Save Libraries? Tax Oil Producers? Stop Pay to Play?

Progressive Voter Guide 2012Progressive Voter Guide November 2012 with California Initiatives

In the golden days, at every election my family’s tradition was ripping out the LA Weekly’s Endorsements page(s), taking the info to my neighbor Helen’s rec room/polling place and voting. We trusted the Weekly.

But in the early ‘00s, corporations snorted up that paper and expectorated more of a Weakly. Yeah they still do muckraking, but it’s against anybody and everybody. No more political point of view.

So now we progs have to decipher the legalese and research the political motivations behind every proposition, measure and amendment. For March 8 we offer one conglomerated guide, the result of studying the few remaining newspapers, endorsements from the LA County Democratic Party, DPSFV, the League of Women Voters, the Courage Campaign and LAProgressive; plus analysis from several progressive Dem clubs and recommendations from electeds.

Top Priority

The most important measure is H. It stops major city contractors from giving campaign donations to candidates who, if elected, decide which firms get contracts (i.e. pay-to-play). It also allows LA City – when the Treasury’s full — to add to the fund that helps publicly financed candidates run for office.

If every city, county and state enacted its own Measure H, thousands of Wisconsinites could spend their time teaching, policing, nursing and fighting fires, rather than courting frostbite and laryngitis in Madison’s February snows. And we could spend our time March 8 not worrying how to pay new workers, how to keep our libraries open or how many emergency funds within contingency funds we better set up during this economic crisis.

Union pensions are a big concern this election – whether they should be trimmed for new hires. We’ll also decide:

whether to offset raids on the library system’s funding by boosting its share of revenues that come in; whether to tax medical marijuana clinics; whether to tax oil production; and whether to step up financial oversight on the DWP and make it more accountable.

Regarding unions, some may have ignored the greater good with overly generous pensions, or by valuing seniority before merit when hiring/firing. But the true plague on our country’s finances is big, particularly corporate, money in politics.

Onto the Ballot

LA City voters will decide 10 measures.

Charter Amendment G: Fire and Police Pension Plan; New Tier 6 for Sworn Fire, Police and Harbor Department employees hired on or after July 1, 2011 and other modifications

For police and firefighters hired starting this July, Measure G would reduce retirement benefits. The new workers would have to pay more of their salaries into their pension funds. And when they retire, most new officers would get a smaller percentage of their earnings than today’s retirees.

All the sources recommend voting YES on G. LA’s unfunded pension liability is estimated to be $6.8 billion (not including DWP pensions) and it’s expanding.

Charter Amendment H: Bidder Campaign Contributions and Fundraising Restrictions; Campaign Trust Fund

Measure H would prohibit all companies and subcontractors competing for LA City contracts worth $100,000 or more, from contributing to candidate election campaigns or raising money for them. Violators would be banned from winning contracts for a specific future time period. H would also require bidders to disclose more details about their businesses.

And the amendment would permit the City Council to put money into its limited trust fund, which encourages people to rely on public, rather than privately solicited, campaign money.

In opposition: Councilmembers Greig Smith, Dennis Zine, Bernard Parks and Jan Perry. And every area Chamber of Commerce.

City Council President Eric Garcetti endorses H, as do Councilmembers Jose Huizar, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, and Bill Rosendahl. The LA Times endorses and every major progressive organization that holds a position on the measure. Hael, YES on H!

Both Charter Amendments I and J would raise the city’s oversight of the DWP.

Charter Amendment I: Department of Water and Power; Office of Public Accountability; Ratepayer Advocate

Measure I would establish an Office of Public Accountability led by a new Ratepayer Advocate, who would evaluate whether proposed DWP rate increases were justified. Specific concerns, such as whether the Advocate will have the power to rein in the utility, aren’t detailed. But as far as this measure goes, what’s not to support? Vote YES on I

Charter Amendment J: Department of Water and Power; Submission of Preliminary Budget to the City Council for Informational Purposes; Procedures for Making Surplus Transfers from the Power Revenue Fund to the City Reserve Fund

Remember last year when the power company informed City Council members that it would transfer nearly $75 million it had promised the city (for balancing the budget), only if the Council OK’d a steep hike in DWP charges? J would make the Department of Water and Power submit a preliminary and then updated budget for the next fiscal year to the City Council, in hopes of avoiding any similar future threats. J would also set policies for DWP surplus transfers to the City.  YES on J.

Charter Amendment L: Public Library Funding

Like Los Angeles in general, libraries have undergone serious cuts in hours and services. L would raise the City’s financial commitment to the library system, while also raising the library’s share of its own costs, until it would be responsible for paying all its costs. No new taxes would be sought.

The goal is to guarantee the library’s revenue stream. But the money for L would have to come from the same General Fund, according to the LA Times, that pays for police, gang-intervention efforts, new business permitting, graffiti-removal programs and other critical programs.

Of all the March 8 measures, this is one of the most controversial. Libraries offer a huge number of necessary services – for example, a safe place to do homework, a computer to write and produce resumes — to a huge number of people who have suffered big-time since the cuts began.

There’s also the issue of ballot-box budgeting, which many people object to. Several sources urge a No vote, including the LA Times and the League of Women Voters.

Others recommend yes, including Mayor Villaraigosa and every City Councilmember. This guide is going with YES on L.

Proposition M: Taxation of Medical Marijuana Collectives

M authorizes taxing medical marijuana facilities (which currently pay no city business taxes) to fund such services as police protection, fire prevention/fighting, parks, and general city improvements. It would impose $50 tax for every $1,000 in gross receipts.

Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian support this proposition. According to Koretz, M allows the city to tax the facility, not the marijuana. They reason that since these facilities use city services, they should pay for them. Councilmember Janice Hahn also supports a yes vote.

Councilmembers Garcetti, Parks and Perry, among others, oppose it vocally. One argument against M is, quoting the LA Times, “state lawmakers and municipalities still haven’t agreed on how to regulate a drug that the state considers medicinal and the federal government considers illegal.” Massive confusion surrounds this overall issue, so why bother?

This guide recommends voting YES on M.

Charter Amendment N: Campaign Finance

Recent court rulings, including two by the US Supreme Court, render several of LA’s campaign finance rules unconstitutional. These rules are in our City Charter, but the city no longer enforces them.

But our City Attorney says that leaving them in the Charter opens LA to lawsuits from people trying to either challenge or enforce the provisions. By law, the only way to change anything in the Charter is by voter approval. City Councilman Krekorian urges a YES on M vote as does the President of the California Clean Money Campaign. We agree.

Proposition O: Los Angeles Oil Production Tax

When oil companies and Chambers of Commerce oppose a measure, what does that tell you? At just $1.44 per barrel of oil produced in the City of Los Angeles, this prop would bring in about $4 million a year.

Council rep Krekorian describes this oil tax as “an important source of revenue that we should be taking.” Councilmember Perry says, “I think it closes a gap, to ensure companies are paying their fair share.”

Council rep Koretz agrees that, “We are limited in our tax proposals, and if there is a tax that could do no harm it is this one. California produces a significant amount of oil and we don’t have a severance tax, so it’s about time we do the same..it will have no impact at all on the price of gas.”

According to Member Parks, whenever tax opponents threaten that “businesses are going to close and leave the city,” he scoffs. “Companies are not going to put themselves out of business. They adapt.”

The League of Women Voters also endorses O. Vote YES on O.

Charter Amendment P: Establishment of Contingency Reserve Account and Emergency Reserve Account within Reserve Fund and Budget Stabilization Fund in the City Treasury

This measure sounds prudent. Wouldn’t we all love to have emergency funds and contingency funds within reserve funds? Councilmember Perry sponsored this amendment. While the Council already has an emergency fund, if just a simple majority votes to dip into it, goodbye fund. P would require 2/3 of the Council to vote to remove funds. The LA Times believes this account would be “more likely to be reserved for actual emergencies” and recommends a YES vote, as does the Courage Campaign.

In contrast, LA Progressive opposes P. Neither LACDP nor DPSFV are enthusiastic supporters. Trust your judgment or visit the sites listed in this article.

Charter Amendment Q: Employment Provisions

This final amendment contains multiple sections. What stands out most is a segment that limits the number of applicants who can test for certain civil service jobs. Says DPSFV Endorsement Committee Co-Chair Thom O’Shaughnessy, “When you limit the pool you deny access. If the list fills up with those who drive, those who arrive late due to public transportation are excluded. In a period of high unemployment you should allow maximum entry level civil service exams and interviews.”

According to the League of Women Voters, “barring qualified applicants from civil service exams, as authorized by Measure Q, could result in the City not getting the most qualified workers, which is not fair to the applicants or to the City and its stakeholders.”

This position matches the liberal/progressive moral outlook. On Q, vote NO.

March 8, 2011 Election Websites

http://cityclerk.lacity.org/election/2011_Measure_information.pdf Office of the Los Angeles City Clerk

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/politics/los-angeles-elections/la-oew-city-election-endorsements-sg,0,7336446.storygallery LA Times

Wendy Blockhttp://www.dailynews.com/opinions/ci_17322074 Daily News

http://www.scribd.com/doc/49066637/LA-Progressive-Voter-Guide-March-2011-Courage-Campaign

http://www.laprogressive.com/election-reform-campaigns/progressive-endorsements-march-8-2011/2/ LAProgressive.com

http://www.lwvlosangeles.org/Action.html League of Women Voters

Visit measure sites for endorsers and supporters.

Wendy Block

Valley Dems United, Margie Murray, Editor

Published by the LA Progressive on March 7, 2011
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About Wendy Block

Wendy Block is an elected rep of the 42nd AD on the DSCC and DPSFV. She’s Recording Secretary of Valley Democrats United, a member of the Kitchen Cabinet of Kitchen Table Democracy, and speaks and advocates to pass the California Fair Elections Act, on our ballots in June.