Perhaps California’s political structure hasn’t quite devolved into the kind of despotic regime like we see in North Korea or Venezuela, but that doesn’t mean we’re not headed in that direction. As reported last week in this column, the attack on Proposition 13 is now in full gear as proponents of the infamous “split roll” initiative are on the streets collecting signatures for their new $12 billion property tax increase on Californians.
The measure, entitled the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2020, would remove one of Proposition 13’s most important protections, the limitation on annual increases in taxable value, from commercial properties. Proponents of the measure have made it clear that their ultimate objective is the full dismantling of Prop. 13, even for homeowners. Taxpayers and businesses are ready for a tough battle, but there remains an open question about what happens when the other side cheats. Two things happened lately that reflect the tax-and-spend lobby’s “win at any cost” mindset.
First, with an assist from a politically biased politician serving in the Attorney General’s office, proponents were able to secure a one-sided title and summary to the signature petitions.
The title and summary that Xavier Becerra issued on Oct. 17 begins by emphasizing higher funding for education, a main selling point that is popular among voters. This title differs from the original version of a similar measure that highlighted the tax implication for commercial property — something a recent poll suggests would be rejected by voters.
The taxpayer coalition opposing the measure has put the Democratic attorney general on notice that, unless the title and summary prepared for the actual ballot material is changed from the “circulating” title on the petitions, they would seek a remedy in the courts.
Not only were the A.G.’s actions roundly criticized by media outlets as diverse as the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle and numerous political commentators, it also renewed calls to have the entire process of preparing ballot material taken away from the A.G. and given to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst.
The second indication that the proponents have no points on their moral compass, is the extent to which they will lie to voters in their efforts to secure the necessary signatures to qualify the “split roll” initiative. As noted above, the proposal repeals in part an important protection of Prop. 13 resulting in billions in higher property taxes every year. And yet, those collecting signatures have put signs on their tables in front of supermarkets and shopping malls that say “Protect Proposition 13” as if the measure actually benefited taxpayers and property owners. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In addition to the disastrous “split roll” initiative, there are two other measures sponsored by the California Association of Realtors, which would expand portability of Prop. 13 base-year assessments, removing some restrictions to make it easier for older homeowners to buy a replacement property and transfer their current property tax assessment to the new home. While expanding portability is beneficial, this change would come at an unacceptably high price. The measure also would revoke Prop. 13’s protection from inherited homes that parents leave to their children, unless the children use the home as their principal residence.
At this stage, it is important to realize that there are no initiative petitions currently being circulated that benefit taxpayers. For anyone who may still be confused about all of this, let’s keep it simple: Don’t sign anything.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (hjta.org).