Prop. 13 Still Undefeated Champion after 34 Years

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Howard Jarvis, the man behind Proposition 13

Proposition 13, the tax initiative that not only froze tax rates in 1978 but restructured California politics and how the state does business, withstood yet another, albeit innovative, judicial challenge.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal denied without comment an argument made by former University of California, Los Angeles, Chancellor Charles M. Young—and rejected by a lower court—that because Prop. 13 was a fundamental revision to the California Constitution, not just an amendment, a majority vote of the people wasn’t enough to make it law.

Young was challenging only that part of the initiative that required two-thirds majorities in the Legislature to raise taxes, not the property tax caps.  

Young said he got the idea for the legal challenge from an ill-fated attempt to invoke that reasoning by opponents of Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage amendment. They lost on that point and so did he.

Proposition 13 was passed when wildly escalating home valuations were resulting in wildly escalating property tax bills that were especially hard on people with fixed incomes. State officials dithered at addressing the issue and conservative anti-tax crusaders embraced Prop. 13 as the answer.

The proposition limited tax assessments to 1% of a property’s value and put a tight clamp on annual increases. Overnight, schools, libraries and fire departments lost their funding base, while responsibility and power shifted from localities to the state, and new revenue streams were developed. California schools, which had been ranked among the nation’s best, eventually slid to near last.   

There have been tweaks to the law over the years, but no fundamental changes. It remains a touchstone for conservatives who seek to rein in the size and scope of government.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Appellate Court Turns Back Challenge to Proposition 13 (by Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee)

Former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young Fighting to Overturn Proposition 13 in Court (by Andra Lim, Daily Bruin)

Proposition 13 Goes to Court (by Kevin Drum, Mother Jones)

Young v. Schmidt (Petition to the courts)

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