Legislation just signed by Gov. Brown may help alert homeowners to the threat posed by per parcel property taxes. Parcel taxes have become one of the most insidious threats to home ownership because they can be imposed over and above the property tax limits set by Proposition 13.
Supported by a broad coalition lead by the California Taxpayers Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Assembly Bill 2109 requires the Controller to maintain a publicly accessible data base relating to the imposition of locally assessed parcel taxes, including the type and rate of a parcel tax and the number of parcels subject to or exempt from the parcel tax. Finally, taxpayers will be able to see the extent of parcel taxes throughout the state and the costs to property owners.
Parcel taxes came about as a result of politicians never ending effort to circumvent the property tax limitations contained in Proposition 13. Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, Proposition 13’s authors, intended that taxes on property be limited to one percent of the taxable value and that the taxable value on the assessor’s books could not be increased by more than two percent annually.
To squeeze more from homeowners, local officials came up with the parcel tax, usually a uniform tax placed on each parcel of property within a community –although it can also be based on size. By imposing a uniform charge for the privilege of owning property within a community, they were able to persuade the courts that it did not violate Proposition 13’ prohibition against additional ad valorem (value based) taxes.
Parcel taxes are extremely regressive, bearing no relationship to ability to pay. The young couple in a starter home, the elderly couple in a bungalow and a multimillionaire in a mansion, all pay the same amount. There is no restriction on the dollar amount of these taxes that exceed Proposition 13’s limits, or on the number of such proposals that can be placed on the ballot. And while bonds — also paid for by property owners — must be used for “brick and mortar” construction, parcel taxes can be used for any purpose including increased pay and pensions for government employees.
Adding insult to injury, there has been a major push in the Legislature to reduce the two-thirds vote needed to approve parcel taxes. Although this would clearly undermine Proposition 13 by making it easier to increase property taxes, backers of a lower approval threshold respond innocently, “We are not trying to raise taxes, we are just making the process more democratic.” The threat of course is that by making it much easier to impose new taxes on property owners, home ownership could again be threatened as it was prior to Proposition 13 when taxes were going up so fast that many owners were forced to give up their homes.
Thanks to Assembly Bill 2109, more attention can be brought to the burden that parcel taxes impose on California homeowners and it will help make the case that not only should they be defeated individually as they appear on the ballot, but they should be banned outright.
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.