System Failure: California’s Prop 13
Facts: 1. In virtually every county, commercial property is paying a far smaller share of the property tax since Proposition 13 passed in 1978. 2. Commercial property is able to exploit huge loopholes in the law to avoid reassessment upon change in ownership. In virtually every county in the state, the share of the property tax borne by residential property has increased since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, while the share of the property tax borne by non-residential property has decreased. Some examples: in Contra Costa County, the residential share of the property tax went from 48% to 73%. In Santa Clara, the residential share went from 50% to 64%, despite massive industrial/commercial growth. In Los Angeles, it went from 53% to 69%. In Orange, it went from 59% to 72%. Moreover, major changes of ownership in major commercial properties which have gone without reassessment. Some that have been examined are predominantly those of private equity buyouts, corporate purchases of companies, and bank mergers which have avoided reassessment. In particular, found was a tax system which is inconsistently applied in many counties. There are many properties, particularly banks, but also hotels and other commercial properties, which should have been reassessed but have not been, and found that some counties have assessed these properties while others have not. Why this inconsistency occurs: the law is a mess! Many examined records and cases from the Board of Equalization demonstrated incredible complexity used to avoid taxes, complexity which should have nothing to do with the assessors’ job, which is to only determine property valuation. Solutions: One, counties should be reassessing many commercial properties, in order to avoid basic cuts in services and programs. There appears to be many millions of dollars in tax revenue which is going uncollected. *Second, the law should be changed at least to make sure that obvious changes of commercial ownership, such as private equity buyouts and corporate takeovers, trigger a reassessment. AB 2492 (Ammiano) in the 2010 session would accomplish this modest change.