Capitol Alert: Parcel tax vote change may not change much, PPIC concludes

dwalters@sacbee.comSeptember 17, 2013 

At right, Maiya Miller, 8, hugs Principal Shana Henry on the first day of school at Pacific Elementary school in Sacramento on Tuesday, September 3, 2013.

RENEE C. BYER — Sacramento Bee

Parcel taxes are applied evenly to property parcels regardless of value, unlike regular property taxes, and thus don't run afoul of Proposition 13's constitutional limit.

Some affluent school districts have gained voter approval for parcel taxes. However, they require two-thirds approval and there's been a movement in the Legislature to lower that threshold to either a simple majority or the 55 percent level required of school bonds, saying it would provide much-needed funds for schools.

Legislative leaders have postponed any consideration of a constitutional amendment on parcel taxes at least until next year because changing the vote margin would itself require a two-thirds legislative vote and then statewide voter approval.

Anti-tax groups are geared up for a battle on parcel taxes in the Legislature and, if necessary, at the ballot, while school employee unions and their allies would finance a campaign for change.

It may be much ado about nothing, a new study by the Public Policy Institute of California indicates.

PPIC's researchers studied parcel tax and school bond election results and concluded that even with a lower vote threshold, it's unlikely that many new taxes would be imposed in poor communities, where the need is greatest.

Parcel taxes have been approved in relatively small, affluent districts, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area but tend to be rejected by strong margins in poorer communities, whose residents are less willing to tax themselves.

"A lower vote threshold for parcel tax passage is unlikely to do much to bridge these basic inequalities," PPIC's study team said.

"It is hard to say that lowering the vote threshold for parcel tax passage would expand their reach into new areas of the state or to more disadvantaged students," researcher Eric McGhee said. "This change would likely make it easier for more of the same kind of districts to pass parcel taxes and for districts that already have them to pass more."

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