California's Proposition 13 has shifted tax burdens to residents of well-off suburbs and is channeling more tax revenues to hard-pressed central cities, according to a new academic study of the plan's impact.
"It should increase the equity of California taxes, among persons and among political jurisdictions," concluded William H. Oakland, a professor of economics and public administration at Ohio State University, who made the analysis.
"Altogether, Proposition 13 has had, and will probably continue to have, only minor effects upon the size of California's public sector," Oakland said in a pamphlet circulated by the Academy for Contemporary Problems, which has its headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.
Oakland estimated that the level of public-service spending in California fell 2.8 percent below that prevailing in the year before the amendment took effect. At most, Oakland said, Proposition 13 would account for an average 4 percent reduction in public services. But Proposition 13 will have a substantial impact on the state and local tax structure and the division of responsibility for raising revenue, he said.
"For example, the share of education financed locally drops from 52 percent to 28 percent because of the amendment, placing California below all but six other states in this regard," he said. This raises the possibility of a shift toward state control of the schools and a decline in home rule, Oakland added.
Without the $7 billion reduction in property taxes mandated by Proposition 13, he said, the state probably would have reduced income taxes.
But adoption of the amendment benefits areas of the state that have relatively more property than income, he said.
"Since cities and rural areas have a larger share of the statewide property-tax base, taxes consequently would be shifted toward the suburbs," Oakland said. "Given the poor fiscal condition of many central cities, such a shift would provide welcome relief."
California's decision to allocate property-tax revenues among counties in proportion to previous property-tax collections also benefits the central cities more than the suburbs, he noted.
"In effect, California has developed a system of tax-base sharing similar to that in operation in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, whereby increments to the metropolitan tax base are shared by all local units within the urban area," Oakland said.
"Base sharing has been widely touted as a technique to cope with the adverse fiscal consequences of suburbanization, so that a central city does not suffer revenue losses if its tax base moves to the suburbs.
"Moreover, the city reaps part of the benefit of whatever net growth occurs in the metropolitan area.
"Perhaps unwittingly, therefore, California with its Proposition 13 has radically changed fiscal relationships in its metropolitan areas," he concluded.
Sharing property taxes on a county-wide basis will "tend to augment the resources of fiscally weak governments at the expense of the more affluent," he said.
Oakland, who was a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco while he made his five-month study of the impact of Proposition 13, said the critics of the amendment did not foresee its effect on governmental relations.
"In effect, Proposition 13 emerges primarily as a tax-reform measure - one which shifts the emphasis from the property tax to the income tax," he said.