Opinion: Prop. 13’s fatal flaw: It limits rates and assessed value, not what people actually pay

Howard Jarvis, chief sponsor of the controversial Proposition 13, signals victory as he casts his ow
Howard Jarvis, chief sponsor of Proposition 13, signals victory as he casts his ballot in Los Angeles on June 6, 1978.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: David Dayen makes the same mistake that was made when Proposition 13 was enacted: He confuses tax rates with taxes paid. (“The GOP tax plan could be the death of Prop. 13,” Opinion, Nov. 9)

Dayen writes that California’s property tax rates are “one of the country’s lowest” and suggests this bargain: “lower personal income tax rates combined with a property tax rate more in line with the rest of the country.”

He forgets that what really matters to property owners is not the rate, but the amount paid. That dollar amount is among the highest in the country.

Proposition 13 was intended to limit the increase in tax when the property value rises. Foolishly, it did this by limiting increases in assessed values and leaving rates untouched. The result is grossly unfair taxation, where neighbors pay drastically different taxes based on assessed values determined largely by when a house was sold.


Proposition 13’s objective could have been accomplished without the unfairness by keeping all assessed values at market value, but forcing tax rates to be adjusted so as to limit the increase in total revenue to the taxing jurisdiction.

Larry D’Addario, Pasadena


To the editor: Thank you for calling attention to the loophole in Proposition 13 for commercial property and the ways the GOP tax plan would make a bad situation worse.


When the law was passed in 1978, homeowners and non-residential commercial property owners paid about equal shares of the property tax revenue in California. Now, because homes turn over more frequently than non-residential businesses, residential owners pay the vast majority of property taxes.

We don’t need to get rid of Proposition 13; we just need to assess large businesses on a regular basis. Doing so would bring in an estimated $9 billion annually, providing funds for our crumbling infrastructure and shoring up our faltering educational system. As an added bonus, it would help counter the GOP plan to penalize residents of blue states.

Kitty Calavita, Berkeley

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