Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA City Council on Tuesday considers putting sales tax increase on March 2013 ballot

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A proposal to increase the city of Los Angeles’ sales tax in an effort to close a fiscal deficit was one step closer Friday to making it onto the March 2013 ballot.

Members of the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee unanimously agreed to ask Los Angeles voters to increase the city’s sales tax from 8.75 percent to 9.25 percent. If the rate is increased, city officials say it would generate between $208 million and $215 million a year for the city’s General Fund, and it would put Los Angeles on par with Santa Monica. The city's deficit for the next fiscal year is expected to be $216 million. 

“It nets us the most amount of money," said L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson. "If you look at what happened Tuesday night, out of 36 elections statewide, 29 of them were successful where it related to an increase in the sales tax." 

Proposals to increase parking and real estate taxes, plus a recommendation for a new parcel tax that would benefit Recreation and Parks, were sent to the Los Angeles City Council without recommendation. The full council is expected to take up the tax measures on Tuesday.

Wesson asked that, if approved, a citizens’ committee chaired by the controller oversee the new sales tax dollars. The tax measures would require a simple majority vote for approval. The parcel tax would require a two-thirds vote. 

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck warned the LAPD could lose 500 cops without the tax increase.

“I don't want to panic my workforce," Beck told the Times. "But I wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was a severe threat on public safety in Los Angeles."

The council president echoed similar public safety concerns at Friday’s meeting.

“Under the public safety umbrella, I’m sure all of us would like to fix that," said Wesson. "Our firefighters have done a phenomenal job and they’re basically operating with chewing gum and bailing wire."

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sent a letter to the committee, asking that the sales tax increase include a commitment that the Reserve Fund remain at 5 percent of General Fund receipts.

“While this recommendation in no way guarantees my endorsement of this measure, it is an indication that any requested increase in taxes from our residents will be met with necessary fiscal controls,” Villaraigosa wrote.

The city primary is March 5, 2013. 

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