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Prop 13 and California's energy shortcomings


LA Coliseum: proposed for the firesale.

At this time of year in the holiday season, it is best to focus on what you have and not what you want. As an energy policy analyst, this columnist wants better energy policy to report to you, be it in the sphere of transportation, architecture or in industry. The wish list of quality public transport, a smart energy grid, EV vehicle infrastructure, green building subsidies, carbon reduction laws, etc. will be put on the shelf for the moment as we focus on the policies the good people of California have already set into law to guide their energy usage.

A recurring theme to 2009 was how broke the state had become. This is a bit of a hitch when it comes to funding the start-up costs of redesigning a more energy efficient economy for the long-term. California is billions in the red. How did this happen? As a transplant, this reporter had to ask the locals what transpired and how we came to this point. There was one answer that kept recurring as a central theme to California’s budgetary woes: Prop 13.

Prop 13 was the brainchild of religious landlord lobbyist named Howard Jarvis. It was officially titled the People’s Initiative to Limit Property Tax. Not only did it deal a hammer blow to the state budget by slashing the property tax in the Golden State, but it also required future tax increases to be passed by a two/thirds majority in both of the state’s legislative houses to be enacted into law. This, of course, is impossible.

There is a general consensus in LA (unless you ask someone who owns a lot of property) that Prop 13 has had deeply negative effects to the state infrastructure, public school system and led to horrific urban sprawl by distorting the housing market. No piece of legislature in the past thirty years has had the impact of this ballot initiative in changing the face of California from the post-war liberal boom-state that the Beach Boys sang about to the state of dysfunction now run by the Governator.

Conservatives would gnash their teeth at the obvious correlation between post-Prop 13 California and the decline of the state’s public services and deeply calamitous budgetary situation. “The state spends too much!” is the battle cry of the very loud voices that benefit greatly by the proposition and would lose a lot of money were it to be overturned. Those individuals may well be right in asserting that the state does spend a lot, but California does take a lot of money to run. With the state constantly growing it will require even more money in the coming years.

When the money ran out this year, it was a sad reality to see the youth and those on the bottom end of the social ladder get hit the hardest by cutting the funds to education and health care programs, as well as the unemployed who would benefit from jobs created in the green economy once the government can provide the proper incentives.

It was also somewhat embarrassing to see the state sell of its property to raise some cash. With the state losing its own property because it will not tax the properties of land owners, a repeal of this proposition is being sought out. The policy story of 2010 could take it back to 1978.

[photo by brixtoncat @ flickr]