Willie Brown is so full of shit on Prop. 13

Pub date December 10, 2012
WriterTim Redmond
SectionPolitics Blog

The Chron’s conflict-laden columnist made an interesting admission Dec. 9: The multibillion-dollar tax loophole that allows corporations to avoid reassessments under Prop. 13 was all his fault:

 After voters approved Prop. 13 in 1978, capping property taxes for landowners, we had to sit down in the Legislature and figure out how to implement it. One of the biggest questions was how and when properties could be reassessed. We decided that should happen whenever a property was “transferred.” When you sold your home, it was transferred to someone else. The home was reassessed, and the taxes for the buyer were increased accordingly. What we did not realize was that corporations don’t actually transfer property – they transfer the stock in the company that owns the property. And Prop. 13 didn’t apply to stock.

Wait: In 1978, Brown (a lawyer) and the office of the Legislative Counsel and the rest of the lawyer-heavy Legislature didn’t know how corporations transfer property? It was all a big mistake? There were no corporate lobbyists in Sacramento trying to make sure that the loophole was created? Just the poor undereducated elected officials who got snookered by their own lack of information?

And remember: That was 1978. Brown was elected Speaker of the Assembly in 1980, and served for 14 years. Somewhere during that era, someone must have noticed what was going on (every county assessor in California did). There was ample opportunity to close that loophole, if the immensely powerful Speaker Brown had any desire to do so.

But somehow, it never happened. Funny thing, that.

So now Brown agrees that this problem should be fixed — but he says the person carrying the bill, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, shouldn’t be doing the work because he’s too liberal and pro-tax. Which is either stupidity (and Brown’s many things, but normally stupid isn’t one of them) or he’s still bitter that Ammiano forced him into a mayoral runoff in 1999 and lead the rebellion that ousted all of the mayor’s loyal supervisors a year later. Vindictive? Yeah, we’ve heard that about Willie Brown.

“He doesn’t even understand the history of the bill,” Ammiano told me. “I introduced it last year and got it out of committee and to the floor, which was a miracle.” And now, with a two-thirds majority in both houses, the Democrats can approve it without the Republican minority veto.

“I have cosponsors and I’m going to get more,” Ammiano said. “We may be able to make it part of the budget process.”

And since local governments all over the state, and anyone who believes in tax fairness, is going to support this, I think it’s got a pretty good chance of getting to the desk of the governor.

Willie Brown, as is his practice, didn’t return my call seeking comment.