(Editor’s Note: David R. Doerr recently published a lengthy commentary on Prop 13 in the Cal Tax Report. The following is a summary. To read the full commentary, click here.)

A split roll would mean a return to the unfair ad valorem tax system for locally assessed business real property, improvements and fixtures, including a reintroduction of all the problems associated with that method.

Under an ad valorem assessment system, property is assessed on a subjective, not objective, basis. For most properties, there is no conclusive proof of what the value is on the lien date, as the three methods for determining value have flaws – and, at best, establish a range of values.

Most taxpayers do not know what the value of their property is on January 1, and therefore would not know whether or not they are being assessed fairly under an ad valorem system.

There was massive inequality in values of property in California when ad valorem assessments were required.

An ad valorem tax would reintroduce the “highest and best use” system of assessment, where assessors can decide to assess a property as a service station site, or high rise site, etc., and force the property owner off the property with a massive property tax bill.

An ad valorem system would result in a boom-and-bust cycle of revenue for local government, undermining local fiscal stability.

Just as in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” where the second-class angel Clarence has to show George Bailey what life would have been like in Bedford Falls if Mr. Bailey had not been born, split-roll proponents need to show what the assessment roll would look like today if Proposition 13 had not been born. This they have not done, and cannot do. The figures they have produced as arguments for a split roll are bogus, and do not make such a comparison.

For these reasons, split-roll proposals fail the test of good government. Tax laws should never be made on the basis of political expediency.

David R. Doerr has served as CalTax’s chief tax consultant, analyzing tax policies and reporting on tax issues, since 1987. He previously served 24 years as chief consultant for the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, and in that capacity chaired the task force that developed legislation to implement Proposition 13. Mr. Doerr is the author of “California’s Tax Machine: A History of Taxing and Spending in the Golden State,” which is used as a reference work by the state’s policy makers, and has been called “the bible on California taxes.”