February 24, 2005
Council Adds Some Fire to Mayoral Race
The Los Angeles City Council is doing a great job of overcompensating for the general public's lukewarm interest in the upcoming mayoral election. With accusations of electoral politics flying from both sides, six council members left Mayor Jim Hahn shaking with rage during the week of Feb. 6., after blocking his (and Police Chief William Bratton's) attempt to put a half-cent city sales tax increase on the May 17 ballot to fund 1,200 new police officers.
Some of the councilmembers opposing the city tax measure, like Jack Weiss of the Westside's 5th District, had just recently supported failed Measure A, a half-cent countywide sales tax increase designed to hire more law enforcement personnel that was defeated in the November general election.
The councilmembers supporting one of Hahn's mayoral rivals, or who are themselves candidates, are obviously more susceptible to accusations of voting "no" for political reasons. Hahn is running a campaign based in large part on his public safety record, and successfully placing this tax proposal on the May ballot would have given him powerful ammunition were he to find himself in a runoff.
After two votes, Hahn was one council member short of winning approval of the ballot measure. After the failure, he implied that no-voting Councilmen Antonio Villaraigosa and Weiss should be recalled, because a sizable majority in both their districts supported Measure A. Weiss is an avid supporter of Villaraigosa's mayoral campaign.
"I support raising the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for more cops; that's not the issue," Weiss said. "I think the best time to do it is not when there's a contested mayor's race, not when major segments of the city are opposed to it, such as the [San Fernando] Valley and many folks in South L.A."
Weiss called Hahn's sales tax a "half-baked" measure, because it would not affect other cities in L.A. County. He said voters in the 5th District approved the countywide measure – not this city-only tax – and this is not the right time to ask them about it again.
Weiss even disputed Hahn's credentials on the issue in general, saying, "Mayor Hahn was AWOL on [county] Measure A. Sheriff [Lee] Baca and Councilman Villaraigosa led that effort."
"Absolutely false," said Shannon Murphy, Hahn's communications director.
She pointed out that Hahn attended a county supervisors' meeting (among other events) to support Measure A, before it was placed on the November 2004 ballot, and said that his support for this latest tax fits perfectly with his record.
"The mayor is disappointed that a minority of the council chose not to trust the voters with this crucial decision," Murphy said.
So was the mayor really pursuing the sales tax as part of his long-standing commitment to public safety and Bratton, or was it just a way to horde political capital ahead of an election? And does Weiss truly believe that the tax must be countywide, or was he simply blocking Hahn to support Villaraigosa?
With an election coming soon, you can bet on all of the above.
Love and Marriage – and Welfare
Far beyond the gravity of local politics, a House of Representatives bill is winding its way through committee in Washington D.C., but it could have a big impact on Los Angeles. H.R. 240 is the latest reauthorization of Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) funds, which are distributed through state welfare programs.
This year, one of President Bush's pet projects has found its way into TANF: marriage education. The bill would set aside $1.5 billion over the next five years to fund high school education on the "value of marriage," divorce reduction programs and programs to "reduce the disincentives" (in the bureaucratese of the bill) to getting married among people who receive welfare support from TANF.
Women's advocacy groups, in particular, have been very skeptical of the premise that government should assume that marriage should always be encouraged. They point out that many couples rightly split up due to abuse.
Paul Castro, Jewish Family Service (JFS) executive director, weighed in on the issue: "We have to look at the broader context. It's great to have the promotion of formation of healthy families and marriages, but in an environment that doesn't provide enough child care and where there are not enough jobs, you're putting a Band-Aid over one thing, while the rest of the body is still bleeding."
With the amount of federal dollars slated for Medicaid and food stamps (programs to help the poor) decreasing, funding a marriage education program creates some novel dilemmas.
"How do you measure whether a state has been successful in forming healthy marriages?" Castro asked. "Would the state simply count the number of unwed parents?"
With all these caveats in mind, the seemingly arbitrary selection of a marriage education requirement, while other programs go underfunded, makes the plan sound more like a social conservative's whim and less like good public policy.
Castro said JFS runs its own parenting classes and is convinced of the need for healthy families, but the complexities of why individuals end up on welfare – and why marriages fail – make legislating it in this way a dubious enterprise.
In the meantime, JFS, which provides social services to approximately 60,000 people a year, just lost $87,000 in federal funds for its Gramercy Place homeless shelter.