Time to make adjustments to Proposition 13 | March 26, 2010 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - March 26, 2010

Time to make adjustments to Proposition 13

Research by a Menlo Park woman with a school-aged child, described in a story in last week's Voice, shows in great detail how the state's fabled and untouchable Proposition 13, which restricts property tax increases to 2 percent a year, has over time become a huge windfall for many commercial property owners.

Instead of an equitable 50-50 split, as in pre-Prop. 13 days, residential property owners now shoulder about two-thirds of the tax load. This imbalance in the tax burden is in part due to Proposition 58, a law passed in 1986 that allows property to be passed from parent to child with no reassessment of the property.

Due to the slow turnover rate of commercial property, and perhaps good tax advice, many owners have been able to lock in 1978 tax rates through trusts and other provisions. By comparison, far fewer residential owners pass their homes on to heirs.

The Prop. 13 story was based on research by a former high-tech executive and Stanford MBA, Jennifer Bestor, who compared taxes paid on commercial property in downtown Menlo Park and in her own Menlo Park neighborhood. (She embarked on the project to find out why local property taxes are failing to cover the needs of her son's school district.)

On one block of Santa Cruz Avenue, the city's main street, Bestor found that of the 56 commercial parcels, 23 are assessed at the 1978 rate (plus 2 percent per year). Of those 23 parcels, only four are held by the 1978 owners; 11 have been passed to an heir and in some cases are held in family trusts. The last eight are owned by corporations (six) and partnerships of unknown composition (two).

This contrasts significantly with the 53 residential parcels in Bestor's neighborhood, where 13 are held by 1978 owners and two are held by children of 1978 owners, so are taxed at the 1978 level. Assessments of two other parcels were affected by other factors. The other 36 parcels, including hers, have been reassessed after changing hands, she said.

These findings have led Bestor to conclude that her residential street is "paying its way." By contrast, she asks, "Does it really make sense to subsidize family trusts, major real estate corporations and developers, who make smaller and smaller contributions (proportionally) to public services each year?"

Examples of the sort Bestor uncovered in Menlo Park are common in many California cities, including Mountain View. Allowing commercial property owners to pass their holdings on to heirs without a reassessment has become a significant factor in inheritance strategies, and seems to be causing real inequity in the system.

By allowing so many commercial property owners to opt out of contemporary tax rates, the state is shortchanging many of its most important governmental institutions, including schools, local governments and special districts, to name just a few. Given the constrictions placed on property taxes through Prop. 13 — with a crucial nudge from Prop. 58 — we propose that commercial properties in California be reassessed every 20 years.

Ever since the economic downturn brought huge budget deficits to our state, legislators have been looking for more revenue but have focused on slashing expenditures, including devastating cuts to all levels of education. One answer is right under their nose: Readjust the rules stated in propositions 13 and 58, and take a fairer cut of this state's commercial property taxes.


Posted by Big picture, a resident of Castro City
on Mar 28, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Requiring corporations to pay more taxes will increase costs for the consumer, increase unemployment, and/or force companies to move out of the California. When taxes are reduced, companies have opportunities to earn more and be more innovative. Companies also employ more people and expand operations as taxes/costs are reduced. (Why do you think so many of our companies and jobs have gone overseas?) The countries/economies that are in the best shape today have low and/or flat taxes.

California is one of the states with the highest taxes. California has property taxes, parcel taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, gas taxes, vehicle registration fees/taxes, and endless other taxes and fees. Requiring more taxes will not solve any of our problems.

Our educational system is broken because we refuse to hold the students accountable for ANYTHING. Too many students, refuse to behave, refuse to do their homework, refuse to pay attention in class, and are rewarded with decent grades and promoted to the next grade/level instead of repeating the class they failed. For example, our universities have remedial classes for students who have graduated with “B” averages or higher in high school. How can you graduate from high school with a “B” average and need remedial classes? (Remedial classes cost California taxpayers over $30 million annually.)

To fix our educational system we need consequences and accountability, not more taxes/money.

Corporations provide jobs, which give people a purpose and self-esteem. Employees can provide for their families, buy things to support other businesses and people in the community, take care of their family, health, etc.
Corporations provide and do tremendous good for communities and I would argue corporations do more good for individuals and communities than non-profits, so why not make corporations tax-exempt too?

We would have a more productive, creative society if we stopped taxing and punishing the most productive and creative members.

Two ways to reduce our need for more taxes:

Enforce our immigration laws and crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants rather than increase taxes. If we cracked down on illegal immigration, more jobs would be available for legal residents and our unemployment and welfare burden would be reduced. Furthermore, with fewer illegal immigrants our schools, housing, hospitals, jails, etc. would not be overburdened and we would need less money/taxes.

Another way to reduce the need for more taxes is to end taxpayer guaranteed pensions. All government employees should be switched to a defined contribution/401k style plan. Government salaries need to be reduced too. According to the Wall Street Journal, on average government employees earn 46% more than the equivalent job/position in private industry.

Posted by Paul, a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 29, 2010 at 6:32 pm

The poster children for Prop13 were retirees living on fixed income and getting squeezed as their taxes were increased each year that housing values went up. That was a real problem that most folks could sympathize with and which garnered significant support. The unintended consequence was that the big winners would actually be businesses and corporations. Unlike real people, corporations live forever. And they have the good sense to never be drawn into the fray allowing the retirees to provide the angry face defending the inequities that Prop13 introduced. You never see corporations writing letters to the editor.

Posted by Bigger Picture, a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm

For years now we keep hearing that "business will leave, costs will go up," if commercial property taxes are increased. Well, which businesses? Because the difference is between a vibrant business climate and a sclerotic, entrenched one.

The dynamic businesses that have expanded here in the last 20 years and are paying full-fare property taxes (Google, Cisco, Apple, Network Appliance, etc.) won't leave. Why should they just because heritage properties owned by corporate property owners, legacy businesses, and trust-baby landlords get reassessed? After all, the additional money goes to police, roads, better schools for employees' kids, courts, and other local services that are crucial to dynamic new companies' success.

Stop the obfuscation. "Business" is not equal to "landlord." And in Santa Clara County, a quarter of commercial parcel owners have bought in the last five years -- and a quarter over 30 years ago. Why should new property owners have to carry those that were here (or whose lawyers cleverly played the ownership shell game) on their backs, getting 40 cents worth of public services for the dollar they pay?

And, guess what, for the rest of us, the price HAS gone up -- lousy schools so we have buy tutoring for our kids, early release criminals threatening our safety, potholes ruining our front-end alignments, consolidated firehouses further from our homes. We're paying the price.

You're right, why are we taxing the most productive and creative members of our society -- new businesses, new owners, new families -- while handing tax breaks to the least productive passive income collectors?

Posted by PlsRuinMyBackyard, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 2, 2010 at 12:42 am

I love the republican/conservative comment above that all economic woes can be solved by lowering taxes on the wealthy corporations. How very sad... The funny part is that this is the same group of idiots that put this country into such massive debt in the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II reigns.

To the issue:

I wonder if one solution to the Prop13 issue raised is to increase the cap % increase from 2% to something like 2.5%. That would allow an increased revenue stream that will not severely damage the current property owners.

Another idea I had was to offer a tax deduction for someone who sells their property in a way that allows a re-assessment at current market value. This could be a flat deduction limited to properties with a market value 2x the current assessment. Or, a variable deduction based on the difference.

Posted by the299crew, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 2, 2010 at 9:15 am

Bigger Picture - I feel sorry for you. You describe and envision a bunch of people shining each others shoes. At some point, someone has to harvest, mine, or make something to add real and lasting value to the economy. Without that, we are where we are today.

PlsRuinMyBackyard - Why do you call some of the previous presidential terms "reigns"? Are we in the Obama reign now? I'd prefer to call what we have now just a time-out.

This week the nearby NUMI plant is shutting down. If you don't count small-scale electric vehicles, California has no more automobile assembly plants in the entire state. All of them are gone. Lawmakers, take a bow; you got what you wanted. People, get the shoe polish out. There a re few shoes still to shine.

Posted by So what, a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2010 at 9:37 am

Just add it to the list of other things wrong with our state...country.

Posted by Bigger Picture, a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Love the image of Steve Jobs, Jerry Yang, Carol Bartz, Sergei Brin, et al, shining shoes. Sandals, possibly, in Steve's case? Equally love the idea that Network Appliance and Apple don't know manufacturing from Shinola.

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