Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday created an agency to place a half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot to pay for new jails.
Supervisor Pete Schabarum accused his colleagues of creating a "sham" agency to get around the requirement of Proposition 13 for two-thirds voter approval for a tax increase.
Richard B. Dixon, the county's chief administrative officer, recommended seeking approval of the tax increase. He said that raising the sales tax by half a cent to 7 cents would raise $423 million a year for construction and operation of jails.
The tax increase is necessary, Dixon told supervisors, to relieve jail overcrowding, which has forced the early release of more than 250,000 minor offenders. A June, 1988, court order limits county jail population to 22,000 adult prisoners.
"The juvenile detention system is also faced with ever-growing detention needs and antiquated facilities which cannot provide adequate programs and security," Dixon said.
The sales tax increase requires a simple majority vote for approval under state legislation passed last year, said County Counsel DeWitt Clinton.
State legislation sought by Los Angeles County and five other counties and approved last year allowed counties to create special agencies to raise funds for jail construction.
The legislation was declared unconstitutional by a Sacramento judge after a lawsuit was filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Assn. Los Angeles County appealed. Pending the outcome of the appeal, a state appeals court last week lifted the injunction that had prevented counties from implementing the legislation.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday over Schabarum's objections to establish the Los Angeles County Regional Justices Facilities Financing Agency to place the half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot. The agency will be chaired by Sheriff Sherman Block and consist of four other law enforcement officials. Supervisors will have final say over when and where jails are built.
Schabarum accused his colleagues of a "lack of backbone" in creating the agency to avoid taking the political heat for proposing a tax hike.
Supervisor Ed Edelman said the tax increase would free county funds for strapped health and welfare programs.
On another issue, supervisors delayed for one week a vote on placing a measure on the November ballot to create an elected county executive. Edelman and Schabarum, who support the measure, are hoping to pick up the third vote required to place it on the ballot from Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.
Hahn insisted that supervisors also ask voters to expand the board to seven members in return for his support.
With powers similar to those of a governor, the executive would prepare the budget, veto ordinances and appoint department heads. The board would continue as the legislative body with authority to confirm the executive's appointments, adopt ordinances and override vetoes.
Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Deane Dana oppose the1 measure.