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Staff Blog

Filtering by Tag: prop13

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.

The Importance of Funding Education: An Interview with Veronica Ramirez

Daniel Hagen

After hearing her powerful public testimony at Assemblymember Phil Ting’s Prop. 13 hearing on July 10th, we reached out to University of San Francisco student and campaigner Veronica Ramirez to share with us what education means to her, and why we need to close the corporate loopholes which have devastated public spending for decades.

Q: Would you like to tell me a little about yourself; your family, what you are studying, and what you want to do with your degree?

Veronica: I grew up with my parents, older sister, and younger brother. Since I can remember, my parents have always told us that getting an education is essential and that we should use that knowledge to strive for our goals and dreams. I was studying psychology, but after I was involved in a campaign in San Francisco, I realized that I wanted to study politics. I want to change something about the world we live in and find a way to make it a better place.

Q: What was it like growing up with public education in California, could you describe your classroom experiences?

Veronica: At first, it was amazing. We had class discussions, group projects, field trips, recess, art time, music. Everything. I loved all of my teachers. We had about 20 students or less in each class, so they not only remembered my name, who my parents were and how I was doing in class, they knew my likes and dislikes, my passions, my strengths and weaknesses. They knew who I was and they cared. I knew that they really cared not only for my education, but for me, as a person.

Q: What is it like to study in an overcrowded classroom in school?

Veronica: In middle school I still had great teachers, and they knew me by name and how I functioned in class, some of what I liked and didn’t, but the care didn’t rub off the same. Then came high school. I had one class with over 50 students in it. My freshman and sophomore years I was miserable, I had my friends, but the teachers just knew me by school performance - what my grades were - they didn’t know me. I had to fight my last years to stand out from the crowd of dozens of students, and I was able to teach my teachers who I was, but it was an uphill battle. There were so many students that went through the system not feeling like any of their teachers gave a damn about them.

Q: How did you first hear about reforming Prop. 13?

Veronica: I heard about it when I started working  with Working Partnerships USA. We were on the Make it Fair campaign, and after researching it, being trained and understanding how negatively commercial property tax loopholes were affecting the state, I realized, like thousands of other people, that we have to reform Prop. 13.

Q: Governor Brown recently announced that California has a budget surplus this year, and that the economy is recovering. Why do you think we need to reform Prop. 13 now if we have enough funding?  

Veronica: The economy is recovering, yes, but how much? Can we really settle with having barely enough money to put into education? The budget is not enough, it has not been enough for years, and going slightly over the budget is definitely not enough. Those children in crowded classrooms, with limited school supplies, old textbooks, lack of sports, art, and theater; they do not have a surplus of funds. I did not have a surplus of funds at my schools. Parents constantly had to give money to a system that should be free, the children had to fundraise to help the schools programs. As I got older, the programs were cut down more and more, until some of them went away. And it’s a shame because that’s the school system my 10 year old brother is living in right now. There is a problem, the schools need money, and by reforming Prop. 13, money that is being kept within corporations will finally flow into the state.

Q: I know you’re involved with Working Partnerships; from your experiences there, what kind of impact have budget cuts had outside of the classroom?

Veronica: Going door-to-door in various neighborhoods, you hear stories. People telling me about parks being demolished and used for commercial buildings, not being able to put their kids into any sports because they don’t have the money, parents struggling to work and find childcare for their children because afterschool programs are almost nonexistent. Personally the one that hit me the hardest was when this woman mentioned the libraries being closed half the week, with very limited hours. My brother has to deal with this, and it hurts. It hurts that one of the tools that helped me develop a passion that has now brought me all the way to a 4 year University, is almost gone.

Q: What would you, or your friends who rely on financial aid, do if it was cut any further?

Veronica: Honestly, if financial aid was cut, none of my close friends would be able to go to school. They simply do not have the money. I mean, I’m barely making it; I had to borrow money from my uncle and sister and get a private loan just to pay off last year, apart from the fact that I was also working a full time job for a few months, had 2 federal loans, two scholarships and two grants. If financial aid was cut down any more than it already is, I would have to drop out of school too.

Q: As you know, decades of post-Prop. 13 budget cuts from Sacramento have decimated education funding in the state. Our campaign to reform Prop. 13 to make big corporations pay their fair share of property taxes will restore around $9 billion in education and public services funding. What do you think California should do with that revenue? What would a fully funded public education system mean to you?

Veronica: Libraries, schools, parks, fire-fighters, community programs, all of that needs funding now! We can’t keep waiting for more schools and libraries to shut down, for more tools to be taken away from the little citizens that matter most. It would mean that the same amount of money is spent on each child in the state, and that what is spent on them is enough to give them lectures, sports, art, theater, computers, books, everything that they need to become well-rounded. Children will become us, can we really place on a limit on how much should be spent on our future? We simply can’t. Thank you.

Veronica Ramirez is an activist with Working Partnerships and is currently studying Political Science at the University of San Francisco.

“Make it Personal” Series – CVS & the 99 Year Lease

Jeffrey Pu

As part of an ongoing series, we’re posting personal stories that from our supporters about why Prop. 13 reform matters to them. Our story today comes from Bobbie who talks about how the commercial loophole has devastated local schools in the East Bay.

“When I heard that CVS bought out our local Longs Drugstore in El Cerrito Plaza, I also learned that CVS structured the deal to take advantage of a 99 year lease from the family-owned Longs that would enable them to keep their property tax at 1976 levels. Between 2006-2012, our district schools had to cut PE, Art, Music, and advanced math programs, as well as increase class size for K-12. We had 34 kids in our girls' 4-6th grade classes, and sometimes over 42 kids in the middle school classes. This is directly attributable to not having enough money coming in from property taxes, and I think to myself, shame on CVS for squeezing out additional profit by taking it away from our kids. And shame on Longs for selling (out) this way.”

Bobbie – Kensington, CA

If you have your own personal story on why you believe Prop. 13 needs to be reformed, share it here!

Making it Personal

Jeffrey Pu

Having organized around this issue for over 2 years now, we sometimes get lost in the policy details, facts and statistics of it all, and forget why working for Prop. 13 reform truly matters.  A while back, we asked our members to submit personal stories highlighting why Prop. 13 reform was important to them.  Getting personal stories from our members helps remind us of the human impact that lack of funding has on our families, schools and communities.

In an ongoing segment, we will be sharing some of the personal stories we have received from everyday people explaining why they want commercial property owners to pay their fair share.

Our first personal story comes from Evolve super-supporter Kim Wayne:

"Everything you [Evolve] talk about is true in both Pleasanton and Oakland, the two places I have lived: library hours are fewer, class sizes have increased, and teachers provide supplies. I heard that CVS bought out Long's without changing some paper work that would have increased their taxes. True? I don't know. But I do know it's time for corporations to pay their fair share!"


What Quality Public Education Can Be

Kelly Osajima

I started working at Evolve nearly two years ago to fight for Prop. 13 reform because I hold a deep conviction that the foundation of a great society lies in accessible and quality public education.

Why? Because education can be the most powerful way to create opportunities for everyone, regardless of where they come from. It’s the way that people can discover their passion and realize their own potential. It’s the way we are shaped into thoughtful human beings who then use our knowledge and passion to change the world.

How do I know? Because public education transformed my life.

I grew up in Yorba Linda, a suburb of Orange County that ranks amongst the wealthiest cities in the U.S. in household income.  The front gates of my elementary, middle, and high school all display the prominent blue and white seal proclaiming their elite status as “A California Distinguished School.”

The thirteen years I spent in our K-12 schools were among the most stimulating, challenging, and formative years of my (admittedly short) life.  My elementary school days consisted of dissecting owl pellets and inspecting the tiny mouse skulls within them, discussing famous paintings, and organizing back-to-school nights in which our parents came to our classroom to learn skills from us.


My high school years brought fantastic language arts teachers who taught me how to think for myself.  It consisted of fiery debates on affirmative action and immigration in my government class, debates which sparked my passion for social justice.  And most of all, it had a stellar choir program that taught me self-motivation, confidence, and the priceless lesson of working in a team to achieve a common goal.

I would not be where I am today if I didn’t have access to an incredibly well-resourced public education.  And forty years ago, when California had the best funded schools in the country, my experience could have been anyone’s.

But today’s youth have been robbed of that chance.

One of my best friends teaches “general music education” at a low-income middle school in Southern California.  She was supposed to be a choir instructor, but her school district isn’t hiring any new choir teachers.  Now, the only elective in the school is her generic music class - no band, no home ec, no woodworking, no visual arts.

She tells me she has to fumigate her classroom because hundreds of cockroaches live in the walls of the school.  Her floor hasn’t been mopped all year.

The school is drastically understaffed.  Without anyone to oversee discipline, behavior in her classroom is completely out of control, making it impossible to teach anything substantial.  “Half of these kids will drop out when they get to high school,” she tells me.  “They’re already giving up. They know they’re getting this terrible education and they feel hopeless.” 

There is a lump in my throat that will not go away as she tells me this.  There is a pain in my heart that arises when the injustice of our education system becomes so apparent.  

Today, we live in a society that has chosen not to prioritize public education.  We have allowed cuts to our schools to happen year after year, and these cuts hurt our most vulnerable youth the most.

We cannot afford to wait any longer to reinvest in our schools.  With every year that goes by action, we fail another generation of students who will never reach their full potential because they’ve fallen victim to a system that sets them up for failure.

Public education can be transformative. That’s why we fight for education funding, and that’s why I’m dedicating my life to this work.  Because if more education funding means that one little girl out there gets to find herself through sports, art, or music the way I did, it will have all been worth it.