Friday, November 20, 2009

PARCELING PAIN: The ghost of proposed parcel tax returns to haunt L.A. homeowners

LA Daily News Editorial

20 November 2009 -- THE Los Angeles Unified School District has taken its lumps from the current recession - teachers and other workers have been laid off, class sizes have been increased and still the district must cut $480 million to balance its 2010-2011 budget.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines sent a letter to his employees and their unions late last week saying, here's your choices: a 12 percent pay cut next year and four furlough days this year, or the layoff of up to 8,500 employees.

Up jumped A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, and fires off a letter to his union members saying this is an outrage - 2,000 teachers have been laid off, class sizes increased and a "host of other serious challenges caused by LAUSD actions." He's entirely correct.

Duffy said the district needs to work with all the unions involved and consider other cuts and alternative sources of funding - such as a parcel tax.

We were with Duffy, right up to the black magical words: parcel tax.

Draw back for a moment from the school district's troubles and look around. Unemployment in Los Angeles County is officially at 12.7 percent, which means it's really at 17.5 percent because of the many laid-off workers who have run out of benefits or just given up. Foreclosure rates are at highs not seen since the Great Depression. The cost of health care and insurance have climbed to a point where it is unaffordable to many Americans.

Things are tough all over - for teachers and everyone else. The last thing people need right now is a tax increase, no matter how righteous the cause.

Duffy's note wasn't the first time the idea of a new parcel tax came up. Last January, two months after the district officials and their high-paid consultants persuaded Los Angeles voters to approve a $7 billion construction bond - the fifth one so far - paid for by homeowners in their tax bills, Cortines floated the idea of asking for a parcel tax increase to supplement ongoing operational costs. The idea was so abhorrent in the bleak depths of the recession that it didn't go anywhere. But clearly it hasn't been forgotten, as it should be.

Those of us outside government have been living with reduced money since this recession began. Private enterprise can't just say to its customers, this is just too hard, you'll have to give us more money. It doesn't work that way for us. It shouldn't for public enterprises, either. Government has to be weaned from the idea that when times get tough, you just ask for more money.

And certainly other government entities have had to grin and bear it. State workers are absorbing up to 26 furloughed days this year and will probably get hit again now that the state's budget deficit is heading toward $21 billion.

Even beyond the issue of taxing people when they're down, using parcel taxes to pay for ongoing education costs is unfair to individual homeowners. They aren't the only ones with kids in public schools, but they are the only ones hit by property taxes, especially with incomes flattened. Yes, renters pay through increases in the rent, but the rental market is a buyer's market right now and rents are going down, not up.

We sympathize with teachers and other LAUSD workers, but that's the way it works in this economy. Only bank executives and workers at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power seem to be exempt from pay cuts. The really big guys are recovering and per worker production has risen so they are making more money from a reduced work force. But for the people who do the actual work, salaries are flat or have fallen.

Duffy was right in his assessment that the teachers and other workers shouldn't have to absorb to all. Reductions should be heavier outside the classrooms all the way up to political offices, before they strip mine the teaching staff. The district should look at cutting new programs and take a harder examination of the management structure of LAUSD.

And if it comes down to pay reductions and forced days off, the high as well as the low should bear the burden equally - not the hapless taxpayers.

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