Assemblywoman Marie Waldron / Photo by Steve Yeater for CALmatters

As promised, Republican Assembly leader Marie Waldron has written a bill that would require SANDAG to hold public meetings and secure the support of two-thirds of voters before it makes any changes to its spending plan for TransNet, the county sales tax that funds transportation projects.

But there’s a hitch: The bill wasn’t written in time to be considered by last week’s legislative deadline, meaning lawmakers won’t consider it until next year. It will face a steep uphill climb in a Democratic-led Legislature. (One hurdle, for example, would be getting through the Assembly’s appropriations committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. Gonzalez wrote the bill dramatically overhauling SANDAG’s governing structure, which paved the way for its leaders to create the existing spending plan Waldron objects to.)

TransNet is at least $10 billion short of the funding needed to build every project included in the 2004 ballot measure that extended the tax – so changes to the plan are inevitable. The agency’s executive director, Hasan Ikhrata, has a plan to prioritize the projects that will get remaining funds, and which get cut.

That set off a massive fight between leaders like Waldron who want highway projects in North County spared from the chopping block, and Ikhrata and others who believe transit projects that advance the region’s climate change goals should take precedence.

“Unfortunately, SANDAG cannot be trusted to look out for people in all parts of our diverse county,” Waldron said in a statement announcing the bill. “Our community deserves confidence that their tax money is being used appropriately and that SANDAG is keeping its promises to voters.

Atkins, Newsom Clash Closes Out Legislative Session

The dust is still clearing following the chaotic end to the legislative session last week, which, remember, somehow included hurled period blood.

The final few weeks saw Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins clash more than once with Gov. Gavin Newsom. Atkins has, for years, cultivated a conciliatory leadership style – the disagreements were especially notable.

CALmatters captured that balance of reservation and anger: “Atkins avoided a direct public challenge to Newsom but said in a written statement, ‘SB 1 is the product of a full year’s worth of work, so clearly I am strongly disappointed in its impending fate.’”

The report was referring to Newsom’s decision to veto SB 1, Atkins’ bill that locks in certain baseline environmental standards in case the Trump administration rolls them back.

The L.A. Times’ George Skelton praised Atkins’ decision to push the bill forward over Newsom’s objections: “Her underlying message to the governor: This isn’t simply one-party rule in Sacramento with unified Democrats in the legislative and executive branches acting in unison. Sometimes, government will function as our founders intended: as separate, independent branches disagreeing with each other and acting on their own.”

Atkins also seemed to criticize Newsom’s decision to demand last-minute changes to a bill cracking down on abuses of medical vaccine exemptions – after earlier saying he’d support the bill as is.

“Besides the clear public health value of SB 276, it is important that we send the message that loud and violent [protests] will not drown out reason and science in how we govern California,” she wrote on Twitter.

County Assessors Are Wary of Proposed Prop. 13 Overhaul

The California Board of Equalization met in San Diego this week to gather feedback from officials on the best ways to recruit and retain property appraisers who work for county assessors across the state. About 70 percent of those appraisers, according to state data, are over the age of 50.

That means thousands of appraisers — who play a key role in the collection of property taxes that fund schools and cities — are about to retire.

This large turnover in staff has county assessors worried because a statewide ballot initiative is offering to change the way certain properties are valued in California. A coalition of unions, advocates and Democratic politicians want to amend the state Constitution so that commercial and industrial properties are taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price.

Approved in 1978 by voters, Proposition 13 set limits on the annual increases of a property’s assessed value. It was designed to protect families from sharp tax increases on the death of a loved one. But as the Los Angeles Times reported last year, Prop. 13 has also proven highly profitable to an elite group of people who use second homes as investments, providing windfalls for longtime homeowner families while exacerbating generational inequities.

Prop. 13 has also meant fewer resources for schools and local governments — an estimated $528 billion over the last 40 years.

Under the new initiative, which has qualified for the 2020 ballot, commercial and industrial properties would effectively be removed from Prop. 13, providing schools and cities with new resources. Polls suggest that a slight majority of Californians are in favor.

But the county assessors at Thursday’s Board of Equalization hearing were skeptical.

Santa Clara County Assessor Lawrence Stone said the initiative would be impossible to implement on the timeline its proponents have offered, because it would cause assessment appeals — and the costs to review those appeals — to skyrocket. By his account, it takes five years to fully train a commercial and industrial property appraiser.

Stone also complained that while the initiative is offering to give small businesses a break, assessors are not equipped to verify how many people work for a business. Some might lie in order to keep their tax rate low, he suggested.

Supporters of the initiative acknowledge that the funding in increased taxes wouldn’t begin to flow and offset the cost of all those new assessment appeals until 2023, but argue that the Legislature could ramp up its reimbursements to counties sooner.

“No one wants to leave county assessors holding the bag,” said David Lagstein, the Service Employees’ International Union political director.

Others portrayed the initiative in a moral light, arguing that the new revenue could be used on homeless services and affordable housing.

“This is a funding stream that will allow cities to rebuild, to refurbish, to reform, and this is a fight for the future of California,” said Christopher Rice-Wilson, associate director of Alliance San Diego. “We’ve been starving our governments, we’ve been starving our communities for 40 years, and it’s time to stop.”

Board of Equalization members were expected to listen to the initiative’s supporters and opponents and ask questions, but at least one of them made clear he’s already made up his mind: Mike Schaefer, a Democrat who represents San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties and parts of San Bernardino.

Schaefer said the initiative was vaguely written and a bad idea because it would put certain tax policy decisions best left to the Legislature in the hands of county assessors.

“They’re creating a monster,” he said, referring to the initiative’s supporters.

Golden State News

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

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