New Split-Roll Initiative Still ‘Impossible’ to Implement, Assessors Tell BOE

The revised split-roll initiative “contains a very difficult, if not impossible, implementation date” and would require counties to hire hundreds of new employees using a system that is “simply inadequate for the job,” Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang told the State Board of Equalization on September 19.

Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone went further, testifying that the “seriously flawed” initiative would be “impossible – not difficult, but impossible – for assessors to implement.” He said the measure lacks clarity in key areas, which would lead to “chaos” and litigation, “jeopardizing the very revenue that … the split roll measure believes it would create.”

“I really think the split roll is a litigating lawyer’s dream,” Stone said.

Stone also predicted that if a split-roll measure is approved, Santa Clara County’s assessment appeals for commercial and industrial properties would increase from the current level of approximately 2,100 per year to more than 25,000 per year. The county would not be able to keep up with the appeals, he said.

The assessors spoke during the BOE’s informational hearing on the split-roll measure and other property tax matters, held at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Administration Building. Much of the testimony revolved around staffing problems in assessors’ offices, as many experienced staff are retiring, and the pool of potential replacements is far too small to keep up with demand – a problem that will be exponentially worse if the split-roll measure is approved, several assessors said, because private-sector employers would begin hiring from the same pool to handle tax appeals.

After hearing the testimony, BOE Member Mike Schaefer said he is convinced that the split-roll measure is so flawed that it should be removed from the ballot. He likened the measure to the initiative that sought to split California into three states – a measure that was removed from the ballot by the California Supreme Court last year based on a finding that there were questions about its validity that should be determined before voters weigh in.

CalTax Director of Policy Peter Blocker testified the assessors’ personnel shortage would lead to inexperienced staff conducting the most complex assessments. Property owners would be forced to file appeals to obtain a fair, accurate assessment. Blocker noted that instead of investing resources in new services for Californians, or innovative products, large employers would be forced to spend more money fighting for accurate assessments – in addition to paying higher taxes even when the assessments are accurate.

Additionally, Blocker noted that the split-roll initiative would return California to a subjective assessment system for business properties, reinstating a discredited system whose failure in the 1960s and 1970s created the need for Proposition 13’s tax reforms.

Chris Wilson, representing split-roll proponents, argued that wealthy corporations are not paying their “fair share” in property taxes. He characterized money saved by taxpayers since 1978 as money “lost” by schools and local governments, and said that although he estimates the initiative would cost property owners more than $11 billion in additional taxes, “We’re not talking about a tax increase.”

Deputy State Controller Yvette Stowers, representing Controller Betty Yee, said it would be “extremely expensive to implement” the split-roll initiative. She urged the assessors to ensure that data from every county is totaled and provided to the Legislative Analyst’s Office for its analysis of the initiative’s fiscal impact.

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