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L.A. councilman calls for advertising tax to help slumping city budget

May 7, 2010 |  9:51 am

A Los Angeles city councilman is calling for a new citywide tax on billboards, digital signs and supergraphic advertisements, saying the proceeds could provide a major solution to the city's budget woes.

Councilman Herb Wesson sent a letter Thursday to Councilman Bernard C. Parks, head of the council's budget and finance committee, saying that an advertising excise tax could generate as much as $50 million a year for the city if it were passed in November by the city's voters.

The proposal was one of several offered by Wesson in a letter arguing the council should do everything it can to minimize the number of layoffs and furloughs planned for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The council is weighing a plan from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that would eliminate as many as 761 employees and impose up to 26 furlough days for certain workers.

As part of his push to scale back those cuts, Wesson also called for the council to boost ambulance fees, offer early retirement to 100 more city workers and secure another $20 million from the Department of Water and Power, which voted earlier this week to provide $73 million to the city's struggling budget. The DWP plans to increase electric rates July 1.

Wesson said the city should wring new concessions from city workers and impose financial penalties on banks that do not maintain foreclosed properties.

"Throughout the budget, there is a need to be more creative in identifying additional revenue sources that will shore up the city's finances, as well as gain voter approval," wrote Wesson, who represents portions of Koreatown and South Los Angeles.

Parks' chief of staff, Bernard Parks Jr., said the councilman had received Wesson's proposal and, based on a preliminary review, concluded it bore a strong resemblance to a budget plan offered last month by the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents 22,000 city employees.

Much of the union proposal has been "discredited" by the city's top budget analyst, Parks Jr. said.

"He just basically said that the numbers were off," he added.

Nevertheless, Wesson's proposal could shift the budget debate on the 15-member council, which is already divided into two camps, with several council members floating in between.

Council members Parks, Greig Smith and Jan Perry have been the most vocal about their support for deep cuts to the workforce. Council members Richard Alarcon, Paul Koretz and Janice Hahn have argued forcefully against them.

Two of the council's more hawkish members, Perry and Councilman Dennis Zine, were added to the budget committee in recent weeks by Council President Eric Garcetti. That move was viewed by some labor activists as an effort to realign the budget committee so that it has more members favorable to cuts.

-- David Zahniser

Photo: L.A. Time file