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Public Safety Must Come Before All Else

July 19, 1993|GIL GARCETTI | Gil Garcetti is district attorney of Los Angeles County. and

The greatest tragedy to surface in the current Los Angeles County supervisors' budget deliberations is a loss of credibility in government that could result in a tremendous loss of revenue to Los Angeles in November and cause irreparable harm to our already fragile quality of life.

The state Legislature has provided the county with money that is designated for public safety. The source of these funds is a temporary extension of the existing half-cent sales tax until the end of the year. A permanent extension of that tax to fund public safety will be before the voters as a constitutional amendment this November.

Everyone, including the supervisors, agrees that safety comes first. Yet the supervisors now are discussing the possibility of broadly defining public safety to include a wide variety of county agencies, including everything from parks to health services. If the voters see that the money labeled "for public-safety services" is allocated to health and other departments, how can they vote in November for a tax that is designated "for public-safety services"? And how can law-enforcement officials ask citizens to vote for the sales tax if the supervisors refuse to give the primary public-safety agencies, the sheriff and district attorney, the funding that is necessary to do their jobs?

More than any time in our history, our citizens are looking to their leaders as saviors, pleading for a restoration of law and order. We are all living in fear. The fallout of this fear is an exodus of people from Los Angeles, and with them go tax dollars and the businesses we desperately need to provide jobs, with them go the ability to fund education and all government services, with them go the value of our homes and our hope for the future of Los Angeles.

The money to fund law enforcement is available--with a surplus left over. The sheriff and district attorney need a restoration of $145 million to maintain services at their current levels. The sales-tax extension through the end of the year is expected to raise $200 million. The Board of Supervisors is relying on the amendment passing and has factored in the projected revenue to balance its budget.

No one disputes that county services are vital and that cutting funding for agencies such as health care and mental health, parks and libraries will be devastating. But what good does it do to fund parks and libraries if people are afraid to go out of their homes? And there are many sources of money still to be tapped that could provide substantial revenue for county services if the Legislature and the governor are willing to help.

We are at a moment where the survival of Los Angeles is at stake. Arresting and prosecuting criminals is crucial to the survival of any society. The supervisors say that they want to protect people from crime. The only way to provide protection is to ensure that those who commit crimes are arrested and prosecuted.

The supervisors need to assure the voters that if the sales-tax extension is passed in November, the money will be spent in Los Angeles to allow the sheriff and district attorney to provide for public safety.

Credibility is the issue.

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