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Commentary: Now is the time to speak out against Proposition 15

Issue Date: September 23, 2020
By Shannon Douglass
Shannon Douglass
Leading California farm organizations have formed Family Farmers Against Prop 15 to oppose a November ballot initiative to create a split-roll property tax that would raise taxes on agricultural fixtures and improvements.
Graphic/Family Farmers Against Prop 15

With all the forces affecting California farms and ranches this year—drought, wildfire, pandemic, trade disputes—could your operation absorb a tax increase? Of course not. That's why we need you to defeat Proposition 15 on the November ballot.

Farm Bureau and other farm organizations have been among the leading opponents of Proposition 15, which would create a so-called split-roll property tax. It would weaken longstanding Proposition 13 tax protections by allowing commercial and industrial property to be assessed based on current market value rather than purchase price.

The measure's proponents—chiefly public employee and teachers unions—claim the measure would exempt agriculture. Except it doesn't. Agricultural land would avoid reassessment, but fixtures and improvements wouldn't. That means your barns, vineyards, fruit or nut trees, dairies, processing plants and wineries would all face much-higher taxes.

Proposition 15 poses a dangerous threat to the future of California agriculture. The increased tax burden would be devastating to our family farms, ranches and the processing we depend upon.

But we have time to take action and make a difference. A public-opinion survey released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Proposition 15 was favored by 51% of likely voters—so its support is tepid, at best. This measure can be defeated.

But we need you and we need you now. We need you to speak up and speak out to encourage people to vote no on Proposition 15.

Farmers may be less than 2% of the population, but we have people's respect. A Gallup poll released a couple of weeks ago showed farming and agriculture with the highest approval rating of any business or industry sector in the country.

So, it's time to use our well-regarded voices to let our fellow Californians know how badly this measure would hurt family farmers and ranchers. Although it's not practical to walk precincts in 2020, there are many more ways you can help that can make even more of an impact:

  • Share on social media. This is the easiest way to help. Start by following the California Farm Bureau Facebook and Twitter feeds @cafarmbureau and the campaign organization Family Farmers Against Prop 15 @farmersvsprop15, and share their messages. That could involve just a quick click of the "share" button, or you could choose to amplify the impact by adding context about what this measure would mean for your farm and for your neighbors.
  • Add a frame to your social media profile picture. This temporary frame will remind your connections to vote no on Proposition 15; you can literally set it and forget it. Find frames at
  • If you aren't a social media fan—or even if you are—you can add a bumper sticker to your truck and reach people on your daily drive. To get a bumper sticker, check with your county Farm Bureau.
  • And don't forget: You can contribute to the campaign. Yard signs in our farm yards are great, but advertisements to voters in urban areas are essential in the fight against Proposition 15. Our digital and social media advertising campaign is going strong. Radio ads have begun. Your contributions make that happen, and will be needed more than ever in coming weeks as mail-in voting starts and the Nov. 3 election date nears.

If you think your voice doesn't matter, you're wrong. I know from personal experience.

Recently, a teacher contacted me and thanked me for sharing the No on 15 message. Her union had contacted her, seeking support for the initiative. Knowing the damage Proposition 15 would do to farms, she turned them down. Better yet, she shared the reasons for her opposition with her colleagues.

It's especially important right now to reach out to the teachers in your life, and to your family and friends in urban areas. If you don't speak up now and share your story today, the proponents of Proposition 15 are happy to share a false narrative and sway votes in the wrong direction.

If you fail to take action today, we, our children and grandchildren will pay for it in higher taxes and lower economic opportunity for generations to come.

So share a story every week on social media, change your profile, display a bumper sticker or yard sign, and contribute to Family Farmers Against Prop 15.

Early voting begins Oct. 5, so the time is now. Join with your fellow farmers and ranchers to urge Californians to vote no on Proposition 15.

(Glenn County cattle rancher and farmer Shannon Douglass serves as first vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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