Another striking anniversary today: on this day in 1978, the “taxpayer revolt” started with the passing by California voters of Proposition 13.
Still known as “the 3rd Rail of California Politics” (you touch it and you die), Prop 13 put a hard cap of 1% on all property taxes in the state. This rollback of government power ushered in the Reagan Revolution, and has been the rallying cry of a significant chunk of California property owners ever since. Depending on your perspective, Prop 13 and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (the group born from the fight for the Prop’s passage) represent either a much-needed check on an out-of-control tax-and-spend legislature, or the damage caused by the state’s runaway initiative and referendum process.
In terms of California public education, there may be no more pivotal moment in the last 100 years. While it is fair to debate the right of the government to extract high property taxes, there is no question that Prop 13 greatly narrowed the flow of funding to any services administered by local and county officials, particularly the school system. Many experts credit the state’s education spiral to Prop 13 (most authoritatively in the 2004 PBS documentary, “First to Worst”).
It is striking that 30 years after a state constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly, and remains extremely popular with voters (72% are happy with it the way it is), is as much of a lightning rod of controversy as ever. Anyone working in public service in California will be working within and around Prop 13 for a long time.