Student coalition takes up Prop. 13 reform in hopes of increasing state revenue

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Expecting to collect nearly 3,000 signed postcards by March that demand Gov. Jerry Brown support property tax reform, the UC Berkeley chapter of Fund the UC launched its letter campaign Tuesday night with packets of postcards ready to hand out on Sproul Plaza.

Fund the UC is a coalition of student groups across the UC system campaigning to reform Proposition 13, the so-called “third rail” of California politics. Prop. 13 is a 1978 ballot measure that keeps property taxes relatively constant for both homeowners and businesses. The coalition, however, wants to make commercial property owners exempt from this tax freeze in order to get money for public education.

Chas Alamo, an analyst from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, said the change would probably increase state revenue by $4 billion to $5 billion per year. Of that increase, about $2 billion would be spent on education, according to a 2012 report from the office.

“Any student who cares about the future of our education, who cares about the future of our state and cares about tuition and budget cuts should get involved,” said Kelly Osajima, an organizer for Evolve, a nonprofit working with Fund the UC to drive Prop. 13 reform forward.

In the long run, the group hopes to get a measure reforming Prop. 13 on the 2016 California ballot.

Fund the UC was organized in 2011 by the University of California Student Association and played a part in passing Proposition 30, which temporarily boosts education funding.

Prop. 30 was a short-term solution to falling financial support from the state, and Fund the UC turned to Prop. 13 reform because “it could be a long-term fix,” said campus sophomore Disha Banik, a partner in the coalition and deputy of student affairs for the ASUC external affairs vice president.

The time is ripe for this reform because public opinion on this issue is becoming more and more supportive, said ASUC Attorney General Kevin Sabo, a Fund the UC partner. A recent survey from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 58 percent of adults support this reform.

“I have no doubt that (property tax reform) would increase revenues for the education systems, and I think it’s pretty clear that K-12 is below the national average in expenditures,” said PPIC researcher Paul Warren. “More money does help.”

The reform, however, could negatively affect business activity or incomes for commercial property owners, according to the 2012 Legislative Analyst’s Office report.

Beyond the postcard campaign, Fund the UC and Evolve are looking to send students to state legislators’ debates and forums.

Evolve is also working to get school boards and city councils across the state to pass resolutions supporting Prop. 13 reform. As of Wednesday, the group has helped pass 51 resolutions, Osajima said.

Daniel Tutt covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.