Contributed by Daniel O’Connell and Cindy Lashbrook
For decades in California, corporations have taken advantage of tax loopholes so they can avoid paying their fair share while small businesses and local homeowners bore the brunt of funding local services and schools.
As a result, our rural schools and agriculturally-based communities have suffered while the wealthiest corporations skirted collective responsibilities while reaping extraordinary profits.
By passing Proposition 15, we have an opportunity to bring resources back to rural and marginalized communities while supporting our family farmers, small businesses and rural communities.
Don’t be fooled by misinformation. The Schools & Communities First ballot measure, Prop. 15 in November, exempts small businesses and agricultural properties, including family farms, while increasing funds for schools and local government where farmers and farmworkers send our children and rely on for public services.
Despite the clear protections and benefits for family farmers and farmworker communities, the corporate-backed opponents of Prop. 15 are trying to pull the wool over our eyes. The language of Prop. 15 speaks for itself: “This measure makes no change to existing laws affecting the taxation or preservation of agricultural land.” This was explicitly written to ensure our family farmers – in addition to other measures shielding residential homeowners – are protected from property tax changes while benefiting from Prop. 15’s tax cuts.
The benefits of this change in tax policy are immense. Among the greatest beneficiaries will be our underfunded rural schools. California ranks near the bottom in school funding, while large land-owning corporations and investors use loopholes in California’s tax code to avoid paying property taxes. Meanwhile, homeowners, small businesses, and family farmers follow the law and pay their fair share. Prop. 15 will redress this structural injustice and distribute education revenue based on an equity formula: every single school in the state will get an additional $100 per student, and those schools that have higher rates of students who are low-income, foster youth, and ESL learners will receive additional resources so our most needy students get the support they need.
Tax avoidance by corporations is starving local schools and rural communities of resources, a regressive policy where perversely the wealthiest few individuals are relieved of their public responsibilities, while small businesses, family farms and working people shoulder the burden of supporting society at large.
This is how much these loopholes cost some of our counties every single year, according to data from USC:
● Merced County – $22.7 million/year
● Stanislaus County – $40 million/year
● San Joaquin County – $76.4 million/year
● Fresno County – $84.4 million/year
The loopholes should never have existed in the first place, but we especially can’t afford them now. Not only should that money be going towards our local schools and communities, but it actually gives these big corporations an unfair advantage over family farmers and small businesses who don’t get these tax breaks.
In addition, Prop. 15 benefits all businesses by creating a new $500,000 tax exemption on business personal property, including equipment, improvements and fixtures. For the farmers and small businesses that pay taxes on their irrigation systems, processing machinery, tractors, forklifts, and more, this tax relief would be worth thousands of dollars every year. And small businesses with less than 50 full-time employees are totally exempt from taxes on personal property – a huge benefit to all small businesses, including our small and mid-sized family farms.
Significantly and appropriately, Prop 15 changes the law to require commercial and industrial properties valued at more than $3 million to be reassessed every three years and require property tax payments based on their current assessed value. A recent report shows that 92% of all new taxes paid under Prop. 15 will come from only 10% of the state’s commercial properties. And many of these properties are concentrated in high value areas like San Francisco and Silicon Valley–not the rural and agricultural areas of the state.
In November, we have a decision to make – either we let corporations continue to profit off of tax breaks, or we can close loopholes to return those investments to our local rural communities. We know the choice we’re making: Yes on Prop. 15!
Cindy Lashbrook owns Riverdance Farms in Livingston and is a Board Member at the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF).