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Democrats shouldn't have dithered on Proposition 13 reform

Can we count on our elected officials to fix Prop. 13?

Proposition 13, the landmark 1978  ballot measure that sharply reduced property taxes paid by California homeowners, has long been criticized for starving state municipalities, reducing fiscal flexibility and, most recently and by members of both political parties, opening a loophole for big business that sticks individual homeowners with the bill that used to be paid by major corporations.

You might think the fact that California schools have plunged in national rankings since the passage of Proposition 13 would make a second look a priority for lawmakers, but you would be wrong. They don't call 13 the third rail of California politics for nothing. 

It's true that this year a reform bill was introduced in the Legislature when state Democrats had the supermajority required to make changes in taxes.  But state Democrats dithered, then lost their supermajority, a loss that was cemented in the 2014 midterm elections.

"The Democrats had their chance with the bulletproof, absolute two-thirds majorities last year, but they were unwilling to pull the trigger," Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State, told The Times' Patrick McGreevy and Melanie Mason. "That window is now shut."

Even the Chamber of Commerce is in favor of Proposition 13 reform. Heck, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. announced it wouldn't object. But what Gerston is saying is that not enough Republicans will join forces with Democrats to touch the third rail, and Democrats didn't do it when they had the chance.

A lot of voters cling to 13; they don't like to hear about it changing. It therefore takes leadership to reform it. And the corporations who could be on the losing end of closing the loophole surely won't go quietly.

Still, what did we elect representatives to do but deal with all this? Yet, as in today's cartoon, too many politicians seem to  live their lives in far too  insulated a way, removed from the damage created by their decisions and indecision. What's the rush? It's hard to wrangle reform. And besides,  the system is only broken a little bit – we can afford to wait, even if everyone else can't.

Follow Ted Rall on Twitter @tedrall

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