Christine Couts bought her new house at 1306 Post Road in Fullerton, Calif., in 1977 - the year before Proposition 13 went into effect, freezing property values at the 1975-76 level. She paid approximately $85,000 for the house and her tax bill for 1988 was $919.
Her neighbors, Anthony and Mickie Pagano, at 1417 Post Road, have a house built on the same floor plan at the same time. However, they purchased the house in 1982 - after the tax-limiting measure had passed. They paid approximately $170,000 for the house and their current tax bill is $2,026.A third home in the neighborhood, also built from the same plans, sold this summer for $370,000, Pagano said, reflecting an annual growth rate in California property values of approximately 6.5 percent. Its owners will pay the same tax rate - slightly over 1 percent, or approximately $3,700.
This dramatic difference in home values and the property taxes they generate is Proposition 13's most noticeable effect and a basic difference between it and the property tax proposal being considered by Utahns.
Initiative A, which would cap property taxes at .75 percent of fair market value, would not have the same effect because it does not freeze property values as the California measure did. The advantage of the California tax reform - protection for people on limited or fixed incomes - would not be realized in Utah. If property values rose, tax bills would rise.
Utah does have some other mechanisms, including "circuit breakers," that provide assistance to the poor and elderly who have trouble paying their property taxes. People who don't meet the criteria for these programs would pay increasedtaxes under Initiative A if their property values rose.
California homes purchased before Proposition 13 are pegged at the appraised value they had in 1975-76 and are taxed at that level until they are sold. At the time of sale, the seller must pay a capital gains tax on the difference between the pre-Proposition 13 value and today's market value. The purchaser pays a higher price and is taxed at the same rate, but on the elevated value.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook thinks the Utah plan is more fair. "As the wealth of the community increases, additional tax revenues are warranted and needed for education and other services. We just want to give relief now and get a cap on rate changes."
Circuit breaker provisions are a more fair way to protect the poor and elderly from unmanageable tax increases, he said.
Even Paul Gann, one of the authors of Proposition 13, rues the inequities created by the historic proposition. He told reporters for the Orange County Register this spring that, "We couldn't have known back then that there would be sucha big difference between people who buy a house now and those who owned a house in 1978. We had no idea that inflation would push a $50,000 home to $125,000 in a few years." He predicted the inequities will eventually have to be addressed.
Over time, the freeze on property values will not be a factor, as all property changes hands. Unless changes are made, Californians then will pay 1 percent (plus the annual 2 percent increase on that 1 percent allowed by Proposition 13) on continually higher property values, putting them essentially back where they began in that respect.
Utah law, in fact, would not allow for the inequalities that have evolved in California, said David Vanier of the State Tax Commission. "We have a constitutional requirement for an equal rate of taxation," he said.
Some California tax-reform proponents see the tax "inequities" as the genius of Proposition 13.
"Those who choose to stay in their homes are protected by the freeze. Those who are coming into the housing market know the rules. They have the security ofknowing what their property taxes are going to be and that they won't increase after they get in a house," said Wm. Craig Stubblebine, economics professor, Claremont-McKenna College, Claremont.
Larry Berg, director of the University of Southern California Institute of Politics and Government, Los Angeles, sees it from a different perspective. He predicts a "renters' revolt" as people are increasingly priced out of the housing market. With the median price of a California home now topping $200,000, almost 60 percent of the residents have no option but to rent.
"I hope one day to own a home, but I would have to save at least 10 percent for a down payment. In Orange County, that's $20,000," said Jennifer LeFevre, a single mother who pays $870 a month for an apartment in an attractive Irvine development. Her rent has increased by 10 percent for each of the past three years. If she moved out, the next renter would pay more at the outset.
"People like me just can't afford homes any more," LeFevre said. "Everyone expects the boom to stop, but it hasn't stopped yet." It would take some sort of unexpected financial windfall for her to realistically hope for a home of her own.
Renters lose not only the opportunity to own a home, but also the federal tax advantage that can be claimed for taxes and mortgage interest.
"The real winner in all this was the federal government," Berg said. Millions of dollars that Californians would have claimed as interest and local tax deductions now stay in Washington, D.C. The federal government also will benefit from Utah's property tax limitations, if they pass, Berg said.
One result of the escalating costs of homes, particularly in California's coast cities has been to send families further inland looking for less expensive housing, Berg said, adding to urban sprawl and freeway congestion.
However, even with skyrocketing prices of homes, the demand hasn't waned. In some areas, potential homeowners participate in lotteries for upcoming housing, said LeFevre, who works for the Irvine Co., one of the largest land developers in the state.
"They stand in line for houses that cost $400,000."
By contrast, the median price of a house in Utah is approximately $70,000 _ slightly more along the Wasatch Front, according to the Utah Association of Realtors. Construction has been in a slump for several years and for the first six months of 1988, Utah had 2,949 starts on dwelling units, compared with 4,282 for the comparable period in 1987, says the U.S. Housing Market Report.
In the second quarter of 1988, construction on single-family units was down 27.2 percent and on multi-dwelling units, by 56.6 percent.
"We have declined every year since 1982-83," said a representative of the Utah Homebuilders Association.
Besides paying taxes on houses with prices inflated by California's economy, new homeowners there also pay significantly higher builders' fees _ a direct result of tax reform. The costs of infrastructure that used to be spread across alla community's taxpayers are tacked onto a house's costs.
Building fees have risen as much as 445 percent since Proposition 13 passed. Several thousand dollars are added to the cost of the average house to underwrite the costs of water, sewer, streets, police and fire protection and other necessary infrastructure.
In some rich communities, such as San Juan Capistrano, the fees in 1987 averaged $21,000 per home.
Even school districts are allowed by a new law in California to tap into builder fees. They can assess $1.50 per square foot of residential construction and 75 cents per square foot of commercial construction for the building of schools.At least one lawsuit has been filed in Southern California by builders against aschool district that the builders say didn't need the money because of decliningenrollment.
With the loss of local taxes to provide necessary services for housing, Utahns could face similar building fees.
California's Proposition 13 had another effect in creating a bias for development of commercial property, particularly hotels and motels, rather than houses.
Utah's Initiative A has a higher cap on commercial property taxes than on residences (1.0 percent compared with .75 percent) that also could encourage local governments to favor commercial development over residential.
Comparing property taxes between Utah and California is extremely complicated because of the variations among Utah's taxing jurisdictions, Vanier said. Property taxpayers from one area of the state to another have different combinations of assessments that include city and county governments, schools, water districts and other special needs districts.
Unlike California, Utah's local taxing entities also do not tax the full valuation of properties, he said. A 20 percent allowance is made for "intangibles" such as the costs involved in selling property.
Proposition A would set a .75 cap on taxes for that 80 percent of the home property's value _ in reality, 60 percent of the market value.
In some parts of the state homeowners actually could end up paying more after Proposition A than before, Vanier said.