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L.A. voters support pension changes over sales tax hike, poll finds

Nearly 44% of voters surveyed Nov. 6 back former Mayor Riordan's plan to transfer city workers to a 401(k)-style plan. Forty-five percent of voters oppose hiking the sales tax.

December 03, 2012|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, right, had proposed a city ballot measure that would have transitioned city workers from fixed pension benefits to 401(k)-style benefits.
Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, right, had proposed a city ballot measure… (Annie Wells, Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles voters who cast ballots in last month's election were more supportive of a major overhaul of the city's pension system than in increasing the sales tax to boost city revenue, according to a survey conducted by Loyola Marymount University's Center for the Study of Los Angeles.

Nearly 44% of voters surveyed backed a proposal by former Mayor Richard Riordan to transition city workers from fixed-benefit government pensions to 401(k)-style, investment-based retirement plans. Nearly 26% opposed Riordan's ballot measure proposal, which the former mayor abruptly abandoned last week. Thirty percent of voters did not have a position.

Fernando Guerra, the center's director, said voters were less welcoming of new tax proposals, including one that is headed for the March 5 ballot. That measure would add another half-cent tax to every dollar worth of purchases made in the city.

Forty-five percent of voters opposed the proposal, 34% favored it, and 20% had no opinion. Loyola Marymount issued the surveys to more than 4,000 people at 50 polling places across the city Nov. 6.

Guerra said his results don't mean the measure will be defeated. But supporters will need to make a clear case for why the additional money is needed, he said. "I would warn them that they have to have a very good rationale, and communicate and explain to the voters why it's needed, just like Gov. Jerry Brown did with Proposition 30," a statewide tax hike that passed Nov. 6.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., said the numbers don't bode well for backers of the sales tax increase, which was proposed as a way to preserve basic services after years of cutbacks. Voter turnout is lower in local elections and tends to be more conservative, he said.

Waldman noted that L.A. voters, who responded enthusiastically to Brown's tax proposal and the Measure J tax extension, were still resistant to a sales tax hike. "You had people … who voted for Measure J, voted in favor of Proposition 30, and then turned around and said they wouldn't support a sales tax," he said.

The results from the Loyola Marymount survey differed considerably from those reported in an October poll. Southern California real estate groups, using a private polling firm, found that 64% of likely voters in the March election supported or were leaning toward favoring the sales tax hike.

In that poll, the tax was pitched as a way to pay for 911 emergency response services, pothole repairs, police, firefighters and paramedics. By comparison, the Loyola Marymount survey simply described the half-cent sales tax hike as one that would generate $220 million for the city's budget.

The four leading mayoral candidates are opposing the tax increase, as are some business organizations and the political arm of Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents many city workers. If passed, the sales tax increase would generate enough revenue to nearly wipe out the city's budget shortfall.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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