California May Be Reaching the Point of ‘Taxuration’

taxesThe phenomenon of “taxuration” occurs when taxpayers are so saturated with new tax-hike proposals that they start to rebel. According to a new poll, taxuration may have finally arrived in California, if hasn’t been here already.

Last week, the Public Policy Institute of California released the findings of a survey showing that a majority of likely voters in the state aren’t very happy with the tax burdens they are forced to pay. Most Californians say the state’s tax system is unfair, which is a reversal from the same question asked in March 2017. More importantly, a solid majority of likely voters in California think they pay more taxes to state and local governments than they should.

While perception is often not correlated with reality, it appears that Californians have a fairly realistic understanding of the tax burden in the state relative to other states. According to the report, “The public’s perceptions are somewhat in line with fiscal facts: California’s state and local tax collections per capita in 2015 were 10th-highest in the nation,” citing the left leaning Tax Policy Center. Note that another think tank, the Tax Foundation, ranks California even higher in tax burden.

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention that citizens are reaching the breaking point on tax hikes. Every day seems to bring a new big tax-hike proposal emanating from the state Capitol. Just one example that popped up this week was a proposal to bring back California’s estate tax, which was repealed by voters in 1982. Other tax-hike proposals in the mix include higher income tax rates, a water tax, a soda tax, sales tax on services and a so-called “carbon intensity” tax. (Don’t ask.)

To read the entire column, please click here.

LAUSD’s Punishing Parcel Tax Proposal

LAUSD school busAmerica’s most dysfunctional school district has stepped in it again. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), apparently coming to the shocking realization that there was no way they could pay for the horrible deal they just cut with the unions, has hurriedly placed on the ballot for June a new property tax that leaves no Los Angeles taxpayer unscathed.

That grassroots taxpayer interests would be opposed to the new levy is no surprise. But several business organizations, usually more tolerant of higher government spending — particularly for education — have had enough. Groups as diverse as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) and the L.A. County Business Federation (BizFed) have all announced their opposition. None of these organizations is anti-education. In fact, all are pro-education as long as there is demonstrable improvement in the education product we are all paying for. On this score, LAUSD falls way short.

At the core of the broad-based opposition is the abject lack of long overdue reforms at LAUSD.

The list of reasons to oppose the tax is long.

First, taxpayers would be wasting millions of dollars on a special election.

The LAUSD Board voted unanimously to put the tax increase before the voters in a special election to be held on June 4, 2019. The cost of the special election is $12.5 million.

The tax would add hundreds of dollars to tax bills and rents and would do so in a convoluted manner. Rather than a flat tax on every parcel — which would be bad enough — the proposed tax increase would be 16 cents per square foot of building improvements on properties within the district.

That’s $160 for every 1,000 square feet. Property owners (and tenants) should be sitting down when they do the math on this one.

Seniors are ostensibly exempt from the tax, but not from rent increases.

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What Recent Pension Ruling Means for California’s Taxpayers

pension-2Last week, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling in Cal Fire Local 2881 v. CalPERS, a case involving public employee pensions. For taxpayers, the decision was a mixed bag. On the plus side, the court refused to find a contractual right to retain an option to purchase “air time,” a perk that allowed employees with at least five years of service to purchase up to five years of additional credits before they retire. Under this plan, a 20-year employee could receive a pension based on 25 years of contributions.

On the negative side, the high court left intact, for now, the so-called California Rule, which has been interpreted as an impediment to government entities seeking to reduce their pension costs. The rule, unique to California, provides that no pension benefit provided to public employees via a statute can be withdrawn without replacement of a “comparable” benefit, even as deferred compensation for services not yet provided.

The unanimous 54-page opinion by the Supreme Court resulted in a wide variance of headlines and social media posts. The Associated Press read “California’s Supreme Court upholds pension rollback.” Ironically, a conservative reform group sharply criticized the decision for failing to repeal the California rule outright while another conservative policy organization called it a “victory for taxpayers.”

So what was it?

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Legitimate Lawsuit Against Trump? Or Political Posturing?

donald-trump-2The big news last week was the lawsuit filed by California and 15 other states challenging President Trump’s declaration of an emergency related to border security and the building of a physical barrier on the southern border. The reaction was a great deal of political hyperventilating from both sides of the political spectrum.

So, after everyone has taken a breath, what should rational taxpayers think about this lawsuit and the dozens of other lawsuits filed by California against the Trump administration?

Let’s stipulate that there are times when litigation is appropriate between states and the federal government. The United States is a constitutional republic with a political structure based on federalism. Brilliantly, our founding fathers (with some intellectual help from our founding mothers, no doubt) devised a system of divided government. Not only was the federal power divided into three branches, but substantial political power was reserved to the states via the Tenth Amendment.

Controversies between the federal government and the states have been bitter and, when one considers the Civil War, they’ve been violent as well. Fortunately, modern disputes between the federal government and the states involve lawyers, not bullets.

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Don’t Derail the Bullet Train Derailment

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne GustEven before California’s High Speed Rail bond proposal appeared on the ballot in November 2008, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association commissioned a study in conjunction with the Reason Foundation because of deep concerns about the project’s viability. The study, published in September 2008, just prior to the election, confirmed our worst fears. Specifically, the executive summary of the nearly 200-page document warned:

“The CHSRA plans as currently proposed are likely to have very little relationship to what would eventually be built due to questionable ridership projections and cost assumptions, overly optimistic projections of ridership diversion from other modes of transport, insufficient attention to potential speed restrictions and safety issues and discounting of potential community or political opposition. Further, the system’s environmental benefits have been grossly exaggerated, especially with respect to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that have been associated with climate change.”

In the ensuing decade, it became increasingly clear that every negative prediction about the project came to be realized. Even initial advocates of the project, including a former chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority, turned against the costly boondoggle.

The capstone of criticism came at the end of 2018 when California’s own state auditor issued a scathing report excoriating the project’s mismanagement, waste and lack of transparency. To understand just how damning the HSR audit was, just consider the subtitle: “Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction.”

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Changing Prop. 13 Could Worsen Housing Crisis

property taxFor four decades, Proposition 13, the property tax reform that passed in 1978, has been blamed for many of the ills that have befallen California.

Working with Howard Jarvis, a Proposition 13 co-author, and later running his taxpayers association, I have followed the multiple attacks on the measure, many silly and outrageous. Now the attacks are amped up along with a supposed, but flawed remedy.

In discussions of where new money would come from to solve the Los Angeles Unified School District labor dispute and teacher’s strike, a ballot measure designated for the 2020 statewide ballot to change to Proposition 13 often is mentioned.

The initiative promises to split the property tax roll between commercial and residential properties.

If approved, the split roll initiative would come with long-term problems and exacerbate issues that were raised during the teachers’ strike that would affect all of California.

Implementing a split roll would mean that commercial property would be taxed at market value. That would bring in more revenue to schools and local governments. But supporters of the split roll stop the discussion at that point, and fail to discuss the far-reaching consequences of undoing Proposition 13.

High housing costs were a constant refrain during the teachers strike. The lack of housing makes it more difficult for teachers to live near where they work, a curse for many middle class Californians.

Imagine what would happen if split roll were a reality. What do you think would happen when local governments would choose between green-lighting a commercial venture that would bring in gobs of new revenue for government as opposed to approving a housing project?

Just as taxpayers make adjustments to reduce their taxes, government officials embrace projects that will increase revenue. There are many examples of such behavior on both sides of the tax equation such as the infamous window tax of the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe.

In response, homeowners boarded up windows to avoid the tax. Tax collectors have similar reactions in the opposite direction. They will certainly okay revenue-producing developments ahead of housing projects.

Apparently there was no concession by the teachers’ union in the strike settlement to control pensions and health costs, two items that are driving the district toward insolvency, according to the Los Angeles County Board of Education and Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner.

Pension and heath costs are a big problem for local and state governments, just as they are for schools. The alternative is to turn to taxpayers to fund these generous benefits while taxpayers themselves struggle with their own retirement and health care situations.

But there is an element to the troubled pension situation that could be further damaged by a split roll. Many pensions rely on commercial properties to increase portfolios. With raised property taxes, commercial properties will be devalued and another debilitating weight would be added to government pensions holding business properties.

Under Proposition 13, property tax revenues have increased well beyond inflation and population growth. The property tax under Proposition 13 is the steadiest tax in the state because during economic downturns only recently purchased property is re-evaluated downward.

Under Proposition 13, most property taxpayers continue to pay the expected taxes due while both sales and income taxes reduce sharply in a recession.

If all commercial property tax rates are pegged at market value, and a recession hits, commercial property would be reassessed downward and local and school budgets will take a huge hit.

In addition to these problems, business owners forced to pay higher property taxes would pass those costs onto consumers, and that would diminish the state’s economy.

For residential property taxpayers there is another thing to keep an eye on. Is the move toward a split roll the first step to taking away Proposition 13 protections from homeowners?

At a recent speech to the Palos Verdes Chamber of Commerce, noted Los Angeles area economist Christopher Thornberg raised the issue saying he would flip the split roll, keeping Proposition 13 on commercial property and getting rid of it on residential property to help local governments fund services related to homes.

You can bet the idea of eliminating all of Proposition 13 is on the mind of those advocating more and more government spending and the split roll ballot fight will be the first test.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

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