Parents, teachers and community members protest budget cuts outside a San Diego Unified school board meeting in 2017. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Proposition 15 is one of the biggest-ticket items on the California ballot this year. It would have major consequences for one of the most iconic and obsession-driving ballot measures of all time: Proposition 13, which capped the growth of property taxes in 1978.

Some laws get passed and forgotten. Others, like Obamacare or the 1994 Crime Bill, continue to gather new life force, like hyper objects of the American imagination. Prop. 13 is like that.

At the bottom of any deep discussion about school finance, Prop. 13 is always lurking. Progressives who want to see more funding for schools say the measure put an artificial cap on revenue that has hobbled educational progress in the state for 30 years.

San Diego Unified school board president John Lee Evans told me previously that the fiscal drought caused by Prop. 13 was literally the only thing standing between the school district and a quality school in every neighborhood.

While it’s hard to imagine closing the achievement gap is truly that simple, California schools are underfunded compared with other states, as PACE, a research group, broke down in a report this week.

This year’s Prop. 15 wouldn’t overturn Prop. 13, but it would drastically change it – by increasing property taxes on businesses.

Currently, property values used for tax assessments can’t grow more than 2 percent per year. The only time those properties get a new, market-rate assessment is when they change hands.

So for someone who has owned a strip mall in El Cajon since 1981, say, the value of their property has likely grown at a much higher rate than the property is being taxed.

If Prop. 15 passes, that strip mall would get reassessed based on current market value.

Estimates suggest it would raise anywhere from $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion. One chunk of the money – 40 percent – could go to schools and community colleges, while the other 60 percent could go to municipal governments.

The California Teachers Association, as well as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, have poured money into supporting the measure. But business groups have pushed back hard and raised slightly more money against the measure, CalMatters noted.

A September poll from UC Berkeley showed that 51 percent of likely voters support the measure. Of respondents, 17 percent said they were undecided and 34 percent said they would vote no.

What We’re Writing

Will Huntsberry

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at

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