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Prop 13 Changes on the Table in New California Legislature

Dec 6, 2012

Asm. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco)
Credit Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

It’s only the first week of the new California legislative session.  But three Democrats have already signaled they’re ready to adjust the “third rail” of California politics – the landmark property tax measure known as Proposition 13.  

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is the latest Democratic lawmaker to call for a change to Prop 13.  He wants to stop large companies from disguising changes in ownership that would normally trigger reassessments – something homeowners can’t do.

“Well, I think we’ve touched the third rail.  And you know, my hair is curly and I’m burning up but we’re still alive.  And I do think that we will get sponsors, co-sponsors for this particular bill and for many tweaks to Prop 13," says Ammiano.

Other proposals would reduce the voter threshold from two-thirds to 55 percent for taxes that would go towards schools or libraries.  And the idea of a “split roll” where commercial properties would be taxed at a higher rate than residential properties keeps popping up.

Prop 13 supporters are paying close attention.  Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association says his organization doesn’t think companies should use tricks to avoid reassessments.  But he says the other ideas would do grave harm.

“California is not a low property tax state.  We rank 15th out of 50 in per capita property tax collection.  So Prop 13 has not starved California for education dollars and actually has worked well to stabilize local government revenues," says Coupal.

A new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows the measure is still popular – 64 percent of likely voters say it’s been mostly good for the state, says poll director Mark Baldassare.

“You have to be very specific and targeted about what you want to say about Prop 13.  Because overall, people think that what the voters did in passing Prop 13 was a good thing," says Baldassare.

The PPIC poll shows voters don’t favor reducing the two-thirds vote thresholds, but might be open to a “split roll” proposal.