March 2020 Election Guide: Prop 13

From the Public Press’ March 2020 Nonpartisan Election Guide:

Proposition 13 is a state bond measure to fund construction at schools. Don’t let the number designation on this statewide measure mislead you. This Proposition 13 doesn’t change the 1978 Proposition 13, which froze property taxes, with an increase cap of 2% per year until the property is sold.

What it would do is sell $15 billion worth of bonds to provide matching funding to districts that want to make infrastructure upgrades to schools, including community colleges, the California State University and the University of California. Because these are bonds, the state would be paying the money back over time — 35 years, specifically — with about $11 billion in interest. If approved, this bond will be repaid out of the general fund, not by property taxes.

It’s the first time in a while that this kind of bond specifically allows higher education institutions to get money for their facilities too, not just K-12 schools. Some $9 billion is slated for K-12 schools, and $6 billion for higher education facilities. Note that this is for construction and repairs, not for operating costs like teacher salaries or school supplies.

Districts would apply for the funds, and the state would put up part of the money the district needs for repairs. Unlike many other school construction bonds, this one isn’t first-come, first-served. Instead it prioritizes districts that have health and safety needs, such as addressing lead in their water. It also prioritizes districts that are small or otherwise have low property value, because that limits how much they can raise in taxes on their own. Districts still need to put local bonds on their local ballots to pay for their share of the project, and that can raise property taxes locally.

Here’s another important thing to note: Lots of confusion is also coming up over a future potential proposition related to schools. Its backer, the Schools and Communities First Coalition, is gathering signatures to put it on the November state ballot. This one does have something to do with the old Proposition 13: It would revise limits on property taxes to increase tax revenues, from business and commercial properties. But they are distinct, and this March 3 Proposition 13 is only a bond measure for school construction.

Finally, here’s something to note about fees. Developers pay fees to school districts for the effect that their housing construction would have on the attendance at the local schools. If passed, this proposition would reduce those fees by 20% for the next five years. And it would eliminate them for multi-family residences built within a half-mile of a major transit station. 

To pass, the bond needs to win a simple majority.

Listen to “Civic” host Laura Wenus discuss this year’s Proposition 13 with John Fensterwald, a staff writer at EdSource who has reported on how districts will be prioritized for funding as well as confusion that has emerged over the measure’s number designation, which it shares with the 1978 property tax measure.