Jason Gibbs | Proposition 13 Is in Jeopardy; Who Protects It?

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While still over a year away, the 2020 elections are shaping up to be quite a fascinating spectacle. Freshman democratic legislators representing the Santa Clarita Valley face a conservative constituency energizing behind new faces appearing on the political scene. 

Presidential candidates are playing a disheartening game of “who can go farther left than the other,” and the majority of the populace can’t decide where they stand, or how to stand, with President Trump and not be vilified by modern political extremists. Even with the highly watched presidential race, and my own campaign for City Council underway, there is a proposition on the ballot that ALL Californians should be deeply concerned about, as the voters will consider abandoning protections against property taxes provided under Proposition 13.

Passed in 1978 and perhaps the most influential and famous ballot measure battle in California history, Proposition 13 provided a number of tax limitation measures on personal property. In the late ’70s, inflation and property values started to skyrocket property taxes so high that families were left no choice but to sell their properties. Images and stories of seniors being forced to leave their homes because of these crushing property tax bills seemed to resonate more than the doomsday predictions of devastating funding losses for local governments, and more than 60% of the voting public approved Proposition 13. 

Upon passage, Proposition 13 rolled back most local real estate assessments to 1975 market values, limited the tax rate to 1% plus local indebtedness from voter-approved bonds, and limited future property tax increases to a maximum of 2% per year. 

One of the more significant protections in this initiative was requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates (including income taxes), and required a two-thirds majority in local elections for local governments to have special taxes (i.e. money that does not go into a general fund and tackles specific items like schools, homelessness, etc.).

For decades, Proposition 13 was virtually left untouched. A number of other propositions through the ’80s and ’90s passed, furthering protection from new tax assessments on property when transferred from parents to children (Prop. 58), seniors purchasing a new home (Prop. 60 and Prop. 90), and grandparents passing their primary residence to the grandchildren (Prop. 193).

Following the defeat of Proposition 5 in 2018 (which would have extended the Prop. 60 and Prop. 90 protections to all homeowners over 55) with 58% voting no, a chink in the armor had finally been exposed, and two more opportunities would be taken to remove these protections and, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, would potentially bring billions of dollars of government revenue. The first attempt was just recently shot down in the Assembly: The failure to pass Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 1, which would have lowered the threshold for local agencies to impose property taxes for infrastructure and affordable housing from two-thirds to 55%. 

Here locally, Assemblyman Tom Lackey voted “No,” vowing to always vote against any effort to undermine Proposition 13. Thank you sir!

But the biggest test of all for Proposition 13 will appear on the 2020 ballot, which is popularly known as “split roll.” 

“The Schools and Communities First” campaign was funded by the SEIU, the San Francisco Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg initiative. They paid nearly $3.5 million to qualify this imitative on the ballot, which will effectively remove the Proposition 13 protections on commercial properties. Furthermore, the organization is doubling down and recently announced they would be attempting to qualify a revised initiative to make the tax increase more protective of small business, while making sure large corporations don’t get the shelter provided under Proposition 13. Everyone should know that all of these new costs will be passed on to the rest of us as consumers and residents.

Even through decades of the Democrats ruling California, Proposition 13 had been seemingly untouchable because the political fallout was perceived to be too great. However, with a Democrat supermajority in the Legislature, and extremism becoming the mainstream, 2020 may change all that.

The ability of the people to impose taxes on personal property should always be a very high wall to climb over, but with initiatives like this, we enhance the ability of those willing to use the ballot box to take something that does not belong to them. That is not what our republic was built on, and I encourage all of you to stand with those who will protect Proposition 13, and not chip away at it with abstentions or further hunger for more government revenue.

Jason Gibbs is a Santa Clarita resident. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Saturdays and rotates among several local Republicans.

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