A: Prior to Proposition 13, property taxes were out of control. The tax rate throughout California averaged almost 3% of market value, and there were no limits on increases either for the tax rate or property value assessments. Some properties were reassessed 50% to 100% higher in just one year, so their owners’ tax bills skyrocketed, often beyond the homeowners’ ability to pay their property taxes!
In one year in Los Angeles County alone, 400,000 people had not paid their property tax because they didn’t have the money, running the risk of being forced out of their homes.
Elderly people were among the hardest hit. Many had paid off their mortgages yet faced losing their homes because they couldn’t afford property taxes. Just as millions of Californians were at risk of being driven out of their homes, Howard Jarvis gathered more than 1.5 million signatures to qualify a statewide initiative that would finally end excessive taxation and protect the security of home ownership — Proposition 13.
An overwhelming majority of Californian voters — almost 66% — voted for Proposition 13 because they knew that the initiative would finally take power away from the tax collectors and give it back to the taxpayers. And once Howard Jarvis and his Tax Revolt passed Proposition 13, property tax rates finally became predictable, manageable, and fair.
A: After Proposition 13 was approved on June 6, 1978, Howard Jarvis knew that taxpayers’ gains would be temporary without a permanent citizens’ organization to protect Proposition 13. To make sure that Proposition 13 provided permanent protections, he founded the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (originally called the California Tax Reduction Movement), starting with a handful of Tax Revolt grassroots activists.
Today, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) has the support of more than 200,000 taxpayers. HJTA has kept Proposition 13 and the California Tax Revolt alive for more than 30 years now, and during that time, Proposition 13 has saved Californians billions of dollars — over $528 billion according to conservative estimates — almost $10,000 for every man, woman and child in the State of California!
Since 1978, HJTA has also added about $135 billion to Californians’ tax savings with court actions and more statewide initiatives.
Among ballot propositions sponsored or strongly backed by HJTA are:
1982 – Proposition 7, income tax indexing, which prevents state income taxes from being raised by inflation, prohibiting government from profiting from inflation at the expense of the taxpayer. Proposition 7’s estimated tax savings are well over $82 billion.
1982 – Proposition 6 repealed the state’s inheritance tax, making California one of the first to free its citizens of excessive “Death Taxes” and saving California taxpayers another $13 billion.
1986 – Proposition 62 strengthened the taxpayers’ right to vote on local tax increases. An appellate court nullified the initiative, tying up enforcement for nine years, until an HJTA legal action victory reinstated the initiative.
1986 – Proposition 60 saves many senior citizens thousands of dollars when they retire and move because it allows people age 55 and above to “trade down” — buy a new home for the same or lesser amount than the sales price of an old home — within the same county and transfer the Prop. 13-assessed valuation from the old home to the new property.
1996 – Proposition 218 — the Right to Vote on Taxes Act — plugged a long-standing loophole in Proposition 13 by requiring localities to get a popular vote, or in some cases, permission from property owners, for fees, assessments, and other levies that operated as taxes but weren’t technically called taxes. This initiative now saves California taxpayers about $100 million a year.
Above all, HJTA has fought a continuing battle in the California State Legislature, in local governments statewide, and in the courts — including the United States Supreme Court — to defend Proposition 13 and taxpayer rights.
2009 — HJTA led the effort to stop a massive $16 billion tax increase proposed by the Governor and the California Legislature…which would have been the largest tax increase in the history of California. The ballot initiative was defeated by a landslide.
2009-2012 — We successfully defended Proposition 13 in the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court against a suit that was filed by former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young to have the landmark tax-limiting measure declared unconstitutional.
2010 — We helped lead the effort to pass Proposition 26, a measure that stops the state and local governments from disguising taxes as “fees” as a way to avoid voter approval. We also defeated California Proposition 21, an increase in the Vehicle License Fee.
2011 — On the final night of the legislative session, we stopped Jerry Brown’s last-minute plan to jam a billion-dollar tax increase through the Legislature. Governor Brown was so angry that he directly blamed your HJTA as the reason his plan failed. (We’re happy to take credit for stopping it!)
At a time when skyrocketing pension costs were bankrupting municipalities amid rumors that many public employees were retiring at relatively young ages with lifetime six-figure pensions, we joined forces with California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility in asking for public disclosure.
2012 — In the courts, in addition to beating back a major challenge to Proposition 13’s constitutionality, we commenced a legal challenge to the massive bond sale for California’s High-Speed Rail project (this boondoggle no longer looks anything like what the voters originally approved in 2008).
HJTA sued CSU Monterey and Monterey Peninsula College for using public funds and students’ school e-mail addresses to campaign for passage of the governor’s sales and income tax measure, Prop. 30, the largest state tax hike in American history. Both schools quickly settled, agreeing to repay the misspent funds and to refrain from such advocacy in the future.
2012-2017 — We filed a class action lawsuit against the state on behalf of more than 850,000 homeowners over an illegal “fire tax” passed without Proposition 13’s requirement of a two-thirds vote. Despite the state’s delaying tactics, the suit is moving slowly forward.
2013-2014 — We blocked five bills in the State Senate and another two in the Assembly — each of which was designed to undermine Proposition 13. Passage of these bills could have cost every California homeowner thousands of dollars.
2015 — HJTA sponsored legislation to require officials to provide more information to voters on local tax measures, which was signed into law.
2016 — HJTA’s lobbying efforts fought off Senate Bill 8 (Hertzberg), a multi-billion-dollar tax on services.
2017 — HJTA stopped all three direct constitutional attacks on Proposition 13 in the Legislature. Moreover, two HJTA-supported bills that improve fiscal transparency at the local level became law.
2018 — HJTA lobbying efforts stopped all major tax increase proposals in the California Legislature as well as all direct attacks on Proposition 13.
A: Under the tax-cut measure, the property tax rate is set at a uniform 1% throughout the state, and property tax increases are limited to no more than 2% a year as long as the property is not sold.
Once sold, the property is reassessed at 1% of the new market value (usually the sales price) with the same 2% cap on annual tax increases. As a result, new buyers are always aware of what their taxes will be and know the maximum amount property taxes can increase each year for as long as they own the property.
Proposition 13 also requires that all state tax increases be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, and that new or increased local taxes be approved by a vote of the people.
A: While Proposition 13 has become synonymous with property tax limits, it is a complete package designed to check arbitrary tax increases at the state and local level. Proposition 13 requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to increase state taxes, and, supplemented by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association–sponsored Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, it requires voter approval of all new local taxes.
Additionally, renters benefit because Proposition 13 makes property taxes predictable and stable, which reduces upward pressure on rent increases.
- Q: Is Proposition 13 to blame for a shortage of funds for schools and other important government functions?
A: No! Despite what many politicians say, total property tax revenues to local governments in California have increased at a rate exceeding inflation and virtually all other economic indicators, and, in fact, state and local governments have much more money today than before Proposition 13 passed, even considering inflation and population growth.
Proposition 13 is fair to local governments because it allows for periodic reassessment of property when it changes ownership. New construction and improvements to existing properties also are assessed at current value, which increases revenue to government. The property tax is a stable source of local government revenue — as predictable for the politicians as it is for property owners.
It’s true that Proposition 13 has forced local governments to manage their finances better — one reason the initiative had such overwhelming popular support.
Most cities and counties have been very successful under Proposition 13. If some have failed, the problem is not Prop. 13. It’s reckless spending.
- Q: Are there interests that want to change Proposition 13? How secure are my Proposition 13 benefits?
A: After almost 40 years of protecting taxpayers, Proposition 13 remains overwhelmingly popular with the general public. Because Proposition 13 is part of the California Constitution, it can only be amended by subsequent voter approval.
However, there are deep-pocketed, narrow special interests that profit from government spending who continue to push for the elimination or weakening of Proposition 13 taxpayer protections. These forces, including government-employee unions, have been willing to spend millions of dollars to influence the public’s perception of Proposition 13 and to set up its being overturned at the ballot box. It is important that taxpayers pay close attention to these threats to their Proposition 13 benefits.
A: Proposition 13 protects homeowners — and all taxpayers — by requiring a two-thirds vote to pass certain tax increases, including the state sales and income tax. The intention of the supermajority requirement is to have a system whereby taxes cannot be raised too easily, or too often.
The two-thirds vote protection is particularly critical when it comes to property taxes. Since local taxes are approved by local voters, it’s obviously unfair if a tax can be passed by people who don’t have to pay that tax. Yet that intense unfairness is becoming possible as a pro tax coalition makes inroads into the two-thirds vote protection.
In 2000, Proposition 39 was narrowly approved after a massively expensive campaign put on largely by a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires who might well have been trying to get homeowners to pick up the slack for their own high-tech corporate tax breaks.
Proposition 39 changed the two-thirds vote for certain bonds to 55% — making it far too easy to pass these bonds, since they are paid back only through increased property taxes. And they impose a long-term debt, up to 30 years, that’s essentially the same as a second mortgage on a home.
Without the two-thirds vote requirement, one of these second-mortgage bonds can now be passed by people who won’t pay the tax and in fact are getting more from the government than they pay in taxes.
After Proposition 39 took away the two-thirds vote protection for these bonds, localities quickly passed almost $30 billion in such bonds — debt that homeowners will be burdened with long after they’ve paid off their homes.
Since then, the two-thirds vote has been repeatedly attacked by a pro-tax coalition that wants to eliminate this protection for more and more kinds of bonds and taxes.
Currently, several proposals are active in the State Legislature to change the state constitution to eliminate the two-thirds vote requirement for other kinds of bonds, and for certain sales and property taxes. If enacted, it will become far too easy to pass all kinds of tax hikes, so the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is actively fighting this legislation.
- Q: Proposition 13 is part of the California Constitution, so are its protections guaranteed to all homeowners?
A: Yes and No.
As long as the politicians and courts respect Proposition 13, Article XIII-A of the California Constitution, it will continue to protect the security of home ownership, and property owners will continue to enjoy the $528 billion that this Tax Revolt initiative has saved them since 1978.
But government officials don’t have a very good record of respecting Proposition 13, particularly elected politicians, and most particularly those who are eager to spend — and just as eager to increase taxes to pay for their giveaways.
For over 30 years, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has been battling the tax and-spend politicians and their allies in special corporate interest groups, bureaucrats, and public-employee unions, among others who benefit from government spending.
This year, taxpayers are in unprecedented danger because the California State Legislature has in recent years built an “engine of overspending” that has made it impossible to balance the state budget, as required by law, and can only be fueled with more and more drastic tax increases.
Proposition 13 has saved California taxpayers $528 billion so far. By eliminating Proposition 13, politicians could easily increase property taxes on every homeowner by 300%, 400% or more. And by eliminating Proposition 13’s barriers to such things as sales tax increases, politicians could quickly add tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars in new tax revenue costing each California family thousands of dollars in higher taxes.
The two-thirds vote protection has already been weakened, and could be weakened even further in the coming months. Lifting the one-percent cap on the property tax rate is the next goal. After that, Proposition 13 and $528 billion could be stolen from California taxpayers forever.
These are all reasons that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is launching a Second Tax Revolt.
It took four million Californians to pass Proposition 13. HJTA hopes to mobilize as many to defend Proposition 13, because that’s what may be needed to keep $528 billion in our own wallets, and not turn it all over to the tax collectors.
This Second Tax Revolt
will take time, energy, and funding. Howard Jarvis never took a dime from corporate special interests. Neither will HJTA. So success is really up to the taxpayers themselves. If you are a California property owner, this means you.
Members of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association are already supporting the rescue of Proposition 13. If you are not yet an HJTA member, we need your help to protect homeowners.
A: Your taxes will be based on what you could afford to pay for your home at the time of purchase. No matter when a home is purchased, Proposition 13 gives the owners long-term security by providing predictability in taxes. When you buy a home, you will know exactly what your taxes will be next year, in five years, and in 30 years — reassuring information if you plan to live in your home when you retire.
- Q: I recently purchased a house, and I’m paying much higher property taxes than my neighbor. How can that be fair?
A: Your property taxes are normally based on what you voluntarily agreed to pay for your home. Because Proposition 13 uses acquisition value (usually the purchase price) rather than the current market value as a basis of taxation, it is possible for owners of identical side-by-side properties to have different tax bills. Those who have owned their property longer often see that the current market value is much greater than the taxable value that is limited to a 2% annual increase under Proposition 13.
This cap on increases protects both new and longtime homeowners from being taxed on “paper profits,” the higher market value of a home from which the owner receives no benefit. Many homeowners who bought their property just a few years ago could not afford to buy their own homes at today’s prices!
It is also worth noting that the longtime owner has been paying taxes for years, and these taxes have paid for the neighborhood improvements you now enjoy.
If you have just purchased your home and are still uncertain about the value of Proposition 13 to you, just wait until after three or four years of double-digit inflation in the housing market. When you realize that you are saving hundreds, even thousands of dollars a year on your property taxes, you will join the ranks of enthusiastic supporters of Proposition 13.
A: Sometimes. If your property’s market value declines to less than its taxable value under Proposition 13, you can apply to the County Assessor for a decline-in-value tax cut under Proposition 8, passed in 1978, which supplements Proposition 13. If you receive a cut, it is temporary. When the market value of your property increases again, so can your property tax. Although the tax reduction is temporary, the savings are permanent.
It is important to remember that while you can be charged less, you can never be charged more in any one year than allowed under Proposition 13. This can be easily figured by using an online compound interest calculator and multiplying the base
year value — usually the purchase price — of your home by 2% for the number of intervening years. Your maximum property tax liability (general levy of assessment) in the current year is one percent of the total.
A: Probably, if you are over 55 years old. Proposition 19, which passed in November 2020, allows homeowners age 55 years and older to transfer the Proposition 13 taxable value of their home when they sell that home and buy another anywhere in the state. The replacement home may be of any value, but if it has a higher value than the previous home, the difference in value will be assessed at market value, and that amount will be added to the transferred value for a blended assessment. A homeowner is eligible for three such transfers in a lifetime. Wildfire victims and disabled homeowners are also eligible for base-year transfers. Contact your county assessor’s office or visit www.boe.ca.gov/prop19 for more information, or call the Board of Equalization’s property tax department at 1-916-274-3350.
- Q: Can we leave our home to our children or our grandchildren without their having to pay higher taxes?
A: Possibly, but this opportunity was sharply curtailed by Proposition 19, which repealed Proposition 58 (1986) and Proposition 193 (1996). Now, if parents transfer property to the next generation, it will be reassessed to market value as of the date of transfer. The new annual property tax bill will be 1% of that new market value, plus any bonds, fees or parcel taxes passed by local voters.
Because of Proposition 19, an exclusion from reassessment is now available only for a primary residence and only if the children move into it within 1 year and use it as their own primary residence. In addition, Proposition 19 put a $1 million cap on the amount of value that may be excluded from reassessment. For example, if children inherit a family home with an assessed value of $400,000 and a market value of $1,500,000, the exclusion applies to $400,000 plus $1,000,000. Any value above that will be added to the assessment, so in this example, the home’s assessment would increase from $400,000 to $500,000 if the children moved into it within a year; if they did not move in, the assessment would jump to the full cash value of $1,500,000. The same rules apply to transfers between grandparents and grandchildren if the children’s parents are deceased. Some family farms may also be eligible for an exclusion from reassessment.
Contact your county assessor’s office or visit www.boe.ca.gov/prop19 for more information, or call the Board of Equalization’s property tax department at 1-916-274-3350.
- Q: I’ve been retired for many years, and my only income is Social Security, but the tax on my home keeps going up and it’s harder each year for me to pay it. Is there anything I can do to lower my tax bill?
A: You may be eligible for a state program called Property Tax Postponement, or PTP.
The program allows homeowners who are seniors, are blind or have a disability to defer current-year property taxes on their principal residence if they meet certain criteria, including 40% equity in the home and an annual household income of $49,017 or less (adjusts annually for inflation). Applications for the current year are available beginning in September and may be filed between October 1 and February 10.
For more information, please call the California State Controller’s office at 1-800-952-5661 or email email@example.com.
A: An improvement such as adding a bedroom to an existing home will be assessed at its current value, which will add to your taxes. However, the rest of the property and existing improvements will not be reassessed.
A: Click here to download a primer on Understanding California’s Property Taxes.
A: Under the California Constitution, the Legislature has authority to determine how property tax revenues are allocated among cities, counties and special districts.
A: Proposition 218 also gives you the ability to use the initiative process to reduce or repeal a local tax, assessment, fee or charge. By collecting the signatures of 5% of the number of people in the local district who voted in the last election for governor, you can put any locally imposed levy to a vote. For more information on this is please click here.
A: A: “Split roll” is an attack on Proposition 13 that would revoke Prop. 13 protections for some types of properties, “splitting” the property tax roll. An initiative that has qualified for the 2020 ballot would create a split roll by requiring regular reassessment of commercial and industrial properties. Read Jon Coupal’s column about the proposed measure here: https://www.hjta.org/california-commentary/by-all-means-lets-educate-the-voters-about-proposition-13/.
- Q: I just got my property tax bill and I think the County Assessor has increased it more than the 2% allowed by Proposition 13. What can I do about this?
A: Your property tax bill consists of three separate categories
• General Tax Levy (covered by Proposition 13)
The portion of the bill labeled “General Tax Levy,” the tax on land and improvements (structures built on land), is the only amount controlled by Proposition 13, and this tax is limited to a maximum of 1% of the assessed value of your property. It can be no more than 2% greater than the previous year’s tax bill.
• Voted Indebtedness Bonds:
The portion labeled “Voter-Approved Indebtedness” is a levy to repay bonds approved by the voters. This amount varies greatly from county to county depending on the
number of local bond issues approved. Under current law, local general obligation bonds require a two-thirds majority vote to pass, except those for schools, which require only
55% voter approval. Property owners are responsible for repaying all local bonds.
You may also find voter-approved parcel property taxes — a uniform tax on all property within a community or district— on your bill. Under Proposition 13, these must be approved by two-thirds of voters.
• Direct Assessments
The portion of the bill labeled “Direct Assessments” is now controlled by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association– sponsored Proposition 218, which strengthened Proposition 13. Assessments that benefit property now require a majority “yes” vote of the property owners, with each owner voting the dollar amount of their assessment. Fees charged for the property-related services of sewer, water, and refuse collection can be imposed without a majority vote of property owners, but may not be greater
than the cost of providing the service.
If you have a question about your property tax bill, you should contact the County Assessor’s office. It’s your money and you have a right to be certain that your bill is correct.
For information on how to contact your County Assessor, click here.
- Q: I have just bought a new home and it looks like the Assessor has given it a value that is higher than Proposition 13 allows. What should I do?
A: Proposition 13 states that property is to go on the Assessor’s rolls at the full cash value – market value – at the time of purchase. This usually means the sales price resulting from a normal market transaction. Sometimes there are unusual circumstances, like the sale of a home on the market because of a foreclosure, that result in a sales price that the Assessor believes is less than the true market value. In this case the assessor’s valuation may prevail.
If you believe the Assessor’s valuation is incorrect, you should strongly consider an appeal because all future taxes will be based on the first-year value of your home. Call your local office of the County Assessor and discuss your valuation with an appraiser. If you cannot reach an agreement there, you should file an appeal with the Assessment Appeals Board in your county. Please note that there is a limited window of opportunity to file an appeal, and be sure you meet the deadlines. For contact information for your County Assessor, click here.
A: What you most likely received was a notice of intent to form an assessment district.
Thanks to Proposition 218, sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and passed by voters in 1996, California property owners are better protected against assessments, fees and other tricks used to raise taxes by calling them something else.
Prop. 218 requires that an agency seeking to establish an assessment district notify the owners of all property within the proposed district by mail. The notice of the proposed assessment must include a ballot, which the property owner completes and returns to the agency or its designated agent. Each property owner is voting on the dollar amount of their assessment. Only the ballots that are actually returned can be counted, and a majority must be in favor for the assessment to be imposed.
- Q: I recently bought my home and just got a supplemental assessment notice. What is this and why do I have to pay it?
A: Proposition 13 requires that real property be reassessed whenever a change in ownership occurs. When a transfer occurs, the assessor receives a copy of the deed and makes an appraisal to determine the new market value of the property. (In most cases, the purchase price will be determined to be the current value.) You are then notified of the new assessment, and you have the right to appeal the value if you do not agree with it.
The amount of the supplemental assessment is the difference between the prior assessed value and the new assessment on the property. This value is prorated, based on the number of months remaining in the fiscal year. Thereafter you will be responsible for the full tax based on the new assessed value. The previous owner is liable for the tax due up to the date of sale; you are responsible for the tax after the date of sale.
Although your newly purchased home may now have a higher assessed value for tax purposes, the new value continues under Proposition 13 to be limited to a 2% increase each year.