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Friday, May 7, 2010

Guardian Editors Would Benefit from Prop. 13 Legislation They Endorsed

Posted By on Fri, May 7, 2010 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge It's always nice to get in the game early and pull up the ladder after you...
  • It's always nice to get in the game early and pull up the ladder after you...
On Nov. 3, 2003 the Wall Street Journal published a letter from Warren Buffett in which the Nebraska billionaire explained his negative view of California's Proposition 13, the 1978 law that limits property tax assessments to the original sale price, with a maximum 2 percent yearly increase:

"Commercial Residential property taxes in California are wildly capricious, tied as they are to the date of purchase rather than the value of the property or financial circumstances of the owner," Buffett wrote. "My sympathies are clearly with the "non-billionaire" family purchasing a $300,000 house in Chico today that faces real estate taxes materially higher than those borne by this non-resident billionaire on his $4 million house in Laguna. This family, because of Proposition 13, has been selected to subsidize me."

On May 5 the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a leftist political pamphlet, weighed in with a different view of the 1978 measure in an unsigned editorial supporting Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's AB 2492, which would preserve Prop 13's tax breaks to residential property owners, while eliminating certain breaks for owners of commercial property.

"Millions of homeowners love their low taxes, and even the liberals among them are dubious about giving up their cherished perk," said the editorial, before going on to suggest Prop. 13's homeowner tax breaks aren't nearly as bad as Buffett makes them out to be.

Ammiano's bill starts with the basic premise that commercial and residential property should be taxed differently. There's a good reason for that," the editorial continued. "Prop. 13 allows tax reassessments only when property changes hands, and residential property turns over far more often than commercial property. So over the past 32 years, homeowners have been taking on more and more of the property-tax burden.
In an article about the flap that resulted over then-Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign adviser Buffett's criticism of Prop. 13,  The San Francisco Chronicle noted:

For Republicans, Prop. 13 is sacred text -- the benchmark by which most candidates are evaluated by key donors, top party leaders and many of the party's most loyal voters.
That makes sense: Laws that, to use Buffett's assessment, select new home-buyers to subsidize high-net-worth longtime homeowners fits well with Republican principles of protecting the rich and afflicting the poor.

But why would a left-wing political pamphlet take a stance well to the right of Warren Buffett?

For answers, we visited the files of the San Francisco County Assessor Recorder, and pulled the property records of Guardian owner Bruce Bruggmann, his pamphlet editor Tim Redmond, and San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. The resulting data brings AB 2492, and the modern politics surrounding Proposition 13, into clear focus.

click to enlarge Ammiano, Brugmann, and Redmond already know one of Warren Buffett's methods: Buy a house eons ago and pay low taxes
  • Ammiano, Brugmann, and Redmond already know one of Warren Buffett's methods: Buy a house eons ago and pay low taxes
Please keep in mind that these figures do not account for particular circumstances that may change the specific property tax payments of the individuals involved. That's a secret known only by these taxpayers, their accountants, and the IRS. However, these simple math equations do illustrate the huge potential for Proposition 13 to create "wildly capricious"  disparity in tax rates. And they put the lie to the idea that there's a "good reason" for partially repealing the tax breaks Prop. 13 gives commercial property owners, while letting owners of residential real estate off Scot-free.
 
Ammiano is the proud deed-holder to a lovely home in dreamy, shaded Bernal Hill near Mission Street. With the last sale recorded in 1974, Ammiano's house has a Prop. 13 assessed value recorded for tax-collection purposes of $45,711. Recent sales data from Ammiano's neighborhood, meanwhile, suggest his house is actually now worth $746,000.

Politics of Prop 13 Math:

Subtracting the state-allowed homeowners' exemption of $7,000 from that total value, and multiplying it by the local property tax rate of .01163, we get a purely theoretical annual tax payment based on the property's current market value of $8,594.

Giving the same treatment to the property's Proposition 13 tax assessed value of $45,711, we see a more-likely tax payment of $450, suggesting the 1978 anti-tax measure savesd Ammiano in the ballpark of $8,144 last year.


Bruce Brugmann, owns both the aforementioned political pamphlet and a lovely hillside home in the West of Twin Peaks neighborhood.

According to tax records, Prop. 13 froze the assessed value of Brugmann's house at only $78,082. Based on Zillow.com searches of recent sales in Brugmann's neighborhood, one could ballpark the publisher's digs at something like $818,500.

Politics of Prop 13 Math:

Subtracting the state-allowed homeowners' exemption of $7,000 from that total value, and multiplying it by the local property tax rate of .01163, we get a purely theoretical annual tax payment based on the property's current market value of $9,437.75.

Giving the same treatment to the property's Proposition 13 tax-assessed value of $78,082 we see a possible tax payment of $826.68, suggesting the 1978 anti-tax measure saved Bruggmann in the ballpark of $8,611 last year.


Pamphlet editor Tim Redmond loves his 1908 three-bedroom, 1,750 square foot house on Bernal Hill. In 2007 he wrote about how much he loved poking around his neighborhood looking for owls to illustrate the point that he loves San Francisco more than I do. And why not?

According to tax records, thanks to Prop. 13 Redmond's house is assessed at $420,117, based on its 1999 purchase. Good move. Zillow.com estimates the editor's digs are now worth something like $727,000.

Politics of Prop 13 Math:

Applying the aforementioned formula we get a purely theoretical annual tax payment based on the property's current market value of $8,373.60.

Giving the same treatment to the property's Proposition 13 tax-assessed valuewe see a possible tax payment of $4,804.55. This means Prop. 13 potentially saved Redmond $3,569.05 last year.


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