Some of you may be old enough to remember when schools and libraries were taken for granted, when there was adequate funding for local governments and school districts, when teachers didn’t have to dip into their own pockets to purchase school supplies and potholes got filled without any fuss.

If you didn’t grow up during that time, you might find it hard to believe that this state once had the ambition and political will to create one of the greatest public university systems in the country, to provide students with a quality education that didn’t require them to rack up a lifetime of debt.

What happened to bring us to this era of diminished public investment, of underfunded schools, library closures, crippling student loan debt? It’s a decades-long retreat that goes back to an initiative passed by California voters in 1978. Proposition 13 helped homeowners cope with soaring property taxes. But it also has two provisions that have had lasting, and debilitating, impacts on our schools, libraries and local government.

Case in point: Every year library supporters in Dunsmuir have to go before its city council and beg for the money needed to keep the library’s doors open. This despite the fact that 60 percent of the city’s voters approved a measure that would have dedicated a small amount in property taxes, $25 a year per property, to keeping the library’s doors open. That measure did not go into effect because a provision of Proposition 13 requires that any tax dedicated to a specific purpose – a library, say, or police or fire services – requires a minimum 66 percent approval by voters.

So library supporters had to get a “general tax” passed, one which required only a simple majority vote. But that means each year we have to persuade the council, on its own majority vote, to dedicate some of those funds from the general tax measure to the library.

This is all part of the legacy left us by Howard Jarvis, one of the co-authors of Proposition 13, who considered any form of taxation to be “felony grand theft.”

Proposition 13 gives the same property tax breaks to corporations that it gives to homeowners, something that results in over $11 billion in lost tax revenues to local governments and school districts in California. This gets us closer to the root cause of our diminished public sector, our underfunded schools and local governments.

Jarvis exploited the legitimate concerns of the state’s beleaguered homeowners to give California corporations a tax break they didn’t need, while at the same time making it harder, through his two-thirds vote requirement, for schools, libraries and local governments to pass local taxes to make up for the loss in revenues caused by the Prop. 13 corporate tax break.

There is a measure on the state’s upcoming November ballot that takes a big step toward restoring funding to the state’s public sector, and is especially important at this time given the state’s mounting budget deficit. The Schools And Communities First initiative, if passed by a simple majority vote, would remove the unfair and unnecessary property tax break for the state’s corporations and require them to pay their fair share in taxes by assessing their properties at fair market value. The protections for homeowners would still remain in place, as would property tax protections for small businesses.

The initiative requires that the estimated $11.4 billion in annual revenues generated by this tax reform go specifically to school districts and local governments in California. It will raise an estimated $5 million annually for schools and local governments here in Siskiyou County.

The state’s looming budget deficit includes a projected $18 billion drop in the state's funding of public schools over the next two years. The November initiative would help make up for that shortfall with an estimated $4.5 billion per year from increased corporate property taxes going to schools.

California’s voters were hoodwinked in 1978. It’s unfortunate that a generation of students had to pay for that mistake. In November we can help ensure that the next generation of students won’t suffer the same fate.

Final note: I can guarantee you that, as we get closer to November, the Jarvis folks are going to use scare tactics, spreading false information that the initiative removes protections for homeowners. That is totally false. Don’t let yourself be manipulated like the voters were in 1978.

Tim Holt has been writing about Proposition 13 reform efforts for over a decade.