LOS ANGELES, Calif.–The fate of a proposed half-cent sales tax to fund public safety and other city services will rest in the hands of Los Angeles voters today, with some city leaders calling it essential to residents’ safety and opponents slamming it as a money grab by a city unable to control its own spending.

Proposition A would increase the city’s sales tax by a half-cent, putting it at 9.5 percent overall, just under the 10 percent cap imposed by state law. According to the city, Proposition A would raise about $211 million a year.

Revenue from the tax would be used to fund the police and fire departments, along with senior services, gang- and drug-prevention programs and street and sidewalk repairs.

In a recent report to the City Council, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said passage of the tax is critical to provide continued funding of as many as 500 police officer positions and to maintain other services. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Fire Department Chief Brian Cummings have
been among the supporters speaking about the need for the tax to pass.

But opponents of the proposition, including former Mayor Richard Riordan, contend that the tax proposal is a response to consistent failure by the city to control its spending.

“This sales tax hike is bad for L.A., bad for hard-working Angelenos, bad for job-creating businesses and bad for the city’s reputation,” opponents wrote in a ballot argument against the measure. “It’s a regressive tax that will have a disproportionate impact on working and middle-class Angelenos and
encourage consumers to shop in nearby lower taxed cities.

“Worst of all, it doesn’t solve the budget crisis, and will make finding real solutions so much more difficult in the future while delaying desperately needed repairs to our streets, sidewalks and other

According to the city, the 9.5 percent tax rate would be on par with nearby cities such as Santa Monica, Inglewood and El Monte.

The city is facing an estimated $216 million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year. In his report to the City Council, Santana said the deficit could jump to $360 million if the measure fails.

Beck and other supporters of the proposal have contended that the tax is critical to maintaining police service and bolstering the fire department.

“Without Proposition A’s additional revenue, a minimum of 500 police officers that patrol our neighborhoods will be laid off and our historically low crime rates may be in danger,” supporters wrote in a ballot argument in favor of the tax. “… Proposition A will cost the average Los Angeles resident less than 10 cents a day, and by law the tax cannot be applied to food and medicine.”

The tax needs a simple majority of votes to pass.

Voters today will also weigh in on Proposition B, which would ratify a pension-related change city leaders made last year.

Sworn officers who work for the city but were not part of the police force were absorbed into the Los Angeles Police Department as a cost-cutting move. Those officers, who are tasked with guarding and patrolling city property, facilities and buildings, now have the option to switch from their civilian pension plan to the public safety pension plan.

The City Council placed Proposition B on the ballot to seek voter approval to allow officers who switch to the public safety plan to purchase, at their own expense, retirement credit for the work they’ve already performed.

The allowance cannot be made without approval from voters. Santana said the measure will not result in additional costs to the city or its general fund.