Capitol Alert

California’s property tax revenues to increase by $3-plus billion

This Jan. 16, 2015 file photo shows pumpjacks operating at the Kern River oil field near Bakersfield. Declining oil prices have resulted in a drop in Kern County’s taxable property values.
This Jan. 16, 2015 file photo shows pumpjacks operating at the Kern River oil field near Bakersfield. Declining oil prices have resulted in a drop in Kern County’s taxable property values. AP

A strong surge in real estate transactions, new commercial and residential construction and rising housing prices should generate a $3-plus billion increase in property tax revenues for schools and local governments during the current fiscal year.

Local property tax assessors closed their books on June 30 and are reporting valuation gains ranging as high as 9 percent in San Francisco, which has the state’s hottest property market.

Just one major county, Kern, has reported a loss of taxable property values and it’s unique in that a major portion of its taxable property is underground, in the form of oil and has reserves.

“The decline in overall assessed values was anticipated due to the recent plunge in oil and gas prices and underscores the role of oil and gas as an economic asset in Kern County,” its county assessor’s office explained. “The mineral roll represented approximately one third of assessed values for the 2014-2015 tax year but is down to less than one quarter of the county’s total assessment for the new fiscal year, 2015-2016.”

Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget projected a 5.6 percent increase in California property taxes for 2016-17, and his May revision upped that slightly. That would represent a roughly $300 billion gain to $5.5 trillion in taxable values, which would mean a more than $3 billion increase in revenue to nearly $60 billion.

California property taxes are capped at 1 percent of assessed value under Proposition 13, enacted by voters in 1978, plus taxes needed to service voter-approved bonds. Assessed values generally are limited to 2 percent increases each year, but may be upgraded when properties change ownership to reflect sales prices. New construction is also added to the taxable rolls.

Although the state doesn’t directly receive property tax revenues, it benefits from increases because they may reduce the amount of aid the state must give schools to meet their constitutional levels of financing.

Reports from major counties indicate that if anything, the governor’s estimate of property tax increases may be too low.

In addition to San Francisco’s 9 percent, virtually every Bay Area county is reporting gains over the governor’s figure, including 7 percent in Alameda, 7.6 percent in San Mateo, 7.9 percent in Santa Clara and 7.1 percent in Napa.

Southern California counties are reporting smaller increases, closer to Brown’s overall state estimate, such as 5.6 percent in San Diego, 5.4 percent in Orange and 4.2 percent in San Bernardino.

Los Angeles County is still compiling its data but generally follows statewide trends very closely.

Except for Kern’s oil-influenced decline, Central Valley counties are also seeing modest increases, such as 4.9 percent in Fresno and 4.6 percent in Sacramento.

The taxable property reports from all counties eventually will be compiled by the state Board of Equalization, along with the utilities and railroads that the board directly assessed for tax purposes.

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