Some Attacks on Prop. 13 Are a Real Hoot

Attacks on Proposition 13 can be divided into two categories, the semi-serious and the ludicrous.

The first category come from those who believe government is entitled to more taxpayer money and there should be no restrictions on government’s ability to get it, such as Proposition 13’s limit on annual increases in property taxes and the two-thirds vote required of both houses of the Legislature to raise state taxes.

Also in this group are those who say Proposition 13’s acquisition value system is unfair, in that it means that someone who bought their home many years ago, when home values and wages were much lower, may end up paying less than a new neighbor who is willing to pay more, now that both prices and salaries are higher. These folks usually advocate higher taxes for longtime owners, not tax reductions for new buyers.

Still, some of these critics are less than intellectually honest. One columnist featured in a number of local papers is pushing for higher taxes on business property and states that business sought to achieve special status under Proposition 13 through heavy contributions to the campaign. The problem is that neither assertion is true. First, business does not enjoy special status -- California maintained a single tax rate for residential and commercial property prior to Proposition 13 -- and second, the vast majority of the business community opposed Proposition 13, while major companies donated heavily to opposition efforts. Business, typically timid, was afraid to buck the status quo and feared that if tax relief was provided to property owners, the Legislature would make up the difference by increasing taxes directly on the commercial sector.

These are all policy matters on which voters have had the final say, but the debate goes on.

In the second category are the attacks that are more amusing than serious. At the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, one of our favorites is the column penned for a small local paper by a physical education teacher who cited Proposition 13 as the reason the shot putters on his track team were losing the heavy iron balls. It seems that the young athletes were unable to recover the shots in the high grass, and it was due to Proposition 13 that there was no money to keep the grass trimmed.

Then there was the columnist in a national magazine who blamed Proposition 13 for the not guilty verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. According to the author’s logic, Proposition 13 prevented Los Angeles from paying enough to hire the best investigators. We actually took time out from laughing to check and found that Los Angeles paid better than other large cities around the nation.

Other societal ills for which Proposition 13 is alleged to be at fault: The increase in obesity in children and the reduction in the number of choral singers. Seriously. We’re not making this stuff up.

Perhaps the most amusing recent attack on Proposition 13 comes from another columnist who has been engaged in a long-running jihad against our state’s favorite tax limiting measure –- recent polls show it as popular today as it was 34 years ago when it passed with 65 percent of the vote. He now asserts that because of Proposition 13, California is like China, where, he says, local governing bodies have the responsibility to provide services but lack the ability to raise revenue. He suggests, “The next time someone speaks in praise of Prop 13, ask them: are you some kind of Chinese communist?”

The writer behaves as if he has spent too much time in a cave in Tibet -- a country claimed by China. In California, locals do have the authority to raise all kinds of taxes. Utility user taxes, hotel taxes and business license taxes (3 common general fund taxes) can all be imposed or raised with a simple majority vote of the people. Special purpose taxes are virtually unlimited as long as the local government gets a two-thirds vote. And, of course, fees can be raised almost without limitation as long as the fees do not exceed the cost of the service being provided.

We have no doubt that the tax-and-spend lobby and the think tank collectivists will, in the future, blame Prop 13 for things they simply haven’t thought of yet. But, to get their creative juices flowing, perhaps they should spend some time analyzing whether Prop 13 is to blame for the extinction of dinosaurs. We’re certain there’s a connection.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -– California's largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers' rights.