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Phone tax gets heavy backing from L.A. unions

January 25, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

The campaign for a $243-million telephone users tax on the Feb. 5 ballot has amassed nearly $2.6 million, almost three-fourths of it from labor unions, according to campaign contribution reports filed Thursday.

Unions provided nearly $1.9 million to the Proposition S campaign, which is seeking to preserve a tax on cellular and land line calls that has been challenged repeatedly in court.

The size of the donations appalled foes of the tax, who said that city employee unions were rewarding politicians for giving them raises -- and ensuring that more will be granted in the future.

"This is the economics of special interests," said Walter Moore, who has been battling the measure. "You have a special interest that can make hundreds of millions of dollars by putting in $1 million or $2 million at City Hall."

Foes of Proposition S have raised only $5,100. By comparison, the backers of the tax have bought television commercials featuring Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Douglas Barry and LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, who said the loss of the tax revenue would seriously harm the city's ability to provide public safety.

Ten unions have written six-figure checks in an effort to preserve the tax, which represents about 6% of the city's general fund budget. In recent weeks, the campaign received $100,000 from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, which represents workers at the Department of Water and Power.

The campaign received $250,000 apiece from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents police officers, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents clerks and secretaries, among others.

And the campaign took in $300,000 from Service Employees International Union, whose members belonged to a coalition of city employees that received a five-year package of pay increases worth $255 million from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council last month.

SEIU Local 721 spokeswoman Elizabeth Brennan defended the contribution, saying her members -- including those not employed at City Hall -- supported the tax out of concern for the city's financial stability.

"We represent tens of thousands of people who live and work in Los Angeles who care very deeply about quality public services, so it's a natural that we would support Proposition S," she said.

Proposition S would lower the city's existing telephone users' utility tax from 10% to 9%, a move designed to entice voters.

Though the phone tax campaign has relied heavily on unions, it also has received help from real estate companies.

The campaign picked up 12 contributions totaling $20,000 from developer Sonny Astani, who wrote checks through a dozen separate real estate holdings. Astani has already given $130,000 to other initiatives backed by Villaraigosa.

Proposition S received $50,000 from J.H. Snyder, which is seeking the city's approval for a major rehabilitation of Valley Plaza mall in North Hollywood.

The company has given $110,000 to other causes backed by the mayor.

The campaign took in $100,000 from Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is building the L.A. Live entertainment complex -- a project that will receive up to $270 million in tax breaks if successful.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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