NBC4’s Conan Nolan talks with LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas about a movement to increase taxes on millionaires in the county to help pay for the never ending homeless problem.
Tasked with garnering support for a Board-approved motion seeking legislative authority to help fund the fight against homelessness, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas journeyed to Sacramento to speak with lawmakers about the crisis in Los Angeles County.
“We’ve polled extensively and we’ve learned from the people of the County of Los Angeles that homelessness is a top tier issue, second only to jobs and the economy,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas testified before the California Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, chaired by state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). “Homelessness is the issue driving people’s conscience, stirring their spirits, causing us to know what we need to do.”
You will hear from the County of Los Angeles a cry of urgency,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, speaking on behalf of the Board. “We need your help in allowing us to do what we need to do. We need to go to the ballot and we need your permission to allow us to do that.”
With 46,874 homeless in the County on any given night, the Board approved a Homeless Initiative to explore options for addressing the crisis this growing problem. After conducting 18 policy summits and collaborating with 25 County departments, 30 cities, and more than 100 community organizations, the Office of the Homeless Initiative developed 47 strategies.
The Board approved those strategies in February and allocated $100 million in one-time funding for initial implementation. Now it is weighing options for funding, including redirecting Measure B revenue, imposing a parcel tax, a marijuana tax, a half-cent sales tax, or a half-percent tax on personal income exceeding $1 million a year. At present, the Board cannot use the last option as it requires a change in state law.
A recent poll has shown that a half-percent tax on personal income exceeding $1 million a year tax would be supported by 76 percent of likely voters. It would also generate $243 million each year, which, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, would cover about half the annual amount needed to provide services to the homeless population on an ongoing basis.
“I am asking this Committee to consider the Board’s directive to include budget trailer bill language that would provide counties with the authority to seek voter approval at the local level to impose a special tax on personal annual incomes over $1 million dollars for purposes of providing housing and services for homeless individuals/families,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said in Sacramento.
He also expressed the Board’s support of the state Senate’s No Place Like Home proposal, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), which seeks to build affordable housing for the homeless and mentally ill.
“The No Place Like Home proposal is an excellent start – it will predominantly provide the resources to build the infrastructure,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Los Angeles County, however, also needs to find the ongoing revenue to support the services that homeless individuals will need, even after they obtain housing.”
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas met with several state lawmakers, and also urged the public to advocate for trailer bill language that would grant counties the authority impose a special tax on personal income above $1 million a year to address the County’s crisis of homelessness.
Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to seek a change in state law that would keep all options open to fund the fight against homelessness.
“To address the profundity of the crisis and the depth of poverty and homelessness in the county, we have to do more,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said during Tuesday’s Board meeting, where more than 150 members of the public testified in support of his motion.
“It won’t get better unless we have significant intervention,” he added. “Each member of this Board has said repeatedly that one-time funding isn’t sufficient. Now it’s time to get on with the rigorous exploration of the kind of funding that would be necessary.”
With 46,874 people living on the streets of Los Angeles County on any given day – up 5.6 percent from last year – Supervisor Ridley-Thomas called homelessness “the most compelling crisis that confronts us.” He added the County is “uniquely positioned and, therefore, specifically obliged” to take action because of its massive social services, health and public safety infrastructure.
Since adopting a sweeping set of strategies February to address the worsening crisis, the Board has been weighing options for funding. This includes redirecting Measure B revenue, or imposing a parcel tax, a marijuana tax, a half-cent sales tax, or a half-percent tax on personal income exceeding $1 million a year.
A recent poll found 76 percent of likely voters favor the last option – a “dramatic level of support,” pollster David Binder told the Board. The Board, however, does not currently have the authority to put such an initiative on the November ballot. Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion, which passed with the support of Supervisor Hilda Solis, launches the County’s efforts to seek that authority from the state Legislature and Governor.
“Our actions show that the Board is strongly committed to finding the long-term funding needed to implement the County’s innovative and comprehensive Homelessness Initiative,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “The friendly amendment I introduced this week also allows us to evaluate the interaction of this possible County tax with a new state bond proposal which could build housing in the County.”
The Board also approved Tuesday a measure by Supervisors Solis and Don Knabe that would delve into how the County uses existing funding to serve the homeless. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas expressed support, saying, “It continues our long-term efforts to always ensure we are leveraging existing resources as effectively as possible.”
More than 150 people testified before the Board to support continued efforts to address the homelessness crisis. Steve Renahana of the nonprofit Shelter Partnership told the Board: “Thank you for your leadership in passing a comprehensive set of strategies to address homelessness in the County, and thank you even more for beginning the heavy lifting of providing the resources that are necessary to implement those strategies.”
Marsha Temple, executive director of the nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network, added, “The cost of doing nothing is too high, both in terms of funding and human misery.”
“I’m so proud that you always remember who you’re working for,” said “Sweet” Alice Harris, an advocate for the homeless. “I’m glad you didn’t let God down. Thank you.”
The Board of Supervisors recently concluded its annual trip to the nation’s capital on a quest for federal assistance to address Los Angeles County’s crisis of homelessness, expand its transportation system, and jumpstart its bioscience industry.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas traveled to Washington D.C. with Supervisors Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl, Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich on April 18-21. They met with several members of Congress, including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as officials in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
The supervisors briefed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro about the County’s shortage of 500,000 affordable housing units, and he advised them to apply for funding from theNational Housing Trust Fund, among other recommendations.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Phil Washington joined their meeting with Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez and Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Affairs Jerry Abramson. The board sought $375 million in federal grants for the downtown LA Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension, and funding for other projects as well.
They discussed an initiative to create bioscience hubs within the County’s medical research facilities, in partnership with academic institutions and the private sector.
Board members met with Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity, to discuss public safety policies, such as the impact of Proposition 47, which downgrades certain felonies to misdemeanors.
Overall, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said the trip was very beneficial for Los Angeles County and that the board will maintain close ties with officials in Washington, D.C. as they seek federal support for pressing issues back home.
Over several hours of impassioned testimony, dozens of advocates for the homeless urged the Board of Supervisors to approve a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that would keep all options open for addressing Los Angeles County’s crisis of homelessness.
The Board voted to continue discussing the motion on May 17.
It has been weighing several options to pay for programs to help the homeless, from redirecting Measure B revenue to imposing a parcel tax, a marijuana tax, a sales tax, or a tax on personal income exceeding $1 million per year.
Preserving the last option requires an amendment to State law. Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion directs the Board to “pursue a change in State law to grant counties the authority to seek voter approval of a tax on personal income above $1 million/year to combat homelessness.”
“I think we need to be resolute and charge the state Legislature and the Governor with the opportunity and/or the obligation to help us to fight, end, work on, eradicate, address this issue of homelessness, which is worsening as we speak,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.
“If the state Legislature chooses not to do it, it won’t because we failed to make the request,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “We would want to be recorded as having moved an agenda that sought to raise the dignity and worth of all Angelenos.”
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2016 Homeless Count, 46,874 people are homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County, a 6 percent increase from last year. Still, the number of homeless veterans declined 30 percent, and there are 18 percent fewer homeless persons among families with children.
Phil Ansell, director of the County’s Homeless Initiative, noted recent polling found 68 percent of likely voters would support a sales tax increase to fund programs for the homeless. An even larger number, 76 percent, would back a tax increase on incomes exceeding $1 million.
More than 100 people signed up to testify before the Board on the issue, including some who had experienced homelessness first hand, and some who provide services to the homeless every day.
Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, said, “We have a moral obligation to improve the quality of life of those who are homeless, sleeping in shelters and cars and hotels, or doubled up on a couch. Innumerable individuals are just one paycheck, one illness, one family crisis away from homelessness.”
People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) executive director Katie Hill said, “In over 30 years of operating, we’ve never seen so much public attention focused on homeless or the public support, as indicated by the polling results, to implement and fund long-term solutions. The public is asking for actions and is willing to invest. This motion is a necessary step towards providing the critical resources needed to ensure our ability to end homeless in our communities.”
“I know raising taxes is always going to be something that divides this Board room, but I do think we should at least keep the option open,” Eric Ares with the Los Angeles Community Action Network said. “This is not about voting for the tax, but about keeping the option open, keeping the debate going”
“We have unprecedented political will on the part of the supervisors, the voters, the advocacy community, service providers, the city,” Ares added. ”This is our moment to make this happen so, at the very least, we shouldn’t be shutting the door to the idea that we could do this.”