Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, Nov. 14, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Monday, Nov. 14, 2011 – 7:09 am

It’s amazing that more than three decades after its passage, Proposition 13 is still such a polarizing political symbol.

Those on the right revere Proposition 13 for slashing property taxes and making it more difficult to raise other taxes, while those on the left see it as political deviltry, denying sustenance to vital public services.

The latter know that a frontal assault would fail. They strive, therefore, to changes pieces of it, such its requirement of a two-thirds legislative vote for any tax increase, or its application to business property.

As state and local governments and schools struggle with budget deficits, we’ve heard a steadily increasing drumbeat about the latter point, with critics, especially those allied with public employee unions, labeling it a “loophole.”

A complete shift to a “split roll” that would treat business property differently from homes would require difficult-to-obtain voter approval of a constitutional amendment, however. An alternative would be for the Legislature to redefine change-of-ownership, triggering more frequent reassessment for tax purposes.

The central debating point about the business share of the property tax burden should be relatively easy to document or refute, but it’s not.

In 2009, the business-backed California Taxpayers Association issued a lengthy report concluding that property taxes on “business and non-homeowner property” had increased slightly faster than taxes on owner-occupied homes (an average of 8.4 percent per year vs. 8.1 percent).

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