Backers of a California ballot measure to roll back Proposition 13 tax protections have started gathering voter signatures. And they’ve picked up a new advantage that has opponents crying foul.
They’re furious with the official title and summary issued by Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office for a November 2020 ballot proposal.
The initiative, known as the “Split Roll,” would raise $10 billion a year by taxing commercial properties based on their fair market value instead of their purchase price. The money would fund schools, community colleges and local governments.
The attorney general’s title and summary for an earlier version of this proposal mentioned the tax change before it stated where the money would go:
Requires Certain Commercial and Industrial Real Property to be Taxed Based on Fair-Market Value. Dedicates Portion of Any Increased Revenue to Education and Local Services.
But even though backers made only minor changes to their latest version, the new title and summary focuses on the benefit to schools — and doesn’t explain how commercial property taxes would rise:
Increases Funding for Public Schools, Community Colleges, and Local Government Services by Changing Tax Assessment of Commercial and Industrial Property.
“Split Roll” opponents are furious over what they see as an effort from Becerra’s office to rig the system by issuing a biased title and summary.
“They have written it to minimize the impacts for California taxpayers, and play up that it’s all gonna be about supporting education funding,” said Rob Lapsley with the California Business Roundtable, one of the leading opposition groups.
A spokesperson with Becerra’s office declined to explain its change, but said it’s simply doing its job of issuing official titles and summaries “describing the chief purpose and points of every proposed initiative submitted in compliance with procedural requirements.”
“We take that responsibility seriously, and the courts recently upheld our exercise of this constitutional authority,” the spokesperson added.
The issuance of an official title and summary marks the green light for supporters of the ballot initiative to start collecting the nearly 1 million voter signatures to qualify the November 2020 ballot.
Work is well under way, including at rallies like this one a few weeks ago outside the state Capitol, where speakers included union leaders and grassroots activists.
“We’re gonna close the loopholes and make them pay their fair share!” called out Pauline Brooks, a Service Employees International Union member who’s on the board of the California Alliance for Retired Americans.
Backers point to the measure’s exemption of homes or apartment buildings, saying only commercial and industrial properties would pay higher taxes.
“Should Chevron get the same property tax protections as Grandma?” asked Ben Grieff, an organizer with the Bay Area advocacy group Evolve California.
“No!” the crowd shouted back.
But the measure faces fierce, and well-funded, opposition from business groups, who argue the commercial and industrial property tax increases will be passed along to homeowners and rental property tenants.
“It’s more money, more money, more money, for the same thing — the status quo,” Lapsley said. “And people are not happy with the status quo.”
Opponents are banking on the popularity of Prop. 13, the 1978 voter initiative that capped property taxes and has been considered the electric third rail of California politics.
Supporters hope turnout in next fall’s presidential election, in an increasingly Democratic state where President Trump is deeply unpopular, will push the measure across the finish line.