Real estate lobbyists want expanded property tax break for California seniors

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LOS ANGELES — The California Association of Realtors is floating a ballot initiative that would allow senior citizens to transfer a property tax break they receive under Proposition 13 to a new house in a different county.

Opponents are concerned about the impact it would have on local government revenues and services.

Proposition 13, adopted by voters in 1978, caps growth on property tax assessments to 2% a year until a property is sold.

Under CAR’s proposal, homeowners 55 and older, or those who are disabled, would be able to transfer a lessened tax burden to a new home even if the home is in a different California county. The measure would allow California senior citizens to transfer their base value more than once.

“We believe upward portability makes a lot of sense especially as property values across California continue to rebound,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. He said the measure would help California alleviate its current housing crisis by removing a financial barrier that keeps many older homeowners from selling their homes and many millennials from entering the housing market.

The taxpayers association came out on in favor of the proposed initiative on Tuesday.

The state’s Legislative Analysts’ Office agreed in a report that the proposal would boost home sales in the state, but it might cost local governments as much as $2 billion a year in lost revenue.

“In recent years, between 350,000 and 450,000 homes have sold each year in California,” the LAO report says. “Under the measure, homes sales could increase by as much as tens of thousands per year.”

“The People’s Initiative to Protect Proposition 13 Savings” would appear on the November 2018 ballot if CAR’s signature gathering efforts are successful.

The League of California Cities hasn’t taken a position on the initiative yet, according to Dan Carrigg, deputy executive director, but this year it opposed Assembly Bill 1322 and Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7 that were similar to the initiative. The bills failed to make it out of committee.

The League was concerned about the “disproportionate” impacts such an initiative would have on destination counties like Lake Tahoe or Palm Springs if homeowners are allowed to buy a home even more expensive than their existing home and transfer the reduced property tax assessment, Carrigg said.

Transfers are allowed already under existing law, but are restricted to homes of equal or lesser value, and each county can made the decision to pass an ordinance to allow such transfers. The idea, Carrigg said, was to make it easier for retirees to downsize from a three-bedroom house to a condo and not end up paying higher taxes. But under the new initiative, retirees could move into a more expensive home.

Under current law, counties are not required to accept the transfers, but 11 counties passed ordinances to allow transfers, according to the LAO: Alameda, El Dorado, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Tuolumne and Ventura.

Similarly, the California State Association of Counties has not taken a formal position on CAR’s initiative, but also opposed AB 1322, said Dorothy Johnson, a legislative representative for CSAC.

Counties can already allow seniors and disabled homeowners to transfer the reduced assessed value under Proposition 90, Johnson said.

About a dozen counties allow inter-county transfers; and CSAC believes that is a decision that should be made by the jurisdiction that would be impacted, she said.

CSAC is also concerned about the impact such a move could have in terms of reduced revenues for cities, counties, special districts and the schools that benefit from property taxes. If schools receive less revenue from property taxes, the state also has to make up the difference, Johnson said.

“Anything that jeopardizes the ability of counties, or local governments, to provide services to residents is going to be a cause for concern,” Johnson said.

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Budgets Finance, investment and tax-related legislation California