Garst: Time has come for California’s biggest corporations to pay their fair share in taxes
Of the state's parolees who currently can't vote, 80 percent are people of color, according to proponents of Proposition 17. File photo.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the now infamous Citizens United v FEC, asserted corporations are people. Many have made clear and convincing arguments for why Roberts got it wrong.

Perhaps one of the more persuasive if less frequented arguments against the idea is that many corporations— including some of the largest, such as Amazon, Netflix and 30 of the Fortune 500— are able to legally avoid paying any federal income tax.

If we are to believe the old adage that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, then it seems fair to say that any corporation able to avoid both is not the same as the rest of us. That said, as long as the Supreme Court maintains they are, we should start holding them to the same standard.

In November, by voting for Prop. 15, the Schools & Communities First ballot measure, California voters will have a chance to strike back at decades of inequality and ensure corporations give back and fund California’s recovery, just like every other resident of the state is expected to.

Prop. 15 seeks to assess large commercial and industrial properties at the current fair market rate to reclaim revenue to invest in California’s underfunded communities and struggling public services.

The initiative would specifically reclaim nearly $12 billion annually from large corporations and businesses such as J.P. Morgan and Amazon who have raked in record profits and have long avoided paying their fair share.

It’s a laser-focused measure that would only target the uber-wealthy, with an estimated 10 percent of California landowners paying 92 percent of the tax. Most importantly, the proposition contains an exclusion for residential property, agricultural land and small businesses to guarantee that working families who are already struggling wouldn’t be affected by the proposed tax increases.

Back when the original property tax bill passed (Prop. 13), the idea was to preserve tax rates for fixed-income seniors who couldn’t afford the skyrocketing property taxes. At some point, however, homeowners move or pass on — in which case the property is reassessed and the new homeowners pay the increased tax.

However, a not-so-advertised loophole in Prop. 13 allowed corporations to benefit from the same tax break meant for California’s elderly.

Corporations such as Disney haven’t moved Disneyland, hoteliers haven’t transported their expensive hotels to a new lot and oil magnates haven’t relocated their massive oil fields. Competitors are forced to pay modern-day taxes on their properties while Disney and others are cashing in on old discounts — paying the same property taxes as they were 50 years ago.

At the heart of Prop. 15 is one simple question: Why should large corporations such as Disney and Chevron continue to receive unfair tax deductions simply because they’ve owned their massive properties for many years?

They benefit from the same public services, such as roads and emergency responders, that each and every working Californian pays for with their taxes, while contributing nothing to maintaining these public goods and services.

For example, before the COVID-19 crisis sent our public services into the red, our education system already was in tatters. California ranks near the bottom when it comes to the amount spent per pupil and near the top when it comes to the number of overcrowded classrooms.

Major corporations pay next to nothing in local taxes and are rewarded for robbing their localities of the funds they need to be successful. With the extra $12 billion dollars that would result from Prop. 15, we can restore vital community services and economic security, all without raising taxes on homeowners and small businesses.

Now more than ever, our state needs a secure funding source to ensure public services aren’t completely gutted during the coming budget cuts. We need well-funded emergency services, world-class infrastructure for cars and buses and for local governments to keep as many employed as possible. Ensuring these services keep running can help speed up our economic recovery by putting money where it will help the most — right back into our communities.

When you vote from home in November, vote for Prop. 15 because while corporations aren’t people, they can and should be held accountable to them.

Blaine Garst is member of the Patriotic Millionaires and former Apple software developer.

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