PART ONE: The History of Property Taxes in California

The History of Property Taxes in California

The History of Property Taxes in California

Property Taxes Before and After World War Two

California no longer depended on property taxes as its’ principal funding source after 1912.  And after 1929, during the depression years, there were massive amounts of unpaid property taxes. In fact, some states excluded certain owner-occupied homes from property taxes altogether. Many taxpayers avoided purchasing tax delinquent homes and properties, and governments in some states enforced limits on property tax rates.

These so-called “homestead exemptions” became rather unpopular with the public at large as they tended to be wealthy homeowners,  with what was perceived as unfair property tax relief, and apparently reduced revenue to local governments that depended largely on property taxes from homes rather than other forms of real property.

During World War Two, state and local taxes were stabilized, or decreased, as spending programs were cut back due to decreased needs, or unavailability of building materials and other resources. This was reversed in the post-war years, after 1945,  as governments expanded social programs and took advantage of rising property value to increase tax collections.  Assessment rose, tax rates rose, and the newspapers ran stories of homeowners forced to sell their house mainly because of rising taxes. No one was keeping a low property tax base from parents when inheriting a home.

Once Germany and Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, and World War Two ended… most states replaced the “homestead exemption” with so-called “circuit breakers” which were state financed and clearly benefited blue-collar and middle class homeowners, senior and elderly homeowners, and disabled persons. In many states renters were included by tax measures that actually viewed certain rental payments as property taxes. (By 1991 there were 35 states with some sort of “circuit breaker” exemption in place). 

California Tax Revenue

Property taxes have now created a revenue stream for the state of California that funds changing needs of cities and counties, school systems, and what is referred to as “special districts”.

California’s primary source of state funding is now a combination of sales tax, income tax, excise tax, as well as banking and corporate taxes, and “use tax”, which is a sales tax on purchases made outside one’s state of residence for taxable items that will be used, stored or consumed in one’s state of residence and on which no tax was collected in the state of purchase.

California Property Taxes in the 1960s

During the early 1960s in California there were various scandals involving County Tax Assessors. These particular Property Tax Assessors were caught gifting personal friends and political associates with abnormally low property tax assessments, and unnaturally low tax bills.  Not at all like keeping a low property tax base upon inheriting property from mom or dad in 2021!

The Tax Assessor scandals brought about Assembly Bill 80 in 1966, which imposed standards to hold assessments to market value. 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.

A huge number of homeowners in California were impacted with a significant increase in property valuation and tax rates, only to discover that this tax revenue was to be distributed to communities far away from where they resided.

California Property Taxes in the 1970s

This type of activity, distributing tax revenue to distant communities  created a widespread pessimistic attitude among middle class and blue collar homeowners towards the tax system in general, and it’s reportedly biased view towards wealthy, well-connected families.

This viewpoint grew throughout the state until the 1970s, when it morphed into a tidal wave backlash of anger against the existing property tax system. This gave apt. building magnate Howard Jarvis and his Taxpayer’s Association great momentum towards expanding and popularizing property tax relief in all 58 counties in the great state of California.

California’s Famous Tax Revolt That Led to Proposition 13

Within a few years the country was awash with truly emotionalized tax protests, often referred to as “The California Tax Revolt”. Almost every state imposed some sort of limitation on 111 property taxes, coming to a head with the widely promoted Proposition 13 – an amendment to the California constitution, passed by popular vote in California on June 6th, 1978, with nearly 2/3 of Californians voting for Proposition 13, reducing property taxes by 57% – establishing this to be the most effective assault on property taxes in American history.

The Proposition 13 amendment limited property taxes to 1% of full cash value; requiring real property to be valued at its March 1, 1975 value – or on the date it changes hands or is constructed after that date; limiting subsequent value adjustment to 2 % per year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.  This prohibited the sales impact or “transaction taxes” on the sale of real estate; and required a 2/3 majority vote in each house of the legislature to increase state taxes;  plus a 2/3 electorate vote to increase or add new local taxes.

Although Proposition 13 was the most well known initiative to limit property taxes, along with transferring property taxes from parent to child on a property tax transfer  from a parent.  Inheriting property taxes can offer a great upside, when an heir is able to keep parents property taxes. And of course have the ability to work with a trust lender when taking advantage of property tax relief from Proposition 13 and Proposition 19 (formerly Prop 58) and it’s flagship tax break, the parent-to-child exclusion, to avoid property tax reassessment and keeping a low property tax base when inheriting a home, as well as being able to buyout property shares from co-beneficiaries, typically siblings, with a  loan to an irrevocable trust.

Proposition 13 and Proposition 19 make it possible to continue keeping a low property tax base when inheriting a home, however they are not the only property tax measures to limit and control property taxes. Some limit tax rates, or property tax maximums. Other tax measures provide specific groups with limited but significant tax breaks; with some property taxes designed to promote various forms of economic development in various urban or rural areas. Interestingly enough, these tax measures included provisions favoring agricultural land, reduced taxation of owner-occupied homes, exemptions that  benefit seniors, or veterans, or the disabled, the elderly, or the poor. 

Economic incentives built into some of these property tax laws included lower rates on particular businesses, exemptions covering people of a certain age, tax breaks in developmental areas, and more….

>> Click Here for Part Two…

 

New Access for Homeowners to CA State Board of Equalization & Property Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights

Due to various changes  right now in California’s property tax relief laws, Proposition 19 is expanding certain tax breaks while limiting others;  creating new issues involving homeowners; often bringing their attorney or trust lender into the mix, for example utilizing Prop 19 and funding to a trust loan; as well as newer tax breaks, verified through direct communication with the California State Board of Equalization (BOE).

CA State Board of Equalization Aiding Homeowners

Right now, as 2021 moves into 2022, if problems with property owners deepen, Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate Lisa Thompson gets involved. The Advocate was appointed by the CA State Board of Equalization Executive Director Brenda Fleming, to work independently of the BOE, to help taxpayers resolve problems that cannot be resolved through conventional channels making sure homeowners understand every avenue designed to help them avoid property tax reassessment as far as property tax breaks are concerned…

It’s important for the Advocate to help homeowners understand how to use the BOE to confirm and use every possible tool at their disposal when transferring property taxes from parent to child is critical in order to keep parents property taxes after a property tax transfer, upon inheriting property taxes from a parent-to-child property tax transfer  –  and understanding how to work with a trust lender to take advantage of a parent-to-child exclusion from current tax rates… Often working in conjunction with Prop 19 and funding to a trust loan, when homeowners (i.e., beneficiaries) buyout inherited property from co-beneficiaries, while keeping a parents low property tax base.

The CA Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate

The Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate is allowed to involve the Morgan Property Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, which allows the property owner to inspect and copy documents related to their property’s assessment. The Bill of Rights furnishes measures to encourage and verify fair administration of property tax laws in California.

The Advocate reviews how fair and effective the BOE and any given County Assessor is in terms of providing understandable information in printed and Website form to property owners; making sure the BOE  is doing their job properly; resolving complaints, taxpayer problems and general inquiries from the public such as how to use a parent-to-child exclusion, Prop 19 and funding to a trust loan.

The Advocate also looks for underlying causes of conflict between taxpayers and property tax assessors. The Advocate is responsible for creating and distributing a yearly report concerning property tax issues and property tax hikes affecting taxpayers’ rights. To support this, the BOE has public hearings to review this report and related property tax matters, opening up these meetings for questions and opinions from business property owners and homeowners.

The Property Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights provides ways to encourage and verify fair administration of property taxes.  Miss Thompson tells us:

We can help if you have a question regarding your rights or if you have a disagreement with the programs administered by the State Board of Equalization, or county agencies involved in California’s property tax system. Some taxpayers contact us to communicate their frustration with aspects of the property taxation system or seeking confirmation that they have been treated lawfully and fairly by a county or state office…

In cases where the law, policy, or procedure does not allow any change to the staff action, but a change appears justified, the Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate Office is alerted to a potential area that may need clarification or modification. Several past recommendations for policy, procedural, and legislative changes have resulted from these types of contacts with taxpayers…

Our office facilitates communication between taxpayers, the State Board of Equalization, and county staff to eliminate potential misunderstandings. Taxpayers are provided information on policies and procedures so they can be better prepared to discuss their issues with the appropriate staff and increase the opportunity to affect a resolution which will satisfy them.

As you can imagine, Advocate Lisa Thompson bolsters public confidence in the BOE and the office of The Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate.