Labor Notes - California’s November ballot will feature a challenge to the notorious Proposition 13, which in 1978 helped to inaugurate the decades-long neoliberal assault on labor.
Prop 13’s anti-tax, small government campaign, with a dog-whistle racist subtext, created a national template for conservatives to simultaneously attack public sector unions, public employees, and the people they served. For the right wing, this was the lab experiment for Austerity 101.
In a time of high inflation, Prop 13 exploited fear—older homeowners on fixed incomes were afraid that rising taxes would drive them out of their homes. It rolled back assessments to 1975 rates, set property taxes at 1 percent of value, and capped increases at 2 percent per year, no matter the inflation rate or the increase in market price of the property. When it passed, grandma breathed more easily.
But grandma was not the biggest beneficiary of Prop 13. The same rules applied to commercial property—including giant corporate-owned properties like Chevron and Disney. The consequent plunge in property tax revenues to local and state government forced enormous cuts to social programs and schools, led to layoffs of public employees, and established a new normal in the Golden State, described by former California Federation of Teachers president Raoul Teilhet as “poor services for poor people.”
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