Last week we alerted California taxpayers as to the immediate threats to Proposition 13 being heard by a California legislative committee. As fully anticipated, the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance approved all six of the anti-Prop. 13 proposals.
All of the bills in question would gut one of the most important provisions of Proposition 13 — the two-thirds vote requirement for additional “add on” parcel taxes. These “add on” parcel and bond taxes are on top of the property tax homeowners already pay under current law.
The six bills are designated as “SCAs” standing for “Senate Constitutional Amendments.” The Legislature itself cannot change the state constitution without voter approval so the issue for each of these “SCAs” was whether they should proceed through the legislative process and appear on the ballot as partial repeals of Prop. 13, which itself is part of the constitution.
The bills are as follows:
Senate Constitutional Amendment 3 (SCA 3), Mark Leno (D-San Francisco): Lowers the threshold for school district per-parcel property taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent. This is a direct assault on Proposition 13 because it makes it easier to increase property taxes above Proposition 13’s 1 percent cap.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 4 (SCA 4), Carol Liu (D-La Canada) and Senate Constitutional Amendment 8 (SCA 8), Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro): These two bills lower the threshold for the imposition, extension or increase of local transportation special taxes from the Proposition 13-mandated two-thirds vote to 55 percent. While most transportation special tax increases consist of very regressive sales tax hikes, the language of these bills could be used to impose new parcel taxes.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 7 (SCA 7), Lois Wolk (D-Davis): Lowers the threshold from two-thirds to 55 percent to approve a bond to fund public library facilities. Lowering the threshold for school facilities to 55 percent has already resulted in billions of dollars of additional property tax payments that otherwise would not have been approved by voters and the lower threshold has done nothing to improve education in California. Bond “add on” taxes are like parcel taxes because only property owners have to pay.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 9 (SCA 9), Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro): Lowers the threshold from two-thirds to 55 percent to increase special taxes — including parcel taxes — to fund community and economic development projects.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 11 (SCA 11), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley): Lowers the threshold to 55 percent to allow for voters representing any local government entity to approve a special tax for any purpose. This is far and away the broadest application, and thus the most egregious, of these constitutional amendments.
We at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have warned about the dangers of one-party rule in Sacramento and our predictions are now coming true. Despite now having the highest state income tax rate in America, the highest state sales tax rate in America and, come June, the highest gas tax in America, the majority party is launching a full scale assault on Prop. 13 to grab even more tax dollars from property owners.
To stop them, we must employ all our resources. First, the battle in the Legislature is far from over. Last week’s hearing was before only one policy committee. In the Senate itself, these measures will go through at least one more committee and, should they pass, go to the floor of the full Senate for a vote of the entire house. Even if they pass there, the bills must then go to the Assembly and its committee process.
During the next several months, we will take every opportunity to remind all California legislators that, before they cast their votes, they must understand that these bills attack the very core of Prop. 13. Some legislators from California’s most liberal areas don’t care. But most are fully aware of how popular Prop. 13 remains and many in the majority party come from districts where Prop. 13 is much more popular than in the districts of some of their left wing colleagues.
These legislators also know that the voters will have the final say and current polling suggests that Californians are very negative toward higher property taxes. They must therefore ask themselves if casting a vote against homeowners might not result in a shortened political career.
Thus, while homeowners may have lost round one, this is going to be a long fight. Victory will belong to those with the strength and resolve to prevail.
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.