Whether we’re teachers, delivery drivers, small business owners, or retirees–no matter what we do, what we look like, or where we come from, most of us believe in caring for our families and leaving things better for those to come. Everywhere you look in California, those of us with the least are doing the most to support our families and communities. As our work has made America prosper, a greedy few have rigged the rules to redirect resources from our communities to their country clubs, from our classrooms to their multiple vacation homes, and from our public parks to their private jets. They pocket the profits without paying working Californians what they owe in liveable wages and their share of taxes. Then they blame all of our hard times on poor families and people of color. We need our government to do more than respond to us in a crisis. We need to fund our futures for the long haul. The choices our government makes now can set a better course for the future of our communities. As we continue to navigate COVID-19 and the social and economic challenges of our time, it is the job of our local and state leaders to make wealthy corporations pay what they owe for our collective health and well-being and to involve constituents in budgeting our values.
Orange denotes Bay Rising member organizations. Green denotes partner organizations. Click on the circles to visit each organization’s website.
Despite a political landscape characterized by anti-tax sentiment, our movement has pursued major campaigns and victories to use tax policy to redistribute wealth and invest into communities. Without a doubt, Proposition 13, passed by voters in 1978, is a major part of the problem. While it provided much-needed relief for many California homeowners, it also instituted a vastly unequal system of tax loopholes for many commercial property owners, including some of the richest corporations in the world. California loses an estimated $8 billion every year in commercial property tax revenues – monies that could help hire more teachers for classrooms, address homelessness, support young families, and more. Proposition 13 also instituted a requirement that most tax increases need a two-thirds vote from the legislature or voters. This has made it extremely difficult to generate new revenues for the state treasury, leaving drastic budget cuts as the only alternative. This has led to a wide range of band-aid solutions, e.g. raising debt, regressive taxes, and piecemeal budgeting. They haven’t fixed the problem, just further complicated California’s budget woes. We’ve got to restore the resources we need for our communities by ensuring that everyone pitches in for each other in California, including the wealthiest corporations. Taxing corporations so that we all pay our fair share represents the ground floor of basic corporate – and governmental – responsibility.
Proposition 15 (2020) would have restored $12 billion annually for public schools, community colleges, and local government services by changing the property tax assessment of commercial and industrial properties
Proposition 30 (2012) raised taxes on the top 1% of wealthy people in the state, as well as a small sales tax increase, raising $6 billion for public education and safety net programs. While this tax wasn’t directly on corporations, by taxing the wealthiest Californians it sent a strong message to corporations that they needed to start paying their fair share, too.
There are two basic types of taxes: progressive and regressive taxes. One of the issues in California is that residents pitch in much more than the multi-billion dollar corporations that do their business here – and that includes corporations using our streets, sewage, and other utilities. Progressive taxation looks like those with more money paying more taxes. If corporations are bringing in millions or billions a year, they should be paying that much more into the government programs that make it possible for working people to have stable jobs, housing, and education. Regressive taxation looks like a single, working mom having to pitch in more in sales taxes just to buy diapers, while corporations make millions or billions in profits and don’t feel that impact in the same way. New, creative ways to do progressive taxes can also serve the purpose of stabilizing the housing market and making more housing available to residents, instead of developers and investors.
Vacant lot/property taxes: More than 70% of Oakland voters approved Measure W in 2018. This tax was created to discourage corporate speculators and spur development by charging property owners $6,000 a year for holding onto vacant lots and $3,000 a year for not renting out units in apartment buildings.
Anti-speculation tax: The gist of Proposition G (San Francisco, 2014) was the imposition of a graduated real estate transfer tax on short-term property flips of multi-unit buildings when a profit is made from the sale. The anti-speculation tax would have started at 24% if the property was resold within year one of ownership, with a two percent decrease each year, equating to a 14% tax if sold in year five. There would be no additional tax after year five. Unfortunately, the measure was rejected by voters in 2014.
Find out more about California’s taxes, revenues, and budgets by checking out the California Budget and Policy Center, which specializes in making these complex issues accessible and easy to understand. While their work is focused on the state level, much of their research is applicable to the local level as well. See in particular: their Budget Page and their Taxes and Revenue Page.