Los Angeles County Half-Percent Tax: A Model for Right Action

Los Angeles County has one of the largest homeless populations in the nation, made up of more than 46,000 men, women, children, veterans and the elderly, who live on the streets on any given night. Many of these people live with a serious mental illness and a majority of them also struggle with a substance use disorder. For reasons as varied as each individual, thousands of people live on the streets in makeshift tents and sleep under bridges, and the majority spend their days and nights in a constant search for a safe place in what is a highly volatile and unforgiving environment. This human tragedy must no longer be ignored.

In 2004, I co-authored Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act. Our goal was to infuse California with funding to provide high-quality services and support to people who live with a mental illness. The initiative was approved by voters and currently places a 1 percent tax on individuals whose personal incomes exceed $1 million. This ongoing revenue source is currently bringing in $2 billion and I know it is making a profound, positive impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people and yet, it is not enough. Many continue to languish on the streets of every county in our state.

Given the immensity of the homeless population in Los Angeles, the County Board of Supervisors has put forward a proposal very similar to Proposition 63 that would create a half-percent tax on yearly income for millionaires residing only in Los Angeles County. If the Board is successful at getting the initiative on the November ballot, and the measure is approved by voters, it is estimated to generate about $250 million annually to fund the County's plan to eradicate homelessness in Los Angeles altogether.

In order to levy a direct income tax on residents, the Board must first gain the approval of the California State Legislature and the Governor. Once that is achieved, the initiative will be placed on the ballot and voters in Los Angeles County will then have the opportunity to decide for themselves if eradicating homelessness is a priority for them.

I am in full support of this proposal and commend the legislators who are leading the charge on this issue. Common sense tells us that the first step toward improving the lives of those who live on the streets is to get them off it and into decent housing. Once that basic need is met, lives are changed for the better, hundreds of millions of dollars can be saved in public services annually, and Los Angeles, Sacramento, and other California cities and counties can be a model for right action and a beacon in our state and nation.