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A tough battle is expected over an attempt to change how the state’s 36-year-old landmark property tax initiative, Proposition 13, treats commercial property, said Rex Hime, president of the California Business Properties Assn. (Scott Harrison)

By Marc Lifsher
November 27, 2014

Picking a new president might not be the only crucial issue before California voters at the polls in two years’ time.

They could be faced with as many as four competing initiatives asking them to extend, increase or create taxes that would raise billions of dollars in new state revenues.

Loose coalitions of labor unions and community groups already are researching, polling and building support to extend a temporary boost in top income tax brackets and a sales tax increase passed in 2012. Other groups are working to create grass-roots support for raising commercial property taxes.

Additionally, a team led by Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager from San Francisco, probably will qualify a crude-oil-extraction tax initiative for 2016. And health and child-welfare advocates are pondering a possible $2-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes.

“We anticipate there will be a revenue measure,” said Anthony Thigpenn, president of California Calls, a Los Angeles-based coalition of 37 community organizations around the state.

He said that passage of the income tax measure, Proposition 30, two years ago, wasn’t enough to put the state on a stable financial footing.

“Proposition 30 stopped the bleeding but didn’t restore all the cuts made, even given that the economy is better,” Thigpenn said. “It was only the beginning of the discussion.”

The state needs such a conversation about how to keep climbing out of the Great Recession, agreed Laphonza Butler, state council president of the 700,000-member Service Employees International Union.

“We have to make choices about investments, revenues and services,” she said. “How do we stabilize the state for many years to come?”

Influential business lobbies at the Capitol don’t see it that way. Butler’s push for more money to pay for schools, roads and health and other programs, if it happens, would make an already expensive California even more costly and slow job creation, they contend.

The hardest fought battle could be over an attempt to change how the state’s 36-year-old landmark property tax initiative, Proposition 13, treats commercial property, predicted Rex Hime, president of the California Business Properties Assn.

Currently, buildings and land get reassessed by tax appraisers only when there’s a turnover of more than 50% in ownership.

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