🗳️ March 2020 Primary Election Ballot Analysis (IV): Measure for Measure

I’m now registered as a permanent vote-by-mail voter, and I recently received my ballot for the March California Primary. And that means it is time to start doing the detailed ballot analysis. This is where, for most contests, I examine each candidate and share my conclusions, and invite you to convince me to vote for the other jerk.

Because this is a long ballot, I’m splitting it into a few chunks:

  1. The Presidential Primary
  2. The Congressional, State and Local Offices
  3. Judicial Offices
  4. Ballot Measures (this post)
  5. Summary

This part covers the following Ballot Measures: State Measure 13 ❦ Los Angeles County Measure R

🗳️

[✓] State Measure 13

Authorizes Bonds for Facility Repair, Construction, and Modernization at Public Preschools, K-12 Schools, Community Colleges, and Universities. Legislative Statute.

This measure would authorize the state to sell $15 billion in general obligation bonds to fund school, community college, and university facility projects. In addition, school districts and community college districts would be authorized to issue more local bonds, and school districts would have new limits on their ability to levy developer fees.

Before I get into this measure, we need to clear up some misconceptions about the number and its implications. I’ve seen numerous people posting that this is the measure on the ballot that will gut Proposition 13, the third rail of California politics. Now the 1978 Proposition 13 has its problems, and there is a measure planned for a future ballot to address some of those issues, but this is not that measure. This Proposition 13 has nothing to do with property taxes or the 1978 Proposition 13.

So let’s address that other Proposition 13 first.

♦ So I hear this is a measure that will repeal Prop 13. Therefore I’m going to vote “No”.

Wrong. This measure has nothing to do with Prop 13. There are no measures on this ballot that will repeal or impact Prop 13 in any way. That is just an urban legend, social media post that is going around. This School Bonds measure might impact your property tax (if your local school district raises its debt ceiling) … and I discuss that below … but this Measure 13 makes no changes to the “Prop 13” law. However….

According to ABC10 in Sacramento, “the California Secretary of State website said there is an initiative called “The California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2020.” It has received at least 25% of required signatures to qualify for the Nov. 2020 ballot. This initiative would undo the property tax caps of Prop 13, but only for commercial and industrial properties. This initiative would not take away the Prop 13 protections for residential properties, California Secretary of State Spokesperson Sam Mahood said.” (emphasis added)

This initiative, commonly called the “split roll” initiative, would maintain Prop. 13 limits for residential, small business and agricultural property while eliminating those protections for business and industrial buildings and commercial land worth more than $3 million. Critics have long complained that California is losing out on billions of dollars in revenue each year from valuable business properties that have never changed hands and thus never had their taxes reassessed (often due to tricks played by the owners of that commercial property). The initiative would ask voters to adopt a system known as “split-roll,” under which the annual tax bill for large commercial and industrial buildings and land would be based on their market value. The windfall, estimated at between $7.5 billion and $12 billion a year, would be split between cities, counties and special districts, which would get about 60%, and schools and community colleges, which would receive the rest.

This initiative has business people and real estate people scared shitless. Thus, they are starting with the scare tactics to defeat it. They have the money to blitz the airwaves, and you can expect, after March, to be barraged with the fear about this — trying to make you believe it will impact your property taxes or the property taxes of small businesses. I’ve written before about my attitude on taxes: they are the price we pay to be part of society: to have great schools, to have police and fire protection, to have safe buildings. But for far too long this burden has been placed on the residential property owner. Businesses have gone to great legal means through ownership games to keep property taxes on commercial properties low. That’s great for their profits, but bad for the society they depend upon. Yet these same businesses depend on the graduates from the University of California and Cal State and our public schools; they depend on our roads to move their goods; they depend on police and fire protections. They use them, but don’t pay their fair share. Why are tuitions at our public colleges so high? Because we can no longer afford to fund them right as we did in the 1960s, when UC and CSU were great and affordable systems. Splitting the roll will help fix this. This is why most of the Democratic candidates support the split roll.

But here’s the key thing about the split roll initiative: It is not on the March Primary Ballot. So save all that ire about changes to Prop 13 for the lead-up to the General Election in November, and truly research what the split roll initiative is before you make people think it will be raising your property tax as a residential home owner or small business owner.

♦ You Hinted at Other Problems with the 1978 Proposition 13

I’m not a fan of Prop 13, even on the residential side. Sure, its great if you are old (and white) and have sufficient privilege to pass your property to your kids, together with your tax benefit. It’s great if you are a veteran and able to do that. But for most people, that’s not the case. Most of our younger generation who have been lucky enough to get into the property market since the 2000s have been saddled with high property taxes. We bought our house in 2005, and we’re paying over $10,000 a year in property taxes. These high taxes are a barrier to younger and mobile people getting into the California market. It is time to rethink and reset Prop 13. Create exemptions for the currently exempted classes, and allow lower income and lower wealth people to preserve their tax break. But for those who can afford it, reassess to market rates. For the new generation, create a new freeze point that will benefit them. Combined with the split roll, this could be a big boost to the California real estate market.

♦ But Enough About the 1978 Proposition 13. What about this Proposition Measure 13?

Let’s say it one more time: The School Bonds Measure 13 on the March 2020 ballot has nothing to do with the 1978 Proposition 13. It does not impact or change property taxes in any way. Even the Howard Jarvis Association states this has nothing to do with the 1978 Proposition 13.

So what does Measure 13 do? According to Ballotpedia, Measure 13 would authorize $15 billion in bonds for school and college facilities in California, including $9 billion for preschool and K-12 schools, $4 billion for universities, and $2 billion for community colleges. According to the California Legislative Analyst, the state would make payments totaling an estimated $26 billion, including $15 billion in principal and $11 billion in interest, over 35 years from the General Fund. The bond revenue would be distributed as follows:

School and College Facilities Bond (March 2020)
Amount Dedication
$9.0 billion Preschool and K-12
$2.8 billion new construction of school facilities
$5.2 billion modernization of school facilities
$500 million providing school facilities to charter schools
$500 million facilities for career technical education programs
$4.0 billion Universities
$2.0 billion capital outlay financing needs of the California State University
$2.0 billion capital outlay financing needs of the University of California and Hastings College of the Law
$2.0 billion Community colleges
$2.0 billion capital outlay financing needs of community colleges

Ballotpedia also notes that Measure 13 would also make changes to the formula used to distribute state bond funds to schools, the rules governing local bond measures, and school districts’ abilities to assess developer fees.

If you are like me, you’re going: Wait a second. It seems like there is a school bond on every ballot. We’ve just had a bunch for LAUSD, and wasn’t there one in 2016? The LA Times endorsement for Measure 13 addresses this: “not all state school-bond measures are good ones. Ideally, these initiatives, which provide matching funds to school districts to build or upgrade school buildings, would prioritize projects according to their importance instead of handing out money to whoever got their applications in first. Low-income schools and those in small school districts should have a good chance of sharing in the largesse. The last major school bond measure – 2016’s Proposition 51 – did not meet that standard. It made the application process a kind of race that favored wealthier and larger school districts, which had the resources to pull applications together quickly and were more likely to be able to pass local bond measures to raise the required matching funds.”. The Times goes on to note “[Measure 13] was written to avoid the problems of previous bonds […] The measure would authorize the issuance of up to $15 billion in bonds, with $9 billion allocated to K-12 schools and $2 billion each to community colleges, California State University and the University of California. It’s noteworthy that most of the $9 billion would go toward repairing and renovating schools rather than building new ones. That’s the biggest need in the state, especially at a time of declining enrollment. Yes, some communities are expanding and need new schools, but the measure wouldn’t create an incentive, as previous measures did, to add to sprawl.  [Measure 13] would make it a priority for low-income school districts to get a share of the money. And it creates a sliding scale for fund-matching, so that disadvantaged schools would receive a higher percentage of state money. It also sets aside some money for small school districts so they wouldn’t get shut out by larger districts that get their applications in earlier.”

The page for the Yes campaign shows a broad coalition of groups in favor. Most major papers are in favor, notable exceptions are the Mercury News family of papers (i.e., the LA and Bay Area News Group papers). The Howard Jarvis group is against it, as they are against anything that increases debt and thus debt service.

The HJA does note the one way this measure impacts the property tax: “Not only would this “Proposition 13” increase the state’s debt and interest costs, it would also cause an increase in local property taxes. The measure raises the debt caps for local school district borrowing, meaning districts could sell more bonds than they’re currently allowed to issue under the caps. Local bonds are repaid by local property owners. The charges for school bonds show up on property tax bills under “Voted Indebtedness.”” But that’s very different than structural changes to the Property Tax.

Ballotpedia seems to be the only place I could find a summary of the supporters and opponents. But here’s the telling part: There were five ballot measure committees registered to support Proposition 13. Together, the committees raised $6.29 million and spent $619,431. There were no ballot measure committees registered to support or oppose the measure.

ETA: Here’s another good clarification of this Prop 13, and why it isn’t that Prop 13. It notes: “the new 13 would provide $9 billion in bond money for K-12 schools and $2 billion each for community colleges, state universities and the University of California. Of the K-12 money, $5.2 billion would be for modernization, $2.8 billion for new construction, $500 million for charter schools and $500 million for career tech (what we used to call “shop”). The modernization would include improving earthquake and fire safety and removing lead from drinking water. Some of the money could be spent for preschool facilities. Universities would need to develop a plan for students’ affordable housing. The way it currently works for K-12 schools is that the state pays for 60% of renovation and 50% of new construction. Schools pay for the rest, mostly with local property taxes and some developer fees. School districts apply for state bond money. And it’s first come, first served. All that would significantly change under the ballot measure — largely because of former Gov. Jerry Brown’s lobbying. […] Under the new proposal, the state would pay for up to 65% of renovation costs and 55% of new construction. The highest amounts would go to districts with the least ability to raise their own funds and with large numbers of students who are from low-income families or are English learners. First come, first served would be scrubbed and replaced with a system that graded applicants based on a priority list. The highest priority would be projects needed to improve students’ health and safety. Another priority — predictable from a government controlled by Democrats— would be construction projects using unionized labor. Also, developer fees would be banned for multifamily residential complexes — such as apartments — located within half a mile of a major transit stop. For multifamily developments that aren’t near transit, fees would be reduced by 20%. These fees currently can amount to half of some projects’ construction costs. Another significant change that is potentially costly to taxpayers: The cap on the amount of local bonds that districts could issue would be nearly doubled.” It’s that last bit that can raise property taxes (but not change Prop 13) — more local bonds mean more bond service in the tax rate.

📋 Conclusion

Although initially I was opposed to this as I thought we had far too many school bonds, reading the editorials and seeing that this is much less building new facilities but improving what we have convinced me to change my position:

Conclusion: [✓] Yes on Measure 13

[✓][✗] County Measure R

Revise the duties of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission

According to Ballotpedia, Measure R was designed to give the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission the power to subpoena witnesses and documents relevant to citizen’s or inmate’s complaints. On January 28, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to grant the Commission the power to request the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to subpoena documents or witnesses. Requesting a subpoena from the OIG requires a majority vote by the Commission. Prior to this, the Commission was limited by a memorandum that outlined which documents they had access to. Measure R would give the subpoena power directly to the Commission. The ballot measure would also require the Commission to research, draft, and propose a Comprehensive Public Safety Reinvestment Plan to be presented to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and published to the public seven months after its adoption. The plan must include a feasibility study regarding the plan’s implementation, strategies to reduce the county’s jail population through mental health treatment, and a timeline and detailed allocation of resources for the plan.

According to Knock LA, Measure R is the result of nearly a decade of relentless community organizing, led predominantly by system impacted women of color.  According to the LA Times, who supports the measure, Measure R would cement in place two improvements in L.A. County’s justice system that are so smart and so important that they’ve already been largely accomplished: It would significantly strengthen civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, and it would focus county officials on improving psychiatric care, drug treatment and other services for people who we currently send to jail.

The page for the Yes camp shows an incredibly large endorsement pool. It is opposed by the Sheriff, who has had his own share of problems after being elected on a reform platform. However, other than the Sheriff, I cannot find any organized opposition to the measure. Ballotpedia shows that three ballot measure committees—Reform LA Jails, Showing Up For Racial Justice (SUFJ) Action LA 2020, and Open Philanthropy Action Fund—are registered in support of the initiative. According to the most recent reports from January 18, 2020, the three committees have raised $2.1 million in support of Measure R. There have been no funds raised against the measure.

📋 Conclusion

Conclusion: [✓] Yes on Measure R.

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