they were after Proposition 13’s passage,” Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters reported.

This is more than the growth in state income and sales tax revenues during that period, despite the rate limit, according to Walters.

Ignoring reality

But Democrats and members of the media continue to ignore what led up to the 1978 taxpayer revolt. Prior to Prop. 13, property taxes doubled in 10 years, with some elderly Californians literally taxed out of their homes. There was no limit on annual property tax increases, and no end in sight.

California’s greedy government refused to help property owners even though the state was running a surplus.

In 1978, Prop. 13 was passed overwhelmingly by angry voters, 65 percent to 35 percent.

Prop. 13 cut the property tax rate from an average of three percent of a property’s value to 1 percent, and required a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature to pass any tax increase in the state.

Prop. 13 returned property assessments to 1975 levels and capped annual property tax increases at 2 percent.

Prop. 13 caused a major shift in thinking in the state, as many property owners began to question the outrageous growth in property taxes that had been foisted upon them.

Assaults on the voter initiative

A 2011 cover story in the Economist magazine was just one of many attacks on Prop. 13. The Economist reported that, in 2011, California was at the end of its fiscal year with a huge budget hole, but incorrectly blamed Prop. 13.

The argument always used by Democrats and liberal media is that, because voters agreed overwhelmingly to make property taxes predictable and more affordable, the California Legislature is unable to balance the annual state budget.

This argument is a truckload of baloney. The Legislature had already refused to balance the annual budget several years in a row before Prop. 13 was passed. The voter initiative just became an easy and convenient fall guy.

Déjà vu all over again

Leading up to the passage of Prop. 13, tax reform advocates had tried unsuccessfully to pass tax reductions and reforms. California’s liberal Democratic Legislature, and equally liberal Gov. Jerry Brown, refused to deal, which led to one of the biggest tax revolution since the Boston Tea Party.

Brown was an outspoken opponent of Prop. 13, but became a survivalist and changed his tune quickly when it came time to run for re-election. Brown declared himself a “born-again tax-cutter.”

Many California taxpayers today wish Brown would embrace his “born-again” era.

The elderly were hardest hit, and will be again

According to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, named after tax fighter Howard Jarvis who spearheaded Prop. 13, prior to its passage, “Some properties were reassessed 50 percent to 100 percent higher in just one year, so their owners’ tax bills skyrocketed, often beyond the homeowners’ ability to pay their property taxes!”

In one year in Los Angeles County alone, more than 400,000 people were unable to pay their property taxes.

Seniors and the elderly were among the hardest hit prior to Prop. 13. Although many had paid off their mortgages, they still were faced with losing their homes because they couldn’t afford to pay skyrocketing property tax bills.

Out-of-control spending, and misspent priorities

The current efforts to undermine Prop. 13 are an ill-fated attempt to fund misplaced priorities.

In 2012, the Legislature recklessly voted to fund the $68 billion-and-growing high-speed rail project. The Legislature agreed to fund the first stretch of high-speed rail for $8 billion. The “train-to-nowhere” will start with 130 miles from Madera to Bakersfield.

In October, the California Air Resources Board held the first carbon credit auction. This tax on business will not result in lower carbon emissions in California, nor will this program do anything to end global warming. But businesses will pay anyway.

The recklessness with which California lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown are driving this dangerous vehicle, will undoubtedly end up in a fiery crash… and they are planning on dragging the state’s cash-strapped citizens behind the car.

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