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The cost of bonds (Click to enlarge)

Stung by one of the highest state tax rates in the nation, Californians soon could be paying even more if officials and voters approve an array of new bond measures and taxes now under consideration.

Already on the November ballot are nearly $17 billion in statewide bonds, ranging from $9.95 billion for a high-speed passenger train system linking Southern California to the Bay Area, to $5 billion that would give motorists cash rebates for buying fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is asking voters to approve a $7 billion bond measure for school construction and charters. The city of Los Angeles is seeking a $36-a-year parcel tax on all properties to fund anti-gang programs.

Los Angeles County's Board of Supervisors is trying to place the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's proposed half-percent sales-tax increase on the ballot.

The Los Angeles Community College District is seeking $3.5 billion in bonds for construction projects.

Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed raising the statewide sales tax by 1percent for three years.

"What's happening is the taxpayers are under assault like we've never seen before," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "We have not seen an assault on taxpayers of this magnitude since the tax revolt leading up to Proposition 13 three decades ago.


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"Our elected leadership, at both the state and local levels, is pushing California into the `coveted' position of the highest-tax state in America. If that happens, it will be economic suicide for the Golden State."

Last week, the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation released a report that found California's state-local tax burden currently is the sixth-highest in the nation at 10.5 percent of per-capita incomes - costing Golden State taxpayers an average of $4,752 a year.

The push for more taxes and bonds comes even as a growing numbers of residents are struggling to keep up amid a slowing housing market, rising debt and rapidly escalating costs of gas, food and other expenses.

But Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, said he doesn't think the state's tax burden is so high.

And with the economic downturn, a $15 billion state budget deficit and declines in anticipated revenue from property and sales taxes, McIntosh said elected officials statewide have no choice but to propose tax increases and bond measures to continue providing government services.

"The fact is the state has not invested in its infrastructure in the last 25 or 30 years, so California counties have stepped forward and proposed tax increases to fund specific transportation and flood-control projects," McIntosh said.

"It depends on the level of service people expect of their government.

"It's no secret that it costs more to function in California than in many other states. ... Our gas costs are higher, and we have to travel more miles in California. We have 38million residents. That's more than any state in the nation and almost as much as Canada. It's hard to compare California to any other state and have a meaningful comparison."

In Los Angeles, Natalie Brill, chief of debt management for the city administrative officer, said one of the main reasons the government is seeking tax increases and bond measures is that inflation has outstripped a cap of 2 percent a year allowed in assessed-value increases under Proposition 13 until a property is sold and a new market value kicks in.

"We can't increase property taxes at more than 2 percent a year; yet inflation is now at more than 5percent annually," Brill said. "So if you are only increasing property taxes at 2 percent, then how can you pay for things when inflation is at 5percent? That, to me, is common sense."

Last week, faced with mounting debts in the county's health department, supervisors voted for the first time to increase the Measure B trauma-care tax on property owners. 

The move will increase the tax by an average of $10.80 to $55.80 on a 1,500-square-foot home to raise an additional $45 million a year.

Although he supported the increase, Supervisor Don Knabe expressed concern that health officials hadn't come up with a plan to stem the financial problems.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he shared Knabe's frustrations, but noted the tax approved by voters in 2002 - which allows for medical consumer price index adjustments - had never been increased.

"There were some skeptics and cynics out there who thought we were going to raise it on a routine basis," Yaroslavsky said. "The fact is we have never done it.

"And I think this board historically, whatever our differences are from time to time, has tried to generally be fiscally responsible and live within our means and not just spend money or raise revenues when we really don't need to."

Since 1989, voter-approved bonds in Los Angeles County have increased the average homeowners' annual property taxes by 12 percent - from $1,035 to $1,175 per $100,000 of assessed value, according to figures provided by the Auditor-Controller's Office.

The amount increased 2 percent from 2006 to 2007, rising from $1,155 to $1,175. And that doesn't include increases in a variety of assessments and parcel taxes on property tax bills, including Measure B.

"You cannot tax yourself into prosperity," said Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who voted against the parcel-tax increase. "Taxes don't create jobs. It's not right to rob the working people of their hard-earned money they need to support themselves and their families.

"Instead of the government providing better services in giving taxpayers a fair return for their taxes, they want to tax people more. They should utilize the dollars they currently have for government services and programs."

Since 1989, Los Angeles County voters and elected officials have approved more than 300 city, county, school district and special district bonds, assessments and parcel taxes.

In the last two decades, Los Angeles has received voter approval for bonds totaling $2.5 billion. Voters have approved $11.2 billion in LAUSD bonds and an additional $2.25 billion in Los Angeles Community College District bonds.

In the past six years, voters statewide have approved more than $42 billion in bonds for schools, water systems, the environment, stem-cell research and facilities.

"With all the budgetary problems going on and the increased pressures on local governments and school districts, debt is going to be an important issue to look at in the future," said Glenn Byers, the county's assistant treasurer and tax collector.

And taxpayer advocates warn of the potential toll.

"We pay taxes on our phone bills. We pay taxes on our electric bill. Parcel taxes, hotel taxes - just about everything you do seems to be taxed," said California Taxpayers Association spokesman David Kline.

"Many of these taxes, taken individually, seem to be for good causes, but the cumulative effect is they have made California a very expensive state in which to live and do business. Voters have to take that into account when they have a chance to vote on some of these taxes and bonds.

"Something might be marketed as a great idea to fight gangs, expand public transportation or improve local schools, but they have to weigh the benefits against the long-term costs of paying all these additional taxes."

troy.anderson@dailynews.com 213-974-8985