Prop. 13 Was the Reaction Not the Cause of California’s Dysfunction

Last week The Sacramento Bee published a three part series entitled "Going Broke." It was an earnest attempt by reporters Steve Wiegand and Phillip Reese to determine the genesis of California’s financial crisis. But like so many other discussions about the demise of California’s exceptionality it began its review with the enactment of Proposition 13. While the series rightly placed blame for some of the problem on feverish spending by state politicians it is also important to clarify that the dysfunction in California’s governance had begun long before Proposition 13’s passage in 1978 and indeed the tax revolt was merely a response to the disease that had already overtaken the state.

The overwhelming support for Proposition 13 in 1978 was not the result of a highly persuasive political campaign. Proposition 13 was swept into law by a popular movement of Californians who were sick and tired of huge annual property tax increases that threatened to put them out of their homes and businesses. Voters were also fed up with the Legislature effortlessly and frivolously raising taxes with a simple majority.

Let’s consider where we would be if Proposition 13 had not protected taxpayers by making it more difficult for politicians to raise our taxes.

Would the hundreds of tax increase proposals introduced in the Capitol over the years have been passed? In addition to the $12.5 billion in tax increases the Legislature slapped us with this past February would more follow? What if the $40 billion in new tax hikes being pushed by one government employee union had been allowed to pass by a simple majority this year?

And what would life be like if Proposition 13 were not enacted to stabilize property taxes and revenues in California? How many people would have lost their homes and businesses during the last real estate spike when property values quickly — and artificially — skyrocketed? Conversely how much worse off would the state be if during this real estate plunge it could not count on base value property taxes ensured by Proposition 13?

State spending has long been out of control growing by $30 billion over the last 10 years alone. But decades of serious state budget shortfalls have not prompted politicians to rein in spending on any level.

So let’s be clear: Patient zero in the state’s enduring budget plague has never been Proposition 13. The sickness has instead come from within the halls of the Capitol and must be eradicated if this great state is ever to recover and prosper again.

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.