Time to reinvest in our future

I came to California with a dream of finding opportunity and building a future – a dream that was made possible by public investments in the public good. 

It was 1966 and my wife and I arrived with our young family in San Diego. It was an exciting time. California was investing in people, schools and infrastructure – and the future was bright. 

California was building universities, community colleges and expanding K-12 schools to train the next generation. While my four children attended local public schools, I taught at the new public University of California, San Diego, in the electrical engineering department.

Meanwhile, local governments created public health systems, expanded public transportation, modernized clean water systems and resourced emergency response systems.

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These public investments made California a place where everyone could achieve their full potential. It became the place where my family thrived, my innovations took shape, and my colleagues and I were able to start a small business called Qualcomm that has become a leader in the telecommunications industry, changing the way we connect around the world. 

Unfortunately, the public institutions that nurtured me and my generation are now struggling from the chronic disinvestment caused by a property tax loophole that a small number of large corporations use to avoid paying their fair share. This November, we have a chance to close that loophole by passing Proposition 15, which will reclaim $12 billion a year for schools and communities so that we can again reinvest in our future.

The loophole was created in 1978 as part of a ballot measure to protect aging homeowners by freezing their property taxes until the property was sold to a new owner. Unbeknownst to many voters, Proposition 13 also froze property taxes for commercial and industrial properties.

As a result, some of the oldest commercial properties in the state, like Disneyland, pay 1978 property taxes while charging 2020 ticket prices, pocketing billions in profits and depleting the surrounding schools and communities of critical resources. This is also true of private country clubs, oil refineries, railroads and other large properties that are not paying taxes on the market values of their properties, while the public institutions around them crumble.

Prop. 15 will help correct this problem by requiring large commercial and industrial properties valued above $3 million to be regularly reassessed and pay taxes on the fair-market value of their properties, rather than the original sales price. What does this mean for Qualcomm, the company I co-founded? It probably means that the older properties they own will pay more in taxes to reflect market-rate property values. It also means that the newer properties they own that are already paying taxes on market values will pay the same. 

Qualcomm is the second largest property taxpayer in the region, contributing more than $23 million to support the local schools, community colleges and essential services that help everyone get ahead. Qualcomm has always recognized its role as part of the community, not separate from it. As the co-founder, I always believed that what we contribute to public institutions pays dividends in the form of a well-trained workforce, a liveable community and an inclusive economy that is built on shared opportunity and prosperity. 

When we all pay our fair share, we all thrive. When big corporations don’t pay their fair share, the burden falls on families.

Prop. 15 is a reasonable and just reform whose time has come. Experts calculate that 92% of new revenue would come from just 10% of commercial and industrial properties. Their contribution will help resource public institutions that create opportunities for all of us.

This year I was blessed with two new granddaughters who I hope will flourish in a California that invests in all children, all families and all communities. We can help make that possible by restoring, expanding and funding the California Dream. Join me in voting Yes on Prop 15. 


Racial Justice Leaders United Against Corporate Attacks

Prominent community leaders in California are coming together to demand that corporate interests looking to avoid paying their fair share stop sowing division in Black communities and communities of color. Corporate interests like Blackstone Property Partners, Chevron and California Business Roundtable are paying for spokespeople to spread lies and misinformation about the Schools & Communities First initiative, Proposition 15 on the November ballot. The measure was specifically crafted to help reverse decades of systemic disinvestment that has particularly hurt communities of color.

Anthony Thigpenn, President of California Calls: “Make no mistake: With Proposition 15, racial justice is on the ballot in California. Powerful corporations are trying to hide their greed behind a false concern for small businesses and communities of color who have been devastated by decades of disinvestment and the recent COVID crisis. They are using their financial power to buy mercenary support from a handful of so-called leaders, who are being paid to peddle misleading corporate talking points, while selling out the communities they claim to stand for. Prop 15 restores balance and fairness in local taxes and protects homeowners and renters by closing loopholes so that big corporations do their part supporting our local schools, health care and essential services.”

Christina Livingston, Executive Director of ACCE and the ACCE Institute: “We expect big corporations to spend whatever it takes to keep their tax loopholes, but it’s especially shameful to see people who claim to represent the interests and rights of Black communities taking money to harm Black people by trying to defeat Proposition 15. Out of deference and respect, we have held our tongues and not spoken out when, over the past several years, people have gotten paid to stand with corporate interests over the needs of Black communities.But we can be silent no longer. Prop 15, or Schools and Communities First, will address income inequality and racial disparities that have exacerbated the pandemic, economic crisis and racial injustice.”

Timmy Lu, Executive Director of AAPI FORCE-EF: “We must champion legislative solutions that will bring about a just recovery for communities devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and related crises. Prop 15 makes critical investments in California’s health system and is essential for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who face vastly disproportionate rates of infection and death due to COVID-19. The frontline workers in our communities need the support that Prop 15 offers to keep our families safe.”

Angelica Salas, Executive Director of CHIRLA: “We need to pass Schools and Communities First in order to address the stark racial gap in education and other vital local services. Prop 15 will allow our communities to access significant, long-term and stable funding that we need for our state to make a comeback after a devastating year. The disinvestment in schools that are predominantly Black and Brown is a root cause of racial inequalities in our state. Prop 15 ensures every school district in the state receives additional funding, and provides greater resources to students who need them most. This is an important step forward toward promoting equity and racial justice.”

The Million Voters Project is an alliance of 7 community-driven state and regional networks working to strengthen and expand democracy: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Asian Pacific Islanders for Civic Empowerment, California Calls, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of California (CHIRLA), Power California, PICO California and the Orange County Civic Engagement Table.


We Pay More When Corporations Don’t Pay their Fair Share of Taxes

Proposition 13, a ballot initiative passed in 1978, has had an adverse impact on AAPIs and other disadvantaged communities in California ever since its passage. When Proposition 13 was passed in 1978, it essentially did three things: it limited the property tax of all properties to 1% of its value at the time of purchase, made it so that property could be reassessed only when it changed hands, and mandated that property taxes couldn’t increase more than 2% a year. Although Proposition 13 has long been framed as an initiative driven by homeowners responding to the rise in property values and taxes in the 70s, this narrative ignores the fact that the proposition was also motivated by racist and classist intentions.

Included on the same ballot in 1978 with Proposition 13 was Proposition 8, which would have limited residential property taxes in much the same way Proposition 13 did. The main difference between the two measures was that Proposition 8 would have reduced property taxes except for the portion levied by school districts, which would have been reallocated to equalize school funding for Black and LatinX communities in California. Proposition 13, on the other hand, did nothing to protect school funding for underserved communities of color. This difference between the two initiatives was crucial — the predominantly white and wealthy districts which were heavily in favor of Proposition 13 were also strongly opposed to Proposition 8. Therefore, the narrative that Proposition 13 was an initiative driven mostly by homeowners revolting against high property taxes is not accurate; the fact that Proposition 8, an initiative which would have also limited residential property taxes, was defeated on the same ballot reveals Proposition 13’s racist and classist undertones as white communities voted against equalizing education funding with Black and LatinX communities.

The biggest beneficiaries of Proposition 13 at the expense of communities of color have undoubtedly been corporations and wealthy investors.

Corporations especially have benefited greatly by avoiding paying more than 1% of the original purchase value in property taxes. Universal Studios, for instance, has avoided paying $36 million a year in property taxes, while Chevron used Prop 13’s loophole to evade $100 million a year. Due to Proposition 13, corporations across California have gotten away with not paying their fair share of property taxes while raking in huge profits.

Their success is at the expense of everyone else in California. Not only do working-class communities of color suffer the most from budget cuts, but the people of California have had to make up the loss in tax revenue in a variety of ways due to corporations taking advantage of Proposition 13.

Although Prop 13 was packaged as protection for homeowners, it actually shifted the property tax burden from corporations to homeowners.

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Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich points out that in 1978, corporations paid 44 percent of property taxes while homeowners paid 56 percent, but due to Prop 13’s corporate tax loophole, corporations only pay 28 percent of property taxes while homeowners pay the remaining 72 percent.

Additionally, with less revenue coming from property taxes, lawmakers have needed to increase sales tax to make up for the loss in funds. There has been such a rush for sales tax revenue, in fact, that many communities have been transformed by gentrification. In Pasadena, the lack of property tax revenue had pressured the city government to approve the development of more malls in order to generate sales tax revenue. This has decimated mom-and-pop shops in the downtown area, however, as they have struggled to compete with the malls. The former mayor of Pasadena even admonishes the decision to develop more malls in the city, blaming cities for becoming “addicted” to sales tax revenue.

The rise in sales tax also disproportionately impacts lower-income Californians: research shows the poorest Americans pay 11% of their income in state and local taxes, while the wealthiest only pay 5.4% of their income. The increase in sales taxes, therefore, harms predominantly working-class communities of color the most, whose incomes are more affected by sales tax compared to white Americans.

The data clearly shows a sobering reality: when corporations pay less, marginalized, working-class people end up paying more.

But we can transform California’s tax system into one that works for all of us: Asian, Pacific Islander, Black, White, LatinX, and Indigenous communities. This November, we can vote to reinvest money back into our communities by holding corporations accountable to pay their fair share of property taxes.

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The Schools and Communities First Act, or Proposition 15, will be on the ballot to undo the damage Proposition 13 has caused for our communities. Schools and Communities First will close the tax loophole for corporations by requiring land with property values of $3 million dollars or more to undergo regular and ongoing reassessments to bring those properties to their current market value, while protecting homeowners and renters by excluding all residential properties from reassessment.

By ensuring that corporations are taxed fairly, Schools and Communities First is estimated to generate over $12 billion dollars in revenue, which will go directly into local communities and public schools to make up for decades of disinvestment. It’ll also alleviate the tax burden for working people, as corporations paying their fair share of property taxes will generate much needed revenue for California, which will be key for the rebuilding of our communities after COVID-19. I believe that by passing Schools and Communities First in November, we WILL be able to reverse the harmful effects of Proposition 13 and ensure that the working class and people of color are adequately funded and supported.

To support Schools and Communities First (Proposition 15 on the ballot), there are a couple of things you can do to ensure it passes this fall!

  • Vote! In California, all registered voters will receive a mail-in ballot in October. Register to vote here! If you need to, you can check your voter registration status online here.
  • Spread the word! Share this blog post with your friends and families to inform them about the campaign.
  • Volunteer! Join AAPI FORCE’s 100 Champions for Our Schools & Communities program and learn more about our volunteer opportunities here.
  • Donate! Support AAPI FORCE’s work supporting Schools and Communities First here.

About the Author:

My name is Andrew, and I am an intern for AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund. I’m currently a rising sophomore at Pomona College, where I intend to major in History and Asian American Studies. I joined AAPI FORCE-EF because I believe it’s important to amplify the voices of marginalized Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in California in order to build our political power and fight for lasting social and economic change. So far, the highlights of my quarantine have included taking long, contemplative walks through my neighborhood, making my own banana oat smoothies, and watching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the first time on Netflix.