Don’t Blame Prop. 13 For California’s Mental Health Crisis

Last Updated: April 11, 2024By

The tax-and-spend lobby loves to blame Proposition 13 for all of California’s woes. This has become so routine that we at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have compiled a “Top 10” list of things for which Proposition 13 is alleged to be responsible.

Keep in mind that these are more than just general complaints that “Prop 13 prevents unlimited taxes on property.” We gladly accept the blame for that one. But most of the attacks lack foundation and many are just flat out laughable.

One of our favorites is the column penned for a small local paper by a physical education teacher who cited Proposition 13 as the reason the shot putters on his track team kept losing the heavy iron balls.  It seems that the young athletes were unable to recover the shots in the high grass, and it was due to Proposition 13 that there was no money to keep the grass trimmed.

Then there was the columnist who blamed Proposition 13 for the not guilty verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. According to the author’s logic, Proposition 13 prevented Los Angeles from paying enough to hire the best investigators.

Of course, no criticism of Prop. 13 would be complete without bringing up the obligatory trope about how it “starved” education. This myth is harder to kill than a vampire despite incontrovertible data showing that per pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, is at least 30% higher now than the years leading up to Prop. 13’s passage in 1978.

Other societal ills for which Proposition 13 is alleged to be at fault:  The increase in rates of obesity and the reduction in the number of choral singers.  Seriously. We’re not making this stuff up.

Because mental health and the associated homelessness is now the “crisis de jour” in California, it only stands to reason that Prop. 13 would be blamed for that as well.

In an otherwise objective CalMatters piece by Jocelyn Wiener, she contends that the “California tax revolt [led] to austerity,” and that Prop 13 “reduced the amount of money available to counties for a variety of services, including mental health.”

But any reduction in mental health services was far more a result of lack of prioritizing important programs. Moreover, the state itself – possessing an “obscene surplus” according to Jesse Unruh – immediately backfilled local government coffers. Finally, any alleged “austerity” disappeared quickly because, in the wake of Prop. 13’s passage, explosive economic growth created billions in new tax revenue.

Because journalists today like to talk about “context,” let’s put the implication that Prop. 13 of 1978 has anything to do with the mental health crisis of 2024, into perspective. First, today we rank 18th out of 50 states in per capita property tax collections, hardly revealing California as a low property tax state. Add to that some of the most burdensome tax rates in the nation – highest income tax rate, highest state sales tax rate and highest gas tax.

It is obvious that, not only is lack of revenue not the cause of the mental health crisis, but, as with homelessness, the more money we spend, the worse the problem gets. Perhaps the real problem is the counterproductive ways California’s political leadership tries to “solve” these two related calamities.

In the meantime, we’re certain that the tax-and-spend lobby and the think tank collectivists will continue to blame Prop. 13 for all existing problems in the state and, in fact, will blame Prop. 13 for things they simply haven’t thought of yet. Given enough time, they will blame Prop. 13 for the extinction of dinosaurs. There’s probably a connection there somewhere.

Written by Jon Coupal, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights, including the right to limited taxation, the right to vote on tax increases and the right of economical, equitable and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.


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