1978 California Proposition 13

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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 process. The initiative was approved by California voters on June 6, 1978. It was upheld as constitutional 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 Constitution of the State of California.[1]

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 values at their 1976 value and restricted annual increases of assessed value of real property to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2 percent per year. It also prohibited reassessment of a new base year value except in cases of (a) change in ownership, or (b) completion of new construction. These rules apply equally to all real estate, residential and commercial—whether owned by individuals or corporations.

The other significant portion of the initiative is that it requires a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates. It also requires a two-thirds vote majority in local elections for local governments wishing to increase special taxes. (A "special tax" is a tax devoted specifically to a purpose: e.g. homelessness or road repair; money that does not go into a general fund.)

Proposition 13 received an enormous amount of publicity, not only in California, but throughout the United States.[2] 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. However, of 30 anti-tax ballot measures that year, only 13 measures passed.[3]

A large contributor to Proposition 13 was the sentiment that older Californians should not be priced out of their homes through high taxes.[4] 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.[5]


Limit the tax rate for properties[edit]

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.

— California Constitution Article XIII A

Proposition 13 declared property taxes were to be assessed their 1976 value and restricted annual increases of the tax to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2% per year. A reassessment of the property tax can only be made a) when the property ownership changes or b) there is construction done.[6]

State Responsibility[edit]

The state has been given the responsibility of distributing the property tax revenues to local agencies.[6]

Voting Requirements State Taxes[edit]

In addition to decreasing property taxes and changing the role of the state, Proposition 13 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.

Voting Requirements Local Taxes[edit]

Proposition 13 also requires two-thirds (2/3) voter approval for cities, counties, and special districts to impose special taxes.[7] In Altadena Library District v. Bloodgood, 192 Cal. App. 3d 585 (June 1987), the California Court of Appeal for the Second District determined that the two-thirds (2/3) voter approval requirement for special taxes under Proposition 13 applied to citizens initiatives.[8]


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.[9]

Another popular explanation is 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.[9] 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.[9]

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.[10]

In addition, during the early 1960s, there were several scandals in California involving county assessors.[10][11] 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.[12] 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.

The measure[edit]

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 percent of those who voted in favor and with the participation of nearly 70 percent 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 percent of its assessed value. This "assessed value," may be increased only by a maximum of 2 percent per year, until and unless the property has a change of ownership.[13] 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 percent 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 percent in the decade ending with 2005)[14] or if inflation exceeds 2 percent,[15][16] 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.[17][18] 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.


Proposition 13
Choice Votes %
Referendum passed Yes 4,280,689 62.6
No 2,326,167 34.0
Invalid or blank votes 236,145 3.4
Total votes 6,843,001 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 10,130,000[19] 67.5%


Tenure of households[edit]

By comparing California over the period 1970 to 2000 with other states, (using data from the US Census Bureau, not state or county-level property records) [20]:9 Wasi and White (2005) estimated that Proposition 13 caused homeowners to increase the duration of time spent in a given home by 9% (1.04 years), and renters to increase their tenure by 18% (0.79 years). [20]:4 They also estimated that this effect was more pronounced in the coastal cities, with the increase in tenancy by owner-occupiers in the Bay Area being predicted at 28% (3.0 years), Los Angeles 21% (2.3 years), and Fresno 7% (0.77 years). [20]:20,38 They speculate that renters may have longer tenure due to less turnover of owner-occupied housing to move into. [20]:21

Other studies have found that increased tenure in renting can be attributed in part to rent control.[21]

Funding volatility[edit]

A 2016 report from the California Legislative Analyst's Office found that property tax revenue to local governments was similarly volatile before and after the passage of Proposition 13. While Proposition 13 stabilized the base, governments would adjust the rate annually to counteract changes to the base prior to Proposition 13.[22]:19


Reduction in taxes[edit]

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association estimates that Proposition 13 has reduced taxes paid by California taxpayers by an aggregate $528 Billion (value retrieved 31 May 2009).[23]

However, other estimates show that Proposition 13 may not have reduced California's overall per-capita tax burden or State spending. Tax Foundation, a tax policy think tank, reported that in 1978, Californians had the third highest tax burden as a percent of state income (tax-per-capita divided by income-per-capita) of 12.4% ($3,300 tax per capita, inflation adjusted).[24] By 2012, it had fallen slightly to the sixth highest rate, 10.9%, ($4,100 tax per capita, inflation adjusted).[24]

California has the highest marginal income and capital gains tax rate and is in the top ten highest corporate tax and sales tax rates nationally. In 2016, California had the 17th-highest per-capita (per-person) property tax revenue in the country at $1,559, up from 31st in 1996.[25] In 2019, Wallethub applied the California statewide effective tax rate of 0.77% to the state median home market value of $443,400; the annual property taxes of $3,414 on the median home value was the 9th-highest in the United States.[26]

Property tax equity[edit]

A 1993 report from the joint University of California and State of California research program, California Policy Seminar (now the California Policy Research Center[27]), argues that a property tax system based on acquisition value links one's tax liability to their ability and willingness to pay and has a progressive impact on the tax structure, based on income. It estimates that a revenue-neutral Los Angeles County reform which raises all assessments to true market value and lowers the property tax rate would harm elderly and low-income households.[28]

The think tank Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) advocates for better-targeted ways to make property taxes progressive like "circuit breaker" caps and homestead exemptions; yet in 2018, ITEP claimed California had the most progressive tax code in the United States, in part due to the state's income and capital gains tax rates. Since wealthier individuals tend to keep a smaller proportion of their assets in taxable real property, ITEP argues regressive state tax codes can worsen inequality by relying on property tax for revenue.[29][30]

Fiscal impact from new home construction[edit]

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.[31] 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.[32]

Taxes targeted to services[edit]

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.[33] 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.[34]

Sales disincentives, higher housing costs[edit]

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.[35] More detailed evidence of this is provided in the book Property Taxes and Tax Revolts: The Legacy of Proposition 13.[36]

Proposition 13 reduces property tax revenue for municipalities in California. They are forced to rely more on state funding and therefore may lose autonomy and control. This has led to a role for the state in reducing school district inequity; for example, the state has a funding formula, Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which redistributes money to underperforming school districts.[37] The amount of taxes available to the municipality in any given year largely depends on the number of property transfers taking place. However, since existing property owners have an incentive to remain in their property and not sell, there are fewer property transfers under this type of property tax system.

California also has high rates of migrants from other countries and states,[38] 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.[citation needed] 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.[2]

On commercial property owners[edit]

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.[4] 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.[39]

Corporations often avoid reassessment by limiting portion of ownership by purchasing in groups where no single party owns more than 50 percent. 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."[40]

The application to commercial and rental property can lead to an advantage and profit margin for incumbent individuals or corporations who purchased property for rental or commercial use at a time when prices were low over newcomer individuals or corporations.[41]

On the California tax structure[edit]

Unequal assessments based on purchase date[edit]

Proposition 13 sets the assessed value of properties at the time of purchase (known as an acquisition value system), with a possible 2 percent 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.[4] The disparity grows when property prices appreciate by more than 2 percent a year. The Case-Shiller housing index shows prices in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco appreciated 170 percent from 1987 (the start of available data) to 2012 while the 2 percent cap only allowed a 67 percent increase in taxes on homes that were not sold during this 26-year period.[42]

On sales and other taxes[edit]

Other taxes created or increased[edit]

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). For instance, many California local governments have recently sought voter approval for special taxes such as parcel 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.[citation needed] Provision for such taxes was made by the 1982 Community Facilities Act (more commonly known as Mello-Roos). Sales tax rates have also increased from 6 percent (pre-Proposition 13 level) to 8.25 percent and even higher in some local jurisdictions.[2][3]

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.

On cities and localities[edit]

Greater effect on coastal metropolitan areas than on rest of state[edit]

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.[43]

Loss of local government power to state government[edit]

Local governments have become more dependent on state funds, which has increased state power over local communities.[4] The state provides "block grants" to cities to provide services, and bought out some facilities that locally administer state-mandated programs.[44] The Economist argued in 2011 that "for all its small government pretensions, Proposition 13 ended up centralizing California's finances, shifting them from local to state government."[45]

Resultant planning changes, cost or degradation of services, new fees[edit]

Due to the reduction in revenue generated from property tax, local governments have become more dependent on sales taxes for general revenue funds, which some maintain has resulted in the "fiscalization of land use". The fiscalization of land use means that land use decisions are influenced by the ability of a new development to generate revenue. Proposition 13 has increased the incentive for local governments to attract new commercial developments such as big box retailers and car dealerships instead of residential housing developments. This is the result of commercial development's ability to generate revenue for the general fund through sales tax and business licenses tax.[46] 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.[4][44] Office and retail development are further incentivized because they do not cost the local governments as much as residential developments in terms of public services.[38] 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.[44] Impact fees are a way to impose the cost of the additional services and infrastructure that new developments will require.[47] 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.[44]

On education and public services[edit]

Effect on public schools[edit]

California public schools, which during the 1960s had been ranked nationally as among the best, have deteriorated substantially in many surveys of student achievement.[48] Some[49] 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 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution) in Serrano vs. Priest, and Proposition 13 was then passed partially as a result of that case.[44] 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.

Prior to implementation of Proposition 13, the state of California saw significant increases in property tax revenue collection "with the share of state and local revenues derived from property taxes increasing from 34 percent at the turn of the decade to 44 percent in 1978 (Schwartz 1998)." [50] Proposition 13 caused a sharp decrease in state and local tax collection in its first year.[51]

One measure of K-12 public school spending is the percentage of personal income that a state spends on education. From a peak of about 4.5% for the nation overall, and 4.0% for California, both peaking in the early 1970s, the nation overall as well as California have spent declining percentages on public education in the decade from 1975-1985.[48]:1 [51]:2 For the longer period of 1970-2008, California has always spent a lower percentage than the rest of the nation on education.[48]:1 [51]:2

UCSD Economics professor Julian Betts states: "What all this means for spending is that starting around 1978-1979 we saw a sharp reduction in spending on schools. We fell compared to other states dramatically, and we still haven't really caught up to other states." [52] From 1977, in California there has been a steady growth of class sizes compared to the national average, "which have been decreasing since 1970." [51] The shortage in funds translated to decreased spending per student in the years following passage of Proposition 13. During the 1970s, school spending per student was almost equal to the national average. Using discount rate, "measured in 1997-1998 dollars, California spent about $100 more per capita on its public schools in 1969-1970 than did the rest of the country." [53] Since 1981-1982, California consistently has spent less per student than the rest of the U.S. as demonstrated by data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and by the Public Policy Institute of California [53] This has resulted in increased pupil-to-teacher ratios in K-12 public schools in California. Professor Betts observes that "pupil-teacher ratios start to skyrocket in the years immediately after 1978, and a huge gap opens up between pupil-teacher ratios here and in the rest of the country, and we still haven't recovered from that."[52]

California's voters have since approved higher income and capital gains tax rates on the state's wealthiest residents to alleviate these issues: Proposition 30 passed in 2012 (and was extended in 2016 with Proposition 55) which raised tax rates on income and capital gains over $250,000 for single filers and $500,000 for joint filers, with most of the resultant revenue going to schools. These measures have significantly closed the K-12 spending gap between California and the national average.[54] Pupil-teacher ratios have decreased since the passage of Proposition 30.[55] From 2014-2016, due to the effects of Proposition 30, California's per-pupil spending ranked 22nd in the United States.[56] California public school teachers earned the second-highest average salaries amongst teachers of all states in 2019.[57]

California excels in postsecondary education by some measures; in 2019, Bloomberg ranked the state's economy as the "most innovative" of all 50 states, in part due to high educational attainment.[58] In 2019, there were five California universities in the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Ranking top 25 and ten in the top 50; most of these ten universities are public.[59]


Proposition 13 is consistently popular among California's likely voters, 64 percent of whom were homeowners as of 2017.[60] A 2018 survey from Public Policy Institute of California found that 57 percent of Californians say that Prop 13 is mostly a good thing, while 23 percent say it is mostly a bad thing. 65 percent of likely voters say it has been mostly a good thing, as do: 71 percent of Republicans, 55 percent of Democrats, and 61 percent of independents; 54 percent of people age 18 to 34, 52 percent of people age 35 to 54, and 66 percent of people 55 and older; 65 percent of homeowners and 50 percent of renters. The only demographic group for which less than 50 percent said that Prop 13 was mostly a good thing was African Americans, at 39 percent.[61]

The above-mentioned survey also found that 40 percent of Californians, and 50 percent of likely voters said that Prop 13's supermajority requirement for new special taxes has had a good effect on local government services provided to residents, while 20 percent of both Californians and likely voters said it had a bad effect, and the remainder felt it had no effect.[61]

At the same time, a majority of both Californians (55 percent) and likely voters (56 percent) oppose lowering the supermajority threshold for local special taxes.[61]


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.[62] Stephanie Nordlinger, the plaintiff in this case, sued the Los Angeles County Tax Assessor Kenneth Hahn on the grounds of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Nordlinger purchased a property in the Los Angeles area and, under the provisions of Proposition 13, was required to have the property reassessed at a new value. The reassessed value of Nordlinger's property raised her tax rates by 36 percent, while her neighbors continued to pay significantly lower rates on their property. Disheartened by the disparity in taxation, Nordlinger viewed this reassessment as favoritism in the eyes of the law and elected to bring charges up on the Los Angeles County Tax Assessment office and its primary assessor, Kenneth Hahn.[63] Pleading that the reassessment of her property did not grant equal protection, stated as a right in the 14th Amendment, Nordlinger took Hahn to court and appealed in the Supreme Court in 1981. The court ruled in favor of Hahn, affirming Proposition 13 as constitutional.

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.[64] 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."[65]

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.[66]

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.[67]

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. 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.[5]

Using proprietary estimates based on recent market transactions,[68] the real estate website Trulia claimed that in 2015, Proposition 13 saved residential property owners $12.5 billion in property taxes that would have been paid under a market value-based property tax system.[69] A decline in the California real estate market would result in lower estimates for this supposed lost tax revenue; for example, the United States housing bubble resulted in declines in market values throughout California. According to Trulia, coastal cities with high home value appreciation and long resident tenure benefited the most, with San Francisco property owners paying an effective tax rate of 0.6% on market values and Palo Alto, California property owners paying a nationwide low of 0.42%.[70] The median property tax assessment per residential parcel for many Bay Area counties is above the median of the state as a whole.[69][71]

Amendments and related legislation[edit]

Proposition 8 (1978)[edit]

Proposition 8 allowed for a reassessment of real property values in a declining market.

Proposition 58 (1986)[edit]

Proposition 58 allowed homeowners to transfer their principle residence to children without a property tax re-assessment, as well as the first $1 million in assessed value of other real property (not indexed to inflation). It passed with 76 percent of the vote.[72]

Between Proposition 58 and Proposition 193 (1996), which extends Proposition 58 to grandparents, a 2017 report from California's Legislative Analyst Office found that about 60,000 inherited properties were exempted from re-assessment in 2015, or 10 percent of all properties transferred that year. They estimate that this reduced statewide property tax revenues by around $1.5 billion that year, or about 2.5 percent of total statewide property tax revenue. The Legislative Analyst Office found that on average, one out of every two hundred houses statewide received the exemption per year in the decade 2007-2017.[73]

The Los Angeles Times published an article detailing how 63 percent of Los Angeles County homes inherited under Propositions 58 and 193 were likely used as second residences or rental properties in 2017, and how the tax benefit reduced county property tax revenue for that year by over $280 million, using estimates produced from 2017 values of the Los Angeles County real estate market. This analysis did not consider income taxes collected by the state from rental income that would not be collected from an owner-occupied house.[74] The actual loss in net tax revenue to both state and county governments due to Proposition 58 therefore is almost certainly less than $280 million in Los Angeles County, but the exact amount is unknowable without access to private income tax data. Actor Jeff Bridges, who was featured in the story for renting out an inherited beach house co-owned by him and his siblings that benefited from Proposition 58, claimed that despite receiving this tax benefit, Proposition 30 significantly raised his taxes in California.[75]

Proposition 60 (1986)[edit]

Proposition 60 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.

Proposition 90 (1988)[edit]

Proposition 90 is similar to Proposition 60 (1986) in that it 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 a different county, provided the incoming county allows the transfer.

Proposition 193 (1996)[edit]

Proposition 193 extended Proposition 58 (1986) by allowing grandparents to transfer to their grandchildren their primary residence and up to $1 million in other real property (not indexed to inflation) without a property tax re-assessment, when both parents of the grandchild are deceased. It passed with 67 percent of the vote.[76]

Proposition 218 (1996)[edit]

Proposition 218 ("Right to Vote on Taxes Act") was an initiative constitutional amendment approved by California voters on November 5, 1996. Called the "Right to Vote on Taxes Act,"[77] Proposition 218 was sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association as a constitutional follow-up to Proposition 13.

The proposition 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.[78] The assessment and property-related fee and charge reforms contained in Proposition 218 were in response to California local governments' use of revenue sources that circumvented the two-thirds vote requirement to raise local taxes under Proposition 13.[79]

It also requires voter approval before a local government, including a charter city, may impose, increase, or extend any local tax.[80] It 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.[81]

Proposition 39 (2000)[edit]

Proposition 39 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 26 (2010)[edit]

Proposition 26 added a constitutional definition of "tax" for purposes of the two-thirds legislative vote requirement for state taxes under Proposition 13.[82]

Proposition 5 (2018) (defeated on November 6, 2018)[edit]

Proposition 5 would have extended California Proposition 60 (1986) and California Proposition 90 (1988) by providing property tax savings to all homeowners who are over age 55 (or who meet other qualifications) when they move to a different home. It was sponsored by the California Association of Realtors.

California's Legislative Analyst Office estimated that this would cost local governments about $100 million per year over the first few years, growing to $1 billion per year (in 2018 dollars) over time.[83]

It was defeated on November 6, 2018, with approximately 58% of the voters voting No.[84]

California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2018[edit]

The California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2018[85] is an initiative constitutional amendment eligible to appear on the November 2020 California statewide ballot[86] that would amend Proposition 13 to require the reassessment of commercial and industrial properties at market value, including commercial and industrial property owned by a natural person. Residential properties are excluded from this potential policy, and would continue to be reassessed under the original requirements of Proposition 13 (when property ownership changes or when new construction is done). Property tax rates would not change, and there would be a qualified exception for some small businesses.[87]

This initiative, often referred to as "split roll", was created in part to address the practice of businesses exploiting a loophole in Proposition 13 implementing statutes[88] that define what constitutes a change in property ownership for purposes of the required property reassessment under Proposition 13. This loophole arises from Proposition 13 implementing statutes enacted by the California Legislature that define a change in ownership as a partnership that takes more than 50 percent control of the ownership of a piece of property.[89] To take advantage of this loophole, businesses only have to make sure that no partnership exceeds the 50 percent mark in control. The Legislature could close this loophole with a 2/3 vote.[40]:5 This loophole was almost closed in 2014 by a bipartisan coalition but the effort died after some interests rescinded their support.[90] Don Perata, former California senate leader, argues that special interests forgo supporting the closure of this loophole to create justification for their goal of ending Proposition 13.[91] The California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2018 would go beyond fixing this loophole by mandating the reassessment of commercial properties no less frequently than every three years as determined by the California Legislature.[92]

According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, the initiative could potentially generate an additional $6-$10 billion of government revenue per year, which would go towards additional funding of local governments (60%) and public schools (40%), after reimbursing the State for reductions in personal income tax and corporation tax revenue caused by the deductibility of the property tax under existing law, and also reimbursing counties for the increased costs of property tax administration. This would therefore entail an additional $2.4-$4 billion a year for California public schools and $3.6-$6 billion a year for local governments, where a significant amount is expected to be spent on pension obligations.[93]:3 [94]:1 [95] The LAO also noted that this new property tax revenue would be significantly more volatile than historical property tax revenues. [93]:2

Some supporters of the initiative point out that most states in the U.S. assess commercial properties at market value, and that this reform would make it easier for local governments to get the necessary funding for their projects.[96]:1 Some in opposition point out that local governments already can raise money successfully from voters, with the June 2016 primary having 29 successful local bond initiatives out of a possible 40.[97]

Some opponents of the initiative, such as former California State Senator and Board of Equalization member George Runner, argue that the initiative would harm consumers and the economy by significantly increasing business owners' operating costs, which would be passed on to customers. [98]:2[99]:1 Opponents also assert the initiative would lower incentives for governmental approval of affordable housing development in favor of more-taxable commercial development. Finally, opponents contend that the measure targets the commercial beneficiaries of Proposition 13 which would weaken the political coalition defending the law and this would invariably lead to a full repeal of Proposition 13.[99]:1[100]

An opponent of the measure, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, noted that: "California has the highest income tax rate in America, we have the highest sales tax in America, we have the highest gas tax in America." and that "Even with Proposition 13 protections, California has higher property taxes than two-thirds of the nation."[96]

Some people contend that this is a way for state and local governments to pay off their unfunded pension liabilities rather than reforming the generous pension systems (adopted not because of market necessity, but because of unions' political power and bad legislative choices) by reducing payouts and making employees pay a larger share toward their pensions or by switching to 401(k) retirement plans.[94]:1 One barrier to reducing pension costs is the "California Rule", which prevents changing benefits (including yet-unearned pension credits) for California government employees given on the day of hire unless replaced with an equivalent or greater benefit.[101][102]

According to polls by the Public Policy Institute of California, public support for this act has been declining, with 46% supporting the idea in January 2018, down from 60% in January 2012.[103]:1 Currently 46 percent of likely voters favor the initiative, 43 percent are against, and 11 percent are undecided.[96]:1

The measure is principally funded by the San Francisco Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the SEIU affiliate, SEIU California.[104] The signature-gathering effort was funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.[105] The measure is opposed by a coalition of elected and former officials, statewide organizations, regional organizations and businesses.[106]

On August 13, 2019, Schools and Communities First (the sponsor of the ballot initiative) announced they were refiling the initiative with some modifications intended to provide stronger exemptions to small businesses, citing weak polling results. This would require an additional signature-gathering effort.[107]

See also[edit]


^ 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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  • Smith, Daniel A. (1998). Tax Crusaders and the Politics of Direct Democracy. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-91991-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Campbell, Ballard C. "Tax revolts and political change," Journal of Policy History, Jan 1998, Vol. 10 Issue 1, pp. 153–78
  • Marmer, Nancy. "Proposition 13: Hard Times for the Arts," Art in America, September/October 1978, pp. 92–94.
  • Martin, Isaac William. The Permanent Tax Revolt. Stanford University Press, 2008.
  • O'Sullivan, Arthur, Terri A. Sexton and Steven M. Sheffrin, Property Taxes and Tax Revolts: The Legacy of Proposition 13, Cambridge Press, 1995. Paperback reissued 2007.
  • Sexton, Terry A. and Steven M. Sheffrin, Proposition 13 in Recession and Recovery, Public Policy Institute of California, 1998.
  • Sheffrin, Steven, "Re-Thinking the Fairness of Proposition 13," in Jack Citrin, ed., Proposition 13 at 30, Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Public Policy Press, 2009.
  • Smith, D. A. "Howard Jarvis, Populist Entrepreneur: Reevaluating the Causes of Proposition 13". Social Science History (1999). 23 (2): 173–210. in JSTOR [inaccessible: behind a paywall]

External links[edit]

Archival collections[edit]