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County Board Puts Measure to Fund Emergency Care on November Ballot

July 31, 2002|DAREN BRISCOE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Over the protests of critics who said they were moving too quickly and placing an unfair burden on businesses, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to put on the November ballot a measure that would help fund the emergency health-care system with a tax on developed properties.

By a 3-2 vote, the board approved Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's motion to raise a projected $168 million a year for hospitals that provide trauma and emergency care with a tax on developed properties of 3 cents per square foot.

The vote followed a debate in which the motion was cast by supporters as courageous and by critics as irresponsible and potentially damaging to the local economy.

"We are faced with the potential collapse of the county's trauma system," Yaroslavsky said as he introduced the motion. "This isn't about the uninsured. This isn't about just the poor. This is about every one of us."

Supervisor Gloria Molina said that placing the measure on the ballot would be "one of the boldest moves that this Board of Supervisors has ever made." She acknowledged that a tax hike could be unpopular with voters, who must give the proposed levy their two-thirds approval for it to take effect.

"We're just taking a chance that there are going to be voters out there that understand and respect this issue," she said.

But opponents complained that the levy was being rushed onto the ballot and would remain in place indefinitely, since it does not specify a period for which it would remain in place.

"I'm not quite sure that we have done enough to give [voters] a fair analysis of this whole process," said Supervisor Don Knabe. "There is no oversight committee, there is no finite period of time. It's an escalator that could go on forever."

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who with Knabe voted against the proposal, added that the tax was unfair because it would not be borne by all residents. The tax, he said, "is targeting a select group of people--those who own property."

Representatives of businesses also objected, saying that it would substantially increase their costs.

Victor Franco, who addressed the board on behalf of the 300-member Central City Assn., said the association already pays more than $300,000 a year in assessments, taxes and bond payments on its 20-story building in downtown Los Angeles.

"It's like adding insult to injury at this point," he said.

According to a preliminary estimate by the county assessor's office, the tax would raise $116 million from residential properties and $52 million from commercial properties. Some earlier estimates indicated that the tax could raise as much as $175 million, but those were scaled down slightly in the final proposal submitted to the board.

The adjustments reflected slight changes in the kinds of property that would be covered by the tax. Specifically, the tax, even if approved by voters, would not apply to vacant lots, yards and parking structures--reducing the overall square footage covered and shrinking the revenue projection.

Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke said she supported the measure because it addresses an emergency. She introduced an amendment allowing the board to rescind the tax should other money become available for the county's ailing public health system.

"This body at any time can put the pressure back on the Legislature," she said.

The board will consider next week an alternate measure by Antonovich that would raise money from taxpayers willing to assist the trauma and emergency care system with a voluntary $45 fee.

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