November Ballot Asks: How Much Are You Willing to Pay to Fight Homelessness and to Buy Pot?

Taxes make the world go 'roundEXPAND
Taxes make the world go 'round

Angelenos who show up to vote this November will be met a very long ballot. The Vogue September issue-size booklet will open, astonishingly enough, with Donald Trump running for president (still can't believe it) and go on to include a cavalcade of ballot measures — at least 17 statewide propositions, three L.A. county ballot measures and two citywide measures. 

"It’s like the Bataan death march of the ballot," political consultant Mike Shimpock says. "It’s a question of who dies on the way."

At least seven of these measures will seek to raise taxes:

• Proposition 55 would extend the extra income tax on people earning over $250,000 for another 12 years (voters passed that temporary tax as part of Prop 30 in 2012; the sales tax hike that was included in Prop 30 is not in Prop 55 and will therefore expire at the end of the year). 

• Proposition 56 would add a $2 tax to every pack of cigarettes sold in the state.

• Proposition 64 would legalize recreational marijuana, but it would also levy a rather heavy 15 percent sales tax on pot.

• A countywide ballot measure would levy a 10 percent gross receipts tax on any business that produces or distributes marijuana. The revenue would help pay for homeless services.

• A small countywide property tax increase would raise $94.5 million for park improvements.

• A countywide half-cent sales tax hike would pay for public transit. This is by far the biggest ticket item on the ballot and would raise $120 billion. 

• Lastly, there's the citywide property tax hike to pay for housing the homeless, via a $1.2 billion bond.

There are two dangers for the backers of these measures. One is that voters will think it's all just too much money. The other is that the sheer number of measures will frustrate voters, so much so that they'll vote no on everything. Shimpock, who's running the city's homeless bond measure, says he's more worried about the latter.

"It’s been my experience that voters tend to look at these discreetly, rather than as a package," Shimpock says. "People don’t sit in there with a ballot box with a calculator. ... That being said, these are a lot of initiatives. If anything, it won’t be voters rebelling against the money — it will voters losing patience to make it through the ballot."

That's bad news for the backers of the homeless bond measure, which will be on the last page.

There's also the possibility of voters being confused by the interconnectedness of some of the proposals. Voters will be asked to vote on two different marijuana taxes, only one of which will legalize recreational use of pot. Voters will also be asked to vote on two different taxes to pay for homeless services. 

"A confused voter is a 'no' voter," Shimpock says. "That’s an axiom of politics."

Polls show that Angelenos place homelessness at the top of their concerns. But whether or not they're willing to pay for housing the homeless remains to be seen. Unlike state bonds, which are paid for out of the general fund, the city's $1.2 billion bond would be paid for by a modest property tax increase. 

"The average property owner will only pay about $44 [extra] a year," City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana says. "It’s a reasonable investment to address an issue that impedes the economic development of the city. ... You can’t solve homelessness without housing. I think everyone, after years of different approaches, has determined that the housing-first approach is the best approach."

Shimpock says that for the bond measure, voters may not even realize they're voting to raise taxes. 

"For better or worse, I don’t think that voters necessarily understand how bonds affect them financially," he says. "They often don’t connect the dots between voting for a bond measure and seeing the money show up on their property tax bill. A sales tax is a much easier concept for them to get their heads around."

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