A proposal supported by some members of the Los Angeles City Council begs the question: Just what do we pay taxes for?

Los Angeles City Officials want to increase sales taxes for which, in return, they will repair the streets. Councilmembers Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino are promoting the plan, while Councilman Herb Wesson was quick to provide a thumbs up on the tax hike, telling a reporter, “Without a doubt … this city needs some kind of additional revenue stream for us to take care of our business.”

So what is the city’s business? Is it unreasonable for residents to expect their representatives to give public safety and street maintenance the highest priority for the significant tax dollars already provided?

Los Angeles is a high-tax city in a high-tax state. The city’s utility user tax ranks second in California. Every time a resident turns on a light or opens a tap, the city makes money. Business taxes, too, are higher than average. A Kosmont–Rose Institute Cost of Doing Business Report ranked Los Angeles as the ninth most expensive city in the nation for business. In spite of all the revenue the city takes in, it appears that officials will now demand a bribe, in the form of higher sales taxes, to provide a basic essential service.

Last year, Englander and Buscaino were pushing a bond that would have raised property taxes to fund street repair, but withdrew the plan when Wesson succeeded in placing a sales-tax increase on the ballot to help the city through the economic downturn. The measure failed to achieve a majority vote — voters too were the victims of the economic downturn.

Now Los Angeles voters may see another half-cent sales tax increase measure on the ballot as soon as this November. If passed, it is estimated it will cost the average household over $90 per year. This, from the point of view of the highest paid City Council in the nation — its members make nearly $180,000 annually — probably sounds like a pittance, but to average folks, it’s real money.

If passed, the higher tax will hurt local businesses too, as consumers look to get a better deal in nearby communities with a lower sales tax levy.

Will the Los Angeles politicians get the new revenue? Perhaps they think that their negligence over the last 20 years — 35 percent of Los Angeles streets are in need of repair — will force voters to give in and pay the tribute officials are now demanding.

However, here is a novel idea. How about the City Council first fully fund essential services, including street maintenance, and then, when they run out of money, they can turn to the voters and ask for a tax increase to support the sweetheart wage and benefit packages the politicians keep approving for their government employee union backers. Those who think this is straight from the “Department of the Obvious” should keep in mind this is not at all obvious to our elected officials.

 

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

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