Will CTA Put A Split-Roll Initiative on the 2010 Ballot?

For several years now the California Teachers Association, one of the state’s largest and most powerful labor unions, has been considering the idea of putting an initiative on the ballot to close the loophole in Prop 13 that gave commercial property owners the same protections as residential property owners. Now they are closer than ever to bringing it before voters.

Earlier this month, CTA filed two initiatives to close that loophole. They are both pending at the AG’s office for title and summary. Here’s how they’d work:

• Tax commercial property at fair market value, and frequently reassess property taxes at fair market value (instead of locking in a value and rate, as Prop 13 currently does). The main difference between the two initiatives is how that reassessment is accomplished.

• Provide a small business exclusion of up to $1 million

• Double homeowners’ exemption from $7,000 to $14,000 (as a sweetener to voters)

It’s a clever approach, one that almost certainly polls well with voters, since the initiatives offer tax relief for residential owners and small businesses – making it crystal clear, at least in the initiative language, that this is NOT an attack on the sacred cow of residential property protections offered in Prop 13.

CTA has said it will decide in January whether to go ahead and collect signatures to get this on the ballot. If they decide to do so, they will have no problem whatsoever getting the required amount. Of course, it’s also possible they’re just holding this out there as a threat to the Legislature in order to prevent them from cutting education funding any further.

The right-wing isn’t waiting for CTA to decide. They’re already trying to defend their corporate allies by framing this something that will hurt consumers and not the rich, as Joel Fox argued:

How much of that new $70 tax savings will be left when increased property taxes on business are passed on to consumers? Probably nothing. The overall tax increase contained in the split roll proposals is in the billions of dollars. Taxes were increased $12.5 billion last February. But, while that tax increase was temporary, the split roll tax increase would be permanent and will cost consumers much money in the end.

What Fox doesn’t explain is that the February tax increases haven’t hurt the CA economy, nor have they bankrupted households. Of course, he is exploiting wide public acceptance of the “trickle-down” theory, which assumes that whatever business does affects the broader public. If something’s good for business, it’s good for the masses. If something’s bad for business, it’s bad for the masses.

If CTA does go ahead and put these initiatives on the ballot, they’re going to need to have some way to counter that framing. That should not prevent them from putting these on the ballot – it’s long past time we closed that loophole and saved our schools.

One thought on “Will CTA Put A Split-Roll Initiative on the 2010 Ballot?”

  1.   The obvious frame (and this site has run polls) is to

    treat this as bringing business property taxes up to the

    level paid by residential owners.  If people are asked

    if they want to raise business property taxes, they

    say no, but if they are asked if they want to bring it

    up to the level of residential property taxes (businesses

    pay less), they say yes.  An ad campaign along the lines

    of “It’s only fair” emphasizing this fact, plus the fact

    that the money will go to schools (not people on welfare),

    should be enough.

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