Gossett is one of many San Mateo County landowners facing the unenviable possibility that just living on his land is about to get more expensive. The county is looking at non-renewing Williamson Act contracts for some 128 privately owned parcels currently incorporating small-scale agriculture and wildland areas like Gossett’s. The non-renewal process takes nine years, over which the county could gradually increase owners’ property taxes. County staff say the 128 parcels are out of compliance with the Williamson Act. But others say it’s possible the state’s ongoing budget crisis has caused Sacramento to put pressure on counties to tighten their interpretation of the law’s vague language. And the state itself may stop funding the act, which would threaten open space and cause problems for agricultural businesses across California.
There’s another way to look at this, which is that landowners who are getting a discount on their tax liability are creating a burden for everyone else to shoulder.
This is what happens when every program that appeals to our human interests becomes untouchable irrespective of the financial impact. If we were talking about a property tax break for an oil refinery or a Walmart then the sentiment would be dramatically different, even thought we are actually talking about exactly the same tax principle… if someone is getting a break, who is paying for it?
The amount of money that is involved with these 128 properties seems relatively small compared to the overall state budget, but when you add up this program with literally hundreds of others, well pretty soon the numbers are not that small anymore.
If these laws when strictly interpreted are creating an unreasonable burden, the problem then is not the enforcement action, it’s the way the law itself is written and that is what should be changed. This is precisely what is so wrong with the regulatory environment in California, very little is done to correct what is known to be wrong.
The case of San Francisco and Twitter is a great example, the Mayor says that the law empowering the city to tax stock options has never been enforced and he “can’t imagine a scenario where it would be enforced”… then why have the law at all!
San Francisco would rather retain a law that has not nor will be enforced and risk losing the jobs that Twitter creates, rather than just erasing a bad law from the books and removing the uncertainty for all businesses.