Proposition 13

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PROPOSITION 13 was a California initiative constitutional amendment approved in June 1978 that started an American antigovernment tax revolt. The ballot measure set real estate property value for tax purposes at 1975–1976 market value, limited real estate taxes to 1 percent of that value, limited tax increases to 2 percent per year for continuing owners, provided for a full reassessed value base for new owners, required a two-thirds vote for legislative revenue increases, and made any local government tax increase dependent upon a two-thirds approval of the local voters.

Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann led this antigovernment crusade. Jarvis was chairperson of the United Organization of Taxpayers with an unsuccessful political record, including a failed, nonqualifying property tax reform initiative in 1972. Gann had a political career dating back to the 1950s. Active in the Republican Party, Gann organized People's Advocate, Incorporated, in 1974, focusing on crime issues. In 1977, Jarvis and Gann met and agreed to join forces to battle against rising property taxes. What they drafted with the early help of the Los Angeles assessor Philip Watson was Proposition 13, popularly known at the Jarvis-Gann Initiative. Working almost independently in the campaign with grassroots and county organizations, they gathered 1,263,000 signatures for the ballot measure. More than one million of those signatures, or about 81 percent, were deemed valid; it was the first time that more than a million signatures had ever been solicited for a ballot measure. Their main fund-raising group, Yes on 13, collected $1.5 million, with just under half of the contributions less than $50. The Jarvis-Gann campaign shook California's politics at its core.

The legislature responded with Proposition 8 to implement the Property Tax Relief Act of 1978, which was designed to give 30 percent property tax cuts, compared with Proposition 13's 50 percent cuts. This put a tax cut measure approved in Sacramento on the ballot as an alternative to Jarvis-Gann.

Jarvis-Gann forces launched an effective public campaign. They accused the state government of a political snow job. In particular, they contended that the 1 percent tax rate would provide more than enough to run the government and would encourage government to cut wasteful spending practices such as providing "phony sick leave grants," fat pension plans, and union-inflated prevailing wages for state workers. Further, the media loved Jarvis, who gave them quotable sound bites and memorable flourishes.

State Democrats, the Parents-Teachers Association, and labor unions opposed Proposition 13. They warned of closed libraries, crippled schools, abandoned paramedic services, and massive layoffs. They were on the defensive and saddled with a projected $3.6 billion budget surplus in Sacramento.

Voters turned out in near record numbers in 1978 and passed Proposition 13 with 65 percent of a 69 percent turnout. The turnout was the highest in an off-year election since 1916. The voters defeated Proposition 8 by 53 to 47 percent. What was most striking was the breadth of support for Proposition 13. Jarvis-Gann had touched a political nerve that set off a national phenomenon.


Allswang, John M. The Initiative and Referendum in California, 1898–1998. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Schrag, Peter. Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future. New York: New Press, 1998.

Gordon MorrisBakken

See alsoCalifornia ; Taxation .