Proposition 15: COVID-19 heightens debate over business property tax measure

Intel has long been a bellwether, founded more than 50 years ago to produce the very product that gave Silicon Valley its name. Now, the chipmaker and dozens of the region’s other old-guard companies are among the California businesses that could become a huge source of additional tax money for local government, schools and community colleges.

Proposition 15 would change the way commercial property is taxed. Instead of paying property taxes based on the value when their land was purchased, many businesses would pay rates based on a parcel’s current value if voters approve the measure in November. Older landowners such as Intel, which bought much of its property back when it was a bargain, would face bigger hikes. Relative newcomers such as Apple would see smaller increases.

It’s a return to the way commercial property used to be taxed, before 1978’s Proposition 13 transformed the landscape and crystallized a nationwide taxpayers’ revolt.

With the pandemic and growing inequality as a backdrop, arguments on both sides are fierce, and the campaign is expected to be one of this election’s most expensive.

Supporters argue the new measure will help close corporate loopholes that have made California a real estate tax haven while depriving residents of more funding for essential government services. By targeting properties worth at least $3 million, they say, it will protect smaller owners of commercial property at a critical time.

“We’re becoming kind of like a place where outside folks, where billionaires from all over, park their money and pay no taxes on it, or very little taxes,” said David Goldberg, a vice-president at the California Teachers Association, which is backing the measure. “It’s devastating us.”

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But opponents, which include the state’s chamber of commerce, the California Retailers Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, counter that Prop. 15 is a potentially devastating new tax in a state that’s already expensive for businesses. Plus, they worry that bigger commercial landlords could pass increased costs on to struggling small businesses through higher fees at a time when many are barely hanging on or have shut down during COVID-19.

“The impact from Prop 15 is going to be felt throughout the economy, especially by small businesses and ultimately by the consumers because these increased costs are going to land on the pocketbook of the consumer,” said Matthew Mahood, CEO of the Silicon Valley Organization, the region’s chamber of commerce.

Currently, commercial and industrial property owners benefit from the same Proposition 13-era rules homeowners do: Their property taxes are based on what the value was when they bought the property, not what it’s worth today. Increases are limited to 2 percent a year, protecting long-term owners in particular from a meteoric real estate market. If Prop. 15 is passed, its impact will be felt more heavily by companies such as Intel, which bought much of its property between 1980 and 1994 at prices far lower than today’s market rates. The company paid $12.1 million in Santa Clara County property taxes in 2020.

Apple, meanwhile, paid $66 million in property taxes …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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