Opinion: Let’s raise $10B annually for schools by changing Prop 13 to regularly assess commercial properties

The passage of Proposition 13 reduced the revenue stream to schools by half. It’s time to tweak the proposition so California schools can once again lead. Sign the initiative.

The League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville is gathering signatures for a petition to put a landmark measure, the “California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2018”, on the Nov. 2018 ballot. This measure is supported statewide by over 200 community, union and civil rights groups led by California Calls, the California League of Women Voters, PICO California and Evolve.

This “Schools and Communities First” measure will provide up to $10 billion annually for K-12 education and local community needs by requiring the reassessment of properties of large businesses every 3 years at the market value. This change in Proposition 13 will also effectively close a loophole used by 8% of corporations still paying taxes based on the original purchase price of their properties by disguising changes in ownership, which would otherwise trigger reassessment at market value.

New revenue collected in this way will be kept in a separate fund, independent of the state General Fund and not accessible to the Legislature or the Governor. Taxes on property of homeowners, small business owners, agricultural property owners or that rented to apartment dwellers will NOT be affected by this long-anticipated measure.

Proposition 13 cut revenue in half for K-12 education and local government services after passing in 1978 so that California schools fell from 4th to 7th in the US to 41st to 50th. California is still behind 40 years later – why? Education itself – like everything else — has become more expensive, requiring cutting-edge computer and other up-to-date technologies for the classroom. Also, other states seem to have recognized sooner the critical impact on developing young minds of early childhood education, dual language immersion and STEM training – all of which continue to increase the cost of education.

Like children in California’s schools, California’s precious landscape is also at risk! There is no doubt now that fires and floods can be expected to threaten California in the future, as they did last summer when emergency response plans proved inadequate. And the list of still pressing problems remains: infrastructure (fancy term for pot-holed roads and deteriorated bridges), water (since a return to drought conditions looks likely) and affordable housing for our workforce (which includes teachers and public safety personnel).

Signing the petition being circulated now by the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville and its partners outside stores, at festivals and other venues will begin the process of improving Proposition 13. By helping to put “Schools and Communities First” on the November 2018 ballot, voters will be turning a page in California history, as well as honoring Women’s History Month, to empower themselves, their families and their communities. And in this era of “MeToo”, men are an equally important part of this effort!

Ruby MacDonald is a retired research scientist turned retired high school biology teacher.