PPIC: California Ready to Slay the Ghost of Jarvis


Gov. Jerry Brown’s job approval rating is at a record-high, Californians are feeling more positive about the direction of the state and while Proposition 13 remains popular, so too is the notion of a “split roll” – leaving residential property tax rates alone but taxing commercial properties at their market value.

These are some of the findings of the latest statewide survey from the Public Policy Institute of California that reveals increasing optimism and readiness to engage a number of budget reforms that could put the state on an even firmer footing going forward.

With Brown’s 48% job approval rating – his highest ever – and 44% of the population seeing California on the right track – the highest level since June 2007 – the governor and Legislature are well-positioned to take on important challenges.

Top among them would be to modify Proposition 13 – long thought to be untouchable – to do only what it was supposed to do when it was sold by Howard Jarvis to the voters of California in 1978: protect homeowners from out-of-control property tax increases.

By a 57-36% margin, voters responded positively when asked this question: Under Proposition 13, residential and commercial property taxes are both strictly limited. What do you think about having commercial properties taxed according to their current market value? Do you favor or oppose this proposal?

Democrats favor the idea 66-26% and independents like the prospect 58-36%. Even Republicans are evenly divided 47-48%. Voters aged 18-34, who represent the future, favor the idea 65-28% but the idea is also popular among the most reliable voters, those 55 and older, by 56-39%.

Splitting the tax roll is a popular idea in every region of the state, among men and women equally and especially among Asians (65-26%) and Latinos (58-36%) but also among whites (56-38%).

In other words, there is a deep and wide mass base of support for modifying Proposition 13.

At the same time, Californians are prepared to accept spending reforms. According to PPIC, strong majorities favor:

— Strictly limiting the amount of money that state spending can increase each year (65% adults, 65% likely voters)

— Increasing the size of the state’s rainy day fund and requiring that above-average revenues be deposited there for use in economic downturns (72% adults, 70% likely voters)

–Requiring any major new or expanded state program or tax reductions to identify a specific funding source (79% adults, 82% likely voters)

Smaller majorities of Californians—and even fewer likely voters—support three fiscal reforms that have been proposed to address structural issues in the state budget and local budget issues:

— Establishing a two-year state budget cycle in place of the current one-year cycle (56% adults, 49% likely voters)

— Replacing the two-thirds majority vote requirement with a simple majority vote for the state legislature to pass state taxes (51% adults, 45% likely voters)

— Replacing the two-thirds vote requirement with a 55-percent majority vote for voters to pass local special taxes (54% adults, 50% likely voters)

Whether Gov. Brown – with his intense commitment to high-speed rail – has the stomach to take on Proposition 13 and other fiscal reforms is far from clear. But the PPIC survey suggests that after nearly a quarter of a century, voters are ready to modify the property tax measure that fundamentally altered politics in California.

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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar CarolineSF says:

    Great post. I would like to question the claim that “Proposition 13 remains popular,” though. I submit that the majority of adult Californians have no ****ing idea whatsoever what Prop. 13 is (and most of the rest of are extremely hazy). At best, they know it’s something about taxes. A poster on a school listserve frequented by young parents asked recently how much money her school got under Prop. 13 — she thought it was something that provides funds for schools.

    One has to have been born before June 1960 and living in California in June 1978 to have been a voter in the 1978 election in which Prop. 13 passed, and I believe that almost no one who wasn’t here at the time would have studied up on it.

    For a blog post, I once asked Field pollster Mark Di Camillo (by e-mail) if a lot of people they ask are unaware of what Prop. 13 is. He said yes, many have never heard of it. He sent me the brief description the Field pollsters read to respondents. It was unbiased and clear, but does the respondent then have time to get information about or ponder the impact of such a law before voicing an “approve” or “disapprove” on the spot? (Rhetorical question in the extreme.)

    I think the responses of anyone who wasn’t already aware of what Prop. 13 was prior to being asked by the pollster are entirely invalid (sorry about what that says about your polls, pollster community).

    However, when the press goes on about how Prop. 13 is the third rail, third rail, third rail it reinforces the notion that Prop. 13 is untouchable, which might not be true or valid at all if the press didn’t keep reinforcing it. Let us all ponder the appropriate punishment for the use of the phrase “Prop. 13 is the third rail” — perhaps a real, live third rail? (JK, JK.)

    • avatar ReilleyFam says:

      Until they buy their first home. Then they become very educated and aware of what Prop 13 is.

      It was never intended for commercial ppty, and is long overdue to be corrected.

    • avatar CarolineSF says:

      I disagree, ReilleyFam. Homebuyers do not become informed about what Prop. 13 is. Why would they? They just get the tax bill they get.

  2. avatar kpminott says:

    Huzzah! Let the Prop. 13 modification begin!

  3. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Phil Ting championed the idea of a split roll for property taxes when he was county assessor in San Francisco. Now that he’s in the Assembly, I hope he will continue to push for the change. I’d also love to see the 2/3 rule go by the wayside.

    To Caroline’s point, I not only lived in California when prop. 13 was on the ballot, I voted for it. I wish I hadn’t. But I did. They had all these nice commercials about how it would help old people stay in their homes. That sounded like a good idea. I didn’t want to see them on the streets. Nobody said corporations would get the same breaks. Nobody talked about the 2/3 rule. I wouldn’t have voted for that. But, of course, I did. And I’ve been sorry for it for a very long time.

    Getting support for changing it will take some education. But, as a younger friend of mine points out, she and her husband pay more in property taxes on their first home than the McDonalds down the street pays for their profitable location. Put in simple terms like that, people get it. If they know the Assembly can’t fund schools because of the 2/3 rule, they’ll get it. It’s time to let people know what we really voted for and what the consequences are.

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