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August 3
1975 - Henry Mayo Newhall (Memorial) Hospital opens with 100 beds [story]
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George Runner

George Runner

There’s been no shortage of attempts in recent years in the State Legislature to overhaul Proposition 13 – California’s landmark initiative protecting homeowners and small business owners from out of control property taxes.

Multiple bills have taken aim at the proposition, but the most popular among these bills pushes the so-called “split roll” property tax, which would eliminate Proposition 13 protections for job creators but leave them in place for homeowners. This split roll idea is especially favored by lawmakers who are eager to bring more money into state coffers.

Given that California has the highest poverty rate in the nation, it seems a bit out of touch, if not downright greedy, for lawmakers to focus on funding government instead of making sure there are economic opportunities for everyone.

A recent study from Pepperdine University shows that split roll would increase property taxes on businesses by an estimated $6 billion. But the same study also shows that split roll could trigger the loss of nearly 400,000 jobs and cost California’s economy a total of $71.8 billion in output within the first five years.

That $71.8 billion loss would cause some serious harm to our fragile economy. Companies seeking to grow and add new jobs need a stable tax base. Why re-impose such financial instability at such a volatile time for our state?

Supporters of split roll often point to the “lost revenue” they claim has been caused by Proposition 13. That’s a misleading argument. Yes, property taxes are a major source of state revenue, but Proposition 13 opponents won’t tell you that even with taxpayer protections, actual property tax revenue has grown steadily since voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978.

For the fiscal year of 2014-2015 property taxes accounted for $52 billion in revenue. That’s up from $34.2 billion for the fiscal year of 2004-2005. Proposition 13 is not starving government.

Opponents of Proposition 13 put too much focus on large corporations that maintain property in California. They say these corporations unduly benefit from Proposition 13’s protections. However, the simple truth of the matter is that if split roll were to pass, it’s the smaller businesses in your community that would be hit the hardest.

And despite public opinion polls that suggest there’s a willingness to tweak Prop.13, a recent PPIC poll shows support has dwindled for making changes to the law. Today, 50% percent of likely voters say they favor split roll taxes, while 44% say they oppose. That’s down from 60% of likely voters in 2012.

Let’s not forget the reason why Proposition 13 passed in the first place: In the 1970’s county governments up and down the state routinely raised property tax rates, in many cases forcing families, especially those on fixed incomes, out of their homes. Left with no other alternative, Californians overwhelmingly passed Prop 13.

There is a valid point to be made for closing a loophole related to Proposition 13. Today, a few bad actors purposefully manipulate the change of ownership paperwork when buying and selling properties in order to escape property tax reassessments. I’m open to closing that loophole, and so is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

But there’s no reason to gut Proposition 13’s tax protections for homeowners and businesses alike, and usher in massive, job-killing property tax increases. It’s clear that most Californians agree.

The business owners and homeowners I hear from every day want, and deserve, stability and certainty in our tax code. Given their contributions to California’s economy, that’s the least we can do.

 

George Runner represents more than nine million Californians as a taxpayer advocate and elected member of the State Board of Equalization where he serves as Vice Chair. For more information, visit boe.ca.gov/Runner.

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2 Comments

  1. We are covered under prop. 13. We’ve been in the same house for 50 years. Therefore we’ve paid property taxes for 50 years. Our taxes go up the same percent as yours. They just start from a lower base established back in the late 60s or early 70s. So our taxes have tripled since we bought our home in 66. Have yours tripled? Look what you live on and then look at our soc.security. Had two earthquakes in those years too. Cost 10s of thousands to repair. Sooo, you really don’t realize how good you have it. Very, very few still benefit from prop 13,cause they’ve left California to retire where it’s cheaper!

  2. Clarice L Griffith says:

    You know, I have NEVER been a George Runner fan, but lately he is making sound sense. CA is out of control with taxes. We have become one of the great “GIVE AWAY” and don’t protect our senior citizens who have been the corner stone of our tax paying system. Prop 13 should stay just for them if nothing else. The state should consider all we give away FREE. If a person is a citizen, pays taxes, then maybe somewhere down the line they might get something FREE. We give away far too much shouldered on the backs of the CA taxpayer. Good for George on this one!

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