L.A. County putting pressure on Sacramento to impose a ‘millionaires’ tax’ to combat homelessness
With a deadline fast approaching, Los Angeles County officials are turning up the pressure in Sacramento for a change in state law that would allow them to impose a “millionaires’ tax” to fund expanded efforts to combat homelessness.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas met one-on-one Wednesday with Gov. Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and state Senate leader Kevin de León to make a pitch for the proposal.
“I think I underscored the crisis nature of the matter that is before us,” Ridley-Thomas said. “What I think is extremely important is for us to have additional revenues on an ongoing basis to satisfy voters that we are serious about addressing the homeless crisis in L.A. County, and I think the state can and should be partners in that.”
The county has rallied support from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, as well as from advocates for the homeless, affordable housing providers, and a group of 29 state lawmakers who are urging the governor and legislative leaders to allow the change.
But the efforts have so far failed to persuade legislative leaders to include the proposal in the budget package to be passed by Wednesday.
Brown has been reluctant to give local governments increased taxing authority, recently vetoing a bill that would have allowed cities and counties to charge their own tobacco taxes.
Of the county income tax proposal, “the governor continues to have deep concerns about both this plan and local taxing authority on income,” Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said Friday.
A spokesman for Rendon, who has been the focus of much of the county lobbying, said the speaker had not yet taken a stance on the issue.
The proposal has also met with some skepticism from labor groups and others concerned that a county income tax measure would hurt the chances of passing an extension of Proposition 30, a statewide temporary income tax increase, to fund public schools and healthcare.
In response to those concerns, county lobbyists have circulated a memo laying out poll results showing that voter support for the extension was not diminished by the prospect of a homelessness tax measure.
L.A. city and county officials have been casting about for options to raise more money to deal with the region’s swelling homeless population, which stood at nearly 47,000 as of this year’s count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
In February, county supervisors passed a plan to spend $150 million this year and next on a set of strategies to house more people. County budget analysts have estimated that the county would need to spend an additional $450 million a year on housing and services to make a significant dent in the problem, not including the cost of new construction.
A half-cent levy on taxable income above $1 million is projected to raise more than half of that amount. County officials are also looking at other options, including a sales tax or property tax measure or a tax on marijuana sales, but polling has showed the “millionaires’ tax” to have the best shot of passing.
A recent poll by the county found that 76% of likely voters polled were supportive of a millionaires’ tax — enough to meet the two-thirds majority required to impose a new tax.
A separate poll commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is contemplating a transportation sales tax measure on the November ballot, found 79% support for a millionaires’ tax to address homelessness.
But local governments don’t have the authority to raise income taxes on their own, so the state would have to sign off on the deal.
County supervisors have until early August to finalize measures on the November ballot, so the county is pushing for the change to be included in state budget negotiations ahead of next week’s deadline for passage.
If authority is not granted by July 1, the county would not be able to pursue a millionaires’ tax on the November ballot, although it could place another tax option on the ballot.
The city of Los Angeles is separately contemplating placing a bond measure on the ballot to pay to build more housing for the homeless. But that money, unlike the potential income tax proceeds, could not be used for services like mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Times staff writer Liam Dillon in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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