Prop 13: Headline Grabber does not Reflect Reality

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

“Voters May Reconsider Prop 13,” reads part of the headline on the press release about the new Hoover Institution Golden State Poll. However, read the poll and you’ll see we are nowhere near a Proposition 13 revolution.

The headline is based on a test of the “split roll” approach to property taxes in which commercial property would be assessed more frequently than residential property. When 1700 California adults were asked if they supported the split roll, 39% strongly or somewhat supported the concept, 33% strongly or somewhat opposed the idea.

Most political observers will tell you if an issue doesn’t garner around 60% in early polling it has little chance of passing especially when facing the gauntlet of a political campaign. The Hoover Institution’s finding of 39% means proponents of a split roll campaign have a huge mountain to climb—and they would be climbing it with opposition boulders rolling down the mountain at them.

A multi-million dollar opposition campaign would raise arguments those who responded to the poll were not advised of before replying to the poll question.

The idea that taxes levied on business would not somehow be passed on to consumers or would reduce jobs and effect the economy was not stated.

The information supplied to respondents argued that passing a split roll would lessen the need for more taxes on individuals, hardly a convincing argument when tax hungry lawmakers have their hands out on both the state and local levels.

Stating that business would pay more taxes and individuals would not—in other words, voters were asked if they were willing to raise taxes on someone else– is an argument that has proved effective in recent state tax increase campaigns. Yet, the split roll question still got only 39% support in the poll.

Looking closer at the results, those strongly supporting the split roll concept stood at 13%, strongly opposed was a larger 20%. There is room to move voters who were unsure or did not have strong convictions on the issue.

In an article in Hoover’s Eureka publication that accompanied the poll, it was argued that a key to reformers winning the day is to convince renters to support the split roll and vote. But a lot of that strategy would depend on how apartments are treated under a split roll tax. Are they residential property that will continue under Prop 13 protections or are they commercial property, which under a split roll would be reassessed every year with the tax increase passed on to tenants?

I suppose if you raise most issues you would find about a third of the voters willing to consider change. In fact, a Reuters/Ipsos poll a few months ago found one out of three Californians supported the Golden State seceding from the Union.

Neither a Calexit nor a Prop 13 revolution is close to reality.

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