LIMITS ON PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT FOR SEISMIC RETROFITS
The primary sponsor of Prop. 13 is Republican Sen. Roy Ashburn, who dominated the news for several days after he was arrested for drunk driving on his way home from a Sacramento gay bar. Needless to say, Ashburn's dramatic coming out has whipped up far more attention than his noncontroversial ballot initiative.
We're generally opposed to anything that gives tax cuts or tax deferrals to property owners; thanks to a 1978 measure also called Prop. 13, much of the commercial and residential property in California is badly under assessed. And Prop. 13, 2010 style, is indeed a tax break. But it's probably justified.
Buildings in this state are typically reassessed for property taxes after they've been modified with new construction, except in cases where the modifications are made to comply with earthquake-safety standards. While most buildings that undergo seismic retrofitting are exempt from reassessment until the property is transferred to a new owner, the exemption for unreinforced masonry buildings is limited to 15 years. Prop 13 would remove that 15-year cap.
The fiscal impact on cities is likely to be pretty minor, and the measure might encourage both commercial and residential landlords to bring their buildings up to standard. Vote yes.
At the height of a royal mess last year when the state budget was long overdue and the two-thirds majority needed to pass it was still out of reach by one vote, Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado struck a deal with Democrats. He said he'd support the budget — if the majority party would meet a few of his demands. One thing he insisted on was Prop. 14 — a ballot measure that would effectively remove political parties from the primary elections process, allowing all voters to cast ballots for any candidate regardless of party affiliation.
Under Maldonado's plan, all candidates would run on a single primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters would face off in the general election. Heavily funded by the California Chamber of Commerce and marketed by the same spin doctors and corporate lawyers who are rolling in Yes on 16 campaign money, Prop. 14's backers say it will result in more centrist elected officials.
There are plenty of pitfalls here, the most worrisome being that it would drive up the cost of elections and give more moneyed (and corporate-allied) candidates a sharper competitive edge while elbowing out progressives. It would allow Republicans to play a role in what would normally be Democratic primaries (and vice versa.) The measure would also make it nearly impossible for smaller parties — the Green Party, for example — to offer candidates in the November elections.
Bad idea, bad process, Vote no.
FAIR ELECTIONS ACT
California desperately needs electoral reform. Corporate campaign spending and lobbyists have poisoned the decision-making process and muzzled the voice of the people. Something radical needs to be done — and while this measure is only a small, measured step in the right direction, it's an important and promising experiment.