Reporting from Sacramento -- Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Tuesday for changes to Proposition 13, challenging Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers to remove business property owners from some provisions of the groundbreaking 1978 law.
Villaraigosa said the measure, which regulates how much property taxes can rise, has become a "corporate tax giveaway" and had the "unintended effect of favoring commercial property owners at the expense of homeowners."
"Gov. Brown, I say we need to have the courage to test the voltage in some of these so-called third-rail issues, beginning with Proposition 13," said the mayor –- a potential successor to Brown — in a speech to the Sacramento Press Club.
He also called on the state's business leaders to "stand up and come forward as coauthors of a long-term solution" to California's persistent financial problems.
But early reviews of the address from business leaders were less than positive. California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg called it "a speech about raising taxes on business. It's exactly the opposite of what we want to happen to pull California out of a recession."
Villaraigosa had other ideas, as well, about how to alter the state's tax system. He suggested eliminating the corporate tax, lowering the income tax and expanding the sales tax to include services. He made clear, however, that his ultimate goal was more money for state coffers.
He said the proposals he outlined Tuesday were meant to jump-start a conversation about a long-term fix for state finances — a dialogue that he wants to be a part of in his final term as mayor.
"A big solution is the only way forward," he said. "I'm calling on the governor to be bold."
In an interview before the press club event, Villaraigosa invoked Brown's father, Pat, the heralded governor who shaped California with ambitious infrastructure projects. "I want to give him cover to be as great as his dad," he said.
After the speech, Villaraigosa downplayed his criticism of Brown. He told reporters that he had spoken to the governor briefly Monday night when Brown was in Lake Tahoe for an environmental summit and that he sent Brown an early copy of the speech.
Brown spokesman Gil Duran denied any tension between the two, saying, "We truly appreciate the mayor adding his voice to this important discussion about the future of California."
Brown has said he is working with various interest groups to craft a new tax plan for the ballot in 2012 after failing to earn bipartisan support for his plan for higher vehicle, income and sales taxes in the Legislature. He has been unwilling to discuss publicly what mix of taxes he is considering but has balked at suggestions that he push to change Proposition 13.
Villaraigosa said that whatever Brown and his allies come up with, it is unlikely to be enough. He urged Brown to form a commission to review state tax laws, an idea Brown proposed during last year's gubernatorial campaign.
"The governor was elected for his bold and broad vision," Duran said. "For the first six months of the year, he was focused solely on delivering an on-time and balanced budget. That was the first step in stabilizing the state's finances and providing a foundation to build on."
Villaraigosa ducked multiple questions about his future political ambitions. His term expires in 2013, and he is barred by term limits from seeking the office again. Villaraigosa weighed a bid for governor in 2010 but decided not to run against Brown.