Opinion Columns & Blogs

Proposition 13 is about more than property tax

John Peschong
John Peschong The Tribune

At a little over seven pages, Proposition 13 is not cumbersome to read.

As one of the most important initiatives ever passed in California, it has protected homeowners, particularly seniors, from crushing property taxes that, prior to 1978, were forcing people out of their homes. Proposition 13 also established a necessary threshold of two-thirds approval of the Legislature for statewide tax increases and two-thirds of the voters in a city, county or special district for local special taxes.

Most people are familiar with and acknowledge the importance of the first aspect of Proposition 13 — the property tax protections.

Some folks in San Luis Obispo County, it seems, are quick to forget the second aspect of the measure — the two-thirds threshold.

Page 6, Section 4 of Proposition 13 is clear:

“Cities, Counties and special districts, by a two-thirds vote of the qualified electors of such district, may impose special taxes on such district, except ad valorem taxes on real property or a transaction tax or sales tax on the sale of real property within such City, County or special district.”

This language has been a part of the measure since it passed by wide margins in 55 of our 58 counties in 1978.

Despite this obvious language of Proposition 13, the two-thirds threshold is constantly under attack. Equally as disturbing, those attacking it claim to be staunch supporters of Proposition 13.

Liberals, always ready to spend more money, wishfully believe that every problem can be solved if only more funds were available. Case in point, California has the highest personal income tax rate in the nation, but is ranked 46th in education and 47th in unemployment.

Despite some of the highest taxes in the nation, Proposition 13 remains one of the few barriers in the way of our state’s “tax-and-spend-it-all” caucus.

If we weaken Proposition 13 by lowering the two-thirds threshold for passing taxes to 55 percent, we know what will happen: Taxes will increase.

When Proposition 39 was passed in 2000, changing the threshold needed for passing school bonds from two-thirds to 55 percent, the success rate of proposed school bonds skyrocketed from around half (before Proposition 39) to more than 82 percent (2000-2014).

In order to weaken this popular initiative, many liberals will publicly support the homeowners and property tax protections while simultaneously supporting legislation that would lower the two-thirds voter approval threshold needed to raise local special taxes to only 55 percent.

For example, former appointed Supervisor Caren Ray claimed in a Sept. 21, 2014, letter to the editor that she “fully support[ed] Proposition 13.” But, she voted to use taxpayer money to lobby the Legislature to put an initiative on the ballot that would lower the voter threshold which would weaken Proposition 13.

Her approach was undeniably an attack on Proposition 13.

Although voters would ultimately have to approve any change to Proposition 13, supporting its placement on the ballot is no less of an attack. A conspirator to a crime is just as guilty.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson and Supervisor Adam Hill voted with Caren Ray in February of last year when the Board approved its 2014 Legislative Platform, which included language to “sponsor and support” anti-Proposition 13 legislation (Page 13, Letter ‘H’, 2014 San Luis Obispo Legislative Platform).

The Tribune got its facts wrong last fall when it denied Ray’s Proposition 13 attacks. It claimed that Ray’s vote was “not about gutting Proposition 13” and that it was instead about “equity and uniformity.”

Equity and uniformity aside, any change to Proposition 13 that makes it easier to raise taxes is gutting Proposition 13.

Luckily, San Luis Obispo has a different stance on these issues today than we had one year ago. I applaud Supervisors Lynn Compton, Frank Mecham and Debbie Arnold (full disclosure: I have worked for Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton) for being true champions for Proposition 13 in the board’s 2015 legislative platform. They introduced and fought for a new legislative goal on Feb. 24, 2015, to “oppose any measures or legislation that reduces the super majority vote required to raise taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent.”

Despite Supervisor Hill and Gibson’s arguments against the adoption of new language, Supervisor Lynn Compton continued to stand up for the plain truth, saying, “when you lower the threshold from a supermajority down to 55 percent, that’s a direct assault on Prop 13 — whether you like it or not.”

Ultimately, the continued protection of Proposition 13 is in all of our best interests. Being educated on its benefits and vigilant against attacks will help us to raise taxes only when truly necessary. Wow, I guess I am a radical.