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April 16, 2014
Field Poll: Poll finds California voters open to tinkering with tax-limiting Proposition 13

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By David Siders
dsiders@sacbee.com

Proposition 13 may be the third rail of California politics, but state voters appear to have some appetite for making changes to the tax-limiting measure, according to a new Field Poll.

About half of California voters - 49 percent - generally support changing some parts of the law, while 69 percent of voters support indirectly increasing taxes on businesses by making it harder for commercial properties to avoid reassessments, according to the poll.

"That's always been a contentious issue as to whether Prop. 13 is sacrosanct, the third rail of politics and so on," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. "You know, half of voters are willing to give proposals (to alter it) a look."

Approved by voters overwhelmingly in 1978, Proposition 13 reduced property taxes and made it harder for lawmakers to raise taxes in general. Polling in recent years shows continued support for the measure, and most politicians have been wary of proposing changes.

Among voters, DiCamillo said, "There's some openness to tinkering with it, but I think really we're talking about tinkering around the edges ... not really going after the fundamentals of the provisions of Prop. 13."

The poll, done in collaboration with Carl Stempel, a California State University, East Bay, professor, found bipartisan support for changes to the law to prevent businesses from structuring property transactions to avoid triggering reassessments under Proposition 13. Seventy-one percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favor such a change, according to the poll.

Last year, a bill that sought to address that issue stalled in committee. The measure was opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce, which labeled it a "job killer."

The poll also found that 54 percent of voters prefer lower taxes and fewer public services, while just 35 percent support the alternative - higher taxes and more services. Majorities of voters support more spending on schools and mental health care, while pluralities believe spending is about right for law enforcement, public assistance and environmental protection.

Deborah Nichols, a real estate agent and poll respondent from Granite Bay, said she would welcome a change to prevent commercial properties from avoiding reassessments, but she was skeptical it would have lasting impact.

"You can make a law," the 57-year-old Republican said, "and it seems there's always some way to get around it."

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.