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Californians favor slight change to Prop. 13, poll finds

Californians favor slight change to Prop. 13, poll finds
A Manhattan Beach homeowner in 1978 protesting property tax increases. California voters that year approved Proposition 13, which limited those increases. (Los Angeles Times)

A majority of Californians favor tweaking Proposition 13, the state's landmark restriction on property tax increases, as it applies to business and commercial properties, according a poll released Thursday.

The Field Poll found that 69% of registered voters favored changing tax laws to ensure that commercial and business properties are reassessed when they change ownership, which would trigger a higher property tax rate.

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Prop. 13, the 1978 ballot initiative that transformed property taxes in California, restricts yearly property tax increases on homeowners – but once a home changes ownership, the tax rate is reset based on the new reassessed value.

Because of the complexities of the law, however, commercial and business properties are not always reassessed when they change ownership. The poll found strong bipartisan support for changing Prop. 13 to include those properties.

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Real estate and taxation experts have estimated that the loophole costs the state tens of millions of dollars a year in revenue, and has shifted more of the state's tax burden onto homeowners.

Under the provisions of Prop. 13, a two-thirds vote also is required to increase local taxes. Only 39% of those polled supported lowering that vote threshold to 55%.

The poll also found that 54% of registered voters in the state preferred lower taxes and fewer government services compared to higher taxes and increased government services.

The partisan divide over that question was pronounced. Democrats, by a 51% to 36% margin, favored higher taxes and more services. Republicans, by an 81% to 13% margin, favored lower taxes and fewer government services, the poll found.

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While voters were divided on the overall level of government spending, majorities favored increased spending on schools and mental health. A plurality of those polled favored increased spending on highways and law enforcement, the poll found.

The Field Poll was conducted from March 18 through April 5, and included a random sample of 1,000 registered voters in the state. The maximum margin of error was estimated to be plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

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