Those who value liberty, good government and a reasonable level of taxation have a lot to complain about if they are citizens of California. Not only do we have one of the highest tax burdens in America, we rate very poorly in term of efficient and effective governance as well as transparency. Those of us who point out the state’s shortcomings are labeled as contrarian, “declinists” or pessimists by state politicians, including our governor.
And let’s not forget about corruption. Just a couple of years ago, the California Senate actually had a higher arrest rate than the general population of California. Because of all the negative press, it is no wonder that that the public believes that most of what the California Legislature does is self-serving.
Although there is more than sufficient justification to criticize California’s political system (and especially its legislature), for the sake of fairness, we should take special notice when our politicians do the right thing. For example, every so often bills are introduced that cut against the stereotype by providing genuine benefit to average folks.
Interestingly, although the California Legislature is fairly left leaning, sometimes opportunities present themselves for a taxpayer group like Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to work with legislators from both sides of the aisle to do good for average citizens. This year, HJTA has sponsored three separate legislative proposals in 2016 that have been well received in the Capitol.
The first, Assembly Bill 1891, by Assemblyman Matthew Dababneh, would provide property tax relief for seniors. Currently, seniors over the age of 65 in most school districts can file for an exemption from education parcel taxes. However, many school districts require an application for exemption to be filed every year. AB 1891 simply states that seniors only need to fill out the opt-out paperwork one time to be permanently exempt from paying a parcel tax.
HJTA is also the co-sponsor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, by Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown. Among its numerous positive provisions, ACA 6 will provide property tax savings for seniors in their retirement years. The law today allows married seniors over the age of 55 to transfer the Proposition 13 base value of their home to a property of equal or lesser value in the same county once in retirement. As good as this law is, it needs to be expanded. For instance, if a spouse were to divorce and remarry, that property owner would not be able to use their base value transfer exemption. Property owners are also out of luck if they do a base value transfer, then decide to move again a few years later. They would be forced to pay the full market value property taxes on a new home. ACA 6 allows for married couples to transfer their base value twice. This will provide couples increased flexibility to sell their home to move closer to children or grandchildren. If approved out of the Legislature, ACA 6 will go to the statewide ballot for voters to approve in November.
Assemblyman James Gallagher has introduced the third HJTA sponsored bill, AB 2801. This bill increases transparency for purposes of Proposition 218 protests. Approved by voters in 1996, Proposition 218 allows for water, sewer and refuse rate increases to be approved or rejected via a written protest process. Protests can either be mailed in, or announced at the public hearing. AB 2801 simply requires that protests will be retained for two years so taxpayers can review them after the hearing.
As may be apparent, these three bills do not reflect huge policy shifts, such as a large tax cut or a complete reorganization of state government. However, they do make California a better place for homeowners and taxpayers. And for that we can be grateful.
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.