Why some cities won’t be paying Los Angeles’ new homeless tax

800px-Helping_the_homelessLos Angeles County’s sky-high sales tax will rise not once, but twice, this year.

In recent elections, Angelinos voted two new tax hikes upon themselves — one to fund transportation (Measure M) and the other to fight homelessness (Measure H).

As a result, the county’s 8.75 percent tax rate jumped to 9.25 percent on July 1. It’ll rise even further — to 9.5 percent — on October 1.

Of course, some cities in Los Angeles County have even higher tax rates. Seven of them — Compton, La Mirada, Long Beach, Lynwood, Pico Rivera, Santa Monica and South Gate — have rates of 10.25 percent that are among the highest in California, if not the entire nation.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Rather than increase their tax rates another quarter cent on October 1 like the rest of the county, those seven normally tax-loving cities will get a free pass — at least for now — in funding the fight against homelessness.

The seven cities will, of course, benefit from the estimated $355 million in annual tax payments the measure will raise but they will do so only by the courtesy of taxpayers in other cities. It’s a subsidy, plain and simple.

Why was Measure H drafted this way?

It appears to have been a rather clumsy attempt to dodge a state law capping local sales taxes. The law requires localities to limit voter-approved “district” sales taxes to 2 percent (on top of the state rate of 7.25 percent) unless they obtain specific legislative authorization.

Los Angeles County has received legislative approval twice in the past to increase this limit for transportation-related taxes. For some unknown reason, Measure H proponents didn’t want to bother with this step.

But the poor planning came back to bite them. Proponents claimed the new tax would take effect July 1, at the same time as Measure M. That would have been a lot simpler for everyone, including business owners who must now go through the trouble of reprogramming their registers twice to adapt to the rate increases.

Since the Measure H language was both unprecedented and legally questionable, the Board of Equalization rightly refused to collect the tax until the Legislature specifically voted to authorize it.

These delays have pushed back the start date of Measure H, resulting in lost funding for the fight against homelessness, and more confusion and headaches for taxpayers.

Even more troubling is the dangerous precedent this sets statewide. Will other local governments soon craft tax proposals that exempt politically-favored constituencies?

We believe the cap on local sales taxes exists to protect taxpayers and should be respected. Not every good cause merits a tax increase.

Governments are hungry for more taxpayer revenue, and seem increasingly impatient to add more and more taxes. They are also becoming more creative at disguising their efforts, and using public dollars to pay for them. The Fair Political Practices Commission, for example, is conducting an investigation into whether the county of Los Angeles illegally spent taxpayer dollars for political advocacy in its campaign for Measure H.

Before asking voters to approve more and more taxes, shouldn’t local governments identify and eliminate ineffective taxes that haven’t accomplished their promised goals?

If taxpayers are concerned about how local governments spend their money, then that question is certainly worth asking. If not, how else do we ensure taxpayers receive value for the dollars they are already paying?

George Runner is vice chair of the California State Board of Equalization. Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

Are Taxes the Solution to CA’s Homeless Problem?

800px-Helping_the_homelessApparently, politicians up and down the state think the solution to California’s homeless problem is taxes. In San Francisco, members of the board of supervisors want to tax the tech industry. In Los Angeles, the city council wants to raise property taxes on all property owners. On the state level, legislative leaders plan to shift income taxes from the rich paid to a fund to help those with mental illness to finance housing bonds for the homeless.

Homelessness is a complex problem and the solutions are not easy. As far back as 2001 a brief by the Public Policy Institute of California identified some of the reasons for a growing homeless population including the high cost of housing, debilitating personal habits and attributes of many of the homeless—alcoholism, crack cocaine addiction, and mental disorders— and income inequality. Its safe to say that since then the homeless situation has worsened.

But is raising taxes the solution?

In some cases it makes sense. Take the Proposition 63 income tax dedicated to help with mental illness. The fund was not being well spent according to an audit. The state effort to shift some revenue from that fund to a more useful function to finance bonds allows a foundation for helping the homeless across the state.

But the local solutions have less merit and again target business in large part as the answer to a problem.

In San Francisco, supporters of the tech tax blame the tech business for the homeless problem arguing that the booming tech industry is responsible for increased housing costs in the city. The tax would raise about $120 million a year.

Given that the city by the bay has been a haven for the homeless and downtrodden well before the boom in technology, it seems tech is being made a scapegoat. An attack on one industry could be an impetus for individual companies to pull up roots and find a friendlier business environment. The precedent setting idea of taxing one industry to solve a societal problem is dangerous for all sectors of the business community. The obvious question: Who’s next?

The Los Angeles approach is different but still questionable. The city council approved putting a $1.8 billion bond on the ballot, which will probably cost twice as much to pay off with interest and will be backed by property taxes. The council is also considering a parcel tax on all properties and may move forward with both plans until a final decision is made in August on which to put on the ballot.

The property taxes will fall heavily on residents who are struggling with the high costs of housing in the region. Homeowners, businesses and apartment owners will carry the burden. Renters covered by the city’s rent-control provisions will not have the tax passed on to them.

In both San Francisco and Los Angeles a two-thirds vote is required to pass the taxes.

Opposition from the business community and some local pols, including the mayor, are lining up against the tech tax in San Francisco. However, the mayor of Los Angeles has promised to find revenue for homeless issues and will support the final plan. Business reaction could be mixed, although the parcel tax, especially if the tax is calculated on a property’s square footage, will certainly bring out strong opposition from business.

One thing that is often ignored in looking for solutions to local problems is to improve the business climate, create jobs, and allow people to earn more. Admittedly, this is not a silver bullet solution for the homeless crisis but it should be talked about constantly instead of always falling back on the T-solution. Taxes.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

‘Homeless bill of rights’ diminishes policing authority

homelessIn California, helping the homeless is a popular issue in some cities and some political circles. In San Diego, elected officials of both parties say they don’t just want to reduce downtown homelessness, they want to end it. In Santa Clara County, the leader of the Board of Supervisors last week declared that targeting homelessness was one of his top priorities in 2016. In the state Senate, President Pro tem Kevin de Leon and other Democrats in January unveiled an ambitious plan to build $2 billion in housing for the mentally ill homeless around California.

But advocates of Senate Bill 676, a new bill that would ban police from fining or arresting people for sleeping outdoors, is facing a tough reception.

Sen. Carol Liu, a La Cañada Flintridge Democrat who is a sponsor of the bill, depicts it as being about human rights. The language of the measure says it “would afford persons experiencing homelessness the right to use public spaces without discrimination based on their housing status and describe basic human and civil rights that may be exercised without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, including the right to use and to move freely in public spaces, the right to rest in public spaces and to protect oneself from the elements.”

It would also allow homeless people to sue authorities if these rights were abrograted and would mandate that all local communities take steps to minimize the “criminalization of homelessness.”

Bill called counterproductive, poorly conceived

However, the administration of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and local business groups in the state capital call the proposal poorly conceived and warn it could have huge potential unintended consequences.

The Downtown Sacramento Partnership, a community assessment district of Sacramento merchants, approaches the issue from an entirely different direction.

Allowing people to sleep inside cities not only creates a public safety hazard, but it undermines current efforts to permanently house people because it signals that a city is comfortable with people sleeping on the sidewalk, said Dion Dwyer, who oversees homeless outreach efforts for the partnership.

“I want to provide a social safety net that can lift up that person off the sidewalk and into services and ultimately into sustainable housing,” said Dwyer.

That is from an article in the Sacramento Business Journal.

Mayor Johnson has won backing from Sacramento Councilman Jay Schenirer. “We fully recognize the good intent of this measure; however, we do not feel that it will make a positive impact in the effort to reduce and address chronic homelessness,” he wrote last month in a formal letter of opposition to Liu’s measure.

Is Sacramento really ‘criminalizing the homeless’?

Meanwhile, Sacramento Bee metro columnist Marcos Breton is pushing back against some of the tactics and generalizations of those who feel Sacramento is callous toward the homeless. On Jan. 9, he wrote that it was a great misconception that …

… the city is “criminalizing the homeless.” This is a claim often made by people with political agendas. Some are seeking to abolish Sacramento’s anti-camping ordinance, which is designed to prevent people from setting up camps anywhere they wish.

The ordinance is about protecting people and property within the city limits. Protesters camped at City Hall for more than a month, however, are challenging the law, saying it unfairly discriminates against the homeless.

This being Sacramento, where political slogans are hatched and exported statewide, the “criminalizing” concept is being aggressively promoted, an incomplete narrative spread around a liberal city often flummoxed by its homeless problems.

The tension between the views of Liu and those of Breton and the Sacramento establishment appears to be one more example of the intractability of the homeless debate. Those who argue in an abstract that governments should do much more to help the homeless are countered by those who have been on the front lines of trying to directly address the problem. Many of the latter group maintain that because so many homeless people are mentally ill, the problem isn’t open to simple solutions involving using more government resources.

Liu’s bill is likely to showcase this argument and launch a statewide debate over whether local laws against sleeping in public areas are reasonable attempts to promote public safety and public health or are tantamount to criminalizing the behavior of some of the poorest, most troubled people in California.

The bill has yet to be subjected to a Senate committee vote. Liu has already amended the measure once to address concerns its language was unnecesarily broad.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

L.A. Turns to Feds for Help With Homeless

homelessStruggling to slow L.A.’s spike in homelessness, city leaders have booked an appointment with the federal government.

“Secretary Julian Castro will be in Los Angeles on Tuesday to meet with Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council members and county supervisors, HUD spokesman George Gonzalez said,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Hoping for cash

Despite the crisis, which has drawn unfavorable media attention amid L.A.’s recent boom in homeless-heavy areas like the city’s downtown, expectations were set low. “No major announcement was expected to come out of the meeting. Gonzalez said it was intended as an ‘exchange of ideas’ on the state of homelessness in Los Angeles,” the Times added.

City leaders hope the agency’s concern could manifest in additional funds to fight what Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared a public emergency around homelessness, as Los Angeles city and country governments both prioritized the issue. As the New York Times reported last month, the announcement marked the first time a U.S. city had made such a proclamation. “National experts on homelessness say Los Angeles has had a severe and persistent problem with people living on the streets rather than in shelters — the official estimate is 26,000,” noted the Times.

Uncertain goals

After announcing his initiative, Garcetti said, “he received a call from Castro, who had toured Skid Row earlier this year,” as the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

“The focus on homelessness came after a count conducted this year by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority showed that the number of homeless people in the county increased by 12 percent since 2013. More than 44,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County and about 70 percent of them live on the streets, in vehicles or in make-shift encampments.”

Questions remained as to what exactly Castro intended to accomplish through his visit. “He did indicate several times that HUD approved of the way that local elected officials were tackling homelessness,” Southern California Public Radio observed; in remarks, Castro noted that “more than anything else, I’m here […] to listen,” while insisting that “criminalizing homelessness is not the best approach. That is something that HUD has recognized very firmly.”

Despite the focus on L.A.’s significance to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, city officials appeared to place their funding hopes in the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Although former Secretary of Labor and current L.A. Supervisor Hilda Solis recently invoked the agency, the Daily News observed, its spokesman for the area covering Los Angeles threw doubt on the idea. “For homelessness, I’ve never heard that as a cause of an emergency because that’s a local social issue that would generally be handled at the city or county or state level,” he said.

A big pledge

In the interim, Los Angeles has pledged to allocate substantial sums to curbing homelessness, which has become an especially galling problem among veterans. “Members of the City Council say they are working on a $100 million plan to combat homelessness,” SCPR reported. “County supervisors this month voted to boost spending on homelessness to $100 million for the year. Earlier, Mayor Eric Garcetti had said he would release a blueprint to end homelessness in August.”

Garcetti’s priorities around urban issues have not been without their critics. At a recent speech in South Los Angeles, the mayor was confronted by Jefferson Park protesters, some of whom pounded on his vehicle and demanded the resignation of the current Los Angeles Police Department chief Charlie Beck. “I am disappointed that our conversation was cut short when there is so much work for us to do together to make our neighborhoods stronger and safer,” Garcetti later remarked, according to CBS Los Angeles. “I believe in our city and my commitment to our shared concerns continues stronger than ever.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

CA Legislature Will Debate “Homeless Bill of Rights”

It could soon get easier to live on the streets in the Golden State. As controversy swirled around the police shooting of a homeless and mentally ill man on Skid Row in Los Angeles, legislators in California considered a new set of regulations activists said would “decriminalize” homelessness by providing a so-called “right to rest” in public.

The “right to rest” movement has picked up steam first on the West Coast, with similar bills under review in the Hawaii and Oregon legislatures.

Following suit, state Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, introduced Senate Bill 608, known as the Right to Rest Act. Using broad language written by the Western Regional Advocacy Project, the bill would enshrine such actions as eating in public and occupying legally parked cars as “basic human and civil rights.”

What’s more, SB608 would authorize someone discriminated against in the use of public space to sue to enforce their newly codified rights in a civil action.

In a statement, Liu described homelessness as a “social,” not criminal, issue. “Citing homeless people for resting in a public space can lead to their rejection for jobs, education loans and housing, further denying them a pathway out of poverty,” she said.

Last month, Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic released a report on “the growing enactment and enforcement of anti-homeless laws in the Golden State.” In a forceful denunciation of California’s current homeless policies, the Clinic pushed for the kind of changes WRAP helped draft into model legislation:

“Without state-level intervention, California cities have been engaged in a race to the bottom by increasing criminalization, hoping to drive homeless people elsewhere and make them someone else’s problem. Comprehensive reform must target the full range of state codes and municipal laws that criminalize homelessness.”

A pressure cooker

SB608 comes at a time when homeless issues in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles have gained a higher profile as a result of rising rents in urban cores.

As CalWatchdog.com reported, the Skid Row shooting of the man known as Africa drew sharp rebuke from community activists in downtown Los Angeles, some of whom pinned blame on the LAPD’s new Safer Cities Initiative. That effort targeted Skid Row — now at the frontier of downtown’s gentrification — with increased monitoring conducted in part by cops with beefed-up training in how to interact with the homeless and mentally unwell.

Critics noted that, although the initiative launched in 2006 by then-police chief William Bratton cut crime, it imposed an unending series of infractions on the homeless. Activists complained that more than half of Skid Row-area homeless had been arrested in the past year.

The problem seemed cyclical: one reason why Skid Row hosted one of the densest populations of homeless in America was because the surrounding areas had seen a robust influx of new renters and owners, raising housing costs.

Mainstreaming a worldview

Despite the fairly radical, social-justice approach taken by the activists who are shaping “right to rest” legislation, the agenda found an advocate in Liu, widely perceived as safely mainstream. On her official website, Liu recently touted her perfect legislative track record last year, when she went eight for eight of her bills enacted into law.

For Paul Boden, director of WRAP, activists’ appropriate ambitions reached nationwide. Himself homeless as a teen, Boden has volunteered and worked on homeless issues for 30 years.

Now he has sensed the stars are aligning for a push that extends far beyond the West Coast. Boden insisted, “From Hawaii to New York and from Maine to Texas, it’s time for this to stop.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com