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L.A. council votes to place half-cent sales tax hike on March ballot

City Council President Herb Wesson in March.

Over the protests of former Mayor Richard Riordan and leaders of a labor union, the Los Angeles City Council voted 11-4 on Tuesday to place a half-cent sales tax hike on the March 5 ballot to avert what it said would be significant cuts in services for residents.

Reconfirming its vote last week, council members said new revenue is necessary to avoid budget cuts of $215 million, the size of next year's projected shortfall. Police Chief Charlie Beck was among those supporting the sales tax increase; he said deep cuts could translate into as many as  500 officer layoffs in his department.

Police and fire funding takes up more than 70% of the city's discretionary budget.

The former mayor, however, told council members that raising the sales tax would fall hardest on the poor, who are already struggling. Service Employees International Union Local 721 has also taken a position opposing the tax increase.

“SEIU and I agree on at least one thing: That this is not good for the working poor,'' Riordan said. The multimillionaire businessman and city worker unions are separately warring over Riordan's attempt to qualify a pension initiative for the May ballot.

Council members Eric Garcetti, Jan Perry, Dennis Zine and Mitchell Englander voted against placing the tax increase on the ballot.

If approved by a simple majority of voters, Los Angeles will have one of the highest tax rates in the state, 9.5 cents on every dollar.

Council President Herb Wesson, who pushed for the measure, said he was heartened by the success of other tax hikes in the presidential election. Nearly 30 cities and counties across California persuaded voters to hike sales taxes.

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-- Catherine Saillant and Christine Mai-Duc

twitter.com/csaillant2

twitter.com/cmaiduc

Photo: City Council President Herb Wesson in March. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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