Dec 11 2012

OPINION: School Board’s Flat Tax Proposal Should Not Be Approved

 Resident Strongly Opposes Emergency Plan to Change Tax Structure –
I request that the Board get a hold of its senses and not try to impose, on 24 hours notice, a 9 year escalating extremely regressive new flat parcel tax on Piedmont taxpayers.  The proposal on your special meeting agenda tonight should be rejected.

 It is unseemly for you to be proposing to use last Thursday’s Borikas court  decision as a pretext for pillaging the majority of Piedmont homeowners, many seniors, to the significant benefit for many fewer big landowners, by redistributing taxes even more regressively from the large owners to the small owners.  

 You have time to wait for the dust to settle.  Will Alameda petition the Supreme Court for review? Likely, yes. Will the Supreme Court accept review?  If it does the Borikas opinion is vacated.  If there is no Supreme Court review and the Borikas decision remains the law, does that affect Measure B?  No. Measure B, passed 3-1/2 years ago, is no longer at risk as your own legal counsel surely knows and has told you.  If the Borikas opinion remains the law, will school districts statewide request the legislature to amend Government Code Section 50079?  Of course they will, and the Legislature will almost certainly revise the law to allow for a much more equitable tax structure than Measure A or your newly proposed flat parcel tax.

The proposed Measure A tax increases were already too steep for many taxpayers.  The present proposal would increase even more the taxes of 2,957 parcel owners, 73% of the parcels in Piedmont.  The taxes on the 27% of the largest parcels will go down.  The 347 largest land owners’ taxes, some of whom illegally pay absolutely nothing now on their vacant parcels under Measure B, already would have sweetheart preferential taxes under Measure A, and now their taxes would be cut by a third. The 87 smallest lots, smaller than 1,000 sf will pay $2.40 or more a square foot, while the 347 largest lots of 15,000 sf or more will pay sixteen cents per square foot or less. 

The terribly regressive nature of the tax being proposed is astounding. It was bad enough that under proposed Measure A the 2000 sf lot paid 23 times per sf more than the 80,000 per sf.  Under your current proposal the 2000 sf lot will pay 40 times per sf more. Under  Measure A a 5,000 sf lot would pay 2.4 times per sf as the 20,000 lot, but now, under your new proposal, it would be 4 times.

And you are proposing that this be the tax for the next 9 years, with escalators and  with no senior exemption.  This is unconscionable. If you are in such a rush, why don’t you propose a fairer tax, such as a single tax rate imposed uniformly per square foot of parcel, instead of the severely regressive tax you have sprung up over night for Piedmont voters?  The simple fact is that there is no emergency to justify this tax monstrosity you are proposing to let loose on our community. You appear to be taking unfair and unnecessary advantage of a decision your lawyers must have know was coming and, presumably informed you of for the past several months.

There is no emergency except to take currently proposed Measure A off the ballot. 

There is plenty of time for the Piedmont School district to go to the legislature, as surely many school districts across the state will do, to modify the legislation in question.  Government Code Section 50079 was passed by the legislature and can be amended by the legislature, and the amendment can be made in plenty of time for Piedmont to craft a new tax that is consistent with amended legislation.  A new tax can go on the June or  November 2013 ballots or on the spring ballot in 2014.

Government Code Section 50079 presently does not permit, as Borikas has ruled, a different school tax rate for improved, unimproved, residential and commercial properties.  However, community college districts, as the Borikas court discussed, may tax improved and unimproved properties at different uniform rates. Also, other school districts tax these four different properties at different uniform rates, so Piedmont may join with other districts to request the Legislature to allow different uniform rates on such properties.  Why would the legislature not respond positively?

A senior exemption is legal (Borikas approved Alameda’s), has been adopted by nearly every comparable school district except Piedmont.  Piedmont needs one.  Why would Piedmont rush forward with this ill-conceived new tax with practically no realistic or fair opportunity for public input, severely and unnecessarily impacting a tax tired community with a continuation of Piedmont’s one of a kind penalty on seniors? 

Thomas D. Clark, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

2 Responses to “OPINION: School Board’s Flat Tax Proposal Should Not Be Approved”

  1. I hope that the PUSD Board takes the time to read Tom Clark’s letter, digest his arguments, and keep the best interest of those who pay for the schools at heart.

  2. I agree with Mr. Clark’s and McCrea’s premise that the flat per parcel tax is regressive. However, so many of our nation’s tax policies are regressive, I can only say, So what else is new? California’s high sales tax rate is regressive, the discounted rate for dividend and capital gains vs. ordinary income is regressive. I don’t like those either, but they are what they are. To rely on the probability of the legislature changing the Government Code, or the CA Supreme Ct. reversing the appeals court may not be realistic. A modest senior discount does seem reasonable, if as stated, the courts have allowed that to occur. But thanks for the excellent analysis.

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