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Proposition 13 Battle Gets New Momentum For California's November 2020 Ballot

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A coalition of labor unions and progressive groups says they’re ready to touch that third rail of California politics: Proposition 13.

They’ve got a new initiative for next year’s ballot that would tax commercial and industrial properties at a higher rate than residential properties.

The November 2020 ballot measure would continue to tax homes, apartment buildings and farmland at their existing Prop. 13 rate — starting at 1 percent of their purchase price, increased each year for inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower.

But other properties would be taxed based on at 1 percent of their fair market value.

The projected $10 billion a year in new revenue would fund schools, community colleges and local governments.

“We’re talking about things like replacing the cuts to first responders; making sure we have after school programs to keep kids off the street, programs for senior citizens,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the campaign behind the initiative.

“There’s so many devastating cuts that Californians have suffered for decades. This starts to erase those cuts and make sure we’re investing in the future,” Law said.

The effort to overhaul Prop. 13, known as the “split roll” because it splits the taxation rules for residential properties from other properties, is yearned for by schools, local governments and labor unions. And it’s dreaded by business groups.

Rob Lapsley with the California Business Roundtable argues the initiative’s backers are acknowledging with this second proposal — which Law says would replace a measure that’s already qualified for the 2020 ballot — proves the earlier one was “fatally flawed.”

“Ultimately, the voters are crystal clear: No matter what initiative version [split roll backers] file, that they don’t want to see Proposition 13 changed in any way,” Lapsley said. “So that’s what they’re up against, and I don’t believe they can come up with a version that’s gonna convince the voters, and we’re gonna make sure of it from the business community that they can’t.”

If the initiative qualifies, and there isn’t a legislative compromise by next June, both sides say they’re prepared for what could be one of the most expensive ballot measure fights in California history.

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio