Credit: bike-R on flickr

You don’t have to be superstitious to fear the number 13. Both supporters and opponents of a proposed $15 billion school and college construction bond headed for the March 2020 state ballot are somewhat apprehensive now that the Secretary of State has designated it Proposition 13.

Four decades after state voters slashed property taxes and set a cap on property tax increases by passing the infamous Prop. 13, the number continues to conjure strong feelings pro and con among California voters, even though many weren’t old enough to vote at the time. Whether that association will affect their view of a new bond measure is an X factor those involved in the election hadn’t anticipated.

“Anything but,” confided a legislative staffer when asked if the person would have preferred a number other than 13.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘Are they messing with our heads a little bit?’ ” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an anti-tax organization named after the man who led the Prop. 13 campaign.

Actually, no. It’s the luck of the draw under a 30-year-old state law, assured a spokesman from the Secretary of State’s office. The Legislature decided that the numbering process for propositions should begin again every 10 years, starting in 1998. In 2018, the first year under the latest cycle, there were 12 propositions on the ballot. Since the law dictates that bond measures appear first on the ballot, that put the school and college construction bond — the only bond on the upcoming March ballot — next in line.

Prop. 13 is Assembly Bill 48. It would allocate $9 billion for preschool to K-12, with most of it providing matching funding for school districts’ renovation projects, $1 billion for charter school and career technical facilities plus $6 billion split equally among community colleges, California State University and the University of California. The Legislature passed it in September after the Department of Finance and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s staff negotiated a new K-12 distribution formula for funding that gives priority and a bigger share of money to small districts needing financial help and low-income, low-property-wealth districts that had been shut out of the process under past bonds.

There will be money dedicated to districts with pressing facilities needs, including removing lead in water and reducing seismic hazards. The state has run out of matching money for school facilities projects from the last bond, $9 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges, approved in 2016.

Coupal said the Howard Jarvis association will oppose the bond for several reasons. One is that, with a budget surplus, the state should be funding facilities on a pay-as-you-go-basis, instead of accumulating more debt. As for number 13, Coupal doesn’t know whether it will work for or against the bond. Though it will be clearly labeled as a school construction bond, with arguments pro and con, it’s possible that some tax opponents may automatically vote for it, he said.

“We will get calls from citizens saying there is something sneaky here,” he said. “It speaks to the need to make things clear” by using parenthesis when referring to Prop. 13 (1978) or Prop. 13 (2020).

Adding to the potential confusion is that an effort to amend the original Prop. 13 with a “split-roll” tax will be fighting for voters’ attention next year. Proponents want to raise $11 billion by changing the rules on revaluating business and commercial property while leaving tax limits on homes intact. In coming months, the Schools and Communities First coalition will be gathering the nearly 1 million signatures it will need to put its initiative on the November ballot; ads opposing it by Coupal’s organization and the business community already have hit the airwaves.

“Confusion is the friend of the ‘no’ vote,” said Kevin Gordon, president of Capitol Advisors Group, an education consulting company based in Sacramento and a supporter of the bond. “But you have to play the hand you’re dealt.”

There may be nothing to worry about. The two Prop. 13s on the ballot since the 1998 law also passed easily. One was a $2 billion water bond in 2000; the other, much in the spirit of Prop 13 (1978), was a constitutional amendment in 2010 prohibiting reassessing buildings that were seismically retrofitted. And past state school construction bonds have drawn strong support. Since 1998, voters have passed five, including Prop. 51 in 2016, which then-Gov. Jerry Brown opposed.

Coupal said that he’d be willing to write a joint letter with supporters of the bond asking Secretary of State Alex Padilla to reassign another number to avoid voter confusion.

But if the coalition of school districts, construction industry interests and higher education organizations behind AB 48 think that’s a good idea, they’re not saying.

“Hopefully after March a new generation will associate Prop. 13 with investing billions to improve safety for California’s schools and students,” Dan Newman, a spokesman for the campaign to pass the bond, wrote in an email.

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  1. Tim Whalen 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    What is our state government thinking about? What happened to California lottery funds? We have an overrun of 1 billion dollars for a bullet train. Who is making these decisions for our states future? Don’t they know we live in a seismic state. One good shake and the train will derail.

  2. Joy A Bryceson 2 months ago2 months ago

    There is no explanation of new Prop 13 in the Sacramento County Voter Information Guide I just received. That is fishy to me. There is always an explanation of the propositions including For and Against.

  3. Valerie Pearlman 2 months ago2 months ago

    Thank you for your article. I've read conflicting articles about homeowner property taxes. While most say residential property taxes won't necessarily increase, they do say that the cap for those taxes are being increased with 2020 Prop 13, so that school tax cap is increasing from 1% to 2% and college caps are increasing from 2.5% to 4%. This seems to imply that in the short term increases may not happen but … Read More

    Thank you for your article. I’ve read conflicting articles about homeowner property taxes. While most say residential property taxes won’t necessarily increase, they do say that the cap for those taxes are being increased with 2020 Prop 13, so that school tax cap is increasing from 1% to 2% and college caps are increasing from 2.5% to 4%. This seems to imply that in the short term increases may not happen but it seems to set up for a long-term increase. Can you comment on this? Thanks.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      Valerie,
      I’ll leave it to others to comment. Your summary is correct .

  4. Deborah Guillon 2 months ago2 months ago

    Do away with the new sex ed curriculum and maybe the voters could take you seriously about wanting to improve our schools.

  5. Dawn Ricker 2 months ago2 months ago

    Vote NO; these government officials are overspending and believing more taxes and debt is the way to make California better. It is foolish. This current legislative body over the last decade or so has been gluttonous in size, scope, and finances because they are starving for fiscal and judicial wisdom. Stop!!!!!!!. Be responsible!!!!!

  6. Tilton Gore 2 months ago2 months ago

    My question was. What’s is the assumed interest rate in the estimate of financing cost stated in the voter information guide. Can’t find it anywhere in the write ups.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      Tilton, I can report that the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated the cost in interest of Prop. 13 at $11 billion over the 35-year repayment period. It assumes an interest rate of 4 percent with bonds sold over five years evenly. The total cost, with the $15 billion principal, would be $26 billion.

  7. Judith Levenson 2 months ago2 months ago

    Will Proposition 13 be changed with the school funding bill in any way? I would not be able to live in my house if I will have to pay more money in taxes! Please take this into consideration. I am not well, and can’t work anymore.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      As I have noted already, the statewide school construction bond on the March ballot, coincidentally named Prop. 13, will not affect your property taxes in any way. State revenues from sources other than property taxes, will fund the interest and principal of the $15 billion bond. This Prop. 13 has no relation to the Proposition 13 that voters passed in 1978, which limits homeowners’ property taxes.

  8. Said Gilliland 2 months ago2 months ago

    It’s very confusing. Why not just come out and say whether this Prop 13 will affect the original 1978 Proposition 13. Let everyone know, Yes it will affect your Prop 13 from 1978 and your taxes on your house will go up, or, No it will not affect prop 13 from 1978 and it will not affect your property tax. Someone just come out with the truth and let us all know that way people will know which way to vote.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      Sorry the article was confusing, Said.

      The school construction bond on the March ballot, Prop. 13, will not affect the Proposition 13 that voters passed in 1978. The state’s long-term debt will rise if voters pass Prop. 13 in March; it will not affect your property taxes or the rules determining the taxable value of your home.

  9. Trevor GENE Free 3 months ago3 months ago

    Repealing prop 13 is nothing but pure greed. You hide it behind funding for schools, etc. You will bankrupt hardworking decent older people. You will cause them to loose their homes. But I think that’s what you/they want.

  10. John Hammer 4 months ago4 months ago

    I hope it goes down in flames. How about you start taxing kids instead of all the other people in the state? It’s time for the users to pay. That said, I’m also sick and tired of low-population schools (like Hornbrook in Siskiyou County – 15 kids) being kept open to keep the gravy train rolling. Bus more people the lousy 16 miles to the next school!