Ah, the politics of the money game. And the politics of power.
The sheriff and the County Board of Supervisors have had a long-running history of battling over power and money.
Even before the present sheriff, Lee Baca, county sheriffs have had their run-ins with various County Boards of Supervisors.
Sheriffs are elected by the voters and so they claim an independence that in past years has irritated various county supervisors.
“I am, after all, elected by the people and therefore I will run my office as I please — as the voters of the county elected me to do,” various sheriffs over time have told various Boards of Supervisors.
The problem for elected sheriffs is that while they indeed are independently elected by county voters, their budgets are dependent on approval by the Board of Supervisors.
The budget for running the Sheriff’s Department is included in the county budget, which is adopted by county supervisors.
Since sheriffs know where their budgeted funds come from, they have to do a little dance and a good deal of schmoozing with county supervisors at budget time if they want to get the funds the sheriffs need to get their departments through the fiscal year.
But in the new — and we suspect future — tradition of Governor Arnold, sheriffs see a possibility of getting around county supervisors for funding by — as Governor Arnold seems to be doing, or threatening to do, more regularly these days — going directly to the voters for funding via the ballot box.
Which brings us to Sheriff Lee Baca and his efforts to get more bucks for his under-funded department by having county voters in November approve a half-cent sales tax increase.
Baca’s department — and all government departments — have been battered by budget cuts at the county, state and federal levels.
The sheriff says he has been forced to let prisoners out of their cells early because the county can’t afford to keep them in jail.
Baca has threatened to cut back many basic sheriff’s services, including closing the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station, if he doesn’t get more funding to keep his department going.
And so Baca came up with an idea of getting more funding for his department and other public safety departments in the county through approval of this half-cent sales tax increase. Such an increase requires the support of two-thirds of the voters who vote on such a measure.
Baca had hoped to get his half-cent increase on the November ballot.
Baca could have gotten his half-cent sales tax measure on the fall ballot if only he had secured a sufficient number of signatures to put such an issue on the ballot.
The deadline for turning in such ballot measure signatures was Tuesday, and, alas, Baca did not get the signatures necessary to place such a measure on the November ballot.
But county supervisors can put measures on county ballots without signatures.
And so this week we found Baca at the Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting, seeking support from the county supervisors for Baca’s proposal for an additional half-cent sales tax in Los Angeles County.
Baca had drafted his idea of who would get the revenues from such a half-cent increase.
In order to get lots of support around the county, Baca penciled in lots of bucks for the 88 cities in the county, knowing that such an effort would gain the support of city officials throughout the county.
There would be lots to go around, since the half-cent sales tax increase is expected to generate $500 million.
Needless to say, Baca got lots of support from the officials of the 88 cities that would share in this new bundle of bucks.
But now that Baca has failed to get the signatures required to put his half-cent increase on the ballot, he is forced to go “hat in hand” to county supervisors to get the supervisors to place the measure on the ballot.
Needless to say, the supervisors are enjoying the moment.
And guess what. The county supervisors, knowing that Baca needs their support to get his measure on the ballot, are suggesting that perhaps a larger share of the half-cent sales tax increase should go to — surprise — the county.
Of course, that would mean the 88 cities and Baca’s department itself would get less.
Ah, the price of power.
One would think that the five county supervisors, knowing that they now control the situation with Baca’s sales tax measure, would sit down and figure out in a speedy moment how much more they should get in exchange for their approval.
But, no. Instead, the county supervisors Tuesday decided to postpone for at least two weeks their decision on whether to place the Baca half-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot.
The delay gives Baca more time to swing in the wind.
One can just hear the percent of return from this measure that will go to the county going up like a gasoline pump meter.
Not all of the money would go just for peace officers and their facilities.
Also included in the Baca proposal are funds for courts and prosecutional costs. The district attorney’s office would share in the take.
Now there is a report that District attorney Steve Cooley may not support the Baca proposal until — yep, you guessed it — his office gets more of the sales tax increase.
Of course, the folks in charge are hauling out all kinds of references to 9/11, the terrorist threat and tales of future doom if their department or agency doesn’t get its fair share of these increased sales tax funds.
Back at the Board of Supervisors, only Supervisors Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Zev Yaroslavsky are said to be on board with Baca at this time.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich is said to oppose the tax increase, which leaves Supervisors Don Knabe and Gloria Molina as the holdouts. Dare we suggest they are the “negotiators” in this scenario?
One of these days the calendar will run out on putting the measure on the November ballot and, of course, the power opportunity will have passed — at least on this issue.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how much Baca has to “give away” to the supervisor holdouts and others, such as the district attorney, to get his measure on the ballot.
Molina is quoted as saying about the measure:
“There are still a lot of questions and concerns that people have, but I think people expect us to come up with something that will work for everybody.”
This is all about “how much can I get for my agency out of this.”
Of course in this current — and temporary — power battle few seem to be talking about whether county voters will vote themselves another half-cent sales increase.
At least on this measure, the power still lies with the voters.