Back in the late 1970s, a conservative California businessman named Howard Jarvis put a proposition on the state ballot to cap property taxes. It was called Proposition 13. It passed. It has caused massive defunding of public services, especially public education. Prop 13 “rolled back both residential and commercial property taxes in California. In so doing, the conservative businessman set in motion a cataclysmic decline in the state’s revenues, triggering devastating budget reductions to public education and a host of public services. No other ballot measure in contemporary California history comes close to rivaling the impact of Prop. 13, whose aftershocks can still be felt more than four decades later.”

This year, there is an effort to reverse Prop 13. It is called Proposition 15. It would allow the state to raise the commercial tax rate.

Larry Buhl of Capital & Main notes that a large number of prominent Democrats, including Governor Gavin Newsom, have not endorsed Prop 15, which would help the state rebuild public services and make up for the dramatic decline in tax revenues caused by the coronavirus.

Why the silence of the Dems?

As of September 1, the Yes on 15 campaign boasted more than 400 endorsers, including county supervisors, mayors, city council members, members of the state assembly and senate, and school board members. Notably absent, however, are statewide elected officials, except for Sen. Kamala Harris and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond.

42 of California’s 45 Democratic U.S. Representatives
have not endorsed Prop. 15.

Alex Stack, spokesman for Schools and Communities First, the group behind Prop. 15, told Capital & Main that SCF didn’t expect any statewide Republicans to endorse.

Also missing on the endorsement list are the state attorney general, secretary of state, 42 of the 45 Democratic U.S. representatives, and the Democratic mayor of San Jose, California’s third-largest city. True, it was never expected that the secretary of state and attorney general would endorse any ballot measures, to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest. That’s because the AG might be called upon to defend any proposition that becomes law, while the secretary of state oversees the balloting and vote counting process. But the silence of others remains unexplained.

Capital & Main checked in with U.S. representatives from six of California’s most Democratic districts — Ted Lieu, Jimmy Gomez, Jared Huffman, Maxine Waters, Jackie Speier and Zoe Lofgren — but none responded to repeated inquiries. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office also did not respond. A spokesperson for San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said that he was not likely to endorse Prop. 15 but would not provide a reason why.

Efforts to repeal all or parts of Prop. 13 have failed — sometimes stymied by Democrats, sometimes by Republicans.

Stack had a theory about Liccardo. “San Jose has wealthy companies sitting on prime real estate. IBM and Intel are legacy companies paying $150 per square foot when the going rate is many times that.”

Launched by businessman Howard Jarvis in 1978, Proposition 13 put a ceiling on property taxes, basing taxes on their 1976 assessed value and capping annual increases at 2 percent per year. It also prohibits reassessment of a new base year value except in a change of ownership, or completion of new construction. Supporters of repealing Prop. 13, or in this case one part of Prop. 13, say that wealthy corporations, unlike homeowners, shouldn’t be allowed to pay taxes at rates set decades ago, especially when municipalities are hurting for revenue…

An analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Prop. 15 would raise anywhere from $7.5 billion to $12 billion annually. That money would go toward schools and communities strapped by the COVID-related economic downturn.