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VICA and the Business Community
By: Stuart Waldman

Election Full of Business Victories

When voters went to the polls they sided overwhelmingly with VICA and the business community. Nine of the 10 measures on the ballot passed, with voters rejecting an excise tax on Los Angeles oil producers (Measure O).

VICA-opposed Measure O would have imposed a quarterly tax of $1.44 on each barrel of oil produced from oil wells in the City of Los Angeles. While other neighboring cities, including Beverly Hills, Culver City, Inglewood and Long Beach levy oil production taxes, the tax proposed by Measure O would have been the highest in the region.

This is a significant victory, especially in a community that tends to balance its budget by taxing businesses. From the March 8 elections results, it appears that voters are beginning to understand the dire situation facing governments, local governments in particular, and the sacrifices that need to be made.

Of the ten measures on the ballot, VICA took positions on nine. We encouraged a yes vote on Charter Amendments G, J, L, N, P and Q, all of which were passed by voters. In addition to its opposition to Measure O, VICA also opposed Charter Amendments I and H. These were the only items where the voters differed from VICA’s recommendations.

Charter Amendment G is an important step in reigning in skyrocketing pension costs. A great deal of reform is still needed, but the creation of a new pension tier for police officers and firefighters hired after July 1, 2011 will help ease the city’s high pension obligation.

Charter Amendment Q also addressed civil servant hiring practices by improving and streamlining some employment provisions. These changes will lead to more effective hiring practices that will save the city money.

Two measures on the ballot addressed the operations of the Los Angeles Department of Water (LADWP). The passage of Charter Amendment J establishes a procedure for making surplus transfers from the LADWP’s Power Revenue Fund to the City of Los Angeles Reserve Fund. This will help avoid a future stand-off over this transfer, which occurred last year and hurt the city’s finances.

Unfortunately, the voters decided to add another level of bureaucracy when they approved Charter Amendment I. VICA still maintains that an office of public accountability and ratepayer advocate within the LADWP is duplicative of tasks that are already performed by the City Controller and Mayor.

Voters decided to make a sound investment in the community by passing Charter Amendment L. This measure increases and protects funding for the L.A. public library system without raising taxes. The city’s public libraries provide valuable afterschool services and job-seeking opportunities that save the city money in public safety expenditures and help get people back to work.

Charter Amendments N and H were related to campaign contributions. Measure N was a necessary step to bring city laws into compliance with federal law. However, voters made a mistake with the passage of Measure H. Restricting the campaign contributions of those who bid on city contracts valued at $100,000 or more creates an unfair advantage for unions and is ripe for legal challenges.
Charter Amendment P did something that VICA has implored the city to do for years—create a city emergency reserve fund and bar the City Council from raiding it. The only way for the council to tap this fund is for 10 of its members to agree that funds are needed for an emergency.

The 10 measures were not the only items on the ballot. Six of the L.A. City Council’s 15 members were up for reelection and all seven incumbents were able to keep their seats. The only newcomer to the council is Mitchell Englander, chief of staff to the councilman he will replace—Greig Smith, who did not seek reelection.

VICA’s political action committee (PAC) endorsed Paul Krekorian (District 2), Tom LaBonge (District 4), Bernard Parks (District 8) and Englander (District 12) for City Council. The panel also put its support behind Tamar Galatzan’s reelection bid for LAUSD Board, which she won handily.

The PAC backed the three City Councilmembers for reelection for making difficult decisions regarding the city budget and being willing to take a firm stance when it comes to cuts and staffing issues. The PAC felt Englander had a solid record as chief of staff to one of the most business-friendly members of the L.A. City Council and expect his talent as an advisor to translate into a successful tenure as a councilmember.

Galatzan is often the lone voice of dissent on the LAUSD board when it comes to examining district waste, and this earned her the support of the PAC.

Low participation is typical for local elections that do not coincide with nation races and this election was no exception. Voter turnout was below 11 percent. In line with the growing trend of casting ballots by mail, nearly half of voters in the March 8 election opted to vote-by-mail (approximately 44 percent).