As reported in the Los Angeles Times, a battle is brewing between Los Angeles City authorities and county transportation leaders both of whom want a shot at dipping into the taxpayers pocket for transportation needs. This battle could portend future clashes of multiple agencies reaching for tax dollars at the same time, especially if state law is changed making it easier to raise local taxes.
The Los Angeles scenario pits the city’s search for funds to improve roads and sidewalks versus the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s desire to increase funding for countywide transportation projects. Both are eyeing a sales tax increase to reach their fundraising goals.
If the tax measures are constructed for the express purpose of funding transportation they require a two-thirds vote of the people to pass.
The transportation district sees a tax on the 2016 ballot but those behind the city sales tax plan are looking at 2014. Countywide transportation officials think the second measure to come before voters will have little chance of success if the city tax has been approved. After all, city voters make up 40-percent of the transportation district. It is unlikely they would vote twice in a short period of time to raise the sales tax.
Now consider multiple agencies interested in more tax money— even within the same jurisdiction–not a hard thing to imagine. They have often held back because of that tough two-thirds barrier needed to pass special taxes.
However, a number of measures have been introduced in the legislature to lower the two-thirds vote to 55-percent; a couple dealing directly with transportation. If these measures are successful, taxpayers could be facing a plethora of tax proposals from different agencies seeking to grab hold of new tax dollars.
Which raises the interesting possibility of not only local governments fighting amongst themselves for the opportunity to hit up the taxpayers, as the L.A. situation attests, but different agencies within one government entity requesting funds via tax increases.
A multiple agency rush for taxes could backfire. Numerous “asks” for new tax revenue could turn off voters just as the Los Angeles Metro authorities fear.
The key may be who gets to the taxpayer/voters first. In other words, a local government tax strategy would consist of a simple plan: first one to the water hole gets to drink.