IEB 7/16/19 Meeting with Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, AD-15

Meeting with Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, AD-15, on July 16, 2019

PRESENT: Buffy Wicks; Senior Field Representative Uche Uwahemu; one additional staff person and three interns; five IEB members.

This was Indivisible East Bay’s first solo meeting with Assemblymember Wicks, following our May 10, 2019 meeting with her and Asm. Rob Bonta. We gave Wicks and her staff our pre-meeting memo and our list of IEB Priority Bills (many of which are also bills of priority interest statewide). By now bills initiated in one chamber of the Legislature have passed to the other chamber, where they must pass by mid-September, so these were the bills we focused on. With a few exceptions, we did not cover other bills that have died, that have not been included in the Governor’s budget, or that have become two-year bills and will roll over into next year.

ELECTIONS / VOTING RIGHTS:

A unifying theme of our selection of voting rights bills is supporting the major goals of the federal bill H.R.1, the For the People Act: expanding voting rights, campaign finance reform, and strengthening the government’s ethics laws. H.R.1 is an omnibus bill because the most effective changes work in tandem to complement each other. Wicks stated that she cares about voter rights and supports a variety of approaches. She was open to the idea of an omnibus bill and even suggested that she might look at authoring such a bill next session. We also discussed:

  • ACA 6, which expands voting rights to people on parole to re-enfranchise over 50,000 Californians. IEB is working with the community co-sponsors of ACA 6, including Initiate Justice, All of Us or None, and our community partner Open Gate. This is now a two-year bill. It still needs to be voted on in this Assembly this year, but will not reach the Senate until next year. Because it is a constitutional amendment it will require a two-thirds vote to pass. We asked Wicks to become a co-author, and she said she would be happy to.
  • We thanked Wicks for supporting AB 1217, which requires issue advertisements to disclose the top three funders. The bill is now in the Senate. SB 47 is another important bill for transparency, requiring ballot initiative signature gatherers to disclose the top three funders. We asked her to become a co-author. 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE:

  • Wicks supported AB 32, which prohibits the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from entering into or renewing contracts with private for-profit prisons. The bill, which is now in the Senate, has a long list of community co-sponsors, including California StateStrong; and one opponent, the CA State Sheriffs’ Association.
  • Wicks supported AB 1185, establishing a sheriff oversight board, on the Assembly floor (the bill is now in the Senate). However, more needs to be done in this arena – right now, there is no term limit on sheriffs. In response to IEB’s asking if she would consider introducing a constitutional amendment to switch from elected to appointed sheriffs or introducing a bill allowing counties to set term limits for sheriffs and district attorneys, Wicks responded that she is interested in an approach that would change the requirement that a person have a law-enforcement background in order to run for sheriff. She told us that either she or Sen. Nancy Skinner will author a bill to do that. 

STATE BUDGET:

  • Wicks joined us in being glad that Medi-Cal was expanded to include some undocumented immigrants (SB 29), but disappointed that it didn’t include seniors because of stated budgetary concerns.
  • Likewise, we were disappointed that the budget did not expand the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) program to include holders of Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, though we’re glad the income threshold was expanded.

IMMIGRATION/LOCAL COOPERATION WITH ICE:

  • Just before the meeting, we learned that Oakland Airport has been one of the top airports used by ICE in California. Wicks said she had also been unaware of this. When we asked if she had any thoughts on what might be done to end that cooperation, she said that the Governor has a broader ability to do things and we may need to get to him.
  • Since our meeting, IEB testified at the Port of Oakland commissioners meeting on July 25. In response, the Port said in the coming weeks, they are committed to developing recommendations and a definitive response to the events that occurred. 

ENVIRONMENT:

  • Wicks agreed with AB 1276, a state-specific “Green New Deal” aimed at addressing the climate crisis in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, technology and infrastructure, as well as economics, education, and civil rights. She specifically supported resilient infrastructure with AB 1698 (infrastructure investment and financing).
  • SB 200, which Wicks voted for, establishes a fund to secure access to safe drinking water. It was signed into law by the governor on July 24th.

EDUCATION:

  • Wicks co-authored SB 37 with Sen. Nancy Skinner to increase the tax rate on large corporations in order to fund child care, public schools and higher education. Though it didn’t pass the Senate, she emphasized that the need for it remains. She supports Prop. 13 reform (the Schools and Communities First initiative will be on the ballot in 2020) but noted that it only provides $11 billion towards the $50 billion she believes is required to fund schools.
  • Wicks voted in support of bills that reformed how charter schools are formed and operated: AB 1505, which passed both houses of the Legislature; AB 1506, which did not; and SB 126, which has already been signed into law. She stated that she believes there are good charter schools but that more accountability is needed.

HOUSING:

Housing is a major focus of Wicks’ legislative interest. She stated that we need 3.5 million units of housing at all income levels and at higher density levels and noted the need for housing at moderate income levels, where costs are too high but people do not qualify for assistance. She is a co-author of:

  • AB 724, which was intended to create a registry of rental properties (though it did not pass the Assembly).
  • AB 1482, which would prohibit rent gouging and eviction without just cause.
  • SB 50, which provides incentives for streamlining approval of housing development.

POVERTY:

We didn’t discuss poverty with Wicks because she is already very strong on the issue. We had several priority bills on issues of poverty and hunger, and she has either authored or voted for all of them:

FUTURE WORK:

Wicks asked that we stay in touch going forward. She is developing bills for next year’s session that she would like our feedback on and support with, touching on a number of topics, including housing, hunger, privacy concerns, and reproductive rights.

By IEB Governance Committee members Toni Henle and Ion Y

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.

Training Ambassadors for Schools & Communities Act

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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

Prop 13 Reform Initiative Update: Aiming for 2020

We have an update to the effort to reform Proposition 13 with the California School and Communities First Funding Act: the campaign will continue to collect signatures until the end of July 2018, but will shift focus to getting it onto the November 2020 ballot.

As we’ve reported, the Act will restore over $11 billion per year to California’s schools, community colleges, health clinics, and other vital local services, by closing a loophole that allows many California businesses to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes. What more is there to say, other than that many progressives support this effort, including Robert Reich and the League of Women Voters!

The change in schedule to 2020 in the effort to raise taxes on commercial property by changing Prop. 13 means:

  • We will continue to collect signatures with the same petitions we’ve been using. If you’ve already signed a petition, your signature will be counted, so please don’t sign again.
  • Since ballot placement is based on the order that initiatives qualify, we will most likely be the first initiative to qualify for the 2020 ballot, putting us at the top of the ballot rather than the bottom of the ballot where we would be if we qualified for 2018.
  • We will have more time to organize and educate people around a specific tangible policy and get the candidates running for office over the next two years to take a side – perhaps a good litmus test issue to differentiate where there are two progressive candidates running for Assembly or Senate seats.
  • Some large donors have told us they don’t want to give money now but are willing to support a 2020 campaign.

Bottom line: we will have more time to do this important work and convince our neighbors that we need to invest in our children, public schools, and local communities.

Imagine Fully Funded Public Schools

By Ted Lam

I imagine a California where our public schools have most of the funding they need, and where our teachers don’t have to shell out their own money for school supplies.

To work to make that vision a reality, this past Sunday I joined ten volunteers from Evolve-CA in the Mission in San Francisco to collect signatures to put Proposition 13 reform on the November ballot in California, seeking to close the corporate real estate loophole that’s been on the books since voters passed that proposition in 1978. It was a beautiful day in the city and families took advantage of the weather to do chalk art, bicycle with their kids, and listen to mariachi bands.

The ballot measure to reform Prop. 13 would keep residential property taxes the same but annually assess corporate real estate valued at $2 million or greater at market rate, as other progressive states do. At least 40% of the funds would go to public schools; the rest would stay in various forms in local communities. California could see at least $6 billion a year in additional revenues. Contra Costa County alone would see at least an additional $200 million each year.

Before we started, 60,000 signatures had already been collected statewide. Around 600,000 California registered voters’ signatures must be collected and submitted by May 1 to qualify the ballot measure for November’s election. But this is easy and fun work – in five hours on Sunday we collected over 400 signatures!

Want to help? Join the fun and volunteer to gather signatures at San Francisco’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Or check out other times and ways to volunteer in the campaign to reform Prop. 13. Give it a try and help our public schools!

Read more here about Prop. 13 and why it needs to be reformed.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer.

Photograph by Ted Lam

Evolve California’s Plan to Reform Prop 13

By Ted Lam

On a school night – Tuesday, January 23 – over 20 people sat in El Cerrito High School’s auditorium for an hour to hear Ben Grieff, the campaign director for Evolve California, talk about the drive to reform Proposition 13.

Evolve California is working to reform the infamous Prop. 13 so that owners of commercial property valued at $2 million or more would pay the 1% market rate property tax.

Grieff reminded us that Prop. 13 passed in June 1978, almost 40 years ago, as part of an anti-tax/anti-government campaign by Howard Jarvis, a wealthy property owner. California voters were willing to vote for Prop. 13 even if it meant less money for schools, which it indeed did.

Before Prop. 13, California was tied with New York State in fifth place for spending on education. Forty years later, California is in the bottom ten states for educational spending, and the lack of funding strikes hardest in the communities that can least afford it. California’s Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) raise $600 million a year, sometimes to pay for basic needs in schools; and rich communities can raise large sums that poorer communities can’t. Rich communities can also afford to raise parcel taxes or establish private foundations to make up for revenue lost due to Prop. 13.

It’s more important now than ever to talk about reforming Prop. 13. The Trump tax cuts greatly reduce California’s ability to deduct property taxes, while Congress added another huge last-minute benefit to corporations that own commercial real estate. All of this means even less money for crucial services like education.

Proposals to reform Prop. 13 could make huge corporate beneficiaries of the Trump tax bill pay their fair share. They could restore $11 billion every year (approximately half for schools and half for special districts, like fire districts) through the county property tax process. Seventy-seven percent of revenue from this reform would come from the 8% of commercial properties in California that have owned land since 1978. It wouldn’t change Prop. 13 for any residential properties, AirBnB property owners, renters, or those with second homes. No small businesses ($2 million or less) would be affected. In fact, as recommended by small business owners, the reform would eliminate the small business taxes. The reforms would be phased in over time to allow businesses to adjust. The proposed 1% property tax rate is less than in New York and other states.

Grieff offered this thought in El Cerrito High: Disneyland has increased its ticket prices over 800% since 1978. Yet unless Prop. 13 is reformed to require corporations to pay their fair share, when Grieff’s hypothetical future grandchildren go to Disneyland, the park will be paying the same property tax as it did in 1978 – and the average homeowner will be paying more property tax than Disneyland.

Evolve California’s website has estimates for how much money each county in the state would receive if Prop. 13 was reformed to include corporate payments (for example, Contra Costa County would get $350 million every year through commercial property tax re-assessments).  

Evolve California and other coalition partners have submitted their proposition name and description to the California Attorney General, and will begin collecting signatures between February and early May to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. They are looking for signature collectors, and will train them. They need 585,000 signatures in total but hope to get 900,000 signatures by May.

If and when the proposition appears on the ballot in November, it will require only 50% plus one of the total votes cast. Three of the four declared Democratic gubernatorial candidates support Prop. 13 reform. If the facts about Prop. 13 and the need for reform are spread widely, we hope the public will, too.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer.