New attack on Prop. 13; may pass Assembly today

June 14, 2013

By Katy Grimes


An Assembly Constitutional Amendment attacking Proposition 13 is expected to be heard in the Assembly today, and some are saying it may even be passed by the Assembly.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association learned only yesterday that Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8 by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Los Angeles, was moved out of the Assembly Local Government Committee and taken up without committee hearings or public vetting, and moved directly to the Assembly Floor today along with the other budget bills.

I had a chance today between floor sessions to talk with David Wolfe, Legislative Director for the HJTA, about ACA 8.

HJTA is a non-profit association “dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights, including the right to limited taxation, the right to vote on tax increases and the right of economical, equitable and efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” according to their website.

While a two-thirds vote is required to pass ACA 8 because it amends the Constitution, there are enough Democrats in the Assembly to pass the bill.

“This represents a direct attack on Prop. 13 because it lowers the two-thirds vote to 55% to fund various infrastructure projects,” Wolfe, told me.

“This sets up an unexpected opportunity to tarnish the Governor’s budget,” Wolfe explained. “We can now make the case that instead of demonstrating restraint, Democrats are showing their true colors. All they’ve ever really wanted to do with their supermajority is raise your property taxes.”

According to Wolfe, ACA 8 is a direct attack on Proposition 13 because it undermines the one percent property tax cap. Any bonds or special taxes approved by voters are added onto property tax bills ‘below the line’ and are separate from Prop. 13’s stable one percent threshold.

This is why Californians commonly pay 1.2 or 1.3 percent on your property tax bill. Lowering the two-thirds threshold would mean this amount will go even higher.

“For evidence of what happens when the threshold is lowered, look to Proposition 39 school bonds,” Wolfe said. “Hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds have been approved across California in the last 12 years that would not have occurred with a two-thirds vote.”

Prop. 39 was passed in 2000, specifically to reduce the threshold required to pass local California school district bond issues from a 2/3rds supermajority vote to a 55 percent supermajority vote. “Prior to the passage of Proposition 39, about 60% of local school bond ballot questions succeeded in getting the previously required 2/3rds vote. In the wake of its passage, about 75% of local school districts are passing with the 55% requirement,” according to Ballotpedia.

Even with Prop. 13, California is only 14th in combined state-local per capita property tax payments according to the Tax Foundation. “If ACA 8 clears the Legislature and is approved on the statewide ballot, this will move property taxes closer to the number one rank we already hold in other broad-based tax categories like income taxes, sales taxes, and gas taxes,” Wolfe said. “Only property owners will pay for these bonds over 30 years but everybody gets to vote on them, making the two-thirds vote of crucial importance.”

 Public infrastructure projects’ snowball effect

The language of “public improvements” listed in ACA 8 is incredibly broad. It does not just target public safety infrastructure facilities but targets streets and roads, sidewalks, transit systems, highways, water and sewer systems, parks and the furnishing and equipping of buildings,Wolfe explained. “The ‘life-cycle cost’ on this bond debt would be heinous,” Wolfe said.

“For those who say ‘Ah, let the people decide’ well, they have,” Wolfe added. “According to polls released this month, 62 percent of voters still support Prop. 13.”

“A recently released Field Poll showed well less then 50 percent of voters supported a change to lower the two-thirds vote threshold for special taxes under any circumstance.”

If ACA 8 passes, it will be unprecedented, Wolfe said.

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