The new Legislature is dominated by pro-tax politicians who have a two-thirds supermajority in Sacramento. Bills that undermine the taxpayer protections in Proposition 13 have been introduced and are being heard in committees. If approved, these bills could cost every property owner thousands of dollars annually.
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BILLS THAT PUT A BULL’S-EYE ON PROPOSITION 13 AND TAXPAYERS’ WALLETS
Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 (ACA 4), Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D—Yolo County): This amendment lowers the vote threshold from the Proposition 13-mandated two-thirds vote to 55% for the local imposition, extension or increase of a special tax to fund affordable housing infrastructure. Under this bill, the definition of a special tax includes sales and parcel tax increases, both of which are very regressive. California has the highest sales tax in the nation, and parcel taxes add hundreds of dollars of new taxes, every year for decades, to the one percent tax rate property owners already pay under Proposition 13. ACA 4 also lowers the vote threshold from two-thirds to 55% to approve bonds for affordable housing projects, as has already been done for local school facility construction projects. While all voters are able to vote on this debt, only property owners pay it. Lowering the threshold for school bonds has added billions of dollars of new debt on property tax bills since 2000. Considering that this debt is often on property tax bills for at least 30 years, maintaining a higher voter approval threshold is imperative.
Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 is currently awaiting a hearing in the Assembly Local Government Committee. We will monitor the situation carefully if and when this bill begins to move through the legislative process. ACA 4 would require a two-thirds vote of both houses by June 30, 2018, in order to make the deadline for the November ballot.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 6 (SCA 6), Scott Wiener (D—San Francisco): SCA 6 allows for special taxes, including sales and parcel taxes, to be approved by local voters with just a 55% vote as opposed to the current two-thirds threshold mandated by Proposition 13. Sales and parcel taxes are very regressive, as both apply to all taxpayers and property owners equally without regard to income. Since voters will have to pay these taxes well after the local government representatives that proposed the tax will be out of office, requiring a higher vote threshold in order to establish some sort of accountability should not be an unreasonable expectation.
Also, in light of the recent imposition of Senate Bill 1, a $5.2 billion permanent annual gas and car tax increase, we question whether additional funds for transportation are still needed. An additional 19-cents-per-gallon tax by 2019 will have us leading the nation in gas taxes, especially after the tax is adjusted for inflation annually as Senate Bill 1 requires. In addition, vehicle owners will have to pay an average new car tax of $50 per vehicle, per year. By making it easier to impose sales taxes on Californians (we also lead the nation in sales taxes), SCA 6 will do nothing to ease the burden on the 20% of the state’s population that live at or below the poverty line.
SCA 6 is waiting to be voted on in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 3 (SCA 3), Bill Dodd (D—Napa County): SCA 3 lowers the two-thirds vote to 55% for local voters to approve library bonds. The two-thirds threshold for local General Obligation bond debt has been in place for 140 years. While all voters in a municipality vote on this debt, only property owners, a declining share of the electorate, pay them. This debt has served to push property tax bills as high as 1.2 or 1.3 percent, leaving us 19th in combined state and local property tax burden, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. However valid funding libraries might be, it shouldn’t come solely at the expense of property owners. Currently, 35% of Californians cannot afford a median-priced home. By making it easier to increase property taxes, SCA 3 will only make this problem worse.
SCA 3 is currently on the Senate Floor.
Senate Bill 231 (SB 231), Bob Hertzberg (D—Los Angeles): SB 231 takes away the ability that voters have under Proposition 218 and the California Constitution to vote on stormwater fee increases. Twenty-five years ago, HJTA won a landmark court decision in HJTA v. City of Salinas, where a distinction was made between sewer fee increases (which don’t require voter approval) and stormwater fee increases (which do). SB 231 attempts to change the Constitution in state statute by treating sewer and stormwater the same, which is unfair. Taxpayers can be responsible for the showers they take and the toilets they flush. They have no control over stormwater, which falls as rain on their property. SB 231 will lead not only to guaranteed litigation but also to potentially a billion dollars of new fees against taxpayers just in Los Angeles County alone. A recent article from HJTA summarizes our position on this important bill.
UPDATE: SB 231 was signed by Governor Brown in September. As soon as a local municipality and/or water agency attempts to impose new stormwater fees on taxpayers without voter approval, HJTA will pursue litigation. We will also continue to work in the Legislature to attempt to make it as easy as possible to capture and store stormwater for beneficial uses, including agriculture and aquifer recharge. But imposing up to a $1,200 fee for the privilege of treating water and dumping it in the ocean helps no one and will not provide a drop of new water.
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