Proposition 15 is bad. There is no other way to put it and my dislike of the measure is not just because it hurts our farmers, ranchers, and small businesses. Proposition 15 is ill-intended, poorly written, and ambiguous.
I wish I could say the poorly constructed language around Proposition 15 was an anomaly, but sadly, I cannot. Without debating the merits of term limits, now that our state legislators have a limited amount of time in office, the frenzy to author bills and to build a track record has replaced quality, well developed legislation with “back of the napkin”, fragmented diatribe that has not been thoroughly researched. I liken it to that worn-out saying, “a camel is a horse designed in committee”. Proposition 15 is just that.
Too often than not, when you discuss poorly written legislation with an elected official, whether enacted by a vote of the public or through the legislature, the official suggest that the language will be cleaned up after it has been put into law. Does this really make sense? Why shouldn’t the original language and marching orders be vetted and well developed before it is approved?
Another popular measure on the November ballot is a testimonial to an example of how poorly developed legislation had to be fixed. Proposition 22, the gig worker bill, is in response to AB5, signed into law by Governor Newsom in September of 2019. It was going to be the end-all solution to the ambiguity around the difference between a contractor and an employee. The first round of cleanup came with a long list of business sectors that were exempted from the requirements of the legislation. Even that list was not complete and anyone applying common sense to our free-rein, American way of doing business could see that AB5 did more to confuse the issue than to clarify it. Although union leaders wanted AB5, the working people did not. Hence, Proposition 22.
But back to Proposition 15. Several sources have explained that Proposition 15 is the work of a small group of folks who have been trying for years to make changes to Proposition 13. Apparently, there are loopholes in Proposition 13 that allows mega corporations with a building full of attorneys to find work arounds to avoid a step up in values when commercial properties change ownership. If this is the case, why isn’t the Governor using the power of his pen to make these fixes? Instead, our Governor is supporting Proposition 15 that will hurt small businesses and farmers more than his mega corporation cronies.
Proposition 15 supporters have declared that their proposed constitutional change will only hurt large corporations – not small businesses. They also contend that ag is exempt and that they purposely included language in the measure to protect our industry. None of this is true and even though the opposition to Proposition 15 has demonstrated the fallacies by citing tax code, the proponents continue to misrepresent their proposed legislation.
Agricultural processing facilities, wineries, vineyards, milking barns, irrigation systems and many other improvements will be reassessed to fair market value on the property tax rolls. If properties are not under the Williamson Act, this could mean astronomical increases in property taxes owed by a farmer in just one year. At Farm Bureau, we are working on “what if” scenarios to demonstrate the draconian tax gouging that we will see should this proposition pass (and it only needs a simple majority, or 50% plus 1 vote to become law). As of this writing, we have completed one scenario on a 30-acre Sonoma County vineyard and that farmer will see an 188% increase in their property tax payment. For this vineyard owner, it results in an extra $30,000 added per year to the cost of doing business in a decade of uncertainty and natural disasters.
Just like we saw with the California Lottery measure in 1984, the supporters of Proposition 15 are using our kids as the poster children for what truly is an effort to backfill state and local government coffers. What is the funding hierarchy for this constitutional amendment? First the funds (estimated between $6.5 to $11.5 billion annually) will go to the State of California to makeup for other taxing measures that fell short of budget. Given the pandemic, wildfires, and the aftermath of these events, will there even be any of these monies left after that first bite at the apple? Then the added property tax dollars will somehow be divvied up and sent to local governments. Not sure why this is third, because it seems like it should be the first bucket, but the cost of administering this new program gets covered. Looking at it from our world, can you imagine how the County is going to find the many appraisers they will need to reassess farm assets? Last on the list are school districts. Even then, nowhere does the legislation prevent educational institutions from backfilling general fund shortfalls or covering pension obligations.
We are in for a battle with Proposition 15 and I hope you will support our industry’s effort to defeat this poorly crafted legislation. Spread the word to friends, neighbors and your social bubble – we need voters to be educated about the atrocities of this measure.