San Francisco County Assessor Phil Ting (D) has launched a statewide effort to revise a provision of California’s Proposition 13, a state law voters approved more than 30 years ago to limit property taxes in the Golden State.
Ting wants to change how Proposition 13 deals with tax assessments on commercial property.
Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, says Ting’s effort is another attempt by left-wing politicians to get more money from taxpayers.
“There is almost a ‘new’ proposal daily to change Proposition 13,” Vosburgh said. “Ting is just grandstanding. … Already there are three different measures in the state legislature that would change Proposition 13. The hard left, the public employee unions, [and] the spending lobby all want to undermine Proposition 13.”
Ben Zycher, a tax expert at the Pacific Research Institute and president of Zycher Economics, an economic consulting firm, likes Proposition 13 as is.
“Prop. 13 should not be tinkered with, as it is a continuing reminder to the political establishment that the private sector can only financially prop up the government so far,” Zycher said.
Strong Support for Prop. 13
Vosburgh said, “Survey after survey of voters in the state have shown that there is very little support for changing Prop. 13. Last year, on the 30th anniversary of Prop. 13, there was a survey [that showed] Californians would vote again for Prop. 13 as is by a 2 to 1 margin. It’s about the only good thing we’ve got in California right now.”
Vosburgh said Proposition 13 gives California taxpayers some protection against high property taxes.
“People have a reasonable expectation that if you buy property here, you will have a limited annual property tax increase,” Vosburgh said. “So if you buy a house today, you can budget for your house. Remember, prior to Prop. 13, property tax rates would sometimes change completely and shoot up by 100 percent. So for four years, you were taxed on the same value, and then on year five you were walloped.”
Wealth Transfer to Government
Zycher believes if Prop. 13 is changed as Ting seeks, government will have less incentive to become more efficient.
“If Proposition 13 as is were gone, it would most likely mean in the short run a huge, nontrivial, wealth transfer from the private sector to the public sector,” Zycher said. “It would [also] allow the public sector to delay real reform at least in the interim for some period of time. And, unfortunately, some people would start getting taxed out of their homes again.”
Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.