Proposition 13 Overhaul Qualifies for November Ballot
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced on Friday, May 29, 2020, that the revised initiative entitled "The California Schools and Local Communities Act of 2020" officially qualified for the November ballot. If passed, the initiative would establish a "split roll" where retail, office, commercial, and industrial real property would be taxed based on their market value, while residential property would continue to be assessed based on its purchase price.
THE CURRENT TAX REGIME: PROPOSITION 13
The current property tax regime under Proposition 13 generally provides that real property is taxed at one percent of its fair market value, which usually is the property's purchase price. Unless there is a change in ownership of the property such as a sale, this "base value" can only increase by an inflationary rate that cannot exceed two percent per year. When property changes ownership, it is reassessed and the property's base value is reset to its then current fair market value. Under Proposition 13, a property's base value can be lower than its current fair market value, which in turn can reduce the amount of property tax that might otherwise be owed.
THE SPLIT ROLL
The ballot initiative creates a "split roll" if voters approve it in November. Under the split roll, commercial and industrial property with a fair market value of more than $3 million would be reassessed at its current fair market value at least every three years. The current tax regime under the Proposition 13 rules described above would continue to apply to all residential property, including both single-family and multi-unit structures and the land on which those structures are constructed or placed. The current rules also would remain in place for real property used for commercial agricultural production.
The process of administering this new tax regime will be determined by the California legislature, which will include, among other things, a process for reassessment appeals. The taxpayer will have the burden of proving that the property was not properly valued. The legislature also will determine a process by which to allocate mixed-use property between its commercial and residential uses for purposes of implementing the split roll.
The new regime will not apply to commercial or industrial property with a fair market value of $3 million or less unless any of the direct or indirect owners of such real property also own interests in other commercial and/or industrial real property. In that case, the new regime will apply if all such real property has an aggregate fair market value in excess of $3 million.
TANGIBLE PERSONAL PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
If passed, the ballot initiative would exempt small businesses from property tax on all of its tangible personal property. A small business is a business that: (1) has fewer than 50 annual full time employees, (2) is independently owned and operated such that the ownership interests, management and operation are not subject to control, restriction, modification, or limitation by an outside source, individual or another business, and (3) owns real property located in California.
For all other taxpayers, an amount up to $500,000 of combined tangible personal property and fixtures (other than aircraft and vessels) will be exempt from taxation.
WHEN WOULD THE SPLIT ROLL TAKE EFFECT?
The split roll would become operative beginning January 1, 2022, and the tangible personal property tax relief would become operative on January 1, 2024.
Despite the split roll becoming operative on January 1, 2022, the reassessment of undervalued commercial and industrial property will be implemented through a phase-in over two or more years. An owner of commercial or industrial property would only be obligated to pay taxes based on the new assessed value beginning with the lien date for the fiscal year when the assessor has completed the reassessment. In addition, if 50% or more of the square footage of a commercial or industrial property is occupied by a small business, such property will not be subject to the new regime at least until the 2025-26 fiscal year.