A New We the People for California, Starting with Commercial Property Tax Reform

By Ana Tellez

#TaxesMakeHealthHappen campaign by Public Health Awakened

Throughout this year, the Human Impact Partners team has been exploring the power of narrative to advance health equity. We’ve been practicing new ways to tell the story of what drives health and government’s role within that story.

We are pushing public health to recognize: who has We the People been about so far, and who can it be about in the future?

Back in April, we coordinated a campaign to show that #TaxesMakeHealthHappen, as part of our Public Health Awakened network, in partnership with the The California Endowment and the Berkeley Media Studies Group. Throughout that campaign, we pushed for a reframe of taxes as an investment in our own collective well-being and in future generations. We came across the deep division of perspectives: passion on both sides for and against taxation as an investment in health.

As we deepen our own analysis of how worldview and public narratives inform public policy opportunities and limitations, we’re coming to the same conclusion that others in our movement for social justice are coming to:

We need to co-create a new social compact that tells a wholly inclusive story about who “We the People” should really be about.

Earlier this week at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting, we were energized to hear john powell speak on the main stage about the power of exclusion. As he said, “if we don’t see people as fully human, we are not going to consider them when we develop policies.”

He called on public health to participate in co-creating a new narrative that rebuilds our social compact as one based on inclusive values by both recognizing our past and embracing our future.

Professor powell’s words and his introduction of the New Social Compact website line up with our own narrative building on taxes, government, and health: We believe that a just and fair society provides everyone with an opportunity to live a long, healthy life. By building an inclusive society, we improve everyone’s health and ability to thrive along the way.

The public health data are clear: we all do better when we all do better.

In line with this, we believe our tax structure is a critical component of building that inclusive, healthy society. The tax system and our budgets are moral documents. The decisions we make about taxes make concrete what we value — they reflect who we are and who we want to be as a society.

We are mobilizing the public health voice to ensure the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act proposition that’s coming on the ballot in 2020 passes with a resounding yes. The proposition would close the commercial property tax loophole created by Proposition 13. It would tax under-valued commercial properties at their actual value, creating a level playing field among businesses and ending the unfair advantage given to big corporations. It does not touch the residential guarantees included in Prop 13.

The Schools & Communities First proposition would restore $11 billion per year to invest in California’s community needs.

Every year, about $4.5 billion of the new funds would go toward K-12 and community college education, giving teachers and students the resources to succeed and helping kids with the greatest educational needs receive crucial services. We know well that education has a huge impact on health.

What about the remaining $6.5 billion per year that would flow back into California’s local governments? Before the work began to qualify the ballot measure, we worked closely with regional community organizing groups across the state to research how counties could invest their new resources to advance equity and health for all.

Our partners across the state told us about their local priorities to improve their communities, and we put together a set of fact sheets enumerating the new services and infrastructure this proposition can bring in. Priorities, which varied from county to county, included funding for healthcare, affordable housing, taking care of people who are unsheltered, mental health and substance abuse programs, job training, pre-school and after-school programs, libraries, and parks. The evidence is strong that each of these is tied to better health outcomes and to health equity.

We have the knowledge and resources to achieve this, but right now our collective resources are not shared appropriately. We need to realign the gross imbalance of wealth in our state — and our country — and ensure all our policies and systems support everyone’s opportunity to thrive.

We have the power to change our tax system so that we all can all thrive. Let’s flex our muscles and reframe who We the People is really about!


Ana Tellez is Communications Director at Human Impact Partners. Ana leads communications strategy at HIP, to share our organizational story with the world and to ensure our products and resources reach and activate our stakeholders. She’s passionate about using plain language and inclusive storytelling to advance racial justice and health equity.

Ana is originally from Mexico City, with a Midwest twist — she now lives and plays in Berkeley with her husband and 2 kids. She’s kind of a culture vulture for TV, movies, and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

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