Because of the conviction of one member of the state Senate, and the indictment of a second, Proposition 13 — and taxpayers who rely on its protections — may have slipped the noose being prepared for it by majority Democrats in the Legislature.
Senator Rod Wright, a Los Angeles Democrat, has taken a leave of absence after having been convicted, but not yet sentenced, on eight felony counts related to misstating his residence for the purpose of running for office. Senator Ronald Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello, has been asked to resign by Senate leaders after being indicted for public corruption. The self-destruction of these two lawmakers has a profound impact on the dynamics of the Legislature.
After the votes were counted in the 2012 November election, Democrats were elated. They had gained control of both houses of the Legislature with a veto-proof supermajority that would allow them to pass any and all legislation including measures that require a two-thirds vote. Because tax increases and legislative proposals to weaken Prop 13 require the higher threshold, homeowners have been like residents in a bad neighborhood with their front doors unlocked — subject to attack at any time.
Liberal activists were even more ecstatic, believing their dreams of a progressive utopia were about to come true. Finally, they thought, the only barrier to new taxes, Proposition 13, could be dismantled.
Senate boss Darrell Steinberg was a bit more pragmatic and was willing to wait a year. He declared there was much work that needed immediate attention and signaled that 2014 would be the year to “examine” Proposition 13. This did not prevent his colleagues from introducing seven bills that would punch holes in Proposition 13 taxpayer protections. Of these, arguably the most immediately threatening is Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8 (ACA 8), that would lower the vote for local infrastructure bonds from two-thirds, to 55 percent. These bonds are repaid exclusively by property owners and lowering the vote threshold opens the door to billions of dollars in new property taxes.
While the two-thirds vote for local bonds dates back to 1879, it became a part of Proposition 13 in 1986, when, with the support of Proposition 13 author Howard Jarvis, voters approved Proposition 46. This measure allowed an increase in property tax limits for the purpose of repaying local bond debt but only if that debt were approved by two-thirds of voters.
ACA 8 has passed out of the Assembly and has been awaiting a vote in the Senate. But, due to the criminality of Wright and alleged criminality of Calderon, the leadership no longer enjoys the vaunted supermajority. This means that passage of ACA 8, which in reality amounts to a property tax increase, may no longer be assured of passage in this legislative session. Because voters will have the opportunity to make changes to the makeup of the Legislature this fall, it is possible that the execution date for Proposition 13 protections has been postponed indefinitely.
While still menacing, the passage of other anti-taxpayer legislation cooked up by majority lawmakers, no longer appears a certainty in what was shaping up as a David versus Goliath struggle, with taxpayers as the much smaller David.
The key to the preservation of Proposition 13 is now in the hands of the minority who will be assailed by special interests lobbying for more tax revenue. They will double down on their efforts to pursue Republicans, many of whom have promised constituents that they will not enable new taxes, to abandon this commitment in return for favors and political support. But we at HJTA will work hard to ensure that Prop 13’s friends in the legislature will not succumb to this temptation.