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Here in L.A., we’ve just finished weighing in on two ballot questions regarding schools funding. Really engaged activists and politicians will argue the initiatives we voted on are unrelated, both the two just addressed and another coming up. But many of us see a set of connected dots in a three-part series: Measure EE [June 2019], Proposition 13 [2020], Schools And Communities First (SCF).

taxpayer revolution

The three initiatives do share a common objective in funding schools, but their significance shifts according to the context in which each is evaluated.

One year ago during a cold and rainy January, UTLA’s teachers (and allied communities) went on strike for contract concessions above and beyond the typical matter of a paycheck. At issue were systemic questions of management and budget, District resources and their equitable distribution, and the very nature of public service in our modern democracy.

This is a “demand-side” context regarding public resources – basically, that more money is needed. The strike was settled upon acknowledgement of available funds held in reserve. But there was seemingly little disagreement about this: schools require more general funding.

Given the strike’s widespread public support then, it is bewildering to look through this filter yet experience first one followed by a second, ballot-mediated repudiation of ideas for replenishing depleted public coffers.

Key to understanding is a reciprocal, “supply-side” context through which voters also evaluate the ballot questions.

More than 40 years ago Californians expressed their resounding distaste for taxation. Passed by 65% of the electorate through ballot initiative, Proposition 13 [1978] infamously capped property assessments governing property taxes. And while long-term effect of the Proposition has severely limited availability of public dollars for the Common purse, still that “tax revolt” remains abidingly popular throughout the State.

Through this tax-averse, supply-side filter, voters are rejecting both Measure EE and Proposition 13 [2020] in a personalized context. The immediacy of one’s own pocketbook out-competes the conceptual, demand-side, ‘social-justice’ need articulated by the 2019 strike.

Through this tax-averse, supply-side filter, voters are rejecting both Measure EE and Proposition 13 [2020] in a personalized context. The immediacy of one’s own pocketbook out-competes the conceptual, demand-side, ‘social-justice’ need articulated by the 2019 strike.

The trouble is that this “personal wallet” framework is wrong.

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None of these initiatives, and in particular the Schools and Communities First (SCF) initiative awaiting this November’s election, is felt in any ordinary individual’s wallet. These initiatives have in common that they address corporate – not personal – tax liability.

And it is true: SCF addresses the matter of tax assessment. Unlike the recently defeated EE and Prop 13 [2020] initiatives that were both associated falsely with Howard Jarvis’ 1978 tax revolt, this SCF does in fact address the infamous Proposition 13 [1978].

But this time all over again, not a single penny of any ordinary individuals’ tax bill goes up.

SCF holds sacred the property tax assessment championed so fiercely by Howard Jarvis. All residential – even commercial-residential – property remains inalienably tied to purchase price.

It is only on commercial and industrial properties exclusively that property assessment will be linked to market rates.

These corporations have benefited inordinately over the years from loopholes and large, sheltered land holdings that do not contribute fairly to public financing. The “split” assessment proposed restores corporations’ responsibility to the State coffers while holding fast the promised individual protections that were never intended to have become so disproportionately burdensome in stocking the treasury.

Moreover, in recent times it has become backward to consider the split tax as stalking horse preliminary to relinquishing Jarvis’ cap on residential tax assessments. Individuals’ assessments are trivial compared with the corporations’ debt which encumbers us all. And by now as corporations contribute an ever-diminishing proportion of the tax pie, the nominally protected individuals have become the entity ultimately responsible for assuming the missing share.

Thus far from encroaching on covenanted taxation, SCF actually lessens the upward pressure on individual’s taxes. As things currently stand, the State sustains a vacuum from perfunctory corporate taxation which grows bigger and stronger year over year. That deficit is addressed in two ways, both of which squeeze small individuals: it is backfilled endlessly by hiking regressive, non-property taxes; and the public cinches its belt making due with ever less for necessary public programs (emergency and safety services, schools, legal aid, etc).

All this austerity is in obedience to Howard Jarvis’ sacred cow of 1978 which lionizes individual’s tax assessment and… whichis not threatened by SCF.

It is neither the puny renters, tiny homeowners, nor small businesses that will feel one single penny of de factoreparations assessed by SCF on our megalithic corporations. Taxpaying Californians should rejoice in the opportunity to restore the fairness assured by the tax revolution of 1978.

sara-roos

Sara Roos
Los Angeles Education Examiner

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