Antonio Villaraigosa may be considering a statewide run for office, but he didn't seem particularly concerned Tuesday about controversial tax positions coming back to haunt him.
The Los Angeles mayor told the Sacramento Press Club that California should reverse the nonresidential portions of Proposition 13, the 1978 tax-limitation measure that remains popular among voters.
Villaraigosa called for taxing commercial property at higher levels, while lowering taxes on homes. The Democrat said lawmakers, school districts and local governments should be able to raise taxes on a majority vote, rather than the two-thirds supermajority required by Proposition 13.
"Gov. (Jerry) Brown, I say, we need to have the courage to test the voltage in some of these so-called 'third-rail' issues, beginning with Prop. 13," he said. "We need to strengthen Prop. 13 and get back to the original idea of protecting homeowners."
Villaraigosa delivered a 25-minute speech titled "Making California First Again" with all the oratorical flourishes of a campaign speech. The onetime Assembly speaker blamed tea party activists for blocking revenues and portrayed the state budget as a patch job that resulted in higher fees and school cuts.
Termed out as mayor in 2013, Villaraigosa tried to defuse suggestions by reporters that he was making an opening bid for statewide office.
"I'm not thinking about those plans right now," he said.
Villaraigosa bemoaned the state's education woes. He said he has been willing to challenge teachers unions. But he emphasized that school funding is a major problem and used that as a launching pad to call for more tax revenues.
Besides his Proposition 13 changes, Villaraigosa suggested extending sales taxes to services. He floated the idea of eliminating the state corporation tax, as well as cutting personal income tax rates across the board.
He said a new service tax could generate $28 billion annually, and higher commercial property taxes could raise as much as $8 billion.
Some concepts are similar to those proposed by an independent state tax commission in 2009 that met opposition from business and labor groups. Villaraigosa wants Brown to convene another panel, but he didn't offer many explanations as to why it wouldn't face similar problems.
"The question is not what the problem is," said Brown press secretary Gil Duran, noting that the governor believes more revenues are necessary but that bipartisan support is hard to find.
Afterward, Villaraigosa worked the room for about half an hour. On his way out, he chatted up several anti-tax leaders, suggesting they could work together on a new state revenue model.
That idea didn't get far.
"Small business is very vulnerable under this plan, and small business is the one that generates the jobs," said Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee and publisher of the Fox & Hounds Daily politics blog.
Fox said small businesses would pay higher property taxes while gaining little from eliminating the corporate tax. He acknowledged that small business owners might see some benefit from a reduced income tax rate.
Teresa Casazza of the California Taxpayers Association, which represents businesses, said Villaraigosa's tax package was a nonstarter. "I don't think that the voters are going to support large tax increases," she said.