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Arianna Huffington

She urges Prop. 13 changes, saying corporations should pay more.

August 28, 2003|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Arianna Huffington, the political pundit now running a nonpartisan campaign for governor, called Wednesday for an overhaul of Proposition 13, the popular 1978 initiative that capped increases in California's property taxes.

Saying that the state relies too heavily on income and sales taxes that are vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles, Huffington cited the need for a more predictable source of income.

"That means being willing to touch the electrified third rail of California politics: Proposition 13," she told a cheering crowd of about 300 at a San Francisco hotel.

"There, you see, I said it. What do you know, lightning didn't strike me," she joked.

Huffington said the law should be modified to increase property taxes on corporations and wealthy homeowners, while still protecting senior citizens and middle-class people who own homes.

"I'm not saying end it," she said. "I'm saying mend it."

The debate over Proposition 13, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters a generation ago and is rarely challenged by politicians, has taken on a new urgency in the freewheeling campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis. Earlier this month, a prominent economic advisor to Republican contender Arnold Schwarzenegger -- billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett -- caused a minor hullabaloo by suggesting that Californians pay too little in property taxes.

Schwarzenegger promptly distanced himself from the remark, teasing Buffett that he would have to do 500 sit-ups as penance.

But Huffington, who claimed 3% of likely voters in a recent Times poll, said she agreed with Buffett. "Warren, keep telling the truth," the Athens native said, "and I'm going to make you a big, fat Greek dinner."

Speaking at the Commonwealth Club of California, Huffington laid out a broad menu of economic changes she would make as governor. First and foremost, she said, she would introduce public financing of California elections, which she said would help free politics from the grip of moneyed special interests.

Huffington also pledged to raise taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, oil drilling and Indian casino profits; to close several corporate tax loopholes; to cut the state's "bloated" prison budget; and to freeze prison guard salaries. She said she would promote universal health care for Californians, roll back the recent increases in state and community college fees, and support clean, renewable energy policies that encourage fuel efficiency.

"It sounds very good. If it actually turned into reality, I would be a very pleased citizen of California," one listener, Democrat Dyana King of San Francisco, said after the speech. King, the owner of a small firm that recruits technology workers, said that she shares Huffington's vision of a more equitable property tax system.

"When I was a kid and Proposition 13 was passed, I just remember my parents talking about how great it was," said King, 37. "But I have seen the education system in our state decline ever since then. Warren Buffett pays $2,000 on a $4-million home. That's not right. People who have the ability to pay should pay."

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