L.A. ballot measures act like pickpockets: Susan Shelley (Los Angeles Daily News link): On Nov. 8, voters in Los Angeles will be asked to vote on seven measures that look innocent but take money right out of your pocket. It’s like being governed by the original Broadway cast of “Oliver.”
The show featured a gang of singing pickpockets, if you’ve never seen it.
L.A. County Measure A is a hike in property taxes to replace the funding from two expiring temporary taxes for parks. Because a temporary tax is a mythical creature, Measure A would levy a property tax of 1.5 cents per square foot of every building every year. The tax would hit businesses and apartment building owners especially hard, leading to higher prices and higher rents, and it’s permanent.
Measure M is a permanent one-half percent sales tax increase for what the county calls a “traffic improvement plan.” It would be the fourth one-half percent sales tax increase since 1980 for transportation. The third one, Measure R, was temporary, but Measure M would make it permanent.
Metro has a detailed plan on its website that shows all the projects Measure M will fund, but many of them count on the highly uncertain availability of billions of dollars in state or federal money. Some sound like outright fantasy. Valley voters are promised a tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, someday. It will do wonders to speed up the commute from Shangri-La to Brigadoon.
Now the bad news about Measure M: there are no guarantees that any of the promised projects will happen. Anything can be changed with a two-thirds vote of the Metro board of directors. And in the meantime, proposed mega-developments of housing or retail that are within one-half mile of a “planned” major transit stop qualify for streamlined approvals with no studies of the projects’ impact on traffic speed or parking, even if the nearby transit is only a watercolor illustration.
The Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees would like voters to authorize another $3.3 billion of borrowed money for more buildings, following the $6 billion the district blew through in the last 15 or so years. The money would be repaid, plus interest, by adding another charge to property tax bills for decades. Although Measure CC has “Affordable Education” and “Job Training” in its name, this is bond money that legally can only be used for land and buildings. It can’t be spent on education, or scholarships, or programs. Incidentally, in 2011, the State Controller reported on massive waste, fraud and mismanagement in the LACCD’s bond program. They promise this time they’ll really fix the bathrooms.
The City of Los Angeles is asking voters to approve Measure HHH, authorizing $1.2 billion of borrowed money to build housing for the homeless. Like the college bond, the money can only be used for land and buildings. Not one penny can legally be spent for services like mental health treatment, addiction counseling, shelters, social workers, law enforcement, or help for victims of domestic violence. The city can buy land, even forcing the sale with eminent domain, and pay developers to build high-density housing. Meanwhile, property tax bills will have an extra charge for decades to pay back the $1.2 billion plus interest.
Three more city measures could be just as costly.
Measure JJJ would require developers building some private residential developments to pay construction workers the “prevailing wage,” a significantly higher hourly rate based on union contracts for public projects. It would also require developers to designate some units in these projects as “affordable housing” at below-market rates. It’s a formula for higher rents: Raising the cost of building housing and making some units more expensive so others can be subsidized.
Measure SSS would increase the cost of public employee pensions, already chewing up about 20 percent of the city’s general fund, by enrolling new airport police officers into the more costly Fire and Police Pensions System.
Measure RRR, a charter amendment supposedly reforming the L.A. Department of Water and Power, actually does nothing to reform the DWP. But it makes it politically easier for the City Council and the mayor to raise water and power rates, hiding the increases in a four-year “strategic plan” that would be approved in advance so rate hikes would take effect later, without another vote. Meanwhile, 8 percent of the gross revenue from electricity sales is transferred to the city treasury every year to cover general expenses.
Our elected officials are addicted to spending. They just can’t say no.
Fortunately, you can.