It is well known that June 6, 1978 – the day that California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 13 – is a key date in the history of tax policy in California.
Now we can add another important date to our tax history calendar: September 19, 2016, the day that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office debunked two myths that have long served as the top talking points of those who want to repeal Proposition 13.
In a report titled, “Common Claims About Proposition 13,” the legislative analyst addressed a claim that has been a staple of the “split roll” activists who want to increase property taxes by billions of dollars per year: the claim that Proposition 13 has shifted the property tax burden from business owners to homeowners.
The analyst wrote:
“Homeowners pay a slightly larger share of property taxes today than they did when Proposition 13 passed. Proposition 13 does not appear to have caused this increase. … In 1979-80, homeowners paid about 34 percent of property taxes (on secured property). This share fell to a low of 32 percent in the mid-1980s. Since then, however, the share has risen. In 2015-16, homeowners paid about 37 percent of all property taxes. In part, this may be due to faster growth in the number of residential properties than the number of commercial and industrial properties. Since the passage of Proposition 13, residential properties overall (not just owner-occupied homes) grew by almost 60 percent, while commercial and industrial properties grew less than 30 percent. Because the number of residential properties increased faster than commercial and industrial properties, the share of property taxes paid by residential properties increased as well.”
The analyst’s finding jibes with research conducted by the California Tax Foundation (a nonprofit think tank formed by the California Taxpayers Association in 1980), which found that the share of the property tax paid by homeowners decreased 4 percent from 1979-80 to 2013-14. In the latter year, the homeowners’ share accounted for approximately 38 percent of the overall property tax burden. This research is based on property tax statistics published by the State Board of Equalization – the state agency that oversees property tax administration.
Hopefully, the analyst’s work, combined with the California Tax Foundation’s reports, finally will convince split-roll proponents to stop making their false claim about who bears the property tax burden.
Split-roll proponents also should consider that under Proposition 13, every property owner is protected by a property tax cap, so the property tax generally stays the same regardless of what other property owners pay. Simply put, it is impossible for property owners to shift their property tax burden to others.
The other talking point shot down by the legislative analyst is the erroneous claim that business property changes ownership less often than homes (under Proposition 13’s acquisition-value assessment system, this would result in homes being reassessed more often than businesses, and thus paying higher property taxes).
“The rate of turnover for residential (including homeowners and rented residential properties) and commercial and industrial properties across the state is relatively similar in recent years,” the analyst wrote. “Though the rates of turnover are not the same in each year, residential properties do not appear to turn over at rates much higher than commercial and industrial properties statewide.”
In fact, the analyst found that in San Diego County: “A typical commercial and industrial property was last reassessed ten years ago, compared to 14 years ago for residential property. This suggests residential properties turnover slightly less often, which increases the tax benefits to these properties.”
So how did the split-roll proponents react to the analyst’s report? Not by acknowledging that they have been spreading misinformation for years, but rather by trying out a new talking point: that Proposition 13 helps only the rich.
This claim, too, is bogus. Just ask the many low-income homeowners who would have been taxed out of their homes long ago if Proposition 13’s protections were not in place. “For homeowners at all income levels, tax relief from Proposition 13 generally is proportionate to the market value of their homes,” the analyst noted, adding: “Landlords facing slower increases in their property tax bills may be less inclined to increase rents.”
California taxpayers should thank the legislative analyst for its fact-checking service, as the analyst’s report will be invaluable when the split-roll activists launch their next attack on property owners.
Teresa Casazza is president and chief executive officer of the California Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association that has been advocating for taxpayers since 1926.