Reform, Prop 13 and California’s ‘Crooked Asessors’

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By Jeffery Turner via Flickr

Prosecutors have placed the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office under scrutiny after accusations surfaced that the assessor and his top aides lowered property taxes for top campaign contributors.  There was a time, however, before the standardization of property taxes, when California’s assessors used their own discretion to make assessments on homes and businesses. And, as Mark Paul writes in an article on Zócalo, they knew that higher assessments would not bode well in their re-election campaigns.

Here’s an excerpt from Paul’s article, which outlines the history of how California’s assessors lost their discretion and the effects of that trend:

Before Prop 13, county tax assessors mattered. Before a previous generation of voters locked tax policy into constitutional amber, the property tax was set community by community, in decisions of local officials elected through the ordinary tug and pull of democratic politics.

If you owned a house or business property, your property tax bill was the product of two factors: 1) the tax rates set by your city, county, and school district; and 2) the value the assessor put on your property. Even if the city council or school board raised the tax rate, your tax bill might not go up as fast if the assessor, using his discretion, held down the assessed value of your house or factory.

Read the full article.