Proposition 13 Still the Favorite Scapegoat

In an April 17 op-ed piece in the San Jose Mercury News state Senator Don Perata complains that in California we are witnessing the hollowing out of the middle class because of what he sees as an inadequate response to our education housing transportation and health care needs.

Predictably he hauls out Proposition 13 as the scapegoat for perceived education woes saying it is responsible for the loss of local educational control in California. While school financing is in fact controlled by Sacramento bureaucrats Perata is flat wrong in blaming Proposition 13. Prop 13 of course had virtually nothing to do with the initial centralization of education funding in California. But this urban legend is repeated so often by advocates representing the education industry that it is accepted as gospel.

The current system of funding education dates back to the California Supreme Court decision of 1971 — seven years before Prop. 13 passed — in the case of Serrano v. Priest. In this "equal protection" case the Court said that it was unconstitutional to rely on the property tax for the funding of local schools. The perceived harm in continuing the then-existing system was that communities with high value property were able to afford to spend much more money on each student than communities with property of low value. In response to the Court’s decree the state was compelled to step in to equalize spending per pupil throughout the state.

Still there are those who will respond to these facts by saying that even if Prop. 13 is not responsible for the centralization of the control of education funding it should be blamed for the "decline" in school spending.

This too is untrue.

A recent study by the Newport Beach-based Center for Government Analysis shows that K-12 school district revenues per student adjusted for inflation have increased over 30 percent since the passage of Prop. 13. That’s right. We are spending 30% more in real money on each student than we were in 1978. And this increase in funding has been accomplished in spite of the huge influx of students that is the result of undocumented immigration.

Ironically while complaining about Prop. 13’s fictional impact on education Perata also expressed concern about the high cost of housing. However while overly burdensome government regulations have contributed to the rising cost of a home in California Prop. 13 is one of the few pieces of good news for the prospective home buyer. Because Prop. 13 limits taxes to one percent of the home’s initial value and limits annual increases taxes will remain reasonable and — most importantly — predictable for the new buyer.

Although Perata does not blame Prop. 13 for our transportation and health care challenges he should regard all the issues he raises as "mirror" issues. He can find those who should be held accountable by looking in the mirror at himself and his colleagues. State government
revenue adjusted for inflation and population growth has increased by 25 percent since the passage of Prop. 13.

The state does not have a revenue problem but the lawmakers have a huge problem focusing their spending on the priorities of their constituents instead of those of special interest pleaders and the unions representing government workers.

However the number one way Perata can help assure the survival of the middle class in California is by rejecting all efforts to increase taxes on this already overburdened group.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.