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COLUMN RIGHT/ JOEL FOX : Look Beyond Taxes to Fund More Police : Stop asking voters to approve higher spending; instead, abolish or privatize some city services.

May 11, 1993|JOEL FOX | Joel Fox is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

Here's a suggestion for solving the problem of funding more police in Los Angeles: Call our bluff.

I'm talking about those of us who opposed Proposition 1, which was rejected by voters last month, and last November's Proposition N, both of which would have increased property taxes to add 1,000 new LAPD officers.

During both campaigns, opponents offered a number of ideas on how to raise revenue for police without resorting to a tax increase. We were told that these ideas were too difficult to accomplish, too long-range to produce the revenue needed now, or just plain stupid.

Perhaps those objections were correct. Still, the tax-increase route is not getting us more cops on the street.

The proponents of Proposition 1 seemed resigned to its defeat; they did not even mount a campaign for it. Then, days before the election they hurriedly tried to cash in on the mounting admiration for Police Chief Willie Williams and the excellent job he did in preparing the police for the conclusion of the Rodney King civil-rights trial. But, by then, it was too late.

So how did the supporters of the tax plan respond to another snub by the voters? One said that we should try to change the state law that requires a two-thirds vote for property-tax increases or pass a tax that does not require a two-thirds vote. Another resorted to calling the opponents of the tax greedy, selfish zealots. Among those zealots must be counted the 41% of the electorate who voted against the measure, members of the City Council and a number of the top finishers in the race for mayor.

Frustration led to these responses. Frustration with the two-thirds vote, which is an important protection for property taxpayers who already carry an inordinate amount of the burden for financing local government. The police service is used by all citizens and visitors to Los Angeles, not just property taxpayers.

There is perhaps greater frustration with the fact that there is a near-universal desire among Angelenos for more police officers, yet there are no more cops headed for the street.

To me, the solution is simple: Given the two-time defeat of the property-tax measure, the mayor and City Council should take the list of alternative proposals to fund police that were put forward during the two campaigns and make an honest effort to implement many of the suggestions. If those don't work, then seek a tax increase.

After the November election, I sent a letter to the mayor, the police chief, members of the City Council and members of the Police Commission enumerating suggestions made during the campaign, which identified areas to find money or save taxpayer dollars by changing the way services are delivered. Nobody responded. Instead, the City Council chose to try another ballot measure for a $100-million tax increase.

Among the proposals I outlined: Abolish the Department of Public Works, as recommended by eight commissions since the 1950s; transfer the parking-meter fund to police; remove certain projects from the Community Redevelopment Agency so the property-tax revenues would go directly to local government; privatize city services such as solid-waste pickup, asphalt resurfacing and street sweeping. These items could mean an additional $120 million available for police.

Then there is the big-ticket item of leasing LAX, which Richard Riordan pushed in his campaign for mayor. An early city report indicated that such a plan could mean $130 million a year for the city. A second report came in at an unbelievably low estimate of $15 million. Political motives aside, the widely varying reports make it unclear how much revenue can be gained from this or other creative financing of city services. However, since the tax measure is dead, now is the time to find out what works and what doesn't. In other words, it's time for city leaders to call our bluff and see if we are holding aces or deuces.

If the alternative solutions raise the revenue predicted by advocates, then the city will have the money to hire new police officers. If the proposals fail after an honest effort, then tax increases must be the solution. I will vote for a tax increase for more police at that time, and I expect other opponents of Proposition 1 will also.

I suspect that, even if all the suggestions do not succeed in providing the revenue promised, some certainly will. Then, if a new tax is necessary, it will be much smaller than the tax proposals already placed on the ballot by the City Council and will have a better chance to pass.

Let's see the cards.

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