ASUC Senate introduces bill in support of reforming Prop. 13

Kore Chan/Senior Staff
The ASUC Senate lacked a Student Action majority for the first time in three years, and the difference in senate activity was marked, with CalSERVE senators authoring 30 of the 64 bills the senate passed in the fall semester.

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The ASUC Senate has introduced a bill in support of reforming Prop. 13, an amendment to California’s constitution that placed limits on property taxes, in hopes of raising state revenue and increasing funds for higher education.

SB 9, which was co-authored and sponsored by ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai, calls for the ASUC to formally express support for Prop. 13 reform as part of a larger long-term campaign by the UC Student Association to increase college affordability.

Additionally, if the bill is passed, Mecklai would express the ASUC’s position to university officials and elected public officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown.

After its passage in 1978, Prop. 13 decreased property taxes, which subsequently decreased government revenue generated from these taxes.

SB 9 states that “because Proposition 13 allows commercial property owners to avoid paying their fair share in taxes, the resulting budget deficit causes the State Legislature to continue to reduce funding for education.”

“We want to use the student voice and our student power to encourage our legislators to look at ways to use revenue from commercial property taxes to refund our education,” Mecklai said in an email.

UC tuition has increased from $6,654 in 2007 to $12,834 in 2013, according to the bill, making it increasingly difficult for middle- and low-income students to attend UC Berkeley. According to SB 9, budget cuts have also caused a significant number of faculty layoffs as well as increased class sizes and an increase in the number of graduate students teaching classes.

By reforming Prop. 13, property taxes would be able to produce much-needed revenue for the state to increase funds for higher education and other priorities, said Tanay Kothari, a third-year UC Berkeley political economy major who co-authored the bill.

“Even limited, reasonable Proposition 13 reform such as this would go a long way toward allowing the state to provide better services for its residents,” Kothari said in an email.

The bill proposes reforms to Prop. 13, including the regular reassessment of nonresidential properties, which could generate $6 billion in additional revenue for the state.

According UC Berkeley professor of economics Alan Auerbach, the “split-roll” approach to property taxation, the reform method outlined by SB 9, separates commercial property from residential property.

“Supporters (of this approach) have viewed it over the years as more politically feasible than the simple repeal of Prop. 13, and it would raise a substantial amount of additional revenue,” Auerbach said in an email.

Jesse Rothstein, a professor in the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, also said he supports the proposed reforms to Prop. 13.

“I think the proposed change to the assessment of commercial property is a good move,” Rothstein said. “The state needs to break out of the chains that Proposition 13 created, and this is a good step in that direction.”

However, others questioned whether reforming Prop. 13 would actually help garner funds for higher education. Auerbach said that higher education funding has historically not been discussed in relation to Prop. 13.

He noted, however, that “like a lot of other states, California faces continuing pressure from increases in some areas of spending … and a consequence has been a squeeze on other parts of the budget, including higher education.”

SB 9 will be discussed in committee on Monday and brought before the senate at Wednesday’s meeting.

Jennie Yoon is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected].