By Toni Henle
The 2020 election isn’t only about getting Greed-Personified-in-Chief out of the White House. Also on the ballot in November 2020: the Schools and Communities First Act (SCF) a ballot initiative that would reclaim $11 billion every year for schools and local communities by a closing a California corporate property tax loophole that benefits wealthy corporations and investors.
Indivisible East Bay members have worked on SCF since the process of qualifying the initiative for the ballot; you can read our earlier articles here and here. From now until November 2020, the campaign shifts to the public outreach, education and mobilization phases, and on March 30 a crowd of 100 enthusiastic supporters packed a training on the ins and outs of this grassroots citizen effort to close the corporate property tax loophole.
What is Schools and Communities First?
A little background: in 1978, California voters approved Proposition 13, which froze property taxes of both homeowners and corporations at 1975 levels. Few other states in the country have frozen commercial property tax rates. Most states reassess commercial property every one to five years. Under Prop 13, property is reassessed only when it’s sold, and taxes are adjusted based on fair market value. Prop 13 has allowed enormous corporations – like Disney, Chevron, WalMart and Shell – to pay taxes at 1975 rates. Chevron alone is saving over $100 million a year by benefiting from Prop 13’s corporate loophole. On the other hand, new businesses pay taxes at today’s rates, putting them at an obvious disadvantage. Before Prop 13, residential property accounted for 55 percent of the property tax and commercial property constituted 45 percent. Now the residential share is 72 percent of the tax burden while the commercial share is only 28 percent, according to an Evolve-CA fact sheet. One result is that California has slid from the top 10 states nationally in per-pupil funding to the bottom 10.
The Schools and Communities First initiative is on the ballot to correct this unfair situation. SCF would close the corporate tax loophole, so that large businesses (with property worth over $2 million) would be regularly assessed. The additional tax revenue, estimated at over 11 billion per year, would be distributed according to the current formula, about half to schools (K-12 and community colleges) and the other half to local bodies like cities, counties, and special districts, such as fire districts and water districts, that receive state tax revenues. Homeowners’ and renters’ taxes would be unaffected (although we anticipate a massive and misleading campaign by the corporations that benefit from Prop 13 that will imply otherwise!)
The excellent March 30 training, developed by Evolve-California, the League of Women Voters, Bay Rising, and other core sponsors of the initiative, covered the history, the facts, and the arguments for (and against) the initiative. Crucially, the training required attendees to develop the arguments that we’d present to different groups about why we support the initiative. We practiced our pitches in small groups, getting feedback from one another to help refine our messages. We also wrote our own plans for which groups we planned to speak to, and when.
The SCF campaign needs all of us! Evolve will lead the grassroots organizing effort for this initiative in the Bay Area; the best way to get involved in this historic campaign is to sign up to volunteer at Evolve’s website, you’ll get updates on future trainings and organizing opportunities in our area.
Toni Henle is retired after a career in policy work at non-profits focused on workforce development. She is a member of the IEB Governance Committee, co-lead of Outreach to Organizations and a member of the Indivisible CA-11 team.
Photographs by Toni Henle