Measure will close corporate property tax loopholes that benefit only a handful of big companies
Walter Wilson and Reginald Swilley
This period of unprecedented business and school closures, sky-high unemployment and deep financial distress has threatened the livelihoods of all Californians — especially those in Black and brown communities.
As African/African-ancestry business owners of the Minority Business Consortium, we believe that growth — when it is inclusive and benefits all parties involved — is the cornerstone of our state’s economic success. To speed our recovery, protect our health and advance racial justice, we need to pass Proposition 15, the Schools & Communities First initiative on the November ballot.
Proposition 15 will close corporate property tax loopholes that benefit only a handful of the oldest corporations in our state. It will reclaim $12 billion every year to help our schools reopen safely, fund our community clinics, build affordable housing and prevent deep cuts to the public services we all rely on. It will start to reverse decades of disinvestment that have devastated Black and brown communities while lifting up the small businesses that will be vital to California’s recovery.
At the Minority Business Consortium, we have seen how COVID-19 has hit the small, local, minority- and women-owned businesses that are vital to the fabric of our communities. Eighty percent of all jobs come from small businesses. For these firms, Proposition 15 provides much-needed relief. It includes a $1 billion tax cut on business personal property taxes, which would primarily help small businesses. It would completely exempt small firms whose property is worth $3 million or less, which account for at least 90% of commercial properties in the entire state. And by closing loopholes used by big corporations, it would level the playing field for small companies.
A recent analysis found that 92% of the reclaimed revenue would come from only 10% of commercial and industrial properties. A tiny fraction of corporations are dodging their responsibilities at the expense of our schools, essential workers and local governments.
As this handful of corporations have grown rich, our neighborhoods have crumbled. In our schools, per-pupil funding has dropped from 7th in the nation to 39th. We have the most overcrowded classrooms in the country, and the ratio of students to librarians, counselors and nurses is now dead last. Even as more people are relying on our community health centers, a lack of funding means clinics are cutting hundreds of staff. And in the middle of Silicon Valley, thousands of families still can’t get reliable internet at home.
Black and brown communities have been hit especially hard. We are significantly more likely to get killed by COVID-19. We are much less likely to have jobs during an economic downturn like this one. Our small businesses are less likely to receive emergency assistance from the federal government. And we are more likely to get stopped by the police and get detained or even murdered as in the case of brother George Floyd.
Proposition 15 is a critical step we can take right now to speed our recovery and reverse this legacy of inequity. While Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone may complain that taxing corporations based on the actual value of their property would create extra work, that is a hardly a good reason to forego the $12 billion annually the measure would bring to schools and local services in the county. Other states routinely reassess business property, and the measure provides assessors with the resources needed to do so.
It’s time to put our small businesses, people of color, schools and vital community services before tax loopholes for a few corporations. If we believe Black Lives Matter, we need to fund the things Black people — and all Californians — need to get through this pandemic and build a stronger future. We need Proposition 15.
Walter Wilson and Reginald Swilley are business owners in the Minority Business Consortium.