By Jack Humphreville.
The City Council will not place the half cent, $4.5 billion increase in our sales tax on the November ballot because the lack of trust in City Hall makes the odds of a majority of voters approving this measure slim. And achieving the necessary two-thirds approval is even more of long shot.
Under the “Save Our Streets – LA” program to repair our lunar cratered streets, the City would increase our regressive sales tax by a half cent to a job killing 9 ½ %, one of the highest rates in the country. Over the next fifteen years, this tax would funnel $4.5 billion into the city’s coffers to fund a twenty year street reconstruction program.
But the City Council is fighting an uphill battle as it is holding our streets hostage for a princely ransom.
In March of 2013, 55% of the City’s voters rejected Proposition A, the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax because the electorate did not trust City Hall to live within its means.
This represented a dramatic 25% swing from four months earlier when over 70% of the City’s voters approved Governor Brown’s Proposition 30, a $6 billion increase in our sales and income taxes.
Any trust or confidence was further eroded when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced shortly after the vote that the City had miraculously found $375 million in new revenue and pension savings, an amount considerably in excess of the proceeds from the increase in the sales tax. As a result, the City did not have to downsize the police force, a threat that had been broadcasted through a multimillion dollar advertising campaign financed by City Hall supplicants designed to persuade voters to approve this one off tax which would pay for even more increases in salaries, pensions, and benefits.
The proposed Street Tax measure is also fatally flawed as the “pavement preservation program” will not have the resources to maintain and repair our existing inventory of good streets. Nor is there any provision that requires the City to have “good to excellent” streets at the end of twenty years, putting the next generation of Angelenos in the same fix we are in today.
SOS – LA also does not provide for adequate oversight of this program, the largest infrastructure project in the City’s history. Under the proposed plan, the Citizens Oversight Committee would consist of nine political appointees. But what is the likelihood that these people would have the necessary expertise and experience to oversee such a complicated undertaking or that they would be provided with the resources to hire independent consultants to provide expert advice?
And even if this Oversight Committee had the necessary expertise and adequate resources, would it have any enforcement powers? Doubtful, meaning we have to rely on the judgment of the fiscally irresponsible City Council.
There is also considerable infighting at City Hall as County transportation proponents believe that if the City’s half cent increase in the sales to 9 ½ % is successful, it will jeopardize the County’s efforts to increase the sales tax in November of 2016. A 10% sales tax would be tough for two-thirds of the voters to swallow.
The environmental community also wants the City to address a number of its initiatives, including devoting resources to help fund the County’s Stormwater Master Plan designed to control urban runoff from our streets that pollutes the Santa Monica Bay.
There is also a slugfest over the proposed use of qualified third party contractors as the City’s unions are demanding a major piece of the action.
But the use of City street repair work crews has come under intense scrutiny as a result of CBS 2 News investigative reporter David Goldstein’s on air expose about work crews goofing off on company time and then falsifying their work logs.
Controller Ron Galperin is also expected to issue an unflattering audit of the Bureau of Street Services that includes over twenty recommendations to improve its operations, its control systems, and its leadership.
The proposed Street Tax is just another one off deal from our City Council, the same wizards who raided the Reserve Fund for $129 million to “balance” this year’s budget despite record revenues. It is also same Council that has refused to address real budget reform despite having liabilities for unfunded pensions, deferred maintenance, and outstanding debt of over $30 billion. They are content to dump this burden on the next generation of Angelenos.
No wonder the voters do not trust the City Council.
Now is the time to drop the proposed half cent increase in our sales tax.
Rather, the City needs to develop a transparent street repair plan in a partnership with the Neighborhood Councils, the business community, homeowners, renters, and other interested parties who are not affiliated with the City.
And any plan must address financial reform which will require the City to engage in long term planning, pass two year balanced budgets, and over the next twenty years, repair our streets and sidewalks and fully fund its two underwater pension plans.
In other words, like the rest of us, the City must be required to Live Within its Means.
Originally posted at LA City Watch.