Majority of Californians Support Property Tax Reform, Study Shows

Shoppers walks past a Nordstrom window display at The Grove shopping center on May 27, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(CN) — A California ballot measure that would drastically reform how commercial properties are taxed has the support of the majority of state residents who plan to vote in November, according to a survey released Wednesday. 

The measure would overhaul the state’s landmark 1978 voter-approved property tax reform, known as Proposition 13, which caps property taxes at 1% of purchase price and limits annual increases from exceeding 2%. 

Under Prop 13, homes sold today are reassessed under their current cash value, leading to discrepancies in the taxable value of homes based on when they were last sold.

Proponents of the decades-old reform claimed it would shield homeowners from future tax bills that inflated as property values increased. The measure also requires that any new state tax hikes be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and that local measures pass by majority vote.

Critics have called it a tax loop-hole that has allowed big businesses and commercial property owners to avoid paying their fair share of taxes for decades. 

If approved by voters, the new measure appearing on the November ballot as Proposition 15: “Schools and Communities First” would create a “split-roll property tax” where commercial properties valued over $3 million would be reassessed every three years at market value.

Small businesses, farming properties and residential homes would be exempt under the changes.

The measure has the support of the California Democratic Party, Governor Gavin Newsom and labor unions, educators and mayors who say the newly captured property taxes would provide critical funding for public education, public infrastructure and more. 

The property tax reform could bring as much as $12 billion into state coffers, with 60% of the windfall earmarked for local governments and 40% for education, according to a University of Southern California study. 

Among likely voters in the Golden State, 51% said they support Prop 15 while 40% oppose it, according to a statewide survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California. 

Democrats and independents are more likely to back Prop 15, with 72% and 46%, respectively, saying they support the measure, while only 17% of Republicans say they’re in favor of it, the survey says .

Less than half of homeowners, 47%, would vote yes on Prop 15, compared with 56% of renters.

Younger Californians are much more likely than older residents to support the property tax overhaul effort, Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, said in a statement accompanying the survey.

Among voters aged 18 to 44, 60% say they would yes on Prop 15, compared to 46% of voters age 45 and older, according to the survey.

“Californians are divided on Proposition 15, with Republicans and Democrats, younger and older voters, and renters and homeowners showing widely different support for this tax and spending initiative,” Baldassare said. 

Opponents of Prop 15 have said the measure will lead to higher operating costs for small businesses and a property tax surge that will force landlords to charge higher rents to tenants.

A separate ballot measure that would repeal the state’s ban on affirmative action in the public sector has the support of less than a third of Californians, according to the PPIC survey.

Under Proposition 209, approved by voters in 1996, public hiring decisions can’t involve affirmative action based on race, ethnicity or sex.

A section of the state constitutional amendment bars schools in the University of California system from considering race as a factor for student admission.

But Proposition 16, the effort to reinstate affirmative action in California colleges and government agencies, only has support from 31% of likely voters, the survey says.

More than one-in-five California voters (22%) are undecided on the issue while 47% say they wouldn’t approve the measure.

“Support for Proposition 16 is well below 50 percent, with one in five voters undecided about this effort to add diversity as a factor in public employment, education, and contracting decisions,” Baldassare said in the statement.

Among Democratic voters, 46% say they support Prop 16, compared with 26% of independents and 9% of Republicans, the survey says.

California lawmakers have argued affirmative action could advance the state’s fight against systemic racism by giving people of color a better chance to enter the state’s renowned public universities.

The PPIC survey also provides insights into Californians’ fears of getting the coronavirus and needing to be hospitalized.

Twenty-eight percent of Golden State residents say they’re very concerned about contracting Covid-19 or being hospitalized after infection, compared to 33% who say they’re somewhat concerned, the survey says.

California has nearly 770,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and nearly 14,660 people have died after contracting the virus.

The survey released Wednesday resembles a PPIC poll of Californians in May (24% very concerned, 34% somewhat concerned) when the state had about half as many new cases daily.

When asked about restrictions put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19, 34% say they want more restrictions and 26% would like fewer, compared to the May poll where 25% said they wanted more and 28% wanted fewer.

Asked about Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, 62% of both adults and likely voters approve of the governor’s job so far, compared to 69% in May.

“Governor Newsom continues to receive high marks for his overall job performance and his handling of the coronavirus outbreak as the state has faced a surge in the virus and a multitude of crises,” Baldassare said in the statement.

In an era of nationwide protests against police violence, Californians hold less favorable views of race relations in the U.S. compared to a year ago, with 59% now saying conditions have worsened, compared to 45% who said the same in January 2019, according to the survey.  

“In a major shift in public opinion over time, six in ten Californians are now saying that race relations in the United States are worse than they were a year ago,” Baldassare said in the statement.

A slim majority of California, 53%, say police in their community treat all racial and ethnic groups fairly almost always or most of the time.

Only 19% of Black Californians say police treat all racial and ethnic groups fairly almost always or most of the time, far lower than among Asian Americans, 44%, Latinos, 56%, and whites, 58%, the survey says.

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