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More voters to weigh telephone tax

March 31, 2008 |  3:39 pm

If the June 3 election is the Stealth Primary, what do you call the election coming up on April 8?

Next Tuesday, voters in 14 Los Angeles County cities will go to the polls to elect city council and school board members. Or they were supposed to, anyway. Our good friends in Vernon (population 90, or thereabouts) canceled their election because they just couldn't get anyone to challenge the two councilmen who are running for re-election. Of course they couldn't. The last time someone challenged an incumbent, the city cut off their power and declared their home unfit for habitation.

There are elections in some democratically run cities as well, such as Avalon, which was featured in the Times on Saturday and in the March Los Angeles Magazine. In addition to city council candidates, the ballot in the small city on Catalina includes a measure to raise a tax on admissions to city attractions from 4% to 6%.

Three cities — Culver City, Malibu and Sierra Madre — are asking voters to sustain, increase or otherwise update their utility users tax, more commonly called the phone tax. This is the same move that the cities of Los Angeles, Pasadena and Huntington Park took on Feb. 5, for the same reasons: lawsuits and changes in federal law have called into question the application of these taxes to cell phones and other more modern communications devices, so in order to keep the taxes the cities must get the voters to ratify or change the laws.

Culver City's Measure W (pdf) would keep the rate at 11%, relatively high in the world of municipal phone taxes. It follows the lead of Pasadena, which called on voters to keep the tax at the existing rate. In Malibu, Measure D follows the Los Angeles model, lowering the tax — in this case, from 5% to 4.5% — while broadening it to new technologies. The Sierra Madre ballot has two measures: Measure U (pdf) would allow the current 6% tax to increase to up to 12%, while Measure UA would require all such revenues raised to go to police and other public safety functions. Very clever — U could be safely passed by a majority vote as a general tax, while UA, as a special tax, must get 2/3 to pass but carries the appeal of public safety.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently passed on the chance to update the county's phone tax, and may revisit the issue in November.

To keep up to date on the region's head-spinning array of elections — April 8, June 3, November 4 and next March — check in frequently at http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/elections/.

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