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Commentary: The threat to Proposition 13

January 03, 2013|By Michelle Steel

As Sacramento's new supermajority gears up to tear down California's "third rail of politics," it is vital to explain what makes Proposition 13 so important, and why plans to destroy it could hurt Californians for years to come.

Before Proposition 13 passed in 1978, homeowners had become overwhelmed by decades of increasing tax assessments on their properties. Skyrocketing tax assessments threatened many, especially older Californians on fixed incomes, with the loss of their homes because they couldn't make the tax payments.

By 1978, legislative efforts to address taxpayer unrest had failed. Redistribution schemes to provide tax rebates for low-income homeowners while increasing taxes on others had failed to pass in the Legislature. The benefits of homeowner exemptions passed in 1968 and 1972 quickly eroded because of increasing property values.

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Voters were tired of waiting for the government to act while they were being taxed out of their homes. Proposition 13 provided relief by transforming a complex and unequal property tax system into predictable, manageable property tax bills for California property owners. It also built sturdy roadblocks to protect taxpayers from the tax-hiking whims of simple majorities in Sacramento.

Ever since then, the same special interests and tax-hungry politicians who had opposed Proposition 13 in 1978 have been fighting to undo that victory for fiscal sanity. With a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature, the threat to California property owners has never been greater.

Proposals already floating in the halls of the Capitol would allow legislators to raise taxes with a simple majority vote, drop the vote requirement for local parcel taxes to 55% from two-thirds, and strip Proposition 13 protections from commercial property.

Lowering the vote threshold for local parcel taxes is an unnecessary and dangerous attempt to make it easier for local governments to increase revenues so Sacramento politicians can keep more state tax dollars.

Voters have already shown that they are willing to raise local parcel taxes with a two-thirds vote. On Nov. 6, voters passed 52% of the parcel taxes on the ballot, according to the California Taxpayers Assn. Moreover, allowing a 55% vote-margin for parcel taxes could allow a bare majority of voters, some of whom may not own property, to burden property owners with any number of flat-rate property-tax hikes that won't go down even if property values plummet.

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