A Clear and Present Danger to Proposition 13

property taxThe attacks on Proposition 13 began within a few days after its overwhelming passage by California voters on June 6, 1978. Over the last three and half decades, this landmark taxpayer protection has been assailed in the Legislature, the courts and by ballot initiatives sponsored by tax-and-spend interests. These assaults continue to this day.

In a development that has surprised taxpayer advocates and the business community, a new attack on Proposition 13 is quickly gaining traction. Filed as an initiative with the sympathetic title of “Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Act,” the proposal would impose a massive $6 billion property tax increase on both homeowners and business properties. Its primary backer is Conway Collis, a former member of the California Board of Equalization.

The fact that there is yet another attack on Proposition 13 is not much of a surprise. However, this proposal is as odd as it is dangerous. First, it is not being financed by the usual anti-Proposition 13 coalition of public sector unions and local government interests. Instead, the funding is coming from anti-poverty groups aligned with the Catholic Church, including the Sisters of Charity.

Second, in a strange political move, the proposal would impose its sliding scale of property tax increases – euphemistically labeled as “surcharges” – on residential properties as well as commercial real estate. Conventional wisdom in Sacramento has been that the most likely attack on Proposition 13 would be limited to commercial property with the imposition of a so-called “split roll” tax. (Proposition 13 maintained California’s historical tradition of taxing all real estate at the same rate. “Split roll” proposals – which remain a constant threat – would impose higher rates and/or different tax rules on business properties.)

By imposing higher taxes on homes have the proponents made a political miscalculation? While it is true that, for now, the tax increase would only impact properties with a current assessed value in excess of $3 million, owners of average homes are fully aware that any breach in Proposition 13 could open the floodgates to more attacks that weaken their own protections. California homeowners, in other words, fully grasp the notion of “slippery slope” when it comes to attacks on Proposition 13.

By adopting a “go it alone” strategy without the usual left of center coalition, the proponents face the very real prospect of a broad opposition coalition. For example, public sector labor organizations are more focused on extending the Proposition 30 income tax increases. If they view the Conway Collis measure as a threat to their own interests they could very well oppose it or, worse yet, oppose it with significant money.

Moreover, it appears that the proponents haven’t fully comprehended how local government interests will react to the creation of a new state (not local) fund that would distribute the property tax proceeds generated by the new “surcharges.” It is likely that cities, counties and special districts will view this an unwanted intrusion into a primary source of their own funding.

The above are just a few of the problems with the Collis initiative. There are many more that will become evident as scrutiny from various political interests begins to intensify.

But one thing is certain. With the recent infusion of nearly a million dollars for the signature gathering effort, property owners need to take this threat very seriously. And while there is no guarantee that it will qualify for the 2016 ballot, anyone who values the protections afforded by Proposition 13 better not wait too long to prepare for a tough fight in November.

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.

The Enduring Legacy of Howard Jarvis

Howard-JarvisAfter the passage of Proposition 13, Howard Jarvis became even more popular with average citizens. He would joke that overnight he went from being regarded as a “nut” by the political elites to being seen as a “savior” for millions of California homeowners.

Visitors to Howard’s office would praise him for coming up with Proposition 13 just when it was so desperately needed. But Howard would just smile and point out that he had been working on property tax reform for 16 years.

Howard was tenacious and a big believer in the power of people when they combined together to make change. When speaking to groups he would hold up his hand with his fingers extended and say that while separately they were weak, united they were strong and he would form his hand into a fist. Some will remember seeing the photo of Howard holding up his fist on the cover of Time Magazine.

However, Howard understood that it was necessary to start small. His first taxpayer group meeting was attended by only 20 ordinary citizens — no celebrities, no politicians — just regular folks concerned that if the trend of ever escalating property taxes continued, they would lose their homes.

Howard would say that people who want to reform government don’t have to wait for somebody else to lead them. “You don’t need a campaign manager to lead you; you can be your own campaign manager and lead yourself,” he wrote. “The brains and capacities of the citizens of the United States are invariably greater than the brains and the capacities of bureaucracy – now misnamed government.”

For taxpayers, the key to success, Howard believed, could be summed up in the words of James E. Byrnes, secretary of state in the Truman administration, who said, “I discovered at an early age that most of the difference between average people and great people can be explained in three words: ‘And then some.’” Howard attributed the eventual success of the Tax Revolt to the fact that his fellow taxpayer activists did what was expected, “And then some.”

Although Howard passed in 1986, his spirit lives on in thousands of Californians who give of their time and energy to push for more economical and efficient government. To remind the public of these unsung heroes, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association annually presents the Taxfighter of the Year Award.

This year’s recipient is Ourania Riddle, a 30 year member of the Solano County Taxpayers Association, who witnessed the unelected State Water Resources Control Board running roughshod over the rights of taxpayers in her hometown of Dixon, and decided to take action. Her lobbying helped to assure passage of a state law that would allow Dixon to comply with water regulations and avoid penalties of $10,000 a day.

When the city determined a major water rate increase was in order, Ourania and her friends succeeded in gathering enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot to rescind the increase. Although a court subsequently ruled that the taxpayers’ effort to use the power of initiative was invalid, Ourania and her cohorts succeeded in changing state law and putting Dixon officials on notice that its taxpayers are organized and are carefully watching costs.

We at HJTA thank Ourania and all those unsung taxpayer heroes throughout the state who improve our lives by volunteering to act as watchdogs over government spending and who prod government to make more efficient use of taxpayers’ dollars. The spirit of Howard Jarvis lives on in the actions of these outstanding California taxpayers who are willing to do what is expected, “and then some.”

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

New “Report Card” exposes politicians on Prop. 13

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an intellectual leader of the United States Senate for 24 years, often chided adversaries declaring “you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Nowhere is the effort to obscure facts more pronounced than in the California Capitol.

It is one thing for a legislator to say he or she likes Proposition 13 and has the best of intentions for its preservation, but it is quite another when they actually vote on various Proposition 13 related bills. For it is the actual votes cast that determine what the “facts” are – not intentions or platitudinous opinions.

As we get closer to the November election, politicians on the left side of the political spectrum are squeezed. On the one hand, they’ve promised their political funders – mostly public sector labor bosses – that they will try to dismantle Proposition 13 and other taxpayer protections. On the other hand, they tell their voters just the opposite. You see, public expressions to repeal or weaken Proposition 13 don’t sell too well back home. There is a reason that Proposition 13 is called the “third rail” of California politics.

That’s what makes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Legislative Report Card so important.
As a tool for holding legislators accountable, there is nothing better than HJTA’s legislative scorecard for all California voters who care about Proposition 13, taxpayer rights and efficient use of taxpayer dollars. The 2014 edition includes 15 bills ranging from positive measures like increasing transparency for local property parcel taxes to more negative proposals like a paper bag tax and a new local car tax that is masquerading as a hidden fee. Because HJTA is a non-partisan organization – over 30 percent of members are registered Democrats – we ignore party affiliation entirely when handing out grades. Only the politicians’ votes matter, not their campaign promises.

The HJTA Report Card provides valuable information to voters every year, but the stakes are even higher in 2014. Tax-happy legislative leaders desiring to weaken Proposition 13 were only two FBI investigations and criminal indictments away from succeeding.

And next year taxpayers are unlikely to receive such a reprieve. That makes the November 2014 election, and these Report Card grades, critically important. If tax-and-spend legislators secure a two-thirds supermajority – and avoid FBI entanglement – property taxes could be increased by billions of dollars. We know this to be true because Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8, a bill introduced in 2013 to lower the two-thirds vote to 55 percent for a litany of expensive infrastructure projects including streets, highways, water projects and public safety buildings, actually cleared the Assembly last year.

Unless voters possess the knowledge of how their legislators actually voted, we could very well see a horde of anti-Proposition 13 proposals pass.

And, as usual, most legislators did very poorly on their grades this year. While scores overall were slightly higher than a year ago, 75 legislators still received a failing grade, meaning they agreed with our position less than 50% of the time. Five legislators received a perfect 100% average over the last two years. These were State Assemblymembers Brian Dahle, Tim Donnelly, Beth Gaines and State Senators Joel Anderson and Mark Wyland.

Taxpayers know the stakes. Now they need to know the truth. This report card clears the fog and obfuscation to reveal the truth about California legislators.

To review the HJTA Legislative Report Card please click here.

This article was originally published on HJTA.org