Sen. Hertzberg Targets Homeowners With Higher Water and Sewer Rates

Storm_DrainIt’s no secret that tax-and-spend interests have hated Proposition 13 since its adoption by the voters in 1978. Immediately after passage, Prop. 13 was the target of numerous lawsuits and legislative proposals seeking to create loopholes that would allow government to grab more tax dollars from California citizens.

These constant attacks compelled taxpayer advocates to go back to the voters with multiple initiatives to preserve the letter and spirit of Prop. 13. These included Prop. 62 in 1986 (voter approval for local taxes); Prop. 218 (closing loopholes for local fees and so-called “benefit assessments”); and Prop. 26 (requiring “fees” to have some nexus to the benefits conferred on the fee payers).

However, the latest tax-grabber to treat homeowners as ATMs is state Senator Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. If he gets his way, Californians will be spending a lot more on water and sewer service. He seeks to do away with the critical “cost of service” requirements for water rates as well as treat “stormwater runoff” (the rain that runs down street gutters) the same as “sewer service,” opening the door to virtually unlimited — and unvoted — sewer rates.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Local Governments Rigging Elections — Again

Voting boothWith all the state and local taxes on the November ballot, one would think that government at all levels in California was starved for revenue. But even a cursory review of the Golden State’s “tax machine” reveals that the tax burden is already too heavy for many to bear. California has the highest income rate in America (likely to be extended for another 12 years) and the highest state sales tax rate. And despite Prop. 13, our per capita property tax collections ranks no lower than 14th in the nation.

In the June primary, voters already passed 29 out of 40 local tax increases. But those taxes register as barely a blip compared to the earthquake confronting voters in less than three weeks. According to the California Taxpayers Association, there are 228 local tax measures representing a cumulative tax increase of more than $3 billion per year, along with 193 bonds (more than $30 billion’s worth) that would dramatically increase annual property taxes.

After the June primary, this column observed that the high rate of passage reflected not so much a love for higher taxes as it did the fact that the tax raisers have become experts at gaming the system to pass tax and bond measures. Highly paid political consultants tell local officials not to publicize tax elections to the entire community, but to target only their supporters. This means running stealth elections, communicating (in the case of school bonds) with only administrators and construction firms who are always more than willing to finance political campaigns and, of course, public employee unions who never met a tax they didn’t like.

The strategies that the pro-taxers employ to extract money from an unsuspecting citizenry are endless. For example, many school boards, cities and counties do all they can to time elections so that potential opponents have inadequate time to mobilize. The ultimate goal is to prevent an opposition argument from even appearing in the ballot pamphlet. On countless occasions, taxpayer advocates have been blindsided by proposed tax increases because they were only afforded a few precious days to submit an argument. And when it is too late, there are few legal remedies.

The ultimate insult to taxpayers, of course, is when local governments use public dollars to engage in political advocacy to influence an election. In theory, it is illegal for officials to use public resources (including public funds) to urge a vote for or against a political issue. But, in practice, it happens all the time. Two weeks ago, both the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Central Coast Taxpayers Association filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging campaign reporting violations of the Political Reform Act by the County of San Luis Obispo, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) and the Yes on Measure J Committee, a group pushing a local transportation tax. These government entities have spent nearly a quarter of a million taxpayer dollars on promotional materials and government employee and contractor compensation supporting Measure J.

As the November election draws near, the complaints about government interference in elections have ramped up dramatically. In Sacramento, the Sacramento City Unified School District used “robocalls” to contact thousands of parents with “important information” about the benefits of a parcel tax as well as statewide Proposition 55. According to theSacramento Bee, the district sent the scripted messages recorded by five district trustees through its automated telephone message distribution system, explaining how the two tax measures would raise money for school programs and services that otherwise could be slashed. (This despite the fact that education spending in California has exploded since 2010).

Such communications are neither information nor balanced. They are always one-sided puff pieces designed solely to extract yes votes from uninformed voters.

California voters need to be alert to the lies, distortions and illegal expenditures of taxpayer dollars when considering any request for higher taxes. Yes, government services require public dollars. But before voting yes on any tax increase, ask yourself why is it that other states have markedly better public services without the high price tag.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

How To Ensure You’re Not Over-Charged on Property Taxes

property taxAs any reader of this column knows, voters will be confronted come election day with billions and billions of new tax hikes and bond measures (which, of course, result in their own tax hikes). But let’s not forget that there is another reason for taxpayer to experience a heightened sense of anxiety over the next few weeks.

For many the real scare this time of year is not the monsters at our doors on Halloween but the property tax bill in the mail box. But, while the “tax and spend” lobby increases its influence in Sacramento, homeowners have still been able to count on Proposition 13 for some degree of protection. Because Proposition 13 limits increases in a property’s assessed value to two percent annually, most property owners have a good idea what their tax bill will be even before opening the envelope. But homeowners still need to examine carefully their property tax bill because mistakes can happen.

Taxpayers should understand the various charges and make certain that they are not being assessed for more than they are legally obligated to pay. The best way to check a tax bill is to have your previous year’s bill handy for reference.

Checking the bill is especially important for those who bought their homes a few years ago at the height of the market. If your home value is actually lower than the assessed value shown on the tax bill, you should consider applying for a reduction in taxes. (Sometimes called a “Prop. 8 reduction”).

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.

General Tax Levy

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.

Proposition 13 passed overwhelmingly by voters in 1978 and it established a statewide uniform tax rate of one percent of assessed value at the time of purchase and limited annual increases in assessed value to no more than two percent. From a practical standpoint, this means that once the base year value of your property is established the General Tax Levy cannot be increased more than two percent each year. This allows all property owners to predict their property tax bills into the future and budget accordingly.

The best way to check to make sure that your current General Levy of Assessment is correct is to compare it with the previous year’s bill. The increase should be no more than two percent unless there have been improvements to the property like adding a room to a house or if you previously received a Prop. 8 “reduction in value.” This bears repeating: Because the real estate market in many parts of California is recovering many homeowners who previously received a temporary reduction in “taxable value” from their assessment may now see an increase in their tax bill more than two percent from last year. But in no case will the taxable value be more than the initial Prop. 13 base year plus two percent annually from the date of purchase. Although that may seem unfair, keep in mind that while the reduction was only temporary, the savings you received when your property was worth less are permanent.

If in doubt about the current value of your property, check sales of comparable homes in your neighborhood. If homes like yours are selling for less than the valuation on your latest bill contact your county assessor and ask that the value and resulting tax be adjusted to reflect true current value.

Voted Indebtedness

Voted Indebtedness charges reflect the repayment cost of bonds approved by the voters. Local general obligation bonds for libraries, parks, police and fire facilities and other capital improvements are repaid exclusively by property owners. Because a minority of the population is required to pay the entire amount, the California Constitution of 1879 established the two-thirds vote for approval of these bonds. This assures a strong community consensus before obligating property owners to repay debt for 20 or 30 years.

Until the year 2000 local school bonds also required a two-thirds vote but the passage of Proposition 39 lowered the vote to 55 percent. (Of course this did very little to improve schools as was promised). Because the 55 percent requirement guarantees that most school bonds will pass regardless of merit many homeowners are seeing a significant increase in the Voted Indebtedness column on their tax bills.

In some counties, parcel taxes may appear under this second category of property exactions even though parcel taxes are rarely used to repay debt. Parcel taxes are taxes on property ownership but are not imposed as a percentage of taxable value. Although there is no upper limit to amount of parcel taxes you have to pay  (HJTA is working to change that) the good news is that under Proposition 13 they still require a two-thirds vote.

Direct Assessments

The third type of levy one finds on the typical property tax bill is for direct assessments for services related to property such as street lighting, regional sanitation, flood control, etc. Because of Proposition 218 — the Right to Vote on Taxes Act placed on the ballot by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in 1996 — property owners must be given a meaningful say in approving new assessments. Before an assessment can be imposed or increased property owners must be informed in writing and be given the opportunity to cast a protest vote on the new assessment or assessment increase.

For more information regarding your property tax bill go to HJTA.org and click on Frequently Asked Questions then scroll down to “About Property Tax Assessments”. If you have a question about your property tax bill you can contact your county assessor, county tax collector or, in many instances, the phone number of the levying agency for each levy that is reflected on your bill. It’s your money and you have a right to be certain that your bill is correct.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Originally published by HJTA.org

Prop. 13 Report from Legislative Analyst Elicits Mixed Reactions

property taxTwo weeks ago, the California Legislative Analyst released a report entitled “Common Claims About Proposition 13.” On balance, the report was a (mostly) objective view about California’s landmark property tax reduction measure.

As the title of the report implies, there are many claims about Prop. 13, what it does and what it doesn’t do. In fact, we at Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have collected a lengthy list of “myths” about Prop. 13 that are deeply ensconced in urban legend. For example, the monolithic education bureaucracy repeatedly claims that Prop. 13 starved public education in California. But the fact is that we now spend 30 percent more on a per student, inflation adjusted basis than we did just prior to Prop. 13’s passage – a time in which there is broad consensus that education in California was the best in the nation. Whatever it is that caused the decline in the quality of public education, it certainly hasn’t been the lack of revenue.

The release of the LAO report instigated a great deal of reaction, ranging from cheers to jeers depending on one’s pre-conceived opinions about Prop. 13. Every interest group, it seems, has cherry picked the report to confirm what they already believe. But objectively, for Prop. 13 defenders, we see much in the report that supports what we’ve been saying for decades.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Here are the “roses” we see in the report:

First, the report says that residential and commercial properties turn over at about the same rate, and that Prop. 13 is not the cause of this. It also says that residential property tax growth is only slightly more than that from business properties, but this is due to greater residential development. This runs directly counter to those who desire to strip Prop. 13 protections from business properties.

Second, the report states that small businesses pay less in property tax because of Proposition 13, and that Prop. 13 does not serve as a disincentive to create small businesses. This busts another bubble floated by Prop. 13’s detractors.

Third, and most importantly for the Jarvis faithful comprised of senior homeowners, the report shows that assessed valuation limits provide greater security to retirees.

About the only item in the report that Prop. 13 haters can point to is the LAO’s conclusion that wealthy Californians, who own higher value properties, have benefited more than those with modest homes. But to this we respond with a resounding “Duh.” Obviously, given that Prop. 13’s rate limits and limits on increases in taxable value apply equally to all property, those with more expensive properties will benefit more. Prop. 13’s protections were never designed to be means tested. It provides the same rules to every property owner in California, from the owners of modest bungalows to mansions and from small mom and pop businesses to corporations. It doesn’t pick winners and losers. Only winners.

As California’s leading defender of Proposition 13, we have only a few of quibbles with the LAO report. Here, we will discuss only one. Specifically, the report makes much of the fact that local governments had the power to reduce tax rates prior to Prop. 13’s enactment in 1978 and that this – it is implied – offset the rapid increases in taxable value that homeowners were experiencing. This is true, but in theory only. In reality, while local governments had that power, they didn’t use it. Reductions in tax rates in no way even closely offset increases in taxable values. How do we know this? Simple. Against every special interest and editorial in California, voters – by a 66 percent margin – launched the modern tax revolt known as Prop. 13. All that was missing were the torches and pitchforks. If tax rates had indeed been reduced, this revolt would never have happened.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

Proposition 13 Is Safe — For Another Few Weeks

prop 13The Legislature is in adjournment, and with lawmakers at home campaigning for re-election, they are unable to engage in their favorite pastime of undermining Proposition 13 and its protections for California taxpayers.

However, this time out is only a brief respite from the Sacramento politicians’ inexorable pursuit of taxpayers’ wallets, the ferocity of which matches the dedication and intensity of a bear going after honey.

This December, after the election, lawmakers will reconvene to kick off the next two-year legislative session. During the just completed session, with great effort, taxpayer advocates were able to blunt a number of major efforts to modify or undermine Proposition 13, and, as surely as Angelina and Brad will be appearing on the covers of the supermarket tabloids, these attacks on taxpayers will begin anew when the Legislature is back in session.

Bills will be introduced to make it easier to raise taxes on property owners as well as to cut the Proposition 13 protections for commercial property, including small businesses. There may even be an effort to place a surcharge on all categories of property, an idea that was put forward by authors of an initiative that nearly collected enough signatures for placement on this year’s November ballot.

Accompanying the legislative fusillade will come the usual arguments that local government, or schools, or infrastructure, or the homeless, or the elderly, or (fill in the blank with the program or cause of your choice), or all of the preceding, need more money.

Government at all levels has become a militant special interest and its Prime Directive is to increase revenue – to take in more taxpayer dollars that is – and more is never enough.

The dirty little secret behind why government has changed from a service entity, dedicated to meeting the needs of its constituents, to a rapacious overlord, is that since being granted virtually unfettered collective bargaining rights in 1977, California’s state and local government workers have become the highest compensated public employees in all 50 states. With the high pay comes high union dues, collected by the employing entity and turned over to the government employee union leadership. These millions of dollars can then be used as a massive war chest to elect a pro-union majority in the Legislature and on the governing bodies of most local governments. And since these elected officials’ political futures are dependent on the goodwill of their union sponsors, there are almost no limits on what they will be willing to do to extract more money from taxpayers to be shoveled into ever increasing pay, benefits and pensions for government workers. (Government employee pension debt is several hundred billion dollars).

Literally, the only protections that average folks have from a total mugging by state and local governments are Proposition 13 and Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act. These popular propositions put limits on how much can be extracted from taxpayers by capping annual increases in property taxes, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise state taxes and guaranteeing the right of voters to have the final say on local tax increases.

It is easy to see why these taxpayer protections are despised by the grasping political class and their government employee union allies. This is also why taxpayers will have to work hard to preserve them.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

‘Right to Vote on Taxes’ Case Now Before California Supreme Court

TaxesLast week the California Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could determine whether the right to vote on local taxes, which is constitutionally guaranteed by both Propositions 13 and 218, will cease to exist.

The case, California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland, at first glance seems limited to a narrow technical question: When a local initiative seeks to impose a new tax, does the issue need to be put to the voters at the next general election or can the proponents, relying on other laws, force a special election? But in answering that question, the lower court ruled that taxes proposed by initiative are exempt from the taxpayer protections contained in the state constitution, such as the provision dictating the timing of the election.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA), which filed the petition seeking Supreme Court review, was alarmed because the constitution’s taxpayer protections include the right to vote on taxes. If local initiatives are exempt from those protections, then public agencies could easily deny taxpayers their right to vote on taxes by colluding with outside interests to propose taxes in the form of an initiative, then adopting the initiative without an election.

The import of the case was not lost on those who dislike Proposition 13’s requirement that local special taxes – those imposed for specific purposes – receive a two-thirds vote of the local electorate. For example, backers of a tax to subsidize a new sports arena in San Diego were hoping that the lower court ruling would allow them to impose a special tax with only a simple majority vote.

Some legal scholars suggested that the lower court decision was not as far-reaching as feared by HJTA. But the fact that the Supreme Court granted review, which it does in only a fraction of cases it receives, validates the concern about the potential scope of the lower court ruling.

By way of background, the case began when the California Cannabis Coalition (CCC) circulated an initiative petition to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries in the City of Upland. The initiative requires each dispensary to pay the City an annual $75,000 tax. CCC collected enough signatures to qualify for a special election. But a provision of Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, part of the California Constitution approved by voters in 1996, requires tax proposals to be presented at a general election for city council candidates. (This forces candidates to identify for or against the tax, which helps voters choose the taxpayer-friendly candidates.)

The Court of Appeal ruled that taxes proposed by a local initiative are not subject to Proposition 218. The ruling, however, was not limited to Proposition 218’s election date requirement. The Court said taxes proposed by initiative are exempt from all of 218.

HJTA, having sponsored Proposition 218, was so concerned by the decision, it offered to represent the City of Upland at no cost to take the case to California’s highest court. It was HJTA’s petition on behalf of the City of Upland that was granted.

Taxpayers of all stripes and interests will be watching this case very closely. California is already a hostile place for taxpayers so losing the right to vote on local taxes would simply be adding to the pain.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

Property Taxes to Increase by 13 Percent in Coming Year

property taxIn Chicago, escalating property taxes are headline news. With the average property tax bill due to go up by 13 percent – and more increases in subsequent years virtually guaranteed – home ownership in the Windy City is in deep peril. No one seems happy except the moving companies.

This drastic tax increase is the result of bad decisions by corrupt officials who have caved to city employee pension demands that are unsustainable without massive borrowing. And that borrowing will be paid for by massive property tax hikes. But if homeowners are considering fleeing exorbitant taxation, they may have to travel a good distance. Illinois residents, even without the Chicago pension tax, are already paying the highest effective property tax rate in the nation at 2.67 percent, according to a recent study by CoreLogic, an Irvine, California-based provider of data to the financial and real estate industries.

Nationally, the study shows the median property tax rate is 1.31 percent of value.

In addition to Illinois, states with median property tax rates of greater than 2 percent include New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Texas (which some may find surprising considering its reputation as a low tax state), Connecticut and Pennsylvania. On the low end is Hawaii at 0.31 percent.

California, at 1.12 percent, ranks 30th compared to other states. Tax seeking politicians and their special interest allies will likely consider this a failure. After all, thanks to them, California has the highest state sales tax, highest marginal income tax rates and, due to carbon charges, the highest gas levies in the nation. “Why shouldn’t we be number one in every tax category?” they are, no doubt, asking themselves.

California property tax rates are reasonable for one reason and one reason only – Proposition 13. Arguably the most famous of all initiatives in the history of the United States, Prop. 13 was the brainchild of the late Howard Jarvis. He led the effort to put the tax limiting measure on the ballot where it was approved by nearly two-thirds of California voters in 1978. By limiting annual property tax hikes to two percent per year, it made tax bills moderate and predictable.

Still, California property taxes are not low. Because of high property values, the median priced home now costs nearly $519,000 according to the California Association of Realtors. Thus, while our effective tax rate ranks 30th of the 50 states, when measuring property tax revenues per capita, we rank 14th. This belies government complaints that California is starved for property tax revenues.

Proposition 13 protections should not be taken for granted. Consider the cities of Stockton, Vallejo and San Bernardino which were driven into bankruptcy by officials who, like Chicago’s aldermen and mayor, agreed to inflated and unsustainable pension benefits for government workers. The difference is that Proposition 13’s tax limiting provisions prevent California cities and counties from arbitrarily increasing property taxes. At least for now.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

What Has Howard Jarvis Done for Me Lately?

Howard-JarvisMany of those under 50 do not remember tax revolt leader Howard Jarvis, who passed away 30 years ago, and yet, perhaps unknowingly, they are benefiting from his legacy. Proposition 13, which limits property taxes and allows local voters to have the final say on new taxes, was Howard’s gift to all Californians.

By limiting annual increases, Proposition 13 makes property taxes predictable from year to year. This doesn’t just benefit senior citizen homeowners on fixed incomes who worry about losing their homes to the tax collector. It benefits all homeowners. For example, a family who bought their home just five years ago in 2011, at the typical price that year of $286,000, has already seen significant tax savings. Today, the median sales price is close to $509,000 according to the California Association of Realtors. That’s a 79 percent increase. Under the property tax system that preceded Proposition 13, which was based on current value, the family who bought their home in 2011, would see their property taxes nearly double in a few short years.

Without Proposition 13, that family who struggled to buy a home in the first place, would find themselves struggling to keep their house in an overheated real estate market. Because of Proposition 13, which limits annual assessed value increases to two percent and then applies a tax rate of one percent to the total, the family will pay $3,084 this year, not $5,090, which would be the case if there were no limit on annual increases.

But even this example understates the importance of Proposition 13 to the average property owner. You see, before Proposition 13 imposed a one percent tax rate, the statewide average was 2.6 percent — in some counties it was as high as four percent. So, without Proposition 13, our recent home buying family would actually be paying $13,234 in annual taxes.

The old system guaranteed constant increasing revenue to government but did not take into consideration property owners’ ability to pay.  Even when home values declined, there was no relief for taxpayers because county boards of supervisors, city councils and local special districts could arbitrarily raise the tax rate to raise revenue.

Proposition 13 was designed to make property ownership secure for all Californians. But Howard Jarvis also wanted to make sure that the Legislature, which refused to provide tax relief when average folks were losing their homes, did not come back with new ways to punish taxpayers. The measure also requires a two-thirds vote of state lawmakers to increase state taxes and provides voters the final say on new local taxes.

Government employee unions, left wing progressives and even crony capitalists who all opposed Proposition 13 when it was on the ballot, are still complaining. They point to all the money that government has been denied because of Proposition 13 and claim that problems ranging from poverty to academic performance are due to the measure’s passage. Of course, these accusations fly in the face of facts. Even with Proposition 13, California ranks in the top 6 of all 50 states in per capital tax burden, and, according to the Department of Labor, we have the highest paid state and local employees. Add to this, after adjusting for inflation, we spend more money per pupil than prior to Proposition 13.

Those who do not remember the Tax Revolt of 1978, will be interested to know that much of the voter anger that fueled the passage of Proposition 13 was directed at insiders who benefited from the status quo. This frustration with members of the political class and their powerful special interest allies is very similar to what we are seeing in America, today.

After the passage of Proposition 13, Time Magazine featured Howard Jarvis shaking his fist on the cover of their June 19, 1978 issue. Howard went on to chronicle his 16-year effort to reform taxes in his book, I’m Mad as Hell. If he were with us today, he would be the foremost critic of government that is run for the benefit of insiders and ignores the concerns of average citizens, like those who lived in fear of losing their homes before Proposition 13.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Prop. 13 is California Taxpayers Only “Saving Grace”

Proposition 13 is certain to continue to be a hot topic in 2016 and beyond as “reformers” continue to work on mobilizing a statewide effort to enact a “split-roll” that raises billions of dollars in increased property taxes from California businesses.

I have worked in and around Prop. 13 in one form or another for my entire career and have collected more data and research on its impacts that anybody else I have ever come in contact with.

I have since ended that research for the “reform” side, because I came to appreciate Prop. 13 for what it truly is–the last line of defense that California taxpayers have against elected officials who refuse to control “unsustainable” and “unaffordable” spending at both the state and local levels of government. 

For those new to Prop. 13, it is a California ballot measure passed in 1978 that places a 1% limit on local property tax rates, unless a “change in ownership occurs,” and limits assessment increases to 2% per year.

At the state level, Prop. 13 requires that any measure which would raise revenues to be enacted by a 2/3 vote of the Legislature.  At the local level, Prop. 13 requires taxes raised by local governments for a designated or special purpose to be approved by 2/3 of voters and a majority for general tax increases.

Sure, Prop. 13 is not perfect, far from it.   But the reality is that there is perhaps no public policy in California that is more effective at safeguarding taxpayers against the inability of California politicians, particularly those of the Democratic stripe, from overspending and then sticking taxpayers with the bill.

With the State of California $400 billion in the red, and most local governments in the same situation, you don’t hear anyone arguing with the fact that California government has a huge spending and debt problem.

Moody’s Investor Services agrees with this assessment, having prepared a report that finds California to be the least prepared state to weather a financial storm due to its fiscal policies and inability to reform its tax system.

Without Prop. 13, California elected officials would have “carte blanc” to push the state’s $1 trillion and growing pension problem onto state and local taxpayers, serving to further exacerbate the problem.  A whole host of other state and local taxes and fees would inevitably become viable proposals overnight in the absence of Prop. 13’s protections.

The ongoing explosion in fees and tax exactions on businesses at the local level is perhaps the best indicator of what would happen if Prop. 13 did not exist—turning an already steady and increasing flow of new local taxes and fees into the equivalent of an unchecked dam-break flood of new taxes and fees on California taxpayers.

Stanford University economist Roger Noll says that the problem of ever increasing, burdensome local taxes and fees is the single most legitimate concern that California businesses express about the state’s system of state and local finance.

Opponents of Prop. 13 cite tax equity and fairness as reasons to “reform” Proposition 13 by switching away from a “change in ownership” trigger for market reassessment to a “periodic reassessment of commercial property at market value.”

Furthermore, reformers say Prop. 13 is not “fair” because it heavily taxes new investment and rewards  “long-time” landowners—resulting in heavily disparate property tax amounts.

They say that the only fair way is to bring all businesses who receive a “tax break” under Prop. 13 up to market value and then send billions of dollars in increased property tax revenues to Sacramento to spend as they please.

My primary issue with this line of reasoning is that Sacramento has already proven that it cannot manage the existing tax dollars it gets from the state’s property tax responsibly so why on earth would we send them a flood of new tax dollars?

Second, the entire state and local tax system is riddled with similar inequities so why are reformers choosing to single out Prop. 13 for “reform”?  California’s major taxes are all characterized by extremely high rates and a very limited or loophole-ridden base.

The result is that those who pay the tax pay full boat, and those who can take advantage of loopholes get a break.  The reality of the situation is that all tax “reformers” in California want to increase tax revenues by leaving the rates the same, closing the loopholes, and sending billions of dollars in increased revenues to Sacramento to poorly manage.

True tax “reform” would be to close the loopholes and lower the base to make the change revenue neutral—but there is not a single tax “reformer” in California that I know of who is pushing for revenue neutral tax reform.

This is the method that nearly all significant successful attempts at tax reform utilized including President Reagan’s 1986 tax overhaul—widely lauded as one of the most successful tax reform efforts of all-time.

Reagan’s 1986 tax reform was “revenue neutral” but hailed by politicians of all stripes for simplifying the tax code, broadening the base and reducing the rates—a win win for everyone, not just those who want more tax dollars.

Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

3 Bills in Legislature That Will Actually Benefit Californians

CA-legislatureThose who value liberty, good government and a reasonable level of taxation have a lot to complain about if they are citizens of California. Not only do we have one of the highest tax burdens in America, we rate very poorly in term of efficient and effective governance as well as transparency. Those of us who point out the state’s shortcomings are labeled as contrarian, “declinists” or pessimists by state politicians, including our governor.

And let’s not forget about corruption. Just a couple of years ago, the California Senate actually had a higher arrest rate than the general population of California. Because of all the negative press, it is no wonder that that the public believes that most of what the California Legislature does is self-serving.

Although there is more than sufficient justification to criticize California’s political system (and especially its Legislature), for the sake of fairness, we should take special notice when our politicians do the right thing. For example, every so often bills are introduced that cut against the stereotype by providing genuine benefit to average folks.

Interestingly, although the California Legislature is fairly left-leaning, sometimes opportunities present themselves for a taxpayer group like Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to work with legislators from both sides of the aisle to do good for average citizens. This year, HJTA has sponsored three separate legislative proposals in 2016 that have been well received in the Capitol.

The first, Assembly Bill 1891, would provide property tax relief for seniors. Currently, seniors over the age of 65 in most school districts can file for an exemption from education parcel taxes. However, many school districts require an application for exemption to be filed every year. AB1891 simply states that seniors only need to fill out the opt-out paperwork one time to be permanently exempt from paying a parcel tax.

HJTA is also the co-sponsor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, by Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown. Among its numerous positive provisions, ACA 6 will provide property tax savings for seniors in their retirement years. The law today allows married seniors over the age of 55 to transfer the Proposition 13 base value of their home to a property of equal or lesser value in the same county once in retirement. As good as this law is, it needs to be expanded. For instance, if a spouse were to divorce and remarry, that property owner would not be able to use their base value transfer exemption. Property owners are also out of luck if they do a base value transfer, then decide to move again a few years later. They would be forced to pay the full market value property taxes on a new home. ACA 6 allows for married couples to transfer their base value twice. This will provide couples increased flexibility to sell their home to move closer to children or grandchildren. If approved out of the Legislature, ACA 6 will go to the statewide ballot for voters to approve in November.

Assemblyman James Gallagher has introduced the third HJTA sponsored bill, AB2801. This bill increases transparency for purposes of Proposition 218 protests. Approved by voters in 1996, Proposition 218 allows for water, sewer and refuse rate increases to be approved or rejected via a written protest process. Protests can either be mailed in, or announced at the public hearing. AB2801 simply requires that protests will be retained for two years so taxpayers can review them after the hearing.

As may be apparent, these three bills do not reflect huge policy shifts, such as a large tax cut or a complete reorganization of state government. However, they do make California a better place for homeowners and taxpayers. And for that we can be grateful.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Originally published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association