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Jon Coupal- Columnist

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go to Coupal index]

Homeowners Are Being Stalked a new wave of tax increases...
[Jon Coupal and Trevor Grimm]

Every year after the new property tax bills are mailed, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association receives hundreds of calls and e-mails asking about new charges over and above the two percent tax increase limit permitted by Proposition 13.

While Proposition 13 keeps the tax on "land" and "improvements" under control, in most cases the additional increases are due to "below the line charges," which include fees, assessments, voter approved bonds and parcel taxes.

While most of these new levies require approval by voters or by property owners, local agencies have become expert at getting new taxes passed by mustering their allies and by limiting the amount of information given to the general public.

Parcel taxes are rapidly becoming the money-grabbing vehicle of choice for some tax-o-crats. These taxes are extremely regressive. Since Proposition 13 limits tax increases that are based on the inflating value of property, parcel taxes get around this by levying a fixed amount per parcel or, in some cases, by establishing charges based on the square footage of a lot or its improvements.

Parcel taxes are especially unfair to homeowners in that in most jurisdictions some 80 to 90 percent of the tax burden falls on single-family residential parcels. It is not uncommon for these taxes to be in the triple digits, and the taxes paid are in addition to all of the other levies that appear on the property tax bill.

Additionally, people who live outside the taxing district can benefit from the public services bought with parcel taxes even though they do not live in, or pay taxes in, the parcel-taxed jurisdiction

Although under Proposition 13 parcel taxes require a two-thirds vote, they are relatively easy to pass since everyone gets to vote regardless of obligation to pay. The problem for taxpayers is compounded by the failure of most agencies to provide a clearly written ballot question. While property owners may learn that the measure is for a $125 parcel tax, it may not be made clear that this is an annual, ongoing commitment.

Officials covet parcel taxes because, unlike bonds, which must be used for structural or capital improvements, they can be used for ongoing operating expenses including salaries. There is no limit on the number of parcel taxes that can be proposed or the amount of the tax.

The number of parcel taxes proposed in 2003 has set an all-time record. As more parcel taxes are passed, taxpayers can expect to see more parcel taxes on the ballot. And that's not the worst news. Remember that the tax-and-spend lobby financed Proposition 39 in November of 2000. That lowered the traditional two-thirds vote to approve local school bonds, setting a new lower standard for raising taxes on property owners. We taxpayers must be ready to combat efforts to lower the passing threshold for parcel taxes to 55 percent which we know is coming.

A 55 percent passing standard would assure that virtually every parcel tax would pass. This would be a disaster for homeowners.


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