Report

Proposition 15: Schools & Local Communities Lose Revenue Due to California’s Inequitable Taxing of Commercial Properties

Understanding Inequitable Taxes on Commercial Properties and Prop. 15

Local tax revenue reflects a community’s shared effort to support vital public services that all Californians need to live in our cities and counties, such as education for students in K-12 schools and community colleges, housing, health care, public parks, and libraries. When tax breaks provide advantages to some taxpayers over others, it not only creates inequities but can also lead to revenue losses that compromise the ability of schools and local communities to provide essential services for Californians. This is the case with commercial and industrial property taxes across California, and why voters will be asked in fall 2020 to vote on Proposition 15, an amendment to the state Constitution that would change how commercial and industrial properties are taxed to provide more revenue for schools and communities. 

Under Prop. 15, commercial and industrial properties would be taxed based on their market value rather than their purchase price. By moving from a property tax system based on purchase value to one based on market value, Prop. 15 would raise an estimated $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion annually in property tax revenues for K-12 schools and community colleges, counties, cities, and special districts, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Guide to Understanding Proposition 15


FAQ: Understanding Commercial Property Tax & Revenue in California

How Are Commercial and Industrial Properties Taxed Today? 
The general property tax rate for California commercial and industrial properties has been capped at 1% of assessed value since voters approved Prop. 13 in 1978. Counties determine the assessed value of commercial and industrial properties based on the property’s purchase price plus an annual adjustment for inflation not to exceed 2%. Counties collect property taxes and are generally only allowed to reassess properties to their market value when they undergo a change in ownership or new construction.

How Is Revenue From Commercial and Industrial Property Taxes Distributed Across California?
Revenue received from the taxes paid by commercial and industrial property owners is distributed to counties, cities, K-12 schools and community colleges, and special districts (such as public utility districts and fire protection districts) for services provided to Californians, based on complex state laws. The share of countywide property tax revenue going to each local entity is largely based on the distribution of these revenues dating back to the mid-1970s – before Prop. 13 was enacted and each local entity was able to set its own property tax rates. This means that there is wide variation among counties in the share of revenue going to – and the level of services provided by – each type of local government.

Why Are Commercial and Industrial Property Taxes Inequitable for Californians and in Need of Reform?
The property assessment limits set by Prop. 13 mean that an owner that purchased a commercial or industrial property several decades ago pays far lower taxes than an owner that recently purchased a similar property – leading to inequity among local businesses and a significant loss of revenue at the expense of schools and local community services. Schools and local communities are losing significant revenues every year as properties that have not changed ownership in many years are assessed at values much lower than their market values. Additionally, when a property changes hands, commercial and industrial property owners can more easily avoid reassessment than residential property owners due to the laws defining ownership changes and the complexity of business property ownership.


Report: Raising Revenue for Schools and Local Communities, Changing California’s Inequitable Taxing of Commercial Properties, and Understanding Proposition 15

Local tax revenue reflects a community’s shared effort to support vital public services that all Californians need to thrive in our cities and counties. This ranges from education for students in K-12 schools and community colleges to access to housing, health care, public parks, and libraries. These vital public services are supported by tax revenues from commercial and industrial properties – many of which are still taxed based on purchase prices that are more than four decades old. California voters will be asked in fall 2020 to vote on a measure known as Proposition 15, an amendment to the state Constitution that would change how commercial and industrial properties are taxed and provide more revenue for schools and local communities to support services Californians rely upon.

 

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Infographic: California’s Inequitable Tax System Hurts Schools & Local Communities

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