Ammiano property tax bill passes key committee

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A bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano that would have a huge impact on the state's budget and close a serious loophole in Prop. 13 cleared the Revenue and Taxation Committee today. AB 2492 won approval on a strict party-line 6-3 vote, with every Democrat in favor and every Republican opposed.

The measure is brilliant: It doesn't undo Prop. 13 (which a lot of us would love to see, but is politically almost impossible). Instead, it simply defines property transfer in a way that forces commercial property owners to play by the same rules as everyone else.

It would bring in billions for the state -- and has a great political twist. Homeowners, for better or for worse, are a powerful voting bloc -- and although there hasn't been much talk about it, over the years, residential property has had to shoulder more and more of the total tax burden. So if Ammiano can keep this debate alive, those more conservative homeowners who would never accept a change in Prop. 13 that might undermine their precious tax break might slowly come to realize that the law, as it's written, is screwing them. (It's particularly screwing people who brought property at the height of the boom, and are paying taxes far higher than their neighbors who bought a few years earlier.)

Ammiano told me he was encourged by the vote. The bill now goes to Appropriations, which shouldn't be a problem since it won't cost the state anything. And in a few weeks, it will be on the Assembly floor.

I don't expect this governor to sign it, but if he vetos, it could be a great campaign issue -- the Republicans are on the side of big landlords -- and against homeowners.

By the way, our old pal Matt Smith at SF Weekly decided to take a swipe at me and the Guardian for our support for AB 2492, arguing that somehow it would benefit those of us who own homes. It's a refrain I've heard from Smith before, and in the caption on his blog picture he talks about "getting in the game early and pulling up the ladder behind you." I guess that's about my opposition to more condos for millionaires, which has nothing to do with anything and no basis in reality. Building market-rate housing isn't going to do anything to help middle-class people (and I assume Matt Smith falls in that category) buy homes in San Francisco.

The point of his blog is that we're somehow pushing to protect our privileged position under Prop. 13. But anyone who knows me (and reads the Guardian) knows that's nuts: I have long advocated the complete repeal of Prop. 13, and I'm one of the few people in town who wants higher taxes on myself. Besides, the Guardian's owners, Bruce Brugmann and Jean Dibble, also own the commerical office building where we do business. So anything that could raise taxes on commerical landlords would directly affect the paper --and we still support it.

I called Smith today to give him a hard time about his item; you can accuse me of a lot of things, and attack my political positions (that's easy; there are a lot of them, and some are pretty far out there). But don't say I want to preserve my own (relatively) low property taxes, because that's demonstrably wrong.

I'll give Smith credit -- he listened to me and reported my comments. But we could have avoided all of this if he'd just called me first.