LA WATCHDOG--Crony capitalism and pay to play are alive and well in Los Angeles.
In a well-researched front page story, Los Angeles Times reporters David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes detailed how a sleazy real estate developer illegally funneled more than $600,000 to City politicians. As a result of this play to pay scheme, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council “up zoned” Sea Breeze, his $72 million residential apartment building on industrially zoned land in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood that had been turned down by the Garcetti appointed City Planning Commission and the local neighborhood council.
Of course, the offending politicians (including Janice Hahn, a candidate for County Supervisor, who received over $200,000) are quick to deny that their favorable vote was influenced by campaign contributions. But we all know that our smooth talking Elected Elite never met a campaign contribution they did not like, the same as it is with tax increases, DWP rate hikes, and budget busting labor contracts.
But this is chump change compared to the $10 million campaign led by Mayor Garcetti to brow beat us into approving Measure M, a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to a staggering 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country. This tax is designed to raise an additional $850 million a year for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, increasing its annual haul from the County’s taxpayers by 33% to an astronomical $3.4 billion.
But who is financing this $10 million campaign that is equivalent on a per capita basis to the tobacco industry’s efforts to defeat Proposition 56, the state ballot measure to increase the tax on cigarettes by $2.00 a pack. And more importantly, what do they want in return?
The underwriters of Yes on Measure M Committee (a Coalition of Mayor Eric Garcetti, concerned citizens, labor organizations, businesses, and non-profits) include a large cast of cronies who want to feast at our expense on MTA contracts.
These vampires include unions (the Operating Engineers, the ILWU, IBEW Local 11, and the Carpenters & Joiners) who want high wages and numerous jobs; construction and engineering firms (Skanska, AECOM, and Parsons) who want big fat contracts; real estate developers (Westfield) and corporations (Fox, Disney, and NBCUniversal) who want special treatment from Garcetti, the City Council, and the County Board of Supervisors; and concerned citizens (Eli Broad, Jerry Perenchio, and Haim Saban) who have their own special agendas.
We are going to be pounded with slick ads promoting Measure M, the Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan, promising improved mobility, less time in traffic, great middle class jobs, and the repair of our local streets. But outlandish campaign promises are a dime a dozen, especially when it comes to politicians eyeing our hard earned cash.
The MTA does not deserve a 33% increase in funding from the taxpayers. It is an inefficient organization whose projects are billions over budget and years behind schedule. Its operations are experiencing lower ridership. And it does not have the management, the engineering staff, the project managers, or the systems to be able handle its existing funding ($2.6 billion) and projects, to say nothing of the pipedreams envisioned by Mayor Garcetti.
The MTA is also a rogue organization that lacks adequate oversight as it Board of Directors consists of 13 politicians, including nine from the City and County, who have no clue how to manage or oversee a sprawling enterprise with 9,000 employees and an operating loss of $1 billion a year.
The City also does not deserve an increase in Local Return funds that would accompany this new tax. It already receives $200 million a year in Local Return funds from the three previously approved sales tax levies, but has failed to develop a plan to repair our streets, some of the worst in the nation. Which leads to the question: where the hell has all this Local Return money gone?
Our City has also failed to reform its finances, refusing to even consider the excellent budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission. As a result, the fiscally irresponsible Garcetti now faces a $100 million deficit next year despite an increase in revenues of $1 billion over the last four years.
Finally, if all of the tax increases on the November ballot were approved by the voters, Angelenos proportionate share will be $1.6 billion, or $400 for every resident. Lumped together into a single tax, this increase will increase our sales tax to 11.7% or require a 30% bump in our property taxes.
We cannot afford an increase in our sales tax to a breathtaking 9½% to say nothing about the other ballot measures for the City, County, Community College, and State.
Measure M is just another example of Crony Capitalism, but this time on steroids as we are being asked to approve a forever tax that will raise $75 billion over the next 40 years. It is time to tell Eric Garcetti and his cronies that we are not their ATM.
Vote NO on Measure M. After all, it is your money.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com.)-cw