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.