The word “unprecedented” is fitting for the coronavirus crisis that is now savaging both the health of countless Americans as well as our nation’s economy. Not since September 11th has the United States faced such a challenge.
In reaction to the outbreak, healthcare professionals have emphasized the importance of speed. Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization, who has seen more than his share of epidemics, advised “Be fast, have no regrets. You must be the first mover. The virus will always get you if you don’t move quickly. If you need to be right before you move you will never win. Perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management,” he said.
[As of March 23rd,] in a few weeks, or perhaps longer, we will be able to assess whether our health care response to the virus, including quarantines, social distances and “sheltering in place,” was overkill or not enough. But everyone, at this point, seems to fully grasp the concept of “better safe than sorry.”
The same philosophy seems to be applicable to the economic crisis as well. The immediate reaction from our political leaders has been to do something – anything – and do it fast. At the federal level, there has already been bipartisan support for a preliminary bailout of $1 trillion. For those of us who are fiscal conservatives, the headlong rush to add to the existing mountain of federal debt is deeply disturbing.
At the state level, Gov. Gavin Newsom has taken aggressive action on the health care front but also has signed into law (or issued executive orders) designed to lessen the economic damage. While some of these policies are understandable under the circumstances, the interests of taxpayers and property owners do not seem to be getting the same level of concern as other interests.
For example, the state has yet to announce any relief to property taxpayers in regard to the upcoming April 10th final deadline for their 2019-2020 property tax bills. Income taxpayers (state and federal) have been provided relief and renters and small businesses have also been provided protection against eviction. Homeowners are not insensitive to the needs of other segments of society, including the homeless who also have been given some emergency support because of the coronavirus. But homeowners, who are already under assault from a myriad of additional taxes, fees, charges and assessments on their property, appear to have been forgotten by our political leadership. (Adding insult to injury, Los Angeles County is also charging a 2.25% service fee for property tax payments made online while at the same time closing its doors and not allowing taxpayers to pay their property taxes in person.)
We don’t understand why homeowners are being overlooked in this crisis. Politicians across the political spectrum have acknowledged the severity of the housing crisis and middle-class homeowners are already leaving the state in droves.
Unfortunately, California has a history of treating property taxpayers with contempt when calamity occurs. On April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake devastated the City of San Francisco. But less than two weeks after that horrific event, a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle dated April 27, 1906, read “Pay Taxes in Spite of Ruin.”
This isn’t 1906 and property owners in 2020 should be given assurance at the state level, either by statute or, at a minimum, by executive order that penalties will not attach to payments received after April 10th. That grace period should extend for several weeks if not months.
Let’s protect California’s homeowners along with everyone else.
Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association – California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights. For more information, visit www.hjta.org.