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Friday
Dec212012

SACRAMENTO: School funding, Democratic supermajority in Sacramento, parcel tax proposals, commentary, "Parcel tax plans promote unfairest of all levies".... 

* Daily News (Thomas D. Elias):  "Parcel tax plans promote unfairest of all levies" - From the DN:

No sooner had the new Democratic supermajorities in the state Legislature been sworn in than some of their members began pushing to make the least fair of all taxes easier to impose. That's the parcel tax, the response of many California school districts to the 40-year-old Serrano v. Priest court decision that attempts to equalize per-student spending among all schools.

Serrano mandates that every time a property tax-increasing override for schools is approved by local voters, most of the money goes to Sacramento for redistribution to districts whose per-student spending is in the lower half within California. The bulk of that cash usually goes to poor rural schools. For decades, this has discouraged school districts in wealthier areas from seeking tax overrides. Why exert the effort needed to get a two-thirds vote when you won't see much of the money even if you win?

Their answer for much of the last 20 years has been the parcel tax, the least equitable levy in America today. Schools officials love parcel taxes, no matter how unfair, because all the money they produce stays home. The end, they're in effect saying, justifies the means.

Why are parcel taxes unfair? Because they have nothing to do with the value or use of any particular property. Most parcel taxes assess owners an identical sum for each property they possess. That means the tax on a small one- or two-bedroom cottage is identical to the levy on a luxury hotel or a large shopping mall. The owner of a 33,000-square-foot mansion pays the same as the owner of a property one-20th as large.

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The irony today is that the lawmakers sponsoring plans to ease passage of these most regressive of taxes are Democrats who style themselves champions of fairness and equality.

The positive part of this is that legislators themselves can't pass a parcel tax, other than a statewide one. Nor can they change the rules by themselves. But they can present voters with ballot propositions aimed at making passage of unfair taxes far easier.

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Until Democrats won majorities of two-thirds or more in both legislative houses, it was impossible to get these proposals onto the ballot because of unified opposition from Republicans. That's irrelevant today; the only real questions are whether Democrats will unify behind these planned propositions and whether Gov. Jerry Brown would OK them. And if voters pass those propositions -- a simple majority is all it would take -- can lowered thresholds for other parcel taxes to pay for fire protection, police, sewers and more be far behind?

If the public believes all these types of services need more money, there are other ways to raise it, methods that are far more fair. No one forces a Serrano-like redistribution of ordinary property taxes earmarked for libraries or police, to name just two. The bottom line is that financing of public services must be done fairly, without favoring the wealthy, as parcel taxes do. Even if finding a fair method is more difficult than passing a parcel tax.