Raising Property Taxes for Parks Raises Questions about Spending

Susan Shelley

Columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”


The L.A. County Board of Supervisors would like voters to approve higher property taxes to pay for parks.

It’s the latest tax hike proposal to loom over the county of Los Angeles, joining a government wish-list that includes a half-cent increase in the sales tax for transit and an extra half-percent income tax on millionaires to pay for homeless services.

The proposed tax for parks is a parcel tax that would cost property owners 3 to 5 cents per developed square foot, which works out to $45 to 75 per year for a 1,500-square-foot house. The money is needed, the county supervisors say, because of the expiration of two temporary taxes passed in 1992 and 1996.

Two years ago, a proposed parcel tax to raise $54 million per year for parks failed to get the required approval from two-thirds of voters.

These days the supervisors conduct polls before they put anything on the ballot. Pollsters say the millionaires’ tax is backed by 76 percent of registered voters, while 69 percent would support the parcel tax for parks.

Of course, they don’t poll everything.

In 2014, the same year the voters said no to $54 million a year in higher taxes for parks, the supervisors approved $61 million for a health care program called My Health LA.

According to the county’s website, “My Health LA provides primary health care at no cost to eligible residents of Los Angeles County.”

Who is eligible?

“The uninsured (and un-insurable) residents of Los Angeles,” the county’s website explains cryptically. “People that do not have health insurance and cannot get health insurance.”

It’s all free, if you qualify. You must be an L.A. County resident, you must have income at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, and you must be ineligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In other words, My Health LA is a program for undocumented immigrants.

It has been California law since 1933 that “Every county and every city and county shall relieve and support all incompetent, poor, indigent persons, and those incapacitated by age, disease, or accident, lawfully resident therein, when such persons are not supported and relieved by their relatives or friends, by their own means, or by state hospitals or other state or private institutions.”

Some counties interpreted the words “lawfully resident therein” to exclude undocumented immigrants from their programs.

The U.S. Supreme Court has required states to provide emergency medical care to all persons, regardless of immigration status, and California provides restricted Medi-Cal benefits to undocumented residents who meet the income requirements. Full-scope Medi-Cal benefits are available to those who have a deferred enforcement status and, under a new law, to all undocumented immigrant children.

With one-third of California residents already on Medi-Cal, the $740 million projected cost of opening the program to all undocumented immigrants made state lawmakers draw the line at children. However, a 2013 budget law, AB 85, provided incentives to counties to offer health care services to “the remaining uninsured.”

Some counties in California now offer limited health care benefits to undocumented immigrants, but no county is as generous as Los Angeles.

My Health LA goes beyond what state and federal law guarantee or require. It provides about 140,000 enrollees with free primary medical care at a community clinic and automatic eligibility for free secondary care at county facilities, including specialists and hospital care as needed. It even pays for dental care.

Orange County, San Diego County, and San Bernardino County do not provide non-emergency care for undocumented immigrants at all. Neither do the counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Kern or Tulare.

Is Los Angeles County so flush with cash that it can afford to provide what the federal government, the state government and neighboring counties don’t?

Apparently not. The county supervisors are seeking three tax increases to pay for homeless services, transit, and parks, not to mention the budget problems that have caused a backlog of bodies in the coroner’s office.

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the property tax hike for parks on June 21. “I don’t think there is really quality of life unless you can spend some of your time outdoors playing, resting, relaxing, listening to music—all the things we can offer throughout our county park system,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told a reporter.

The proposed tax increases need the approval of two-thirds of the voters to pass. You can thank Proposition 13 for that. Without it, raising taxes in California would be a walk in the park.

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