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Board Seek Alternative to Prop. A Tax for Jails

Times Staff Writer

Facing the possible loss of $1.6 billion to build jails and courts over the next decade, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday grimly began to ponder its financial and legal alternatives to meet its exploding criminal-justice needs.

Reacting to a Superior Court judge’s decision last week overturning Proposition A, a half-cent sales tax for jails narrowly approved by San Diego County voters last fall, the supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to review other options--among them, new taxes--that could be pursued in the event that the ruling is not reversed on appeal.

“We have to recognize that we’ll have to build jails and courts, regardless of the final result in this case,” Supervisor Susan Golding said.

The board’s action calls for Chief Administrative Officer Norman Hickey to report next month on revenue sources that could at least partly compensate for the loss of Proposition A funds.

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Worst-Case Scenario

The request for that report stemmed from similar proposals by Golding and Supervisor George Bailey that county staff members analyze this worst-case scenario: If Proposition A is held to be unconstitutional, could the county afford to build the facilities needed to alleviate San Diego’s problems of jail crowding and an overextended court system?

Bailey, who asked Hickey to detail what county programs and services would have to be cut to replace the lost sales-tax dollars, predicted that the report will demonstrate how financially ill-equipped the county would be--in the absence of Proposition A--to build jails and courts. Over its 10-year life, Proposition A is projected to raise $1.6 billion.

Last week, a Riverside County judge, who heard the case because of local judges’ conflict of interest on a matter affecting courtroom space--struck down Proposition A, ruling that it violated Proposition 13’s requirement of a two-thirds vote to approve new taxes.

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Although the state legislation that set the stage for Proposition A, which drew 50.6% support countywide, specified that only a majority vote was required for passage, the judge ruled that that provision “purposely circumvented” the two-thirds margin mandated by Proposition 13, the landmark property-tax cutting initiative approved by statewide voters in 1978.

With the case expected to eventually reach the California Supreme Court, appeals of the Proposition A ruling could last as long as two years.


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