Sanders endorses 2020 California ballot measure that would change how businesses are taxed
Presidential candidates don’t just hold rallies, issue policy proposals, and make speeches. Sometimes, they jump into ongoing elections as they did in June when Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren made endorsements in the 2019 Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. I was talking to one of our ballot measures writers, and he mentioned to me how Sanders also offered an endorsement in a ballot measure campaign in California.
Sanders endorsed a 2020 ballot initiative that would change how the state levies taxes on commercial and industrial properties and allocate the resulting revenue to local governments and school districts. This constitutional amendment would require that business properties, except those used for commercial agriculture, be taxed based on their market value, while taxes on residential properties would still be based on the property’s purchase price. Taxing business and residential properties on different bases is known as a split roll tax. It would also create a process for distributing the additional revenue on business properties, with 60 percent being distributed to local governments and special districts and 40 percent being distributed to school districts and community colleges.
Sanders endorsed the initiative while speaking at the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Leadership Conference in Los Angeles last week. He said that billionaires and real estate developers shouldn’t receive tax breaks “while 500,000 people are sleeping out on the streets tonight and when our kids aren’t getting the education they deserve.” UTLA is a supporter of the ballot initiative and has provided the campaign Schools and Communities First, which is behind the proposal, with $435,000.
Opponents of the ballot initiative include the California Business Roundtable, California Chamber of Commerce, and California Taxpayers Association. Rex Hime, president of the California Business Properties Association, stated, “California already has the worst climate for business and job creation in the country. A split-roll property tax will just increase pressure on many businesses that are already finding it hard to make ends meet.”
Since 2016, Sanders has endorsed five statewide ballot measures in California, including three in 2016 and one in 2018. Two measures—one which advised the state’s officials on the electorate’s position on Citizens United v. FEC and one that legalized the recreational use of marijuana—were approved. Two measures—which would have enacted a new regulation on drug prices and would have expanded local rent control—were defeated.
Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris endorsed a school parcel tax measure that was on the ballot for Los Angeles Unified School District voters in Los Angeles County, California on June 4, 2019. The measure was defeated. It would have authorized the LA Unified School District to levy an annual parcel tax—a kind of property tax based on units of property rather than assessed value—for 12 years at the rate of $0.16 per square foot of building improvements to fund educational improvements, instruction, and programs. District officials estimated that the parcel tax would have raised $500 million per year.