HJTA’s 2018 scorecard identifies taxpayer allies, foes

Report CardIn 2018, perhaps scared off by the specter of an upcoming election and the recall of state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, the California Legislature approved no new taxes for only the second time in the last six years. This was a radical departure from a year earlier, when three new taxes were approved.

However, that’s not to say that the Legislature didn’t try. New taxes on a host of items, including guns, fireworks, water and a sales tax on services were introduced without success. Next year, with tax-and-spend politicians holding a commanding two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, the pressure to cave on new taxes will be even greater.

Considering what the future may hold, it is easy for taxpayers to question whether legislators will ever be held accountable. However, a useful tool to assist taxpayers is the annual legislative Report Card published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Introduced back in 2007, the purpose of the report card is to document how lawmakers have voted on those issues most important to taxpayers.

Lawmakers tend to hide behind statements, sometimes of questionable truth, to justify their votes. The report card sets aside motives, back-room deal negotiations and party affiliations to focus on the one question that matters: did legislators stand up for the interests of taxpayers? While politicians may waver in their allegiance, the numbers don’t lie.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California Taxpayers Give Thanks But Worry About the Future

taxesIn this season of Thanksgiving, taxpayers in California have reason to pause when asked for what they are thankful. Considering the costly plans of the newly elected Legislature and governor, taxpayers may be most grateful for the fact that the state hasn’t yet built a wall encircling the state to keep them from leaving.

After 2017, when lawmakers enacted new taxes including a $5.2 billion annual tax hike on gasoline, diesel and vehicle registration, as well as a new tax on recorded documents, 2018 saw every effort by the Legislature to increase taxes defeated by advocates for taxpayers.

We are grateful that the first-ever tax on drinking water was defeated.

We are grateful that the tax on fireworks was defeated, and that the effort to revive the “snack tax” was not successful.

We are grateful that the proposal to put a sales tax on services was shelved.

We are grateful that nearly a million voters signed petitions to repeal the gas and car tax. Of course, the bad news is that the gas tax repeal was given a new title by Attorney General Xavier Becerra that removed the words “gas tax repeal” from the ballot, deceiving voters.

To read the entire column, please click here.

How to Read Your Property Tax Bill

property taxThanks to Proposition 13, property tax bills are less scary in California than they are in a lot of other states. Homeowners in Illinois and New Jersey, just to cite two examples, have been known to let out a blood-curdling scream when they open the tax collector’s envelope that would be right at home on the soundtrack of a Jamie Lee Curtis movie.

Proposition 13 limits increases in a property’s assessed value to 2 percent per year and provides property owners with a pretty good idea of what their tax bill will be before they open the envelope.

Still, there can be some surprises. Taxpayers should understand the various charges and check the tax bill to make sure they’re not being assessed for more than they’re legally obligated to pay. It’s a good idea to compare each year’s tax bill to the previous year’s bill.

For most California counties, the property tax bill will show three categories of charges. They are the General Tax Levy, Voted Indebtedness and Direct Assessments.

The General Tax Levy is what most people think of when talking about property taxes. It is based on the assessed value of land, improvements and fixtures. This charge usually makes up the largest part of the tax bill and it is the amount that is limited by Proposition 13.

The annual increase in the General Levy of Assessment should be no more than 2 percent, unless there have been improvements to the property, like adding a room to the house. However, if a property received a “reduction in value” reassessment under Proposition 8, the taxable value may go up more than 2 percent to reflect the recovery in the market value. But in no case will the taxable value be more than the initial Prop. 13 base year plus 2 percent annually from the date of purchase.

If homes like yours are selling for less than the valuation on your current bill, contact your county assessor and ask for an adjustment to reflect the actual market value.

The second category of charges is Voted Indebtedness. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Daily News

California Initiative to Erode Proposition 13 Qualifies for 2020 Ballot

Howard-JarvisAdvocates qualified a 2020 ballot measure to erode California’s Proposition 13 protections against unlimited property tax increases by splitting the tax roll to spike business taxes by up to $10.5 billion.

A coalition representing public-employee unions, “social justice” advocates, and public education collected more than the 585,407 legal signatures required to a qualify a state constitutional amendment for the November 3, 2020 ballot titled: “Requires Certain Commercial And Industrial Real ‘Property To Be Taxed Based On Fair-Market Value. Dedicates Portion Of Any Increased Revenue To Education And Local Services.’”

With rampant inflation forcing older homeowners and small businesses out of their properties, a California voter grass-roots coalition rebelled against Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown in 1978 to qualify and pass with 62 percent support an amendment to Article XIII A of the state constitution stating the “maximum amount of any ad valorem tax on real property shall not exceed one percent of the full cash value of such property.”

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association (HTJA) has fought off numerous efforts by progressives and public employee unions to repeal Prop. 13 and its 57 percent annual property tax savings over the last 40 years. With about $49 billion in 2018 tax savings, a Public Policy Institute of California poll in April demonstrated that voters still favoring Prop 13 by a lopsided 57 percent to 23 percent margin. Democrat politicians often refer to Prop 13 as the third rail of California politics: “Touch it and die.”

But the pro-tax coalition cleverly structured its 2020 initiative as a property tax “split roll.”  The initiative promises to maintain Prop 13 protections for homeowners, while spiking annual business property taxes by $6.5 to $10.5 billion. According to an April 2018 poll by PPIC, likely voter support for “split roll” flips to 61 percent, versus 33.0 percent opposition.

But the HJTA told Breitbart that the “bait-and-switch” tactics will fail when voters figure out that the initiative’s sponsors are engaged in a two-step process to fracture opposition and dump all Prop 13 protections in the end. Homeowners may have voting power, but they need apartment owner and small business financial donations to compete against huge union war chests funded by dues.

HJTA added that the PPIC’s mid-September polling found its “Yes on Prop 6” campaign to repeal the $5.5 billion a year gas tax on the November ballot was losing by 52 percent to 39 percent. But after HJTA’s and partner Reform California’s mail and radio messages were launched, the mid-October Survey USA poll and the San Diego Union-Tribune poll both showed “Yes on Prop 6” with a crushing 58 to 29 percent lead among likely voters.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Government Boondoggles Threaten CA Property Owners and Taxpayers

High Speed Rail FresnoOne would hope that with the profound foolishness associated with California’s infamous High Speed Rail (HSR) project that our elected leadership would have learned a thing or two.

But this is California. Because we do things bigger and better than anyone else, it’s apparent that one massive boondoggle isn’t enough — we need two.

Let’s recap what we’ll call Boondoggle, Senior.

The complete dysfunction of HSR is no longer in dispute. Missed deadlines for the business plans, lack of transparency, massive cost overruns, engineering hurdles that make the project virtually impossible to complete and a lack of funding are tops on the list. Not only is HSR no longer viable, but the biggest irony is the project was justified on grounds that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even there it fails, as the independent Legislative Analyst has concluded that the project will be a net GHG producer for the foreseeable future.

HSR is now an international joke. Many who originally supported the High Speed Rail project have changed their opinions, including a former Chairman of the HSR Authority.

Boondoggle, Junior, is the planned construction of the Twin Tunnels project through the Sacramento River Delta, also known as WaterFix. While there is no doubt that California needs additional water infrastructure — and the dams and canals we have now are in need of serious maintenance – Governor Brown’s Twin Tunnel project suffers from the same major flaw as High Speed Rail — an abject lack of planning and no vision for how the project will be funded.

Like the High Speed Rail project, the financing for the Twin Tunnels is illusory. Many of the potential major wholesale customers of water from the Twin Tunnels are highly skeptical of its viability and balk at paying for it. The one exception is the Metropolitan Water District in the greater L.A. area, which has now said it will pay for the full project. Of course, that means its customers will pay.

Lack of transparency is another quality the Twin Tunnels project shares with HSR. Earlier this week, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee held a hearing that opened the way for an extension of the long-term contracts for the State Water Project for another 50 years. (The hearing was supposed to be conducted in the waning days of the Legislative session, but because the topic is so controversial, it was delayed until after everyone left town.) …

Click here to read the full article from the Pasadena Star News

Battles Fought to Stop Tax Hikes in CA Legislature

CapitolWhile on the campaign trail prior to the 1988 election, Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush uttered the now infamous words, “read my lips, no new taxes.” Of course, this was a pledge he broke, which likely cost him reelection.

The mission of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is to protect Proposition 13 and to advance 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.

Unfortunately, this value set is shared by too few politicians in Sacramento.

Because of that, taxpayers rarely are able to obtain meaningful reform in the state Capitol. California’s reputation for high taxes and burdensome regulations is well deserved and taxpayers are usually able to obtain relief only through the powers of direct democracy including initiative, referendum and recall.

While many wish this wasn’t the case, the stark reality is that legislators have voted for eight taxes (six of which became law) since 2012.

In nearly all instances it was Republicans (usually opposed to higher taxes) who joined with tax-and-spend Democrats to provide the final vote for tax increases ranging from car registrations, to gas taxes, to lumber and battery assessments and mattresses.

Thankfully though, no taxes were approved in 2018.

Don’t misunderstand, the tax-and-spend lobby wasn’t taking the year off just because of the upcoming November election. If anything, they were eager to follow up on their three victories last year, which included the infamous gas tax and a tax on recorded documents. Governor Brown made it clear in 2016 that he desired a permanent source of revenue to fund transportation, affordable housing, and clean water programs. He got the first two last year so only the water tax remained.

The fight over the water tax was very contentious. First, no one doubted the importance of having access to clean water, particularly in the Central Valley where decades of neglect and mismanagement of water systems created the problem in the first place. But imposing a dollar-a-month tax on all residential water users in the state to address a local problem made no sense. The cost to fix the problem was estimated to be $120 million of one-time money, which reflects a tiny percentage of California’s General Fund budget. Thankfully, Senate Bill 623 failed before the Legislature’s summer recess in July and taxpayers and their allies, mostly California’s local water agencies, breathed a sigh of relief. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Daily News

Opponents of Repealing the Gas Tax Are Getting Desperate

gas prices 2There’s an old saying in business: Build a better a mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.

But not everyone builds their success on creating better products or providing better services. There are some that specialize in manipulating the laws and the government as a strategy for increasing profits.

This has sometimes been called “rent seeking,” in the sense that it might apply to a storybook troll under a bridge, collecting “rent” as if he owned the right of way.

There are trolls under the bridges in California this year, and next to the highways. They are the rent seekers who oppose Proposition 6, the grassroots effort to repeal the massive gas and car tax increases signed into law last year. They are engaging in some of the most questionable campaign tactics ever seen in California. These Prop. 6 opponents are making millions of dollars from the massive infusion of taxpayer cash paid by hardworking Californians who need their cars in their daily lives.

First, let’s cover the basics: Proposition 6 does not repeal the entire gas tax — only that portion that pushed us up to just about the highest in the United States. If Proposition 6 passes, California will still have the 5th highest gas tax in the nation. Opponents of Prop. 6 would have voters believe that this level of taxation can’t even keep our existing roads paved, let alone build new highways.

Second, waste, fraud and abuse in California transportation spending is legendary. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says needless overstaffing at Caltrans is costing taxpayers billions.  For what California is spending on the nation’s biggest boondoggle, high-speed rail, we could easily pave Interstate 5 from San Ysidro to the Oregon border.

Third, if transportation is so important, why can’t we spend some of the state’s $9 billion-dollar surplus for one-time expenditures?  Gov. Brown’s father did that when he was governor.

Bottom line is that this is not about transportation or the need to fix our roads. No one disputes that our roads are in terrible shape. But credible plans to address this critical need without raising taxes can’t even get a hearing in the legislature. Why?

The reason is simple. This is about transferring money — and lots of it — from hardworking California taxpayers to special interests. …

To read the entire column from the Press-Enterprise, please click here.

Let’s Educate the Voters About Proposition 13

VotedThis week, progressive interest groups announced they had sufficient signatures to qualify an initiative for the 2020 ballot that is a direct attack on Proposition 13. Specifically, this so-called “split roll” initiative would raise property taxes on the owners of business properties to the tune of $11 billion every year, according to the backers. Because many small business owners rent their property via “triple net” leases, they too would be subject to radical increases in the cost of doing business.

Although there is a statewide election this November, the “split roll” measure will not appear on the ballot until 2020 because the proponents, either intentionally or not, did not submit their signatures in time for the 2018 ballot. They say they anticipate a better voter turnout in two years, which in itself may be wishful thinking. Ben Grieff, a community organizer with the ultra-progressive group Evolve, also said that the later election would be necessary to lay the groundwork for “a long two-year campaign” and that, “we need all of that to educate people.”

Well, educating people about Prop. 13 cuts both ways. And if past campaigns and polling are any indication, the more Californians learn about Prop. 13, the more they like it.

So let’s start today’s lesson with an overview of a class we’ll call “Why Prop. 13 is Good for California.” Here are the benefits of it in a nutshell.

Prop. 13 limits the tax rate on all real estate in California to 1 percent. Increases in the taxable value of property — often referred to as the “assessed value” — are limited to 2 percent per year. This prevents “sticker shock” for property owners when opening their tax bills compared to the previous year’s bill. Property is reassessed to full market value when it is sold. This system of taxing property benefits homeowners, because Prop. 13 makes property taxes predictable and stable so homeowners can budget for taxes and remain in their homes.

Renters benefit because Prop. 13 makes property taxes predictable and stable for owners of residential rental property, and this helps to reduce upward pressure on rents. If one believes that California’s current housing crisis is bad now, imagine how high rents would be if the owners of the property were forced to pass along their higher tax bills to their tenants. In truth, Prop. 13 increases the likelihood that renters, too, will be able to experience the American dream of homeownership.

Business owners, especially small business owners, benefit because Prop. 13 makes property taxes predictable for businesses, and it helps owners budget and invest in growing their businesses. This helps create jobs and improves the economy. California has ranked dead last among all 50 states in business climate by CEO magazine every year for more than a decade. Prop. 13 is one of the only benefits of doing business in California. …

Click here to read the full article from the Daily Breeze

California’s Property Tax Postponement program aids low-income seniors

property taxFor Californians who are struggling to pay property tax bills that are rising ever higher due to the increasing number of local bonds and parcel taxes, help may be available.

Property taxes are held in check by Proposition 13, passed by voters in 1978. It limited the annual increase in the assessed value of a property and cut the tax rate to 1 percent statewide. Prop. 13 has helped millions of Californians keep their homes by keeping property taxes predictable and affordable.

But keeping property taxes in check doesn’t always keep property tax bills in check. That’s because extra charges for voter-approved debt or special taxes can be added to property tax bills, and those can really add up. This can become a terrible burden for homeowners who live on fixed incomes, and may even force some to sell their homes because they can’t afford to pay the taxes.

Fortunately, the state of California has restarted the Property Tax Postponement program, allowing homeowners who are at least 62 years old, are blind or have a disability to defer the current-year property taxes on their principal residence if they meet certain criteria.

Before the Legislature ended the Property Tax Postponement program in 2009 amid budget cuts, nearly 6,000 homeowners throughout the state were able to benefit from it. Many had been in the program for 20 years or more and the majority were over 70 years old. In the last year of the program before it was cut, 208 people who claimed its assistance were over 90 years old.

In 2014, legislation was passed to restore the program, and it started up again in the fall of 2016.

To qualify, applicants must have 40 percent equity in their home and an annual household income of $35,500 or less. Other requirements also apply. For example, homeowners who have taken out a reverse mortgage are not eligible.

Homeowners who are accepted into the program may defer their current-year property taxes. It’s actually a loan from the state, with an interest rate of 7 percent per year. The state places a lien on the property until the loan is repaid, but repayment is not due until the homeowner moves or sells the property, transfers the title, refinances, defaults on a senior lien, obtains a reverse mortgage or passes away. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

Withdrawal of the Taxpayer Protection Act could haunt the American Beverage Association

TaxesBy now, political observers have heard how a series of negotiations in Sacramento resulted in three initiatives slated for the November ballot being withdrawn by their respective proponents. The blame (or credit, depending on your perspective) for these deals has been attributed to a 2014 bill authored by then-Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, which allows proponents to withdraw an initiative even after it has qualified for the ballot. It was believed that this reform would result in more compromises being hammered out with the Legislature on contentious issues.

One of the measures withdrawn last week was the Taxpayer Protection Act, which would have strengthened a number of existing constitutional provisions including the two-thirds vote for local taxes. While a broad coalition of business and taxpayer groups backed the measure, and even provided significant input into its drafting, the lion’s share of financial support came from the American Beverage Association.

Faced with massive opposition from local governments and public-sector labor organizations, ABA decided to strike a deal with the Legislature to prohibit any future local soda tax increases between now and 2030 in exchange for removing the Taxpayer Protection Act from the ballot. The decision may also have been based, at least in part, on the perception that other potential financial backers for the campaign would be focused on other initiatives on the November ballot.

Nonetheless, ABA’s decision to withdraw the measure in exchange for limited protection for a specific industry blindsided many interests in the Capitol, including taxpayer organizations which were excited for an opportunity to campaign for strong taxpayer protections in an absurdly high-tax state.

Whether the Taxpayer Protection Act would have passed will be the subject of speculation for years. But it’s now a moot point. What isn’t moot, however, is whether the deal itself, and the similar negotiated agreements on measures addressing issues related to lead paint and consumer privacy, are a reflection of good government or whether they lead to “extortion light.”

Interestingly, political commentators have viewed these negotiated withdrawals differently. Some see them as all that is wrong with Sacramento while others see them as forcing the legislature to do its job. Most fall in the first category. Joel Fox, who puts out the Fox and Hounds blog, wrote a piece entitled “Weaponizing the Initiative Process.” Long time Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, who now writes for CalMatters, calls what happened “genteel extortion.”

On the other hand, veteran Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton liked the fact that three potentially confusing measures have been taken off the ballot. He also observes that “unlike … initiatives, bills can later be easily tweaked by the Legislature to fix flaws.” But Skelton’s observation reveals another downside to these deals: Will the parties keep their word?

The decision by ABA to withdraw the Taxpayer Protection Act resulted in the enactment of legislation that they presumably believed would protect their interest for more than a decade. But almost immediately, interest groups, including health organizations that have targeted “sugary drinks” for years, filed a new initiative measure specifically targeting that industry. And unlike the Taxpayer Protection Act, which had broad support from an array of business and taxpayer groups, a measure seeking higher taxes just on soda might leave ABA alone in the opposition camp. …

Click here to read the full article from the Long Beach Press-Telegram