For more, visit the California Progress Report Web site.

Following the surprising reception for his ‘pot initiative’ last year, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) begins his sophomore year in Sacramento by taking another bold political step as he introduces a split roll property tax reform measure that would significantly alter Prop 13, long considered California’s political third rail.

Ammiano’s measure would call for taxing and assessing commercial property differently from residential property, which would remain unchanged.

The measure would effectively exempt California homeowners from the revision Ammiano claims is necessary to correct an unintended consequence of Prop 13 – a growing tax burden onto residential property owners and increasingly away from “corporate landowners” and commercial property.

The second year progressive Assemblymember is calling for a split roll to reverse “what has been a shift in California ‘s property tax burden to homeowners from business owners” under Proposition 13 caused by the different assessment of taxes for commercial and industrial property from residential property, according to Ammiano’s press release.

“For over thirty years, Proposition 13 has allowed corporate landowners to benefit from tax loopholes while shifting the real tax burden to individual homeowners and reducing California ‘s tax base”, said Ammiano.  “We cannot continue to cut funding from our schools, our parks and our vital human services without addressing the need for new revenue and an equitable tax system.  Reforming Proposition 13 will not solve all of the state’s budget problems but it’s a crucial step in the right direction.”

The idea to make big commercial property owners pay their fair share of the state’s tax burden has been tried before with each of those efforts effectively thwarted by business interests. But as Ammiano points out, “these are different times.” 

If there is one thing Sacramento has learned about Assemblymember Ammiano with the introduction of his ‘pot initiative’ last year, it’s not to underestimate the San Francisco Democrat’s ability to garner support for outside-the-box solutions to solving the state’s financial crisis.

According to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, with this measure Ammiano “will be reminding Californians that one of the reasons the state is so broke is that the property tax system is frozen in time, a legacy of a different era in California.”

Passed in 1978, Proposition 13 resulted in a cap on property tax rates in the state. In addition to lowering property taxes, the initiative also contained language requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases in all state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates. It also requires two-thirds vote majority in local elections for local governments wishing to raise special taxes.