Beware of indoctrination in the split roll fight

It’s no secret that public sector labor organizations hate Proposition 13 because it remains one of the few barriers to their unfettered access to our wallets and pocketbooks.

Whether in the courts, legislature, initiative measures or “public education” campaigns, their relentless resistance to that landmark initiative has continued unabated for over forty years.

Much to their frustration, however, Prop. 13’s popularity has remained consistent during that same period of time.

Today, the most significant threat to Proposition 13 is the proposed “split roll” initiative which is currently in the signature gathering phase. This proposal, labeled as The California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2020, is a $12 billion property tax increase. It dismantles one of Prop. 13’s most important protections, the limitation on annual increases in taxable value. Under Prop. 13, the taxable or “assessed” value of property can only increase two percent per year. This provision provides predictability and stability in tax liability for all property owners, whether the property is residential or commercial.

A key backer of the “split roll” initiative is, not surprisingly, the California Teachers Association, one of the state’s most powerful special interests. They are the chief purveyor of the myth that, somehow, Prop. 13 is the cause of the decline in educational quality. Fact check: California now spends 30% more on a per-pupil inflation-adjusted basis than it did in the mid-70’s when California schools were some of the best in the nation.

The sad truth is that no level of taxation or debt is too heavy for the union bosses at CTA, notwithstanding the fact that California ranks among the highest in the nation in teacher pay and benefits. The problems preventing quality education are due to the failure to pursue meaningful reforms, such as merit pay and school choice.

As in years past, the defenders of Prop. 13 are preparing for a tough fight in November. But of great concern is the extent to which split roll backers will enjoy several unfair advantages. For example, our Attorney General has a history of putting his thumb on the scales of the election process in ways that favor his political backers, including CTA. Almost certainly, he will prepare a “title and summary” for the ballot pamphlet that neither accurately reflects what the split-roll measure really does nor the harm that it will cause.

Another unfair, and potentially illegal, advantage that can be expected from CTA is the use of public resources to advance their political objectives. This takes many forms, but already split-roll backers are telling teachers to use parents and students as a distribution network to pass out fliers and other campaign material.

Every election season, we hear hundreds of complaints from parents who object to their kids bringing home campaign fliers that were handed out by their teachers. Most parents are afraid to complain, because they don’t want their child to be subject to retaliation in the classroom. Those that do complain are quickly dismissed as not caring about schools.

This coming year, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association will put the split roll proponents on notice that illegal indoctrination of school children and use of taxpayer dollars for political advocacy will be met with legal action.

In conjunction with the Fair Political Practices Commission, HJTA has already had success in deterring some of this activity but we intend to increase our efforts. Prop. 13 defenders will be prepared for a fair political fight, but campaign activity outside the bounds of law will be resisted and, if necessary, resolved by the courts.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.