It would appear that the appetite for increasing the size and scope of state government in Sacramento is insatiable. The Democrats who control all of the levers of power are about to pass the largest state budget in the history of California–but that is not good enough or big enough, it would seem.
With revenues significantly surpassing all projections, it was, disappointingly, not surprising to have two left-wing ideologues in the California State Senate–Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles)–introduce legislation to put before voters a ballot measure to gut Proposition 13, raise property taxes on all commercial properties in California, and thereby suck nearly another ten billion dollars more annually out of the private sector and into the coffers of both state and local governments.
Fortunately for property owners, and for those who rent or lease from them, the Hancock-Mitchell legislation is unlikely to garner sufficient support to be placed on the 2016 ballot. More on this in a moment–but first, for those not up to speed on Prop. 13, a quick primer…
On June 6th, 1978, 37 years ago this month, nearly two-thirds of California’s voters passed Prop. 13, reducing property tax rates on homes, businesses, and farms by about 57%.
Specifically, Prop. 13 amended the state constitution enshrining into it a requirement that property tax rates could not exceed one percent of a property’s market value. It also provided that the assessed value of a property, for the purposes of computing property tax liability, couldn’t grow by more than 2% annually, unless the property was sold.
This landmark taxpayer-protection initiative, the brain child of Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, not only permanently lowered property tax rates in California, but also set off a wave of property tax reform measures across the country. Many credit Prop. 13’s political impact as paving the way for Ronald Reagan’s successful presidential bid in 1980.
It is unlikely that the Hancock-Mitchell constitutional amendment will ever pass through the legislature. Prop. 13 continues to enjoy widespread support with voters, and it is a dubious presumption at best that all of the State Capitol’s Democrats would support it. More significantly, however, is the apparent solidarity of Republicans in the State Senate and Assembly, who are steadfastly opposed to changes to Prop. 13.
I reached out to Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen (R-Riverbank) who told me, “Our caucus is united in standing against any threats to Prop. 13.” Olsen went on to say, “Californians pay some of the highest income tax in the nation. Keeping property taxes predictable is one area where Californians can escape the constant tax-and-spend will of the majority party.”
Olsen’s sentiments have been echoed by a lot of her caucus members. Yesterday, in an appearance on KFI radio’s John and Ken Show, Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Redondo Beach) said, “The authors of this Senate resolution want to gut Proposition 13 and remove its property tax protections for California businesses, if they succeed, it will lead to a slow bleed of jobs out of the state for many years to come.”
Republicans in the State Senate seem to have an equal resolve to oppose the gutting of Prop. 13. State Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) told the Sacramento Business Journal, “I’m pretty confident (Democrats) don’t get the two-thirds…”.
I spoke with Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine), who was even more direct: “The votes are not there to place a measure before voters that would significantly weaken the taxpayer protections of Prop. 13.”
Unified opposition from Republicans is significant, because in the last election voters bolstered the number of GOPers serving in each chamber to over a third–thus ensuring that tax increases and ballot measures, both requiring two-thirds votes, could not pass with just Democrat votes.
Now does the inability of the Hancock-Mitchell constitutional amendment to get the requisite two-thirds vote in the Senate and Assembly mean that we won’t be staring at a similar initiative on the November ballot next year? Of course not.
There are some very well-financed special interest groups around the State Capitol that could easily put down the couple of million dollars it would take to hire professional signature gatherers, and put the matter before voters.
That said, rest assured that a strong coalition would emerge to fight such a ballot measure, led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, whose first and most vital mission is the defense of Prop 13.
In fact, when I asked Jon Coupal, President of HJTA, for a comment about the Hancock-Mitchell effort, his response was quite succinct: “This isn’t about fairness. It’s a blatant money grab.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Stay tuned–and hold onto your wallet.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.