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Evolve is working to reform Proposition 13 so that commercial property pays its fair share, and funding is restored to schools and public services.


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Staff Blog

Filtering by Tag: california

Education & Democracy

Michael Bornstein

I am increasingly alarmed by Trump’s behavior as president. The abrupt firing of FBI Director Comey is the latest in a series of disturbing actions by a President who lashes out without regard for the sanctity of the office he holds. Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon’s 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre” to fire a law enforcement official overseeing a White House investigation. It is easy to draw comparisons to Watergate.

I was 7 years old during Watergate and I remember my parents intensely watching the hearings on TV. I don’t recall what I was told, but I understood that our President had lied and that was a big deal. I felt uneasy and confused, but it was also an exciting time of optimism that this was the end of something bad and the beginning of something new and better.

Now, I am the parent of two public school kids: Sarah (11 years old) and David (10 years old). My own children are anxious about Trump. They don’t understand how anyone could vote for a shameless racist and a bigot. When Trump was elected, my daughter Sarah told me she was scared. I told her that I was also shocked by his election, but that is why we all need to do more.

This is why I started Evolve California six years ago. I was increasingly frustrated with a broken political process that is failing our democracy. After working in politics for 25 years, I saw firsthand how our elected officials are more concerned with partisan politics and raising money, than serving the needs of the people they represent. At Evolve we work to counter the corrupting influence of money in politics by organizing from the ground up on real solutions that make a difference and bring people together.  And no issue is more important than the power of education to change people’s lives and safeguard our future.

Today public education is under attack. Trump’s appointment of Education Secretary of Betsy DeVos and his plan to cut billions from public education is a threat to our children and to our democracy. Franklin D. Roosevelt called education, “the real safeguard of democracy.” Without great public schools we are failing our children and our future.  

California can lead the way, but we must do more. Our public schools are drastically underfunded so that a few large property owners (like Trump) can save billions in taxes. People voted for Prop. 13 to help homeowners, not corporations. By allowing commercial property to be assessed at fair market value, we will generate over $9 billion a year in revenue for local schools and services without raising taxes on homeowners or renters.

The current political and democratic crisis is disturbing, but is also an opportunity to get more people involved. As a father and as a political organizer, I see every day how concern for our children is a common bond that crosses cultural, economic and political boundaries. By organizing to fully fund education, we can protect California from the expected federal budget cuts and bring together a diverse group of people for political change.

The Legacy of Jerry Brown and Prop. 13 – A Simple Choice

Michael Bornstein

This week, while speaking at a national real estate group conference, Governor Brown said that he was not willing to fix the commercial property tax loopholes in Prop. 13 because “There is a lot of complexity.”  He also said he was not willing to reform Prop. 13 because he wanted to only fight battles he thinks can win. We could not disagree more.

Taxing commercial property at current market value is not complex. It is the system used by every place in the country – except California. The simple truth is that because some large commercial property owners are paying deeply discounted taxes based on 1975 assessments, everyone else has to pay more – 9 billion more.

Prop. 13 has long been regarded as the “third rail” of California politics, but this simply is no longer the case. A majority of Californians is consistently in favor of making large commercial property owners pay their fair share for our schools and public services. According to an October PPIC poll, 55% of likely voters support reforming the commercial side of Prop. 13. This does not mean reform will be easy, but taking on the task of changing our property tax system has never been more necessary.

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

In 1978, then-Governor Jerry Brown opposed Prop. 13 calling it “a fraud and a rip-off.” Voters supported limiting taxes on residential homes, not realizing that Prop. 13 also included a loophole for commercial real estate. Back then, California schools were considered the best in the nation. Today, our public schools have been decimated by decades of budget cuts.

Voters overwhelmingly support increasing funding for K-12 and higher education. It is unfair to ask Californians to pay higher taxes when some commercial property owners are getting a 9 billion dollar public subsidy. It’s time that we make a structural change to our property tax system so we can start adequately funding our schools.

Second chances in politics are rare. It will be a tough fight, but Jerry Brown has three years to correct his greatest public policy failure. Regardless of all his other accomplishments, Jerry Brown’s legacy will be judged by his success (or failure) to fix Prop. 13 and restore California as a leader in public education.