Jon Coupal- Columnist
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]
Are Being Stalked
a new wave of tax increases...
[Jon Coupal and Trevor Grimm] 11/19/03
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.
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
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
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.