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Prop. 13's sad legacy

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Wednesday, July 27th, 2005 — [The following is a letter to the editor following the 7/20/2005 "Speaking the unspeakable -- and doing the Proposition 13 sit-ups" article]


Nancy McGaraghan's July 20 column asserts that "Proposition 13 results in a disproportionate benefit to longterm homeowners."

By staying in the same home for 25 years, her property tax bill is far lower than the bills sent to her neighbors, because Proposition 13 limits the property tax to 1 percent of assessed value, a new assessment determined only when the the property is sold or improved, and limited to a rise of 2 percent per year.

McGaraghan's lament that her children can't afford to buy homes here, let alone face the unfair property tax system, reminds one of former California Chief Justice Rose Bird's statement against Proposition 13 -- which garnered 65 percent of the vote 1978.

When the state Supreme Court confirmed the constitutionality of Proposition 13, Bird argued in a minority opinion that such inequity of neighbors in comparable homes being assessed wildly different property tax amounts violated the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"As the years go by," Bird wrote,"the skewed nature of the tax world created by Proposition 13 will become even more pronounced." How prescient she was!

While people like McGaraghan, who own the same house for decades, benefit mightily from the growing disparity in property tax assessments, the greatest beneficiaries of Proposition 13 continue to be longterm owners of large business properties.

Large business properties are sold far less frequently than residential homes change ownership, yet their values too are reassessed only when sold. Consider that in the first year after its passage, the Wall Street Journal claimed Proposition 13 saved Southern Pacific $20 million in taxes and Standard Oil of California about $47 million.

Proposition 13's legacy is a sorrowful one. In the first five years after it was enacted, California fell from 17th to 35th among the states in per-pupil spending for public education. Now it is among the very lowest in the nation.

As individual school districts attempt and sometimes succeed in passing bond measures to pay for the improvements once expected to be covered by state coffers, the disparity between rich and poor grows ever larger. No longer is public education anywhere close to an equal opportunity.

McGaraghan calls for putting Propostion 13 "back on the table." May she meet with success with the next administration.

Carol Maibach
Lassen Drive
Menlo Park