What has dominated political discussion in California for 30 years been blamed for everything from the O.J. Simpson "not guilty" verdict to the Third World debt crisis and yet remains as overwhelmingly popular as ever?
The answer is Proposition 13 Howard Jarvis’ landmark tax limiting measure approved by nearly two-thirds of voters in 1978. A just-completed survey of California voters shows that even after three decades Proposition 13 enjoys overwhelming support.
The survey conducted by Arnold Steinberg and Associates reveals that if Proposition 13 were on the ballot today it would win by a margin of better than two to one. Perhaps even more amazing is that in spite of the wild accusations against it as voters learn more about Proposition 13 support reaches landslide proportions.
These results are consistent with other recent polls testing Proposition 13’s popularity. From survey information and from thousands upon thousands of calls and letters we receive at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association we know that Californians clearly recognize that Proposition 13 benefits all homeowners — whether they bought 20 years ago or last week — by making taxes predictable. By limiting yearly property tax increases to no more than two percent property owners no longer have to fear the nasty surprises — surprises that forced many out of their homes in the 1970s. Wisely voters jettisoned the prior "no limit" system in place prior to Proposition 13.
And it is not just the property tax reduction features of Proposition 13 that voters support. They also appreciate that because of Proposition 13 they have the opportunity to vote on most new or increased taxes at the local level.
An additional bonus of Proposition 13 is that it actually helps stabilize government revenue — with annual increases approaching double digits in good times while still providing low single digit growth when the housing market turns down. However this revenue stability is a two-edged sword. While eliminating the wild fluctuations that characterize sales and income tax receipts this reliable source of government income makes Proposition 13 the target of short-sighted politicians and bureaucrats who would like to see the property tax rate increased regardless of the negative impact on property owners.
So if Proposition 13 continues to be as popular as sunshine with voters who is opposed to it and why do we still hear shrill complaints and calls for changing the property tax system?
Those who do most of the complaining are the previously mentioned politicians bureaucrats and others who rely on their relationship with government for their power and incomes. They continue to hatch schemes to raise taxes even though California governments at all levels have more money after adjusting for population growth and inflation than then they did prior to the passage of Proposition 13 and this includes schools. For example in inflation-adjusted dollars we spend 30 percent more per pupil than we did in what some advocates of taxing and spending wistfully refer to as the "golden age" just before Proposition 13.
It is easy to see why public employee union leaders reject any measure that limits revenue and potential pay increases for union members even though according to the U.S. Census bureau we have the highest paid public employees in the nation. But opposition to Proposition 13 is not limited to those who receive a pay check directly from government.
There is a mammoth extended government infrastructure that includes contractors bond brokers and businesses that prosper by selling goods and services to government. In short anyone who profits from government spending is likely to oppose Proposition 13’s reasonable limits on taxation.
Even with Proposition 13 California remains a high tax state. One can only imagine what it would be like for the average resident without Proposition 13.
This is why the dividing lines between support and opposition to Proposition 13 are so clear. On the one side are Proposition 13 backers who believe government’s obligation is to serve the public. On the other side are those who see government’s role is to serve itself. To the second group a formidable and vocal minority Proposition 13 is like sunlight to a vampire.
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.
To view the survey questions and results (PDF) click here.
To read the analysis by pollster Arnold Steinberg (PDF) click here.