Proposition 13 is on the March 3, 2020 ballot; but it really isn’t. By an ironic twist of ballot measure labeling fate, a school bond measure on steroids was given the honor of being called Proposition 13 this March.
No one is a bigger fan of the real Proposition 13 than I am. The real one was the iconic property tax limitation measure passed overwhelmingly by California voters in June 1978 that limited property taxes to 1 percent of assessed valuation, with a maximum 2 percent cost of living increase annually. It’s a number that should be retired to the Ballot Proposition Hall of Fame -- but that’s another story….
The so-called Proposition 13 on the ballot this year is a $15 billion school bond measure. However, if you include the interest taxpayers will be paying over the next 30 years, it’s really a $27 billion school bond measure.
But wait, there’s more -- and that’s not good news for taxpayers either.
A little noticed provision that nobody is talking about allows elementary and high school districts to increase the rate of bonded indebtedness in their districts from 1.25 percent of local bond measures to 2 percent, and unified and community college districts to go from 2.5 percent to 4 percent. This allows for possible massive tax increases to the taxpayers. The worst part is that can be done without another vote of the people and it can be retroactive to past bonds!
Take a look at your most recent property tax bill and see how many bonds you are already paying off. Now imagine your local school district increasing that total by 60 percent without your approval. If you vote Yes on the March 2020 Proposition 13, you’ve just allowed your school district to do that, plus put yourself on the hook to pay off this new $27 billion.
Too many people think of bonds as a relatively harmless alternative to a tax increase -- but it’s really just another form of tax increase payable over a 30-year period. Think of it as taking out another mortgage on your house. Do you really want to do that?
Another odd provision not typical with school bonds is the part about giving developers 20 percent tax breaks on developer fees to support schools for building multifamily dwellings, and eliminating the fees entirely if the development is within a half mile of a public transit stop. These breaks would end in 2026. This subject has been debated in a number of legislative bills over the past few years. So how did this developer tax break end up in a school bond? Who would make up the difference for the fees the developers didn’t pay? Probably all the other taxpayers in the district.
These are all things to consider in deciding whether to vote yes or no on this proposition and I wanted to bring them to your attention. For me personally, the problems outweigh the benefits, which is why I will vote no.
(Ensen Mason is the San Bernardino County auditor-controller/treasurer/tax collector.)