Halloween is almost here and like a hoard of ravenous zombies, the politicians, the bureaucrats and government employee union bosses shamble along groaning “more, more” — more taxpayer dollars, that is. They are accompanied by ghoulish cadre of minions including the occasional academic from a taxpayer supported institution and a handful of left-wing think tanks, followed by a gaggle of columnists and reporters who long ago abandoned objectivity when writing about Proposition 13.
But the zombie army, with its insatiable appetite for other people’s money, is being held in check by the general public’s overwhelming support for Prop. 13, with its limitations on annual property tax increases and its mandate that new state taxes be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. A September Field Poll reveals that Prop. 13 enjoys the same or a greater level of support than it received when it was passed by a nearly two-thirds vote 33 years ago.
The response by the minority with the great hunger for tax dollars has been to launch even more desperate and shrill attacks on Prop. 13.
In the last week we saw one opinion piece, disguised as a news article, that parrots the arguments made by those who would repeal Prop. 13’s protections for taxpayers. The story, appearing in Bloomberg News, repeats the canard that Prop. 13 is responsible for California’s decline in educational excellence. Nowhere does it mention that the California Supreme Court ruled in 1971, seven years before the passage of Prop. 13, that property tax revenue could no longer be used as the basis of education funding. Also unmentioned is that in inflation adjusted dollars, California now spends 30 percent more per student than it did prior to the passage of Prop. 13.
Moreover, the same slanted piece of journalism regurgitated the favorite theme of the “progressive left,” that business is not paying its “fair share” under Prop. 13. Why don’t we read that when taken as a class, business properties have been assessed at closer to market value than residential properties? This is due to the fact that business properties are improved more frequently and that these improvements trigger an upward reassessment.
The article repeats charges that corporations are gaming the system by not reporting changes in ownership that would trigger reassessment to market value under Prop. 13. Yet the example provided as proof, Michael Dell’s 2006 purchase of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, actually reports that the Assessment Appeals Board ruled against the hotel owners and they are now compelled to pay taxes based on change of ownership. No gaming the system here.
The article quotes an assistant school superintendent as saying funding is a “nightmare” — again nothing to do with Prop. 13, as education funding is provided by the Legislature — but nowhere is the “nightmare” for homeowners, many of whom were losing their homes to the tax collector prior to Prop. 13, described.
Then there is State Sen. Kevin deLeon, who is given space in the Los Angeles Times to campaign for the elimination of the two-thirds vote for tax increases imposed by the Legislature, which is a requirement of Prop. 13. The senator makes the absurd claim that voters are clamoring for higher taxes, but they are thwarted by a “tyrannical minority.” But when the voters are actually asked if they want higher taxes, they repeatedly vote no. In fact, in 2009 voters rejected by nearly 2-1 a $16 billion tax extension proposal that deLeon still wants to impose. California voters have rejected every statewide tax increase proposal on the ballot since November of 2004.
Relying on urban myths, the underlying assumption in both Palmeri’s and deLeon’s pieces is that Californians are under taxed. But voters in this state know better. We rank sixth in overall tax burden relative to other states, have the highest state sales tax rate, have the highest gas tax and, even with Prop. 13, we rank 14th out of 50 in per capita property tax collections. In addition to being an indisputably high tax state, our economic woes are compounded by the fact that we have the highest paid public employees in all 50 states, we repeatedly rank dead last as a place to do business due to high taxes and suffocating regulations, and our Democrat governor and Legislature are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the government employees unions. Halloweens come and go, but sadly, Sacramento’s tax increase zombies remain in place.
That, more than anything, is why California voters have rejected the last several proposed statewide tax increases and why there is a nearly universal cry to “leave Prop. 13 alone!”
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.