The new effort to raise property taxes in California took a giant step forward with the filing of signatures on an initiative last week as the state is suffering the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. The measure calls for increasing property taxes on commercial properties (called a split roll) at a time when there is economic chaos and governments are forecasting budget cuts.
Does either side of the debate have an advantage conducting a campaign in the shadow of a pandemic? I asked someone who has been following this issue for a number of years with his widely respected polling, Mark Baldassare, President and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California.
“It’s hard to say how the yes and no arguments for the split roll will be heard because we have entered unchartered territory with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impacts,” Baldassare admitted in an email.
“The burden of proof is always on the yes side in any initiative campaign and it will be especially challenging in the face a well-funded opposition,” Baldassare wrote. “The no side is capable of raising questions about the intended and unintended consequences.”
The Yes side will argue schools need money because there will be funding cuts under reduced budgets and local governments need revenue to offset the public response confronting the coronavirus.
The No side will talk to people who lost paychecks under Covid-19 and who will face increased costs of food and goods and services if the property tax increase passes. Because of the collapse of businesses big and small, many will struggle to get back on their feet–some won’t survive–under an increase in property taxes.
Acknowledging that matters will be different (hopefully in a positive way) seven months from now when voters decide on the measure if it makes the ballot, government and its voters will still be feeling the after-effects of this stressful experience and that is bound to play at the polls.
(Disclosure, the author is a paid consultant by Californians to Save Prop 13 and Stop Higher Property Taxes, sponsored by California homeowners, taxpayers, and businesses.)