Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California property values soar

Published: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 - 6:46 am

In the half-decade before California was clobbered by its worst recession since the Great Depression, taxable property values – those of land, homes, apartments and commercial buildings – exploded.

Between 2003 and 2009, values increased by a whopping two-thirds, from $2.7 trillion to $4.5 trillion, much from new construction, and local governments enjoyed a nearly $20 billion increase in annual revenue from the boom.

We all know what happened next. The real estate market went into a tailspin and local governments that had banked – literally – on ever-increasing revenues felt the pinch. It contributed heavily to two cities' bankruptcies.

Actually, taxable values didn't go into the tank.

They just stopped growing and shrank a little, falling to $4.3 trillion in 2011. And as the state's economy began to improve, so did property values, rising slightly in 2012.

This year, they are poised to register a sharp gain, based on reports from local assessors that are being compiled by the state Board of Equalization.

Gov. Jerry Brown's 2013-14 budget assumes a 2.8 percent increase, but it's more likely to be in the 4 to 5 percent range.

Los Angeles County, which has a quarter of the state's taxable property, is up 4.66 percent, and in some of the counties experiencing economic booms, such as those in the San Francisco Bay Area, the gains are higher. They're up 6 percent in San Mateo County, for example, and 5.17 percent in Alameda County.

Each percentage point of property value increase generates about a half-billion dollars in additional revenue statewide, so overall, the increase could be well over $2 billion for local coffers, and indirectly for the state treasury.

Under the state constitution, schools are guaranteed certain amounts of revenue, with the first increment coming from property taxes and the state providing the remainder. Thus any unanticipated increase in local property values and taxes decreases what the state must pay schools.

It's not another property bubble, at least not yet, but with the housing construction industry beginning to pick up again, California could see strong growth in property taxes in the years ahead, and the state is also seeing a surge in sales and income taxes, $2 billion over estimates already this year.

These revenue jumps, however, create another challenge for state and local politicians, who have overspent previous windfalls, leading to huge budget deficits and, as mentioned earlier, the bankruptcies of two cities.

Those who want more spending, whether it's for government services or public employees' salaries, will be pressing politicians hard.

Brown has said he wants to resist that pressure and redirect any windfalls into debt reduction and reserves.

But as the money piles up, the pressure will grow.

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dan Walters

Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

Sacramento Bee Job listing powered by Careerbuilder.com
Quick Job Search
Sacramento Bee Jobs »
Used Cars
Dealer and private-party ads


Price Range:
Search within:
miles of ZIP

Advanced Search | 1982 & Older