Santa Clara County Assesor Says Split-Roll Initiative Would Be 'Impossible to Implement'

The split-roll property tax initiative qualified for the November 2020 ballot would be “impossible to implement,” Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone said May 22 during a tax policy conference hosted by the Sacramento publication Capitol Weekly.

The prominent Bay Area Democrat said the split-roll initiative, which would require commercial and industrial properties to be reassessed to market value at least every three years, would drastically increase the assessors’ workload, increase property valuation appeals, and require assessors throughout the state to increase staffing exponentially.

Stone made the comments during the Tax Reform Conference, which featured panels focusing on split roll, volatility of state revenue, and additional revenue/new ideas the Legislature could pursue. Stone was part of the panel on new revenue ideas, which included discussion of property tax increases.

The assessor added that he is no fan of Proposition 13, telling the audience: “I did not vote for Prop. 13. If it was on the ballot today, I would vote no. It’s the worst thing that has happened to California. That and term limits.”

The panel on the Schools and Communities First split-roll initiative featured Helen Hutchinson, president of the California League of Women Voters, State Treasurer Fiona Ma, California Tax Reform Association representative Lenny Goldberg and Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Hutchinson, whose organization supports the split-roll initiative and has historically backed many tax-increase initiatives, alleged that voters didn’t know Proposition 13 treated commercial and residential properties equally when they voted on the landmark measure in 1978. The current initiative “closes that loophole,” she said. (CalTax: In 1978, the organization was part of the well-funded campaign that urged voters to reject Proposition 13 and support Proposition 8, a split-roll measure that appeared on the same ballot. The group’s name appeared on a campaign mailer that described Proposition 8 as a better alternative because, “Unlike Proposition 13, tax relief goes only to homeowners and renters.” Voters rejected Proposition 8.)

Goldberg, who traveled from his home in Oregon to advocate for an $11 billion tax increase on Californians, said big businesses use change-in-ownership “loopholes” to avoid reassessment and escape paying “their fair share.”

The panel was moderated by CALmatters editor Dan Morain, who asked the panelists if the property tax measure would drive more businesses out of the state.

Hutchinson said there is no concern about established businesses fleeing California. Morain asked about McKesson Corporation, which recently left San Francisco due to the high cost of doing business, but Hutchinson did not have a response.

Treasurer Ma expressed concern that small businesses that do not own their properties would be driven out of the state, or forced to close, when their rents are increased to cover the tax increase. She cited personal experience of operating a small business with her father in San Francisco. Taxes in California “are pretty high these days,” Ma added.

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