Are you willing to pay a little more at the register to help the homeless?
Are you willing to pay a little more at the register to help the homeless?
Ted Soqui/L.A. Weekly

L.A. County Leaders Propose Yet Another Sales Tax Hike — for the Homeless

L.A. County leaders are asking voters to approve yet another sales tax hike at the ballot box. The question is whether residents have sales tax fatigue yet.

Last month county voters approved Measure M, which will add a half-cent to your sales tax at cash registers in the name of continuing the expansion of light rail and other transportation projects in the region. And city voters said yes to HHH, which will provide cash through a slight property tax increase — to help the homeless by creating $1.2 billion in permanent supportive housing and other homeless aid.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors this week also approved placing a quarter-cent sales tax increase before voters in March. It also voted to declare a state of emergency when it comes to the region's homeless problem.

The office of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who proposed the idea, says the sales tax increase would raise $355 million a year. "To put this funding in perspective, a one-fourth-cent sales tax would translate into an additional tax of 10 cents on the purchase of a $40 sweater, or $1 on the purchase of a $400 television,” Phil Ansell, director of the County’s Homeless Initiative, said in a statement.

Two-thirds of the county's voters would have to say yes in order for the increase to pass. The extra cash would fund rental assistance, health care, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment services not necessarily covered by Proposition HHH. The board already approved $100 million for the same causes. But until now, it wasn't clear where the cash would come from.

"All around us, we find human beings living in utter squalor — a shocking number of them families with children," Ridley-Thomas told the board this week. "With this historic vote, we are taking a bold step toward ending this humanitarian crisis, the defining civic issue of our time."

The severity of the issue came into focus early this year when the annual Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) count of people living on the streets found a 20 percent annual increase in the "visible homeless," including folks living in encampments, tents and vehicles. L.A.'s status as one of the least affordable rental markets in America certainly played a part. "This is not just a social issue, this is also an economic issue," Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

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