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

Property Rights and The American Democrat

James Fenimore Cooper widely influenced American literature. However, one of his books–The American Democrat, a civics primer–gets scant attention. Given that Cooper was born (September 15) so close to Constitution Day, it merits revisiting now.

Cooper defended the limited government the Constitution authorized, because political power not tightly controlled would be abused. In particular, he emphasized private property rights as necessary to liberty, our “right of self-government.

Unfortunately, the erosion of property rights Cooper warned against has only accelerated. Consequently, his understanding, echoing our founders, may be even more important today, because “vigilance in the protection of principles is even more necessary in a democracy.”

Cooper began from an insight few recognize today: “The rights of property [are] an indispensable condition of civilization.” Consequently, “we must take those consequences of the rights of property inseparable from the rights themselves.”

Since “property is the base of all civilization,” it follows that “its existence and security are indispensable to social improvement.” So “the first great principle connected with the rights of property is its inviolability,” leading to “the safe and just governing rule … permitting everyone to be the undisturbed judge of his own habits and associations, so long as they are innocent, and do not impair the rights of others to be equally judges for themselves.”

Given the foundational role of private property rights to effective social cooperation, Cooper concluded that for public policy, that meant property rights. “shall have no factious political aids.” That denial of unequal treatment implies “it is a great mistake … to take sides with the public, in doubtful cases affecting the rights of individuals, as this is the precise form in which oppression is the most likely to exhibit itself in a popular government.”

That led Cooper to dissent from democratic orthodoxy that has only intensified since: “As between the public and individuals, therefore, the true bias of a democrat … is to take sides with the latter. This is opposed to the popular notion, which is to fancy the man who maintains his rights against the popular will an aristocrat.”

Cooper connected this to individuality, which property rights protect. “Individuality … lies at the root of all voluntary human exertion … because we know that the fruits of our labors will belong to ourselves, or to those who are most dear to us.” Consequently, “all which society enjoys beyond the mere supply of its first necessities is dependent on the rights of property.” In other words, “property is an instrument of working most of the good that society enjoys,” because “it encourages and sustains laudable and useful efforts in individuals.” In sum, “Property is desirable as the groundwork of moral independence, as a means of improving the faculties, and of doing good to others, and as the agent in all that distinguishes the civilized man from the savage.”

The upshot of Cooper’s logic of liberty was that “the man of property … is privileged to use his own means … in the pursuit of his own happiness, and they who would interfere with him, so far from appreciating liberty, are ignorant of its vital principles.” Unfortunately, that is radically at odds with “the habit of seeing the public rule,” which “is gradually accustoming the American mind to an interference with private rights that is slowly undermining the individuality of the national character.”

The American Democrat was a civics book. But with the declining respect for property rights since Cooper wrote, it doesn’t read like current civics books.  Americans today would greatly benefit by remembering that “All who love equal justice, and, indeed, the safety of free institutions, should understand that property has its rights, and the necessity of rigidly respecting them.” It would serve us far better than the prevailing view, which applauds using government power to give majority coalitions what they want by blatantly violating others’ property rights.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.

Greater Transparency on Threat to Property Owners

Legislation just signed by Gov. Brown may help alert homeowners to the threat posed by per parcel property taxes. Parcel taxes have become one of the most insidious threats to home ownership because they can be imposed over and above the property tax limits set by Proposition 13.

Supported by a broad coalition lead by the California Taxpayers Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Assembly Bill 2109 requires the Controller to maintain a publicly accessible data base relating to the imposition of locally assessed parcel taxes, including the type and rate of a parcel tax and the number of parcels subject to or exempt from the parcel tax. Finally, taxpayers will be able to see the extent of parcel taxes throughout the state and the costs to property owners.

Parcel taxes came about as a result of politicians never ending effort to circumvent the property tax limitations contained in Proposition 13. Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, Proposition 13’s authors, intended that taxes on property be limited to one percent of the taxable value and that the taxable value on the assessor’s books could not be increased by more than two percent annually.

To squeeze more from homeowners, local officials came up with the parcel tax, usually a uniform tax placed on each parcel of property within a community –although it can also be based on size. By imposing a uniform charge for the privilege of owning property within a community, they were able to persuade the courts that it did not violate Proposition 13’ prohibition against additional ad valorem (value based) taxes.

Parcel taxes are extremely regressive, bearing no relationship to ability to pay. The young couple in a starter home, the elderly couple in a bungalow and a multimillionaire in a mansion, all pay the same amount. There is no restriction on the dollar amount of these taxes that exceed Proposition 13’s limits, or on the number of such proposals that can be placed on the ballot. And while bonds — also paid for by property owners — must be used for “brick and mortar” construction, parcel taxes can be used for any purpose including increased pay and pensions for government employees.

Adding insult to injury, there has been a major push in the Legislature to reduce the two-thirds vote needed to approve parcel taxes. Although this would clearly undermine Proposition 13 by making it easier to increase property taxes, backers of a lower approval threshold respond innocently, “We are not trying to raise taxes, we are just making the process more democratic.” The threat of course is that by making it much easier to impose new taxes on property owners, home ownership could again be threatened as it was prior to Proposition 13 when taxes were going up so fast that many owners were forced to give up their homes.

Thanks to Assembly Bill 2109, more attention can be brought to the burden that parcel taxes impose on California homeowners and it will help make the case that not only should they be defeated individually as they appear on the ballot, but they should be banned outright.

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 article originally appeared on HJTA.org