They are trying to get rid of Proposition 13!

Understanding Proposition 13 in California: A Deep Dive


In California’s political landscape, few measures have had as much impact as Proposition 13. Since its initiation in 1978, it has significantly shaped public policies and ignited a series of debates around property taxes and funding for public services. Its defenders argue it prevents homeowners from being ousted due to escalating property taxes, while critics claim it unfairly benefits wealthier homeowners and corporations, leading to uneven funding for public resources like schools and services.

What is Proposition 13?

Proposition 13, also known as the “People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation,” was passed in 1978. It places a cap on property taxes in California at 1% of the property’s assessed value at the time of purchase. Additionally, Proposition 13 restricts increases in assessed property values to no more than 2% per year, unless the property is sold. Once sold, the property is reassessed at 1% of the new market value.

The Rationale Behind Proposition 13

Before Proposition 13 came into existence, property owners in California grappled with rapidly increasing property taxes, stemming from soaring real estate prices. Many residents, especially the elderly on fixed incomes, faced the risk of being priced out of their homes due to these skyrocketing taxes. In response, activists Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann introduced Proposition 13 to curb this rising tide and offer relief to property owners.

The Impact of Proposition 13

One of the primary impacts of Proposition 13 has been to offer security to homeowners against unpredictable rises in property taxes. It has brought a level of predictability and stability to property tax bills, a boon especially to those on fixed incomes, who might otherwise face difficulties in coping with sudden or significant increases.

However, Proposition 13 has also led to a large disparity in property tax payments, even between similar properties. A long-time homeowner could be paying drastically less in property taxes than a recently arrived neighbor with a similar home, solely due to the long-term owner having purchased the property when the market value was lower.

Criticism and Controversy

Critics argue Proposition 13 has restrained California’s capacity to spend on public programs, especially education. This is because property taxes were – and remain – a significant revenue source for local services. By capping this revenue source, critics argue, Proposition 13 has led to more volatility in these services’ funding, depending on the state’s economic conditions.

There has also been concern that Proposition 13 has unduly benefited wealthy property owners and corporations. Wealthy neighborhoods, where property values increase rapidly, can have lower effective tax rates due to the assessed value cap at the time of purchase. Similarly, corporations that rarely change hands may be paying taxes on assessments that are decades old.

Reform Efforts

In November 2020, California voted on Proposition 15, proposed as a significant amendment to Proposition 13. It aimed to introduce a “split roll” system where commercial and industrial properties would be reassessed regularly, but residential properties would continue to be protected by Proposition 13’s provisions. However, Proposition 15 was defeated, indicating that Californians are not yet prepared to completely overhaul Proposition 13.


Proposition 13 continues to be a hot seat topic in California, navigating a tension between the benefits it offers homeowners and the potential drawbacks on public service funding. Discussions on its reform are ongoing, and its eventual impact will continue to shape California’s taxation landscape for many years to come. Regardless of its controversies, its provision offers an interesting lens in which to view property taxes’ impact on the lives of Californians, and it serves as an essential component in understanding California’s property tax law.

Blayne Pacelli


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