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How bad would it be without Prop. 13?

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POSTED July 18, 2014 7:13 p.m.

Ah, the good old days before Proposition 13.

School superintendents would tally up all of the projected expenses for the upcoming budget, deduct what state and federal money they were getting and then set the property tax rate to cover the shortfall.

School boards were putty in the hands of most superintendents. After all, they were the professionals and it was about the kids.

City managers had a tougher time. They employed the same approach to budgeting but council members tended to balk at raising property tax rates. The reason was simple. They’d get bombarded everywhere they went. And unlike their colleagues on school boards, council members couldn’t say the state requires this and they only gave us this much and besides, it’s for kids.

City councils had no such cop out.

Those who clamor to “repeal” Proposition 13 typically zero in on the portion of the ballot measures that capped property tax values and subsequent increase of value. They don’t go after as much how the measure raised the threshold for property tax hikes by requiring a two thirds vote of the people and not a simple majority of an elected board.

That’s a convenient position since they could always say it’s not their fault tax bills go up because the value of property went up.

Proposition 13 has certainly forced local government — and school districts — to be fiscally more responsible during the economic downturn. They don’t have the ability to raise taxes or commandeer money from lower level jurisdictions like the state does.

Instead they had to make tough choices and cut back on services, reduce pay, eliminate positions, and start reeling in runaway pension costs. The state has done some of that but not much. Instead the state has continued to do what they’ve done in other economic dilemmas since the passage of proposition 13, they borrowed money from local government.

There are those that love to blame Proposition 13 for everything that ails California but that is akin to a burglar blaming people for having possessions as the root of crime instead of people like himself who have no scruples.

Study after study since the 1980s — especially those from the independent legislative analysts’ office — have shown that state spending has significantly exceeded inflation and population growth. The same is true to a lesser degree in local government.

Yes, a big part of it can be blamed on pensions. But there are culprits that are equally at fault — politicians who kowtow to special interest groups and you and me.

We went way  beyond wanting governments to cover the tab for basics as we knew them during the golden age of economic growth in California — the early 1960s. It was when state tax rates were low, government hadn’t become the incredible growing blob, and there weren’t government regulations upon regulations.

We have a need, have the state help fund it.

We have a desire, have the state provide it.

We have an issue with our neighbors, have the state regulate the problem.

Of course, we want it all done without raising taxes.

California has been a train wreck waiting to happen for decades.

We’ve been living beyond our means for years.

We didn’t have the money to dine at three star restaurants every week but we charged it knowing we’d get a pay raise or our home’s equity would keep going up.

Now that the house of cards are collapsed, we’re stuck with the bill.

And it’s not just what we spent. It is what we spent plus substantial interest.

Instant gratification is always fleeting and more expensive in the long run.

If Proposition 13 wasn’t in place, all of those who are students are disciplines of delayed gratification would literally be forced to pick up the tab.

You could argue that if it wasn’t for Proposition 13 that the Great Recession with the rollback of local government services would not have happened and you’d be wrong. From the opening gate in 1978 when Jerry Brown 1.0 was governor, the state could have changed its ways. Instead Brown gave California the gift that keeps on giving — public employee collective bargaining on steroids.

What’s really amazing is the fact California has been able to go 36 years before the quicksand we created started to pull the state under.

We need to jettison spending now and not later and on a large scale and not in baby steps if we are to survive and ultimately thrive.

And given that personnel is the biggest cost of government, there is only one way to do it.

If pensions can’t be cut and restructured because of union resistance , then take the chain saw to state bureaucracy and cut what causes pensions to raise —  workers.

Getting rid of Proposition 13 at this point in the game would only assure that California is crushed economically under the weight of state government that has expanded its fiscal waistline by through the creation of junk government that goes way behind what once passed as basic government.

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