Does Proposition 13 cause firefighters to lose their jobs?
“This California firefighter nearly died,” proclaimed the headline of Ryan Sabalow’s Sacramento Bee report on Monday. “Then voters laid him off — in fight for lower taxes.”
If they continue reading “Why rural CA towns vote against taxes to increase fire safety,” California voters might wonder about this double victim and the cause of his woes.
Scott Wagner was battling a fire in El Dorado County last summer when smoke poured into the cab of his stalled fire truck. Wagner thought he was a goner but ran through flames and survived, but the story did not end there. As the Bee’s Sabalow has it, Wagner’s job with the Green Valley Fire Protection District did not survive.
A tax assessment to raise money for the department had failed and Wagner’s own neighbors had voted it down, “even as he was risking his life.” Such rejection of a fire tax is “hardly unusual,” and as Sabalow explains, “many in the state’s foothill regions remain staunchly conservative and convinced that higher taxes won’t solve their problems. This, despite living in areas destined to burn, surrounded by dry, brittle forests.”
Sabalow traces this problem back to 1978, when California voters approved Proposition 13, which placed a 1 percent cap on the amount local governments could collect from the assessed value of a home and land, and restricted increases to 2 percent a year. The Bee writer manages to leave out a few realities, such as the reason Californians needed property tax relief.
Before Proposition 13, Californians were being taxed out of their homes. “According to annual reports from the then State Board of Equalization, the taxes levied on property subject to Prop. 13 from fiscal year 1960-61 through fiscal year 1977-78 increased over 360 percent,” former State Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) wrote in 2018. “That meant a $13,000 home in 1960 had a $400 tax bill and 17 years later the property tax paid on the same home would be $1,440.”
That did not bother Gov. Jerry Brown, who opposed the measure and what he regarded as its drastic “cuts.” A full 63 percent of California voters defied Brown and passed Proposition 13, which was not a tax cut.
To limit the power of government to hike property taxes is not a tax cut. Likewise, to allow workers to keep more of what they earn is not any kind of gift from government, and neither was Proposition 13. The measure apportioned no money, mandated no new state spending and required no new state hires.
After the landslide victory, Jerry Brown postured as though he had written the measure and proclaimed himself a “born-again tax cutter.” That was never true, and Brown became a born-again tax hiker bequeathing the state the nation’s highest sales and income taxes.
The state’s pillage people and their media allies now target Proposition 13 as the root cause of state woes. The 1996 Proposition 218, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass special taxes to fund local agencies, comes billed as the cause of firefighter layoffs, punishing firefighters like Scott Wagner.
Those “staunch conservatives” could be forgiven for rejecting the notion that the places they choose live are “destined to burn.” They have good cause to believe that poor forest management, above-ground power lines, and draconian environmental laws are major contributors to wildfire woes.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, another Proposition 13 foe, has appointed his “genius” cabinet secretary Ana Matosantos as state “energy czar” and the governor is talking up a government takeover of PG&E.
If Californians across the state believe that things can always get worse, it would be hard to blame them.