Here we go again. Another “study” purporting to reveal how unfair Proposition 13 is. But this time, the tax-hikers are using the progressives’ favorite catch-all justification: inequity and racism. Prop. 13 has been under constant assault for 42 years by people who want to raise property taxes without limitation. Like all their other arguments, this one won’t stick either.
First, let’s review a few of the many complaints leveled against Prop. 13 over the last few decades. An early one was the “nosy neighbor” argument, complaining that some new homebuyers pay more in property taxes than their neighbors. Of course, exactly like their neighbors, new buyers’ taxes are based on the price they paid for the property, and increases are capped after that.
Next there was the false charge that “Prop. 13 starves education.” Then there was bitterness that Snow White didn’t pay enough in taxes on her Disneyland castle. Now the theme is Social Justice and the Fight Against Racism.
The 47-page report from the Opportunity Institute and Pivot Learning, titled “Unjust Legacy,” wrongly asserts that Proposition 13 has contributed to inequities in schools and communities. Contrary to the authors’ contention that Proposition 13 is unfair to minorities, the nation’s highest court concluded just the opposite. In Nordlinger v. Hahn, the United States Supreme Court expressly stated that California can “legitimately … decide to structure its tax system to discourage rapid turnover in ownership of homes and businesses, for example, in order to inhibit displacement of lower income families by the forces of gentrification.”
Ironically, at the same time the “Unjust Legacy” report was being released in California, the Washington Post carried a story out of Texas with the headline “Modern ‘redlining’ is pushing some Texans out of their homes.” The Post relates the sad situation of Rebecca Flores, a 79-year-old woman in San Antonio who wants to keep her home in the family. But “she and many of her mostly Mexican American neighbors say they are being priced out of their homes due to skyrocketing property taxes and a hot housing market that has developers pressuring them to sell in the rapidly gentrifying city.”
The Post notes that rising home values, and the rising property taxes that follow, threaten to displace the longtime residents who helped give San Antonio its distinctive culture and character. “It’s a crisis facing cities across America,” the paper reports, “where housing is in short supply, affordable housing is even scarcer, and investors are sweeping into high-demand markets with big cash offers that are pricing many Americans out of the market altogether.”
Flores, the 79-year-old grandmother, is at her wits’ end. “This is how the fiber of a community is frayed,” she said. “Investors come and take over. It’s just like 1836, people with money came and changed laws, got the land and the power and they threw all the Mexicans out. Here we are in 2022, and they are doing the same thing all over again.”
The so-called “Unjust Legacy” report concludes that scholars and others “should collectively determine what it will take to overcome political and taxpayer resistance to changing Proposition 13.” This is a thoughtless assault on California property owners, who do not pay property tax bills “collectively.” They pay property taxes for the property they own, based on the price they paid, with an annual inflation adjustment that cannot exceed 2%.
Without Proposition 13, low- and middle-income California homeowners would be taxed out of their property, forced to sell because they cannot afford to pay an annual tax bill based on the skyrocketing, inflation-driven value of real estate. That meets no one’s definition of equity or justice.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.