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Comment: Happy birthday, Prop 13!

Submitted by on 1, June 6, 2008 – 8:30 amNo Comment

While we’re all tearing each other to shreds over why we should or shouldn’t pay ten bucks a month to support our local schools, I choose to celebrate. Proposition 13, the state constitutional amendment that limits Californians’ property taxes, is 30 years old today!

Okay, so I’m kidding about the celebrating part. Because if there were no Proposition 13, the school board, the Mooneys and whatever kind souls choose to help them wouldn’t have to come to you every few years to ask you for a few more bucks to help cover the school district’s bills.

Before you get all revved up, I hear what you’re saying about it being the government or the school district and they’ll always ask for more money, even without Prop 13. That’s probably true. And the proposition was put on the ballot to solve what was then a pressing problem, namely that homeowners’ property taxes were skyrocketing beyond their ability to pay. But if it didn’t exist (and we chose to instead create exemptions only for people who could not afford to pay), our schools, police, fire, library, prisons, you name it, would have more money. That’s how taxes work: You pay them, and hopefully, get services for your money on the other end.

But even the most careful husbandry of funds can’t save these things if you don’t have enough money to pay for them. So we get Ron Mooney coming to us hat in hand every few years, begging for a few shekels to keep music, sports, AP classes and reduced class sizes for our schools. And potentially, fewer library hours and rec programs, fees for ambulance service and rolling blackouts for our fire stations, based on the city budget discussions I’ve witnessed to date.

And then there’s the inequity that Proposition 13 creates. A few months ago, when running down a rumor that some prominent, older Alamedans had exempted themselves from paying the current school tax (which turned out to be untrue), I discovered just how much more I am paying in property taxes than other folks in my neighborhood. To the folks who say those of us with kids going to school should pay for that schooling: We are. And it’s not even a matter of my family being double-taxed for the same services (police, fire) that everyone in town enjoys. How about quintuple-taxed? I pay five to six times the taxes that other people here who I’d bet have the ability to pay their full load, and that’s just because I got here last.

But Californians love their Prop 13. A new poll shows that 57 percent of Californians and 64 percent of homeowners would vote for the anti-tax measure today (less than the 66.67 percent vote required to get a parcel tax passed, by the way). Maybe some of the folks who are benefiting from this huge tax break can spring for the card and a cake.

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