SACRAMENTO — The Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday passed six constitutional amendments to make it easier for local voters to pass various tax increases on property owners.

“California didn’t knowingly vote for centralized power,” said Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, speaking about the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, as she opened the committee hearing on the bills. Wolk, the committee chairwoman, echoed longtime critics of Prop. 13 that it reduced the ability of local governments to increase taxes, requiring the state government to step in and fund programs.

She said Prop. 13 has been around for more than 30 years, but it was time to change the law which has held property taxes in check since 1978. “Voters today ought to have a say,” she said.

Prop. 13 limited property taxes to 1 percent of the property’s assessed value, plus annual increases of up to 2 percent. When a property changes ownership, the new owner pays 1 percent of the newly assessed value.

Despite that, California by no means is a low-property tax state; it’s ranked 14th highest nationally, according to Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Parcel taxes

Senate Constitutional Amendment 3 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would lower the threshold for school district per-parcel property taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent. “SCA 3 provides parents, teachers and school districts with more local control and much needed flexibility in raising local education funding,” Leno said at the hearing. “The current two-thirds vote requirements for passage of local parcel tax allows a relatively small minority of voters to block a local education funding proposal that may have support of more than a majority of voters.”

All of the support for Leno’s bill came from other government agencies, associations, schools or public employee unions.

However, Leno did not address the influx of $7 billion in new tax revenue from Proposition 30, passed by voters in November, and sold as the fix-all to dwindling state education funds. Prop. 30 increased the income tax on individuals with income of $250,000 or more, and upped the sales tax on everybody in the state.

“We live in a state with the highest marginal tax rate, the highest sales tax, and we are not a low property tax state,” HJTA’s President Jon Coupal told the committee.

Coupal said SCA 3 is a direct assault on Prop. 13 because it makes it easier to increase property taxes above Prop. 13′s cap of 1 percent.

In a recent poll by the HJTA, more than 53 percent of voters oppose the parcel property tax vote change, and only 35 percent support it. Approximately 11 percent were undecided.

“Moreover, a majority of those against don’t just oppose the change — they oppose it strongly. The intensity of opposition to lowering the voting threshold was nearly double what it was for those in support,” the HJTA reported. “Forty percent of voters ‘definitely’ oppose the idea of lowering the vote requirement, while just 21 percent say they would definitely support the change.”

The HJTA also found that opposition to changing the voting threshold was broad-based: 68 percent of Republicans oppose it, along with nearly 53 percent of Decline-to-State voters, while 44 percent of Democrats also oppose it. Fifty percent of Democrat women also oppose the change.

“This poll mirrors what we’ve been hearing from our members who are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. They oppose any further money grab from politicians — whether from Sacramento or the local level — and they oppose it strongly,” said Coupal. “Prop. 13 was established to protect homeowners from outrageous property tax increases, and that includes parcel taxes, which local politicians now want to expand to pay for their local spending.”

“The tax-and-spend lobby has been emboldened by the passage of Prop. 30 and it’s clear that the $50 billion tax hike didn’t sate their thirst for more money,” said Coupal.

In the survey, the question was posed to voters: “Proposition 13 limits California property taxes to one percent of the taxable value of property. Parcel taxes are property taxes above the regular one percent tax and, under Proposition 13, these parcel taxes require a two-thirds vote of local voters to be passed into law. Do you support or oppose lowering the vote requirement for local parcel taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent?”

Taxes, taxes, taxes

In addition to Leno’s SCA 3, HJTA lists the following bills as major threats to property owners. As with SCA 3, the bills were passed by the Senate Governance and Finance Committee Wednesday:

* SCA 4, Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Canada, and SCA 8, Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro: “Lowers the threshold for the imposition, extension or increase of local transportation special taxes from the Proposition 13-mandated two-thirds vote to 55%. Most transportation special tax increases consist of very regressive sales tax hikes. These add to the burden of California taxpayers who already pay the highest state sales tax in the nation.”

* SCA 7, Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis: “Lowers the threshold from two-thirds to 55% in order to approve a bond to fund public library facilities. Lowering the threshold for school facilities to 55% has already resulted in billions of dollars of additional property tax payments that otherwise would not have been approved by voters.”

* Senate Constitutional Amendment 9, Sen. Ellen Corbett, D—San Leandro: Lowers the threshold from two-thirds to 55% to increase special taxes to fund community and economic development projects.

* SCA 11, Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley: “Lowers the threshold to 55% to allow for voters representing ANY local government entity to approve a special tax for ANY purpose. This is far and away the broadest application, and thus the most egregious, of these constitutional amendments.

Crossposted on CalWatchDog