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Sales Tax Scrutiny

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Editor's Note: Darren Faulk joins LAist to cover the politics beat. Ho, hum, you say? Keep reading...Contrary to popular belief, LA politics isn’t boring, it’s just really poorly covered. That’s somewhat a problem with the structural nature of news coverage. There’s quite a lot actually going on, and quite a lot of really interesting personalities, each with their quirks, closeted (and not-so-closeted) skeletons, and dreams of power. It’s just hard to fit all that into a deadline story without providing background over and over again, so the interesting stuff gets lost in the day-to-day foreground.

Take, for example, the LA City Council’s passage yesterday of a motion to place a half-cent sales tax on the ballot for the May municipal election. Seems pretty dull, but there are levels to this you won’t see in the papers. It passed 10-5--by one vote (had to have 2/3).

First there are the straight political impacts. Two of the members in opposition, Antonio Villaraigosa and Bernard Parks, are running against the Mayor in the upcoming election. Jack Weiss, the only councilmember thus far to endorse against the Mayor (and that’s a story in itself) basically supports Antonio on everything, and he was #3. This ballot has to really hurt Bernie’s and Antonio’s chances, especially Antonio’s. By putting this on the May ballot, the Mayor’s assuming he makes the runoff, and then probably runs against Antonio or Hertzberg. Either way, the Mayor bashes his opponent as weak on crime, and as the public-safety candidate: “I support the half-cent sales tax increase for more cops. My opponent (both BH and AV oppose the increase) doesn’t want more cops!” And he wins.

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Then there are the tax's ramifications on business and Valley politics. Greig Smith and Dennis Zine, CD-12 and CD-3 respectively, are both reserve cops and are very popular in the police community. However, they represent the West Valley, the most right-wing, anti-tax part of the City, and we have no doubt they’ve been deluged with calls by businesses scared to death that their sales will drop and constituents angry that their dinner at TGI Friday’s will cost 15 cents more. Both of them, as well as Wendy Gruel (CD-2, representing Sherman Oaks and Sunland-Tujunga) have been haranguing (like good Republicans, though only Zine is a reep) on the importance of efficiency in government and trying to cut City expenses to hire more cops. Of course, the City hasn’t cut anything, and there’s more than enough blame to go around.

Finally, we wonder what deals were made to obtain the vote of Wendy Greul and Alex Padilla to get this on the ballot. Our guess is that they each got a call from the Mayor explaining how very, very important this measure was to the welfare of the City of Los Angeles, and how very, very important it was to get the measure on the ballot as soon as possible. Whether it’s right or not, it’s hard to cross the sitting Mayor.

We also debate whether the tax is good policy. The council refrain has been that the City "put the issue in the hands of the voters," followed by "...and run a stronger campaign to make sure it passes this time, you dolts!" Yes. Putting it in the hands of the voters, alright. This is political cynicism at its worst. Amazingly, people have also failed to point out that sales taxes are regressive taxes that impact poor people way more than the rich, since poor people actually have to spend all of their disposable income. Considering that a disproportionate amount of the support for this measure comes from rich people who are angry that police have been pulled from their tony divisions to more high-crime areas, is it really fair that they're not paying more?

So as you can see, there's a lot happening every day, on every issue.
We hope this analysis highlights how each Council maneuver is part of a broader picture, especially as the mayoral election campaigns swing into action.

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