Hahn’s Drive to Raise Sales Tax in Trouble

Times Staff Writer

Mayor James K. Hahn’s drive to raise the sales tax in Los Angeles to pay for more police officers appears to be faltering even as he escalates his campaign to round up enough votes on the City Council.

The mayor needs 10 votes to put a half-cent increase before voters in May.

But Council President Alex Padilla said Monday that he had deep reservations about proceeding with a tax campaign this spring.

“We don’t have our act together right now,” Padilla said in a luncheon speech at the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum.


Without a unified front, Padilla said, city leaders risk losing the tax campaign and having to wait years before trying again.

A countywide sales tax campaign failed to get the necessary two-thirds voter approval in November despite the support of the City Council and county leaders.

A city measure also would require a two-thirds margin.

Padilla is the sixth of the 15 council members to express opposition to the tax plan, leaving the mayor one vote shy. The council is scheduled to discuss the sales tax plan again Wednesday.

Councilmen Jack Weiss, Bernard C. Parks, Greig Smith, Dennis Zine and Antonio Villaraigosa have said they oppose the plan, which would put a measure on the May 17 ballot to boost the local sales tax to 8.75%.

Hahn, who pledged to add officers to the about 9,000-member Police Department when he ran for mayor in 2001, has said a tax increase would allow the city to hire at least another 1,200 officers.

On a per-capita basis, Los Angeles is among the most under-policed major cities in America.

Chief William J. Bratton has repeatedly stressed that without more manpower, the department would be unable to reduce crime as much as the community demands.

Hahn and Bratton went to Hollywood to push the sales tax again Monday morning as they unveiled police-operated security cameras along Hollywood Boulevard, where business and community leaders said that stepped-up crime-fighting had helped turn the area around.

Violent crime fell 14% in Hollywood last year, according to the city. And between 1998 and 2003, property values in the area more than doubled as local tax revenues shot up more than 60%.

Those changes prove that more policing helps the economy, Bratton said. He was flanked by Hahn, council members and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who said that more than 2,000 security cameras in his city have helped cut crime dramatically.

“Let’s stop the foolishness that we’re going to drive businesses out,” said Bratton, dismissing the complaint that a higher local sales tax could push consumers to shop outside the city.

But the proposed sales tax increase troubles many council members and some of Hahn’s opponents in the mayor’s race, who contend that the city could find money elsewhere to expand the police force.