LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County voters will decide Tuesday, March 7, whether to approve Measure H, a quarter-cent county sales tax increase to fund the fight against homelessness.
The Board of Supervisors has declared homelessness a countywide emergency and chose the sales tax hike over a number of other funding alternatives, including a millionaire’s tax, a parcel tax and a special tax on marijuana.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has called homelessness “the moral issue of our generation,” told City News Service, “Los Angeles County has the dubious distinction of having more homeless people on its streets on any given night than any other county in the United States.
“We have a responsibility to fight homelessness and restore dignity to these people who are living in inhumane conditions.”
There are roughly 47,000 homeless people countywide, and more than 3,000 of them are in the Antelope Valley, according, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
The ballot measure — dubbed the Los Angeles County Plan to Prevent and Combat Homelessness — has garnered the support of more than 300 community advocates, labor unions, faith groups and other organizations, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles Times.
Opponents of the measure argue that the tax increase would fail to make a significant difference in eliminating homelessness and that taxes are already too high.
However, there was no organized campaign against Measure H and no argument in opposition was submitted for the ballot.
The quarter-cent sales tax is estimated to provide $355 million annually for 10 years.
The absolute numbers are large, but Phil Ansell, director of the county’s homeless initiative, broke it down for voters, saying the tax would amount to “an additional tax of one dime on the purchase of a $40 sweater or $1 on the purchase of a $400 television.”
“It’s impossible to get your life together if you’re on the streets,” County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in December, when the board was voting to put the measure on the ballot.
It will cost $450 million annually to provide all the support needed to end homelessness, according to LAHSA and the county board.
Proponents say voters should understand that homelessness carries high costs in terms of emergency room and jail visits, among other expenses already being picked up by county taxpayers.
Two-thirds of voters will need to approve the measure for it to pass.
The county has promised to create a transparent process for spending the money should the measure pass, envisioning “an inclusive planning process which draws on the experience, expertise and wisdom of cities, homeless service providers and experts, the faith and business communities, formerly homeless individuals and county departments.”
The county has committed to hire an independent auditor to report on Measure H spending and to set up a citizens’ oversight advisory board to track allocations. A 10-year sunset clause is built in for accountability and assessment.
“Measure H will cost Angelenos no more than a dollar a month, on average, and this investment will help 45,000 men, women and children move from homelessness to stable housing within the next five years, and provide them with the supportive services they need to succeed in the long run,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We must seize this opportunity to put an end to the crisis of homelessness once and for all.”
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