Tim Holt has been advocating for split-roll reform since April 2008, when his article, “The Road From Ruin: How Prop. 13 has frozen infrastructure improvements in the state, and how we can return to fiscal health,” appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Submitted by Tim Holt, Dunsmuir

How is it that California, with the fifth largest economy in the world, has one of the poorest school systems in the country, a state where teachers often have to dip into their own pockets for classroom materials, where classroom sizes are the highest in the country, where teachers in major cities have gone on strike for better pay and smaller classroom sizes?

It’s no coincidence that this is also a state where many large corporations are paying property taxes based on 50-year-old assessments of their property. That’s due to how California assesses commercial and industrial property taxes. In 1978, California changed the way it assesses property values, instituting new protections for skyrocketing costs on homeowners, renters, and seniors. But an unintended consequence resulted in corporations gaining the same protections as beleaguered homeowners, and overwhelmingly profiting from the system.

The result is that our schools now compete as bottom feeders with Alabama and Mississippi, and local governments, also dependent on property tax revenue, can’t keep up with rising costs, especially when it comes to critical services such as emergency responders, and pension and healthcare benefits.

Fortunately, there’s a fix for this in the works: The California Schools And Local Communities Funding Act, which is likely to qualify for the November ballot, will maintain existing protections for residences and agricultural properties while assessing business and corporate properties at current market levels. It still maintains a one percent cap on all assessed properties, ensuring California continues to have some of the lowest property tax rates for businesses in the entire country. It will raise up to $11.5 billion annually for schools and local governments.

That additional revenue could be a game changer for Siskiyou County, where cash-strapped city governments have had to put a halt to sidewalk and street repairs and delay much-needed replacements of aging water and sewer systems.

County employees recently went on strike for better wages and benefits. Many of them qualify for welfare and food stamp benefits, and have had to take on second jobs to make ends meet.

The November ballot measure is expected to raise between $1.5 and $3 million annually for local governments and special districts in this county, depending on annual fluctuations in real estate values.

The elementary and middle schools in my hometown, Dunsmuir, face budget deficits that, without a boost in property tax revenue, will likely result in the removal of teachers’ aides in every classroom and cutbacks in counseling services.

The situation faced by schools in Mount Shasta is not as dire, but the elementary and middle schools are still operating on budgets that have been frozen at pre-recession levels while fuel, food, healthcare and pension costs continue to rise.

The ballot measure is expected to raise between $1 and $2 million annually for this county’s schools.

Small businesses, those with properties valued at less than $3 million, will be exempt from the required reassessment. The state’s largest corporations, who are among the main beneficiaries of an educated workforce, will, with the passage of the November ballot measure, begin to contribute their fair share to public education.

Most of us view government as a provider of necessary services, from basic education to fixing potholes. But there are some who have a different view, who view governments and the taxes that support them as affronts to individual liberty. Howard Jarvis was one of the chief architects of the measure that slashed property taxes for corporations as well as homeowners. Not one to mince words, he referred to taxes as “felony grand theft.”

Jarvis has left us a legacy of second-rate schools and cash-strapped local governments. It was “grand theft” on a grand scale, depriving many of our children of a decent education and hindering local communities from receiving basic services.

The California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act will be an important step toward restoring what he’s taken from us.

Tim Holt has been advocating for split-roll reform since April 2008, when his article, “The Road From Ruin: How Prop. 13 has frozen infrastructure improvements in the state, and how we can return to fiscal health,” appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.