Don’t Mess With Proposition 13

Thirty-two years ago Time Magazine wrote about the passage of Proposition 13 “That angry noise was the sound of a middle-class tax revolt erupting and its tremors are shaking public officials from Sacramento to Washington D.C.”

The power of Proposition 13 to shake up the political landscape and topple politicians who attempt to undermine it remains undiminished.

Just Ask Steve Poizner who ran as a fiscal conservative in the Republican primary for governor while carrying the baggage of having spent $200000 to pass an initiative that has made it easier to increase property taxes for bonds that have cost taxpayers nearly $40 billion. While he pleaded that he regretted his prior actions taxpayers especially homeowners had a problem dismissing this as well as another Poizner backed effort to increase property taxes from their minds when they entered the voting booth.

Jerry Brown was taught his lesson back in 1978. He vigorously opposed the Jarvis tax relief measure before the election. When it was approved by 65% of voters he moved quickly to embrace it. So quickly in fact a month after the election a Los Angeles Times poll showed that a majority of people thought he had backed Proposition 13. His active cheerleading for the tax limiting measure earned him the nickname “Jerry Jarvis” and he won reelection in November of that year.

Now that Brown is looking to become governor again it remains to be seen if he will reinvent himself once more on the issue of Proposition 13 but publicly he continues to pay it homage. Last year he told an audience at UC Irvine “I don’t think taking on Proposition 13 is viable” and added “I don’t think it (change) is needed.”

While this may not be enough to put taxpayers totally at ease — especially when Brown’s biggest political allies the government employee unions despise Proposition 13 — it shows that Brown is not anxious to become the next victim of the Proposition 13 wood chipper. Four statewide polls conducted over the last several years show that if Proposition 13 were on the ballot today it could easily receive a higher percentage of the vote than it did originally. The measure’s continuing popularity should not be lost on anyone seriously seeking statewide office.

Many now want to know not only where Meg Whitman stands on Proposition 13 but what are the indications she can be counted on to defend it in the future.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has Whitman’s declaration of support for Proposition 13 in writing. More than that she has repeatedly told taxpayers “I will not let you down.” Perhaps most important she has demonstrated that she understands the human impact of Proposition 13 and how much it means to average taxpayers. She speaks with enthusiasm about a recent visit to an 87 year old homeowner. The woman told Whitman that her taxes are just over $2000. Without Proposition 13 they would be an unaffordable $6600.

While this story of an elderly widow who is able to maintain her home due to Proposition 13 makes a powerful point Whitman beams when she adds that the woman’s son and his family live next door. For the fact that this extended family can remain in the same neighborhood Whitman credits Proposition 13.

Whitman sees what Justice Blackmun saw when he penned the majority opinion in the 1992 US Supreme Court decision that upheld Proposition 13’s constitutionality. “First the state has a legitimate interest in local neighborhood preservation continuity and stabilityäó_.” wrote the justice.

In the larger context Proposition 13 is much more than a law that limits how rapidly property taxes can be raised. Proposition 13 is about people. It is about homes and families. Because of Proposition 13 Californians can aspire to own a home without the fear that government will seize their property by imposing arbitrary taxes they cannot afford.

The view of California taxpayers is unequivocal: Politicians who would tamper with Proposition 13 do so at their peril.

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.