Anti-Proposition 13 special interests have already qualified one ballot measure for the November 2020 statewide ballot that would dismantle the 1978 ballot initiative’s property tax protections, and are currently gathering signatures to qualify a slightly more appealing sounding second version. Proponents will not pull the first initiative unless and until the second initiative qualifies.
Both measures would raise taxes on commercial and industrial property by requiring reassessment at current market value at least every three years. This type of property tax is known as a “split-roll tax” because it splits the property tax roll, assessing business property differently than residential property.
Prop. 13 was a 1978 ballot initiative to cap property tax increases for residential and business properties and provide certainty, so property owners would not be taxed out of their homes and businesses. Prior to passage of Prop. 13, many seniors and those living on fixed incomes were forced from their homes because of skyrocketing property tax increases. According to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, author of Prop. 13, some properties were reassessed 50 – 100% in just one year.
Assemblyman Kevin Kiley recently spoke with California Globe about the November split-roll ballot initiative, and the deceptive ballot title and summary rewritten by the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
The first initiative was originally titled by the Attorney General: “Requires Certain Commercial And Industrial Real ‘Property To Be Taxed Based On Fair-Market Value. Dedicates Portion Of Any Increased Revenue To Education And Local Services.’”
AG Becerra changed the wording in the new initiative title from the obvious “tax increase” to “increasing funding for schools and local services by changing tax assessments,” and says three times that the money goes to schools.
Notably, “the most salient fact about this proposition—that it is a massive tax increase—is mysteriously absent from Becerra’s description,” Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Roseville), said in response.
The title and summary of an initiative is supposed to be a nonpartisan, impartial analysis for voters. Becerra re-wrote the title to give the proponents an unfair advantage at passing the largest tax increase in California history.
Assemblyman Kiley wants ballot title authority removed from AG
Kiley proposed two different Assembly Constitutional Amendments in 2017 and 2018 to remove the power of the ballot title and summary drafting from the Attorney General, to be turned over to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.
The first of Kiley’s previous ACAs had bipartisan support, and was endorsed by many of the state’s newspapers, as well as a coalition of good government groups. However, the Attorney General and Governor Jerry Brown opposed it, and the bill died. Kiley’s second ACA didn’t even get a hearing.
This year, Kiley has authored ACA 7 for 2020, which would “take the authority away from the AG and put it in the hands of a nonpartisan entity free from political pressures by special interests,” Kiley explained. “No one thinks this is a bad idea.”
ACA 7 would assign ballot descriptions to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which has proven itself trustworthy and capable of writing impartial analyses of every initiative that qualifies for the ballot,” Kiley said.
AG Becerra’s most recent title change is one example of why Kiley wants to make this Constitutional change.
Fox and Hounds published both ballot titles to show the deviousness of the new one:
Title for the New measure: INCREASES FUNDING FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS, COMMUNITY COLLEGES, AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SERVICES BY CHANGING TAX ASSESSMENT OF COMMERCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL PROPERTY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.
Title for the already qualified measure: REQUIRES CERTAIN COMMERCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL REAL PROPERTY TO BE TAXED BASED ON FAIR-MARKET VALUE. DEDICATES PORTION OF ANY INCREASED REVENUE TO EDUCATION AND LOCAL SERVICES. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.
Attorneys for opponents of the split roll initiative, Californians to Stop Property Tax increases, addressed (below) this new title in a letter to AG Becerra:
“…your opinion is contradicted by the actual history of property tax collections in the state and the opinion of the Legislative Analyst, resulting in a title and summary that is argumentative and prejudicial, all in violation of the Elections Code.”
“Instead of summarizing the initiative and the change in law that it proposes, the circulating title and summary states your opinion that the measure will increase funding for schools – not once, but three times: “INCREASES FUNDING FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS, COMMUNITY COLLEGES, AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SERVICES…” “Increases funding for K-12 public schools, community colleges, and local governments…” “Increased education funding will supplement existing school funding guarantee.”
The Public Policy Institute of California published three different public polls, with the one in November showing that only 46 percent of likely voters support the $12.5 billion-a-year property tax hike, and a strong 45 percent of likely voters oppose the measure. The initiative only needs 50% of voters’ approval to pass.
Public Poll Results Showing Split-Roll Tests Under 50%:
- PPIC, January 2019: Yes: 49% No: 43%
- Change Research, July 2019: Yes: 39% No: 39%
- PPIC, September 2019: Yes: 47% No: 45%
- PPIC, November 2019: Yes: 46% No: 45%
However, last week, the split roll proponents, Schools & Communities First, claimed that AG Becerra’s new ballot language bumped registered support to 60%, making the motive of the AG’s ballot title change even more evident:
“For the first time ever, the Schools & Communities First ballot language – the actual title and summary of the initiative that Californians will vote on in November – has been polled, with the following result: 58% support and 29% oppose. Until this poll, there had been no testing of how much voters either supported or opposed the Schools & Communities First initiative ballot language.”
“The poll went on to simulate a robust messaging campaign both for and against Schools & Communities First, testing how voters reacted to batteries of statements about the initiative and top messages both for and against it. After these sets of batteries, the results settled at: 60% support and 27% oppose.”
The polls right before Becerra’s ballot title change showed the split roll initiative was not polling favorably.
Editorial Boards Excoriate Attorney General Becerra’s Biased Title & Summary
Becerra was excoriated for his deceptive initiative description by newspaper boarsd across California.
“It’s the most disreputable ballot description we’ve seen,” the Southern California News Group editorial board said about Becerra’s title and summary. “When AGs such as Becerra betray public trust this way, they erode faith in our democracy as people realize those in charge rig the rules to help their friends. It really is shameful.”
“Becerra should be ashamed — and his office should be stripped of ballot summary duties in perpetuity. But first someone should sue over this new abuse of power,” said the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board.
“Obviously, Becerra and other attorneys general past, present and future shouldn’t be taking political sides on ballot measures. Obviously, too, they will continue doing so unless the process is changed,” columnist Dan Walters wrote for CALmatters.
Additionally, to add to the property tax increase pain, while the first measure to qualify for the ballot was done in 2018, because it would not go for a vote until November 3, 2020, this would be a retroactive property tax increase effective January 1, 2020.
The second initiative would be effective January 1, 2022.
As for AG Becerra’s claims that the Prop. 13 split roll funds would go to “schools,” schools are far behind general fund obligations and administrative costs.
Revenue is allocated in the order listed below:
1. Reimbursement of General Fund, administrative costs, prior year refunds and possibly repayment of start-up loans from General Fund off the top.
2. 60 percent to local governments.
3. 40 percent to schools o-89 percent to K-12 public schools o-11 percent to community colleges.
“In fact, school funding is the last in order of funding priority under the initiative, yet your title and summary identifies it as the first priority and references three times, while excluding any mention of the priority allocations,” attorneys for Californians to Stop Higher Property Taxes wrote to the AG. (read the full letter below)
Backers of the property tax split roll include labor unions, social justice groups, teachers unions, environmental groups, housing advocates, Democratic Mayors of California cities, Democratic Presidential candidates, and Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay Area philanthropic organizations: The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, East Bay Community Foundation, Liberty Hill Foundation, Northern California Grantmakers Association, The San Francisco Foundation and Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
(The Proposition 13 on the March primary ballot is not related to the November split-roll initiatives. Prop. 13 in March was randomly assigned the ballot number “Prop. 13” and is a school bond initiative)