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L.A. Council Panel Rejects Tax Hike Plan

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles voters will not be asked to approve a sales tax hike next March to pay for police officers after a City Council committee Monday unanimously rejected Mayor James K. Hahn’s call to put the measure on the ballot.

Hahn had been pushing the measure since a countywide half-cent sales tax measure narrowly missed passage two weeks ago.

But as business groups, the city’s chief legislative analyst and one of the region’s leading economists cautioned against rushing into a sales tax campaign, the five members of the public safety committee instead urged city leaders to consider a range of options for raising the money to expand the police force.

“There could be some unintended consequences,” Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said Monday of a city sales tax hike. “I think we need to study this very carefully.”

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Kyser and others worry that raising the city’s sales tax could push business to neighboring communities, such as Glendale and West Hollywood.

But council members left open the possibility of seeking voter approval for a sales tax or some other tax increase on the May ballot, when the top two mayoral candidates are likely to face a runoff.

The council has until Jan. 26 to vote on putting a measure on the May 17 ballot.

With about 9,000 officers, the Los Angeles Police Department is among the most thinly staffed big city departments in the nation. Chief William J. Bratton recently called on city leaders to boost that number by 3,000 officers.

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Had Measure A -- which would have raised the county sales tax from 8.25% to 8.75% -- passed, the city estimated it could have hired about 1,200 more police officers.

After the measure’s failure, the mayor quickly advocated putting a similar measure before city voters.

Hahn spoke with few city leaders before pushing the idea, which some criticized, given its possible effects on business and the city’s poor record of passing measures to pay for police.

Five times in the last 23 years, Los Angeles voters have rejected tax measures designed to bolster the size of the police force.

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Among the other options likely to be discussed in coming months are new taxes on property or buildings to raise the $200 million that a half-cent sales tax hike would have generated.

The city could tax property owners at $9 per 100 square feet of improved space, according to the chief legislative analyst.

Alternatively, the city could level a flat tax of $265 per property parcel.

Both new taxes would require the approval of two-thirds of Los Angeles voters.

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City leaders could also elect to stop subsidizing garbage collection by more than tripling fees without going to voters.

The savings could then be used to hire more police officers, though the chief legislative analyst warned that the city may need to raise garbage rates just to balance its budget in coming years.

Councilman Ed Reyes, who sits on the public safety committee, said Monday he would urge city leaders to consider other sources of funding, including revenue from the airport and port, even though earlier efforts were rejected by state and federal authorities.

Hahn still favors a city sales tax to pay for more police officers, his chief of staff, Tim McOsker, said Monday.

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