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If there is one thing we’ve learned — even in pandemic times — the super-wealthy and powerful continue to find ways to exploit the tax system to avoid paying their fair share, passing on the costs to everyone else.
As a combat veteran of the United States Marines Corps, I reflect on the spirit of pride we took in each one shouldering our share of the load during a long hike. In those moments, it would be more than shameful to find excuses to push a part of your pack on someone else.
In recent days, the American people have learned what they already suspected: President Donald Trump has gamed the system to pay a pittance in income taxes over the past several years. This revelation and the ensuing outrage make it clear that although strategic accounting practices can protect the super-wealthy and well-connected from paying their fair share, that is not a system that merits protection.
Unfairness is the core issue addressed by Prop. 15, a statewide ballot initiative that will close a corporate tax loophole and reclaim up to $12 billion a year to invest in our schools and communities, including more than $700 million in San Diego County. The measure not only ends the corporate loophole that has shifted the responsibility of funding education and services to residents, but it also levels the playing field for small businesses and protects all residential and agricultural properties.
But we don’t need to go to Washington D.C. to find examples of chronic tax abuses at the expense of the people. We have plenty of that right here.
The five oldest and biggest country clubs in San Diego are paying pennies per square foot while many homeowners across the street pay 50 times as much, thanks in large part to the same tax loophole. The Associated Press recently noted that the La Jolla Country Club, which owns about 130 acres, pays roughly the same amount in taxes as a three-bedroom home. That isn’t right. The Crosby Club, Del Mar Country Club, San Diego Country Club and The Farms Golf Club together own more than 750 acres valued at more than $55 million, yet they continue to pay taxes at rates from 1978, when disco music was king. That is neither fair nor defensible.
Proposition 13 was sold to voters as protecting homeowners and nothing in Proposition 15 changes those protections for homeowners. But Proposition 13 wasn’t intended to allow massive country clubs to pay less in property taxes than the three-bedroom home across the street. Prop. 15 will simply close the corporate tax loophole that allows these exclusive clubs and other large corporations to get away with not paying their fair share, contributing to the chronic underfunding of the schools and communities that surround them.
Now more than ever, we need to tackle the inequities exposed by the pandemic that have caused so many in our communities to carry much of the burden. Chronic disinvestments in health care, education, housing and economic opportunities have disproportionately affected working-class families and people of color, many of whom are essential workers. And now, because of the health crisis, local governments and school districts across the state are facing a budget crisis of historic proportions that is sure to make things worse.
San Diego County is among the regions in the state with the most to gain from closing these corporate tax loopholes, according to a study by the University of Southern California Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. The same study shows that every county in California stands to benefit from ensuring commercial and industrial properties are assessed at fair market value.
What’s more, more than 90 percent of the new revenue would come from 10 percent of commercial and industrial properties, which include companies like Chevron and Disneyland. While corporations and country clubs are pocketing millions of dollars, the neighborhoods and small businesses around them struggle, and governments are unable to provide the services needed to help everybody get ahead.
It’s time for them to pay their fair share, just like all of us.
If Prop. 15 were to pass, we could prioritize much-needed investments in our local health care system to help keep San Diegans healthy every day, and be better prepared to respond to the current public health crisis and future emergencies. We could make sure that the most vulnerable in our communities have access to mental health and addiction services, as well as programs that alleviate homelessness, reduce unemployment, support foster youth and provide a better education for their children.
The pandemic has tested all of us. As we work together to beat back this virus, we have the opportunity to address the inequalities perpetuated by chronic underfunding of our schools and communities and turn things around. The time is now to reclaim much-needed funding and reinvest in our families and our future by supporting Prop. 15.
Nathan Fletcher is a member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, representing District 4.