Steve Lopez: Villaraigosa shows courage on Prop. 13. Where's Jerry Brown?
He told me weeks ago that he was going to do it, and he did. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Tuesday in a Sacramento speech that it’s time to test the voltage in some so-called third-rail issues, including Proposition 13.
He did not, however, go as far as he might have –- precisely because it’s a third-rail issue, particularly for homeowners. So instead he took the split-roll approach, arguing that commercial property owners who got the same tax protections from the landmark 1978 proposition as private homeowners need to pony up now.
“Prop. 13 was never intended to be a corporate tax give-away, but that is what it has become,” said Villaraigosa, arguing that businesses have used loopholes to avoid tax reassessments. The result has been that homeowners have paid a growing percentage of all property taxes.
Villaraigosa estimated that increasing commercial property taxes would raise between $2 billion and $8 billion, and suggested half should be used for school and half to reduce property taxes for homeowners. It’s not yet clear whether he’s talking about addressing the crazy California situation in which one homeowner might pay $1,200 in annual property taxes while neighbors in homes of similar value pay five or 10 times as much.
As for a split-roll on property taxes, there will of course be a chorus of boos from business leaders, and others will argue that any increase in business taxes will be passed on to consumers. In anticipation, Villaraigosa proposed eliminating or reducing some business taxes. Villaraigosa also said that taxing doughnuts but not attorneys makes no sense, and that a new service tax could raise $28 billion.
So this wasn’t just about Prop. 13, which can be such a conversation-killer. And I don’t know whether a call for broad tax reform from an unpopular mayor without a terribly bright political future will stir anyone but the anti-tax crowd.
But no one in Sacramento, including Gov. Jerry Brown, has stepped up on this stuff. The governor and legislature are tinkering around the edges, and pretty ineffectively at that, instead of working for needed structural changes and tax reforms. As Villaraigosa noted, we’re hammering public and higher education despite predictions that by 2025, the state will have a shortage of 1 million college grads.
Why such pessimism in a state that has dreamed so grandly?
Instead of hearing from people who like or don’t like Villaraigosa, I’d like to hear from people in the Inland Empire, the Central Valley and the Imperial Valley. Do you support the budget cuts that your primarily GOP legislative representatives fought for, or are you feeling the pain? Are class sizes bigger in your K-12 schools, and are student fees higher in community college? Are your libraries and parks hurting? Are your elderly parents struggling because in-home care and healthcare have been hammered?
Has it gone too far?
Photo: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa participates in a panel discussion at Clinton Global Initiative's CGI America at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago on June 30. Credit: Tannen Maury / EPA