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Los Angeles to consider sales tax to fix failing streets, sidewalks

The City of L.A.'s Bureau of Street Services currently maintains streets that are in good condition but ignores roads that have been deemed beyond repair.
The City of L.A.'s Bureau of Street Services currently maintains streets that are in good condition but ignores roads that have been deemed beyond repair.
Alice Walton/KPCC

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If you’re tired of driving on bumpy, pothole-plagued streets in L.A., get ready to open your pocketbooks — city leaders are considering a sales tax increase to fix roads and damaged sidewalks.

The city’s top budget official released a report Tuesday that recommends a half-cent sales tax increase to raise $4.5 billion. The tax, which would be in effect for 15 years, would raise $3.86 billion for failing streets and another $640 million for damaged sidewalks. The city's Public Works department currently has a policy to maintain streets that are in good condition rather than fix roads it considers beyond repair. 

An earlier proposal from two city council members to repair the city’s failing streets called for a bond measure rather than a sales tax. However, a tax “spreads the cost for the street repair and sidewalk repair programs to a broader spectrum of the infrastructures’ users, including those who do not live within the city but still use the city’s streets,” City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana wrote in the report.

The sales tax would cost a typical household between $75 and $108 a year over the life of the tax. That averages out to $91 a year.

Getting the sales tax on the November ballot would take approval from the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti. Speaking to KPCC last week, the mayor said he had not decided whether to support an effort to have voters consider a referendum to finance street and sidewalk repairs.

“I’m not going to put it on the ballot if I don’t think it can pass," Garcetti said. "That’s a waste of my time.” 

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the mayor only said Garcetti was still considering the options. If the proposed tax hike is placed on the November ballot, it will take a two-thirds vote from the public to pass.

In March, 2013, city voters voted down a proposed half-cent sales tax to address a budget shortfall. Council President Herb Wesson has said one mistake with last year's proposed sales tax hike was that it didn't have a sunset clause.

The City of L.A.'s current nine percent sales tax is higher than in New York City (8.875) and San Francisco (8.75), but lower than Chicago's (9.25). 

L.A. City Council members Joe Buscaino and Mitch Englander will hold a public hearing on the sales tax proposal on April 2 at City Hall. The council has until July to place the tax on the ballot. Doing so would cost the city $4.4 million, according to the CAO’s report.

In a joint statement, Buscaino and Englander said: “Our streets form the backbone of our local transportation system. Every visitor, every resident, and every business owner uses our streets and our local economy is dependent upon the ability to move people and goods throughout the city. 

“It is critically important that all stakeholders understand the seriousness and importance of this issue, engage in the conversation, and work cooperatively toward finding a solution.”