California Proposition 13 (1978)
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Proposition 13 (officially named the People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation) was an amendment of the Constitution of California enacted during 1978, by means of the initiative power. It was approved by California voters on June 6, 1978. It was declared constitutional under federal law by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Nordlinger v. Hahn, 505 U.S. 1 (1992). Proposition 13 is embodied in Article XIII A of the California Constitution. Proposition 13 has been part of the California Constitution for 38 years, 1 month, and 23 days.
The most significant portion of the act is the first paragraph, which limited the tax rate for real estate:
Section 1. (a) The maximum amount of any ad valorem tax on real property shall not exceed one percent (1%) of the full cash value of such property. The one percent (1%) tax to be collected by the counties and apportioned according to law to the districts within the counties.
The proposition decreased property taxes by assessing property values at their 1975 value and restricted annual increases of assessed value of real property to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2% per year. It also prohibited reassessment of a new base year value except for in cases of (a) change in ownership, or (b) completion of new construction.
In addition to decreasing property taxes, the initiative also contained language requiring a two-thirds (2/3) majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates and sales tax rates. It also requires a two-thirds (2/3) vote majority in local elections for most local governments proposing to increase special taxes. Proposition 13 received an enormous amount of publicity, not only in California, but throughout the United States.
Passage of the initiative presaged a "taxpayer revolt" throughout the country that is sometimes thought to have contributed to the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency during 1980. Thirteen (13) of thirty (30) anti-tax ballot measures passed that year.
A large contributor to Proposition 13 was the sentiment that older Californians should not be priced out of their homes through high property taxes. The proposition has been called the "third rail" (meaning "untouchable subject") of California politics, and it is not popular politically for lawmakers to attempt to change it.
- 1 Background
- 2 The Measure
- 3 Outcome
- 4 Analysis
- 4.1 Positive Effects
- 4.2 Negative Effects
- 4.2.1 Sales Disincentives, Less Individual Mobility, Higher Housing Costs
- 4.2.2 Effects on Commercial Property Owners
- 4.2.3 On the California Tax Structure
- 4.2.4 On Sales and Other Taxes
- 4.2.5 On Cities and Localities
- 4.2.6 On Education and Public Services
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 Amendments to Proposition 13
- 7 Proposition 218 (1996) (“Right to Vote on Taxes Act”)
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
There are several accounts of the origins of Proposition 13. The evidence for or against these accounts varies.
One explanation is that older Californians with fixed incomes had increasing difficulty paying property taxes, which were rising as a result of California's population growth, increasing housing demand, and inflation. Due to severe inflation during the 1970s, reassessments of residential property increased property taxes so much that some retired people could no longer afford to remain in homes they had purchased long before. An academic study found support for this explanation, reporting that older voters, homeowners, and voters expecting a tax increase were more likely to vote for Proposition 13.
Another popular explanation is that Proposition 13 drew its impetus from the 1971 and 1976 California Supreme Court rulings in Serrano v. Priest, which somewhat equalized California school funding by redistributing local property taxes from wealthy to poor school districts. According to this explanation, property owners in affluent districts perceived that the taxes they paid were no longer benefiting their local schools, and chose to cap their taxes.
A basic problem with this explanation is that the Serrano decision and school finance equalization were actually quite popular among California voters. It is true that Californians who voted for Proposition 13 were less likely than other voters to support school finance, but Proposition 13 supporters were not more likely to oppose the Serrano decision, and on average they were typically supportive of both the Serrano decision and of school finance equalization.
Another explanation that has been offered is that spending by California's government had increased dramatically during the years prior to 1978, and taxpayers sought to limit further growth. The evidence supporting this explanation is limited, as there have been no studies relating Californians' views on the size and role of government to their views on Proposition 13. However, it is true that California's government had grown. Between 1973 and 1977, California state and local government expenditures per $1000 of personal income were 8.2 percent higher than the national norm. From 1949 to 1979, public sector employment in California outstripped employment growth in the private sector. By 1978, 14.7 percent of California's civilian work force were state and local government employees, almost double the proportion of the early 1950s. In addition, during the early 1960s, there were several scandals in California involving county assessors.
These assessors were found rewarding friends and allies with artificially low assessments, with tax bills to match. These scandals led to the passage of AB 80 in 1966, which imposed standards to hold assessments to market value. The return to market value in the wake of AB 80 could easily represent a mid-double-digit percentage increase in assessment for many homeowners. As a result, a large number of California homeowners experienced an immediate and drastic rise in valuation, simultaneous with rising tax rates on that assessed value, only to be told that the taxed monies would be redistributed to distant communities. The ensuing anger started to form into a backlash against property taxes which coalesced around Howard Jarvis, a former newspaperman and appliance manufacturer, turned taxpayer activist in retirement.
Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann were the most vocal and visible advocates of Proposition 13. Officially named the "People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation," and known popularly as the "Jarvis-Gann Amendment," Proposition 13 was listed on the ballot through the California ballot initiative process, a provision of the California Constitution that allows a proposed law or constitutional amendment to be offered to voters if advocates collect a sufficient number of signatures on a petition. Proposition 13 passed with almost 65% of those who voted in favor and with the participation of nearly 70% of registered voters. After passage, it became article XIII A of the California Constitution.
Under Proposition 13, the annual real estate tax on a parcel of property is limited to 1% of its assessed value. This "assessed value," may be increased only by a maximum of 2% per year, until and unless the property has a change of ownership. At the time of the change in ownership the low assessed value may be reassessed to complete current market value that will produce a new base year value for the property, but future assessments are likewise restricted to the 2% annual maximum increase of the new base year value.
If the property's market value increases rapidly (values of many homes in California appreciated at annual rates averaging more than 10% in the decade ending with 2005) or if inflation exceeds 2%, the differential between the owner's taxes and the taxes a new owner would have to pay can become quite large.
The property may be reassessed under certain conditions other than a change of ownership, such as when additions or new construction occur. The assessed value is also subject to reduction if the market value of the property declines below its assessed value, for example, during a real estate slump. Reductions of property valuation were not provided for by Proposition 13 itself, but were made possible by the passage of Proposition 8 (SCA No. 67) during 1978 that amended Proposition 13. Such a real estate slump and downward reassessments occurred during 2009 when the California State Board of Equalization announced an estimated reduction of property tax base year values due to negative inflation. The property tax in California is an Ad valorem tax meaning that the tax assessed (generally) increases and decreases with the value of the property.
|Invalid or blank votes||236,145||3.4|
|Registered voters and turnout||10,130,000||23.4|
Advocates argue that Proposition 13 has provided predictability for property owners, and increased community stability. They argue that, while progressive income tax structures affect higher incomes, property taxes take a higher percentage of lower incomes, for those people who own a highly valued property but have lower incomes. It is pointed out that state income tax and sales tax were started during the Great Depression, when taxpayer resistance began due to property taxes that unemployed workers could not pay. According to the Center for Governmental Analysis, between fiscal years 2000 and 2005 property tax revenue has increased 22.11%, while personal income per capita has increased 13.80% and general per capita revenue 21.93%.
Other groups, such as the California Taxpayers Association, citing "The Future of Proposition 13 in California," California Policy Seminar, March 1993, University of California, authored by Arthur O’Sullivan, Terri A. Sexton, and Steven M. Sheffrin, argue that the tax is progressive, and that acquisition-value assessments seem to provide property tax equity.
Advocates of Proposition 13 argue that the restriction of tax increases for previously owned property has decreased the volatility of funding for municipalities. They claim that pre-Proposition 13 property tax revenue was almost three times as volatile.
During 2009, the California State Board of Equalization noted that only five times since the passage of Proposition 13 was the annual increase less than the permitted 2%, and that the estimated adjustment for 2010 would be negative, for the first time since the passage of Proposition 13.
David Doerr argues that the "acquisition value system" acts as a control to overspending due to high real estate values, while permitting a source of revenue growth in times of recession. Local governments would then have to decrease spending more severely when the housing market decreased.
According to the California Building Industry Association, construction of a median priced house results in a slight positive fiscal impact, as opposed to the position that housing does not "pay its own way". The trade association argues that this is because new homes are assessed at the value when they are first sold. Additionally, due to the higher cost of new homes, the trade association claims that new residents are more affluent and may provide more sales tax revenues and use less social services of the host community.
Proposition 13 remains popular among California's likely voters, who are mostly homeowners. Among likely voters, 53% described Proposition 13 as "mostly a good thing" while 33% responded that it was "mostly a bad thing" in a 2006 Public Policy Institute of California survey. For adults who are not likely voters (mostly renters), Proposition 13 was unpopular—- only 29% approval to 47% disapproval. Among California adults, overall approval was 47% approval to 38% disapproval. Periodic newspaper accounts report high voter approval.
Others argue that the real reason for the claimed negative effects is lack of trust for elected officials to spend the public's money wisely. Business improvement districts are one means by which property owners have chosen to tax themselves for additional government services. Property owners find that these targeted levies are more palatable than general taxes.
Sales Disincentives, Less Individual Mobility, Higher Housing Costs
Proposition 13 alters the balance of the housing market because it provides disincentives for selling property, in favor of remaining at the current property and modifying or transferring to family members to avoid a new, higher property tax assessment. More detailed evidence of this is provided in the book Property Taxes and Tax Revolts: The Legacy of Proposition 13.
The statutory 2% maximum annual increase in assessed value has, on average, under-paced the consumer price index since the adoption of Proposition 13 to date. This leaves governments with reduced purchasing power from its property tax levies. Large real estate bubbles tend to increase property tax revenues, while the collapse of bubbles places downward pressure on them. The net effect on any single owner of any single property depends largely upon the market conditions prevailing at the time of assessment and/or reassessment(s) and the length of time between assessments.
California has more rigidity and friction in both its housing market and in renting than other states; one study comparing California's market to that of other states found that between 1970 and 2000, tenure of owned homes increased by 10% and in renting by 19%, and attributed this change to Proposition 13. Other studies have found that increased tenure in renting can be attributed in part to rent control. D.R. Mullins states that “prospects of increased property tax liabilities triggered by residence or business location changes likely constrain mobility and filtering in the housing and property markets.”(pp. 118)
Moreover, evidence shows that because homeowners would allegedly keep their homes for longer, young households often rent for longer before buying a house. Because Proposition 13 could be a disincentive to sell, there is less turnover among owners near the older downtown areas, and prices appreciate fastest in these areas. However, Proposition 13 is not the only factor working on California's housing market to create these conditions: as it grows, fewer places available to build new housing result in greater prices for existing housing. Because of geographical limits and enacted environmental and growth legislation from cities and counties, new development is increasingly expensive. Builders build where land is cheap and thus homes are more affordable, increasing already massive suburban sprawl even farther out.
California also has high rates of migrants from other countries and a high birth rate, which has contributed to more demand for housing, and it has low amounts of moderately priced housing due to the increased property tax liability after a sale. In effect, because the different tax treatment makes real estate more valuable to the current owner than to any potential buyer, selling it makes no economic sense.
Effects on Commercial Property Owners
Owners of commercial real estate benefited under the original rules of Proposition 13: If a corporation owning commercial property (such as a shopping mall) was sold or merged, but the property stayed technically deeded to the corporation, ownership of the property could effectively have changed without triggering Proposition 13's provisions. Under current law, a change of control or ownership of a legal entity causes a reassessment of its real property as well as the real property of entities that it controls.
Corporations often avoid reassessment by limiting portion of ownership by purchasing in groups where no single party owns more than 50%. For example: "In 2002 ... wine barons E&J Gallo purchased 1,765 acres of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma from Louis M. Martini. But the deal avoided a reassessment, because 12 Gallo family members individually obtained minority interests."
On the California Tax Structure
Unequal Assessments Based on Purchase Date Result in Regressive Taxation
Proposition 13 sets the assessed value of properties at the time of purchase (known as an acquisition value system), with a possible 2% annual assessment increase. As a result, properties of equal value can have a great amount of variation in their assessed value, even if they are next to each other. The disparity grows when property prices appreciate by more than 2% a year. The Case-Shiller housing index shows prices in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco appreciated 170% from 1987 (the start of available data) to 2012 while the 2% cap only allowed a 67% increase in taxes on homes that were not sold during this 26-year period.
On Sales and Other Taxes
Other Taxes Created or Increased
Local governments in California now use imaginative strategies to maintain or increase revenue due to Proposition 13 and the attendant loss of property tax revenue (which formerly went to cities, counties, and other local agencies). This subsequently led to the passage of California Proposition 218 in 1996 ("Right to Vote on Taxes Act") that constitutionally requires voter approval for local government taxes and some nontax levies such as benefit assessments on real property and certain property-related fees and charges.
Many California local governments have recently sought voter approval for special taxes such as Mello-Roos taxes for public services that used to be paid for entirely or partially from property taxes imposed before Proposition 13 became law. These public services include: streets, water, sewer, electricity, infrastructure, schools, parks, police protection, firefighting units, and penitentiary facilities. Sales tax rates have also increased from 6% (pre-Proposition 13 level) to 8.25% and even higher in some local jurisdictions.
On Cities and Localities
Greater Effect on Coastal Metropolitan Areas than on Rest of California
Proposition 13 disproportionately affects coastal metropolitan areas, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, where housing prices are higher, relative to inland communities with lower housing prices. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, more research would show whether benefits of Proposition 13 outweigh the redistribution of tax base and overall cost in lost tax revenue.
Loss of Local Government Power to State Government
Local governments have become more dependent on state funds, which has increased state power over local communities. The state provides "block grants" to cities to provide services, and bought out some facilities that locally administer state-mandated programs.
Resultant Planning Changes, Loss or Degradation of Services, New Fees
Local governments have become more dependent on sales taxes for funds, which some maintain has resulted in poor land use planning, and has made cities encourage more retail stores and "big box" outlets. The jobs and ongoing sales tax those stores provide may discourage growth of other sectors and job types that may provide better opportunities for residents. Additionally, cities have decreased services and increased fees to compensate for the shortfall, with particularly high impact fees levied on developers building new houses or industrial outlets. These costs are typically shifted to the building's buyer, who may be unaware of the thousands in fees included with the building's cost.
On Education and Public Services
Effect on Public Schools
California public schools, which during the 1960s had been ranked nationally as among the best, have decreased to 48th in many surveys of student achievement. Some have disputed the attribution of the decline to Proposition 13's role in the change to state financing of public schools, because schools financed mostly by property taxes were declared unconstitutional (the variances in funding between lower and higher income areas being deemed to violate the equal protection clause) in Serrano vs. Priest, and Proposition 13 was then passed partially as a result of that case. California's spending per pupil was the same as the national average until about 1985, when it began decreasing, which resulted in another referendum, Proposition 98, that requires a certain percentage of the state's budget to be directed towards public education.
Loss of Funding for Libraries, Other Public Services
Public libraries have seen a decrease of funding from cities. Police departments received generally the same amount of funding, from 15% in 1978 to 16% during 1995. Cities also decreased water, gas and electricity expenses.
The United States Supreme Court held, in Nordlinger v. Hahn, that Proposition 13 was constitutional. Justice Harry Blackmun, writing the majority opinion, noted that California had a "legitimate interest in local neighborhood preservation, continuity, and stability" and that it was acceptable to treat owners who have invested for some time in property differently from new owners. If one objected to the rules, they could choose not to buy.
In the 2003 California recall election in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor, his advisor Warren Buffett suggested that Proposition 13 be repealed or changed as a method of balancing the state's budget. Schwarzenegger, believing that such an act would be inadvisable politically and could end his gubernatorial career, said, "I told Warren that if he mentions Proposition 13 again he has to do 500 sit-ups."
In January 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown was quoted as saying that it wasn't Proposition 13 that was the problem, but "It was what the Legislature did after 13, it was what happened after 13 was passed" because the legislature reduced local authorities' power.
In December 2011, a team of lawyers headed by a former federal appeals court judge unsuccessfully sued to overturn the Proposition 13 requirement that a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Legislature is required to increase State taxes.
In an interview in 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown lamented that he hadn't built up a "war chest" with which to campaign for an alternative to Proposition 13. Governor Brown said he'd learned from his failure in the mid-1970s to build a war chest that he could have used to push an alternative to Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that capped property tax hikes and has bedeviled elected officials ever since. Governor Brown was definitive that he would not seek to change the law, a third rail in California politics. "Prop. 13 is a sacred doctrine that should never be questioned," he said.
Amendments to Proposition 13
- California Proposition 8 (November 1978) allowed for a reassessment of real property values in a declining market.
- California Proposition 60 (1986) allowed homeowners over the age of 55 to transfer the assessed value of their present home to a replacement home if the replacement home is located in the same county, is of equal or lesser value, and purchased within 2 years of sale.
- California Proposition 39 (2000) lowered the required supermajority necessary for voters to impose local school bond acts from two-thirds (2/3) of the votes cast to fifty-five percent (55%).
Proposition 218 (1996) (“Right to Vote on Taxes Act”)
Proposition 218 was an initiative constitutional amendment approved by California voters on November 5, 1996. Called the “Right to Vote on Taxes Act,” Proposition 218 was sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association as a constitutional follow-up to Proposition 13.
Proposition 218 established strict constitutional limits on the ability of local governments to levy benefit assessments on real property and property-related fees and charges such as those for utility services to property. The assessment and property-related fee and charge reforms contained in Proposition 218 were in response to California local governments pernicious use of revenue sources that circumvented the two-thirds vote requirement to raise local taxes under Proposition 13.
Proposition 218 also requires voter approval before a local government, including a charter city, may impose, increase, or extend any local tax. Proposition 218 also constitutionally reserves to local voters the right to use the initiative power to reduce or repeal any local tax, assessment, fee or charge, including provision for a significantly reduced petition signature requirement to qualify a measure on the ballot.
- California Proposition 218 passed in 1996 as a constitutional follow-up to Proposition 13.
- California Proposition 218 Local Initiative Power relating to the reduction or repeal of local taxes, assessments, fees and charges.
- Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act or simply Mello-Roos passed in 1982.
- Proposition 2½, the Massachusetts version of Proposition 13, passed in 1980.
- Oregon Ballot Measure 5 (1990), property tax cap in Oregon.
^ Serrano: Serrano v. Priest, 5 Cal.3d 584 (1971) (Serrano I); Serrano v. Priest, 18 Cal.3d 728 (1976) (Serrano II); Serrano v. Priest, 20 Cal.3d 25 (1977) (Serrano III)
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