Humorous new attack on Prop. 13

Humorous new attack on Prop. 13

LennyLenny Bruce was funnier

But Lenny Goldberg is pretty funny, too. Because he’s wasted 40 years attacking Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 property-tax limitation initiative.

The Times just ran a puff piece on him. There’s no hint that, in a state with an incredibly incompetent and wasteful government, what’s needed are not tax increases, but tax cuts.

But it’s funny because even Goldberg admits his success rate has been “pretty miserable.”

The tactic of Goldberg and others in recent years has been to push for a “split roll” tax, in which businesses would pay more than residences. Supposedly that would get homeowners on board. The pitch would be, “Those evil, thieving corporations — who only rip people off and waste the proceeds on mansions an vacations to Tahiti — need to pay more, so you don’t have to.”

But that hasn’t worked so far, nor is it likely to. Opposition forces, such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, named after Prop. 13’s main champion in 1978, are well organized. They warn homeowners that, once Prop. 13 is modified to tax business at higher rates, everybody else could be next. That small businesses also would pay the higher taxes, including through boosted rents. And the experience in other states shows a split roll just makes a complex tax code even more complex.

Big wins

According to the Times:

Goldberg has had some big wins — forcing Inc. to collect tax for online sales, among others — and smaller legislative successes, such as quashing a 2013 bill to overhaul the state’s telephone subsidy for low-income people.”

Some bad reporting there. Amazon out-maneuvered the state on the tax issue. It always was planning on putting huge warehouses here, which meant it would have to pay the state sales tax no matter what. But as the Times itself reported in 2011, Amazon cut a deal delaying its payments for a year.

As to the welfare known as free phones, the ObamaPhone program made state-level subsidies superfluous.

And here’s how the Times described Prop. 13:

“The change dramatically reshaped how state and local governments collected revenue — ‘hammered cities and local governments,’ Goldberg said.”

No mention of the grandmas who lost their homes because their property taxes were going through the roof.


And the belief that cites and other local governments were “hammered” is a massive myth. As Jon Coupal, president of the Jarvis group, has explained:

“Proposition 13 was placed on the ballot through a grass roots effort in 1978. Homeowners were seeing a doubling even tripling of their property taxes in just a few short years. When state government refused to take action to save their homes property owners rose up and qualified an initiative Proposition 13 to limit property taxes and guarantee the right to vote on any new local taxes.

“Anything that spoke of limiting taxes was viewed as a threat by politicians who regarded the ability to spend as the source of their power; public employee unions who considered the limits a threat to future pay increases; and powerful elements in the business community who feared that the Legislature would replace any loss in property tax revenue with tax hikes on businesses.

“This coalition waged a desperate vicious campaign to defeat Proposition 13 that included claims that were at wide variance from the truth. For example voters were told that if Proposition 13 passed police and fire departments would be unable to respond to emergency calls. And the measure would destroy education opponents warned.

“After Proposition 13 passed some of the campaign lies were immediately put to rest. For example public safety services continued to be adequately funded. Other falsehoods like the ones about education gradually morphed and became urban myths that were promoted by those who continued to resent Proposition 13 and the popular uprising it represented.

“So we continue to hear that Proposition 13 has decimated school funding which of course is not true. After adjusting for inflation California spends 30 percent more per pupil than we did prior to the passage of Proposition 13. The tax limiting measure is also blamed for robbing school districts of local control over finances and transferring this power to the state. Again not true. The way we now fund education is the result of a California Supreme Court decision that predates Proposition 13 by seven years. In the case of Serrano v. Priest the Court said that the property tax could not be used as the basis for funding local schools because a property tax based system resulted in communities with more valuable property being able to spend more per pupil than those with less expensive property. Still there are those who perpetuate the myth that as with many of our state’s problems it’s Proposition 13’s fault.”


Tags assigned to this article:
Lenny BruceJohn SeilerLenny GoldbergProp. 13

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