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LA's mayoral candidates propose alternatives to sales tax increase

The top mayoral candidates, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti, all oppose the proposed sales tax increase.
The top mayoral candidates, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti, all oppose the proposed sales tax increase.
Photos courtesy of candidates' campaigns

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A final vote to place a half-cent sales tax on the City of Los Angeles’ spring ballot is scheduled for Tuesday, but the top mayoral candidates have already come out in opposition to the proposal.

The tax increase, backed by council President Herb Wesson, could bring in as much as $215 million a year. Mayoral candidates and current council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry voted no in last week's initial vote.

Fellow candidate Wendy Greuel, L.A.'s City Controller, is also opposed. So is attorney Kevin James, who calls the proposed tax shortsighted — with some pointed words about Wesson's argument that the tax would give officials "breathing room" to come up with long-term solutions.

“I can translate it for you in just a few words – kicking the can farther down the road. That’s what breathing room means,” James said of the proposal. 

James said he would rather see efforts to make Los Angeles friendlier to business. That includes eliminating the gross receipts tax and creating a one-stop permitting center. He also wants to cap raises for city workers.

Perry believes labor needs to re-open contracts to avoid layoffs and furloughs. 

“We have to have a new starting point – bring our workforce back to the negotiating table to discuss salaries and benefits,” Perry said. “Then, refocus — look at the core services and then look at the non-core services. In non-core services, it’s an opportunity to create some competition between the public and private sector and seek the best agreement for the city.”

On the revenue side, Greuel said the city is losing millions of dollars because of waste and fraud.

“I talk frequently about the fact that we need to look at revenue and expenditures. Making sure that we’re getting all the revenue that the city deserves from the parking lot operators [and]  looking at our departments and the way they collect funds,” Greuel said. 

Greuel says the city must also be friendlier to business. Garcetti agrees.

 “The City of Los Angeles has just spent a lot of time focusing on cutting and taxing our way out of this recession and that’s not really a formula for success. Layering more and more taxes will chase more and more businesses away,” he said.

The councilman points to the West Side’s so-called Silicon Beach area as a sign that companies want to move to Los Angeles. In part, companies are moving here because of the business tax holiday. That means new companies don’t have to pay the city’s gross receipts tax for their first three years of operation. 

“We have incubators and accelerators that are literally bringing dozens, and in some cases hundreds, of new companies together in Los Angeles, helping the next Twitter, the next Facebook, the next Google start right here in Los Angeles,” Garcetti said.

Companies like those could pump new tax revenues into the city’s coffers, according to the councilman.

The Los Angeles City Council will take a final vote Tuesday to place the tax measures on the March ballot. In addition to the mayoral candidates, the tax increase is opposed by SEIU Local 721 and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.