Even if one lives in a cave, it’s hard to avoid the publicity surrounding the high profile presidential debates that are a reminder that this is an election year. And California taxpayers know, from hard experience, it also means that it is open season on taxpayers as local politicians rush to put tax increases on the ballot.
Emboldened by success in little-publicized 2015 off-year elections in which 29 out of 40 local tax increase measures passed, scores of communities and special districts are seeing this year as an ideal opportunity to raise your taxes.
Presidential election years tend to bring out more voters, including many who do not pay close attention to what’s on the ballot until the last minute. These “low information voters” are a prime target of tax raisers because they are more easily convinced by simplistic arguments. These duplicitous arguments often tout the benefits of a measure to a community, without ever mentioning that it is a new tax. Or they minimalize the actual cost by expressing it in pennies per day, “It will only cost about 50 cents a day!”
Of course those promoting new or higher taxes do not want taxpayers to notice that they are often being attacked on several fronts simultaneously, as cities, counties and special districts reach for their wallets.
One of the most popular taxes from the standpoint of public officials is the parcel tax, usually a uniform property tax on all “parcels” of property within a community or district. The politicians like these taxes because, unlike bonds which must be used for brick and mortar projects, the revenue from parcel taxes can be used for any purpose including raises in pay and pensions for public employees.
These taxes are insidious because they exceed Proposition 13 limits and there is no relationship between what is being charged and the property owner’s ability to pay. A young couple in a starter home, an elderly couple in a bungalow and a multimillionaire in a mansion, all pay the same amount. Additionally, parcel taxes bear no direct connection to any service actually provided to the property owner.
Already there is a parcel tax slated for nine Bay Area counties, while cities and school districts throughout the state are preparing their own new taxes for the ballot.
So, if you are a property owner, especially one on a limited budget, it is important to familiarize yourself with what is on your local ballot. There is a good chance that you will find a parcel property tax. Fortunately, because of Proposition 13, these require a two-thirds vote, so if a tax is not justified, there is a realistic opportunity for voters to reject it.
To paraphrase a series of commercials promoting a satellite television service currently urging viewers “don’t be a settler” – “don’t be a low information voter.” When your sample ballot arrives in a few short months, study it carefully. Keep in mind that the official title and summary for tax measures are often manipulated by the political class to encourage a Yes vote. If you have any doubts about the information provided, do further research.
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.