Should We Tax the Rich to Fix L.A.'s Homeless Crisis?

Should We Tax the Rich to Fix L.A.'s Homeless Crisis?
File photo by Umberto Brayj/Flickr

UPDATE at 10:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 17, 2016: See how the board voted, below.

The rich have been doing quite well.

Ninety-five percent of income gains between 2009, the end of the Great Recession, and 2012 went to the wealthiest 1 percent of earners in the United States, according to a study from UC Berkeley.

Los Angeles has more than its fair share of ultra-rich individuals. Earlier this year we ranked in the top 14 on a global list of  "The Cities With the Most Billionaires."

This month the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) revealed the results of its annual homeless count, reporting there was a 20 percent year-over-year increase in "visible" homelessness, including encampments, tents and vehicles serving as homesteads. 

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take up the issue of taxing the rich in order to help alleviate our national disgrace of a homeless problem.

The idea's pretty simple: Impose a local surcharge of 1 percent on personal annual income of more than $1 million.

The median individual income in L.A. County is $27,987 a year, so people who are taking in $1 million are light-years apart, economically.

The board is expected to consider a motion by supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl to lobby the Legislature to change state law to allow such a local-level tax to be put before county voters.

It could raise as much as $243 million a year to help alleviate homelessness.

Would you approve it?

The supervisors' motion, citing a county-sponsored poll completed in April, says "76 percent of likely voters would strongly support a November 2016 ballot initiative to impose a one-half percent tax on income above $1 million."

Even with a two-thirds majority needed to pass such a tax measure, this could be in the bag, if the poll's data is to be believed.

The county will have to move fast to get this on the November ballot.

"Much more work remains to be done to address homeless persons living on the streets, who may have chronic health and mental issues and may benefit from affordable housing coupled with intensive home- and community-based supportive services,” Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl said in a joint statement.

UPDATE at 10:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 17, 2016: Today the board voted 3-2, with Supervisor Hilda Solis joining the victorious Democratic majority, and Republican supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe dissenting, to move forward with the Ridley-Thomas-Kuehl plan.


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