Measure J: LA County Prop Could Shift $110 Million From Sheriff To Community Investment

Published Sep 30, 2020

Los Angeles County voters will have a weighty fiscal decision on their hands Nov. 3. (Add this to the slate of local candidates, a long list of state ballot measures and -- oh, yeah -- president of the United States.)

In August, County Supervisors voted to place a charter amendment on the ballot to require the county to spend a sizable chunk of its budget on programs such as housing, youth development, mental health care and criminal justice diversion programs.

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If approved, the county would be required to designate at least 10% of its locally generated, unrestricted revenue to community investment initiatives. In the event of a budget emergency that threatens mandated programs, supervisors could vote to reduce that amount.

Amending the county's charter to make the 10% threshold permanent takes voter approval. The idea was first approved on July 21.

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Supporters have dubbed Measure J the "Reimagine L.A. County" charter amendment because it was developed with the support of groups in a coalition of that name, including the United Way, L.A. Community Action Network, Abundant Housing and more.

The motion was co-authored by supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis. It passed 4-1, with Board Chair Kathryn Barger the lone "no" vote, citing concerns about county worker layoffs and impact to public safety.

"I just don't feel that we should be cutting off our nose to spite our face as it relates to investing in our community," Barger said on KPCC's AirTalk.

Barger added it was "irresponsible" to "handcuff future boards" with a charter amendment.

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LET'S BREAK DOWN THE NUMBERS:

For the fiscal year that started July 1, the county's 2020-21 budget is just under $35 billion. (For context, this is more than three times larger than the City of L.A.'s $10.5 billion spending plan.) Most of the county's funding comes from the state or the federal government. About $8.8 billion is drawn from local taxes -- that's the county's general fund, officially known as "Net County Cost."

Measure J's charter amendment would address a slice of that: the $4.9 billion that is unrestricted (not designated to a specific purpose), locally-generated revenue. If approved by voters, the amendment would reallocate $360 million-to-$496 million of that amount to community programs, according to a projection from the county CEO's office.

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Diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of county funds would undoubtedly mean cuts for the Sheriff's Department's budget.

For example, the County CEO's office estimates the charter amendment could siphon about $114 million from this year's law enforcement budget, if a 10% trim was applied uniformly across all departments. In practice, however, the specific allocation of funds would still be up to supervisors, and begin to take effect in the next budget year, starting July 1, 2021, ramping up over a three-year period.

Kuehl's office says the amendment is not aimed at defunding law enforcement.

"[It] does not specify where cuts will be made and cuts are not expected to come from any single department," Kuehl said in a statement. "The Sheriff currently receives $1.873 billion in locally-generated County funds, in other words, 1 in every 5 County tax dollars go to LASD."

The amendment explicitly prohibits the 10% diverted funds from being spent on the Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's office, Probation or Superior Courts.

(A version of story was originally published Aug. 4, 2020.)