Mixed bag for taxpayers this year

This past weekend was the deadline for Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign or veto bills. Thankfully, many of the worst bills, like attempts to create a wealth tax and a perennial attempt to repeal one of the most important protections in Proposition 13 by lowering the existing two-thirds vote threshold for both local bonds and special taxes to 55 percent, failed to get out of the Legislature.

By the end of the session, only a handful of bills we opposed made it to the governor’s desk. Let’s review how taxpayers fared.

On the positive side, the governor signed Assembly Bill 398 which prevents the Department of Motor Vehicles from making a profit by selling personal information. By ensuring that the department cannot impose charges that exceed a service’s cost, AB 398 removed a dangerous opportunity for the department to trade valuable data to third party interests.

Senate Bill 219 authorizes the auditor or the tax collector to cancel any penalty, costs, or other charges associated with a missed property tax payment caused by the state shelter-in-place order if certain criteria are met. The Legislature has been particularly active in addressing the harm the COVID-19 lockdown had on renters, but the pandemic has also had a tremendous impact on homeowners as well. SB 219 provides important relief for homeowners.

On a similar note, Senate Bill 303 extended by two years the five-year time period under existing tax law in which to transfer a Prop. 13 base year value to a comparable property following a disaster.

Legislation which enhances government transparency and citizen participation also passed. SB 274 requires local agencies to make agendas and all the documents constituting the agenda packet available by email at the request of a member of the public. Previously, it was only required by mail.

We were also pleased to see the governor veto SB 660. All SB 660 would have done is drive up the cost of getting measures on the ballot. That favors wealthy and entrenched interests.

Now for the bad.

The governor signed AB 428. The bill was clearly in response to the overwhelming approval of Measure K in San Bernardino County, which amended the County Charter to impose a term limit of one term and reduced the total compensation for each member of the Board of Supervisors to $5,000 per month. But if Measure K is a problem, it is no worse than stripping voters of the ability to designate their preferred length of terms and set pay of the county supervisors because lawmakers dislike the outcome of an election. That’s what AB 428 does.

AB 1177 starts the process of creating a public bank. While California’s coffers may be flush with cash due to a pandemic-defying stock market, what we do not have is the money to experiment with a risky venture.

The governor also signed SB 9 and 10. You are likely already familiar with these two housing density bills, they were the most controversial of the year for reasons that I have opined on in this column previously.

Unfortunately, the governor also vetoed two good bills. SB 675 would have let the disabled and elderly pay their property taxes in monthly installments rather than in two lump payments and AB 339 would have required larger cities and counties to continue to include an opportunity for members of the public to attend by telephone or internet option, as they were able to do during the pandemic.

So how did we do? Well, the good news is now we’re safe from Sacramento until January. The bad news is that the governor signed into law 770 bills. But truth be told, it wasn’t a terrible year for the taxpayer — at least by California standards.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.