When labor and capital unite in support of an issue, beware. It was that alliance that mired us in a multi-billion dollar “Bullet Train.” Now they’ve united behind Measure H, which will take an estimated $3.65 billion in sales tax revenue in the next ten years in a grandiose plan “to prevent and combat homelessness.” And therein lies the rub.

For years, conservatives have argued against expenditures for social programs with the charge that you can’t solve problems by throwing money at them. But that’s exactly what they intend to do about homelessness. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations have endorsed Measure H. Is there something in it for them? Yes, there is.

Tucked away in the details of Measure H, which very few voters bothered to read because of its length and legal language, is this line: “Nothing herein precludes the County from using revenue generated by the retail transactions and use tax for contracting with for-profit contractors and private businesses in compliance with applicable law.”

Much of the money will be spent for construction of housing, renovation of existing housing or subsidizing landlords who rent to the former homeless. Another part of the plan would use tax money to subsidize wages when the homeless are hired. Part of that $15 minimum wage may come from your sales tax dollars. Yes, business has an eye on that $3.65 billion.

Labor and non-profits do too.

Just as labor organizations supported the Bullet Train because it meant jobs for construction workers, labor sees the same benefit from the fight against homelessness. Primarily, the benefit is for those in the building trades, but a careful reading of the strategy plan the Board of Supervisors has devised for the homeless fight reveals that county agencies will get a large slice of the money and that means more government employees to carry out the agencies part in combating homelessness.

For the non-profits, this Measure H is a godsend. As noted in the full text of Measure H, “Revenues from the retail transactions and use tax may be awarded as grants

to public agencies and non-profit organizations to address the causes and effects of homelessness.” Not only will existing non-profits dip into that tax revenue, but we may see a sudden rise in the number of new non-profits, created to take advantage of the taxpayers generosity. Others will come out of the woodwork in response to the county’s willingness to contract out the attack on  homelessness.

But sympathy for the homeless may not be enough to carry Measure H to victory. That’s why “Veterans” are prominently referred to by advocates of Measure H. “Veterans” and “Homeless” have become the catchwords for those seeking donations from the public or handouts from taxpayers. It has worked, till now. But at some point voters must ask is this next request necessary?

In 2014, California voters authorized a $600 million expenditure for veterans housing. We were told of the large number of veterans among the homeless. Our votes for the transfer would help eliminate that. Obviously $600 million wasn’t enough because one of the slick mailers that voters received in support of Measure H appealed to our compassion for “veterans facing homelessness.” The overwhelming majority of the homeless are not veterans, but it’s harder for a voter to cast a “No” vote when it makes you feel unpatriotic.

The use of the veteran issue to push Measure H demonstrates that the measure is an umbrella package, bringing in as many different groups of those in need as possible. Among the beneficiaries of the tax revenue are those with mental health or substance abuse issues, ex convicts, broken families and foster kids.  It’s unlikely that there are any foster kids among the homeless on skid row, but wherever they are those kids will benefit from the proceeds of the sales tax.

The intent of this broad spectrum of beneficiaries from  Measure H is clear. The more groups benefiting, the larger the Yes vote.

We are asked to appropriate $3.65 billion for how many homeless in the county? The agency that takes the homeless census reports that in 2016 there were slightly less than 48,000 homeless in the entire county. About 28,000 of those were in the city of Los Angeles.  The city has already voted that $1.2 billion bond issue, which will actually cost city taxpayers $1.9 billion by the time it’s paid off,  to deal with homelessness there. The county will spend $3.65 billion  in the next ten years if Measure H passes. Five and a half billion dollars to alleviate the homeless problem for about 48,000 individuals? But at the end of those ten years there will still likely be homeless encamped on an island in the L A River.

One is tempted at this point to paraphrase a line from the social Darwinists of the late nineteenth century, offered in their argument in defense of wealth and as an explanation for poverty. If it rains twenty dollar gold pieces from dawn till noon, at sundown the homeless will be setting up their camp under a 110 overpass.