Tax the rich, give to the poor: LA County seeks to use millionaires’ money to assist homeless

© Lucy Nicholson
Los Angeles County has one of the highest homeless populations, but the County Board of Supervisors has a bold plan to fight it: an income tax of half of a percent on personal incomes exceeding $1 million, which would generate an estimated $243 million.

In an effort to address the growing homeless problem plaguing Los Angeles County, the county government is seeking approval from both Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature to levy a tax on its millionaires. Seventy-six percent of LA County residents are in favor of the tax, according to a Los Angeles County Homelessness Survey.

Despite its high approval ratings, making the tax a reality will be an uphill battle. County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas spent last week trying to gain support for the measure and, on Wednesday, 29 state legislators formed a coalition to encourage Governor Brown and other state legislators to approve the bill.

With one of the highest homeless populations in the US, Los Angeles County promised to devote $100 million towards housing and services for the homeless during a September press conference. However, the question of where that money would come from has lingered, along with the nebulous issue of the sustainability of the funding.

A press release from the county’s Chief Executive Office stated that various labor unions have voiced their support for the bill. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl called the bill “an unprecedented opportunity to create a sustainable and substantial revenue source to fund our efforts to end homelessness.”

In 2012, the Guardian reported that the city of Los Angeles was home to 126,000 millionaires and, today, Los Angeles County is home to an estimated 46,874 homeless people, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Republican Supervisor Don Knabe is not in support of the bill, however, because he is concerned about the repercussions of giving the county authority to impose an income tax. His assistant press deputy told LAist “The unprecedented ask of the State Legislature to give the County the authority to impose an income tax will open the door to serious unintended consequences in the future. If this proposed measure is approved, the next time the County goes to the State seeking funding for infrastructure or jails, we could be turned away and told to seek the means directly from our residents.”

The county does have a plan B in case they don’t receive the authority to impose the tax. Raising sales taxes by half a penny has a 68 percent favorable view, according to a LA County homeless survey conducted between March 29 and April 7 among 1,400 people.