Measure EE, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s 16-cent-per-square-foot property tax is the sole initiative on the June 4 ballot for Topanga voters this year.
The new property tax would raise an estimated $500 million annually for the cash-strapped school district. The initiative has picked up some high-profile support, including endorsements from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who helped author the argument for the ballot measure, and Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, but it also has high-powered critics.
Opponents include BOMA/GLA, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, and the Los Angeles County Business Federation. Opposition is also coming from homeowners and renters.
One major concern expressed by opponents is the potential cumulative impact of property tax measures. In November 2018, voters in Los Angeles County approved Measure W, a 2.5-cent property tax assessed on every square foot of “impermeable space.” Upcoming parcel tax proposals include funding for the fire department, county libraries, and a “split-roll property tax that has already qualified for the November 2019 ballot. Opponents have also stated bluntly that they do not trust the school district with the money.
LA Chamber president and CEO Maria Salinas resorted to caps lock for the official argument against the bill in the ballot statement: “LAUSD WASTES OUR MONEY,” she wrote. “REFORMS MUST COME.”
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an advocacy organization, has already sued the LAUSD over the measure, accusing the district of altering the language of the bill without a public hearing and official vote by the Board of Education. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel declined to dismiss the lawsuit, but she also refused to stop the election from taking place on June 4.
The LAUSD has hired high-profile political strategist Yusef Robb to run the campaign for EE. Robb has dismissed those concerns, arguing that the tax is fair because those with more square footage will be required to pay more.
The official Yes on EE website makes the case that Measure EE is “a critical part of the solution to the public education funding crisis that was highlighted by the recent teachers strike in the Los Angeles area. Teachers and school district leaders agree that Measure EE will lower class sizes and provide needed resources for local schools, as well as pay salaries to retain and attract quality teachers and student support staff.”
A yes vote on EE approves an annual parcel tax for the next 12 years at the rate of $0.16 per square foot to fund educational improvements, instruction, and programs, although there is no requirement that the revenue be spent in the classroom. District officials estimated that the parcel tax would raise $500 million per year, with commercial and industrial property and landlords with multi-unit rental properties receiving the largest tax increases.
Residential homeowners represent an estimated 20 percent of the tax base. The tax increase for a 2000-square-foot house would be $320 a year, although it is unclear if garages and other structures would also be taxed. The original language specified “habitable space.” The language that appears on the ballot does not include the definition “habitable.” The measure provides a tax exemption for homeowners 65 years and older, as well as some disabled homeowners.
A two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote is required for the approval of Measure EE.