A motion to place a half-cent sales tax hike on the May 17 ballot failed by a one-vote margin in Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday, despite impassioned pleas from L.A. Mayor James Hahn and Police Chief William Bratton.

The sales tax hike was earmarked toward hiring 1,260 more police officers in the city. It ran into opposition from politicians and business groups who argued that it would drive big-ticket sales outside of city limits.

After heated debate, nine councilmembers voted to put the measure on the ballot, one short of the required two-thirds supermajority. Council President Alex Padilla and councilmembers Bernard Parks, Greig Smith, Antonio Villaraigosa, Jack Weiss and Dennis Zine all voted no.

The council has one more opportunity on Friday to try to put the measure on the ballot.

In a rare appearance before the Council, Bratton implored the councilmembers to put the measure on the ballot.

"We need 3,000 more officers but we have asked at this time for 1,260 more. If the police force does not get the resources it needs, my officers cannot do an effective job of protecting the public," Bratton said. "My cops deserve more from you."

He also alluded to the incident this past Sunday morning in which the 13-year-old driver of a stolen vehicle was shot and killed by LAPD officers. "Improper treatment of members of the public is more likely if we don't have enough police officers to guarantee their own safety and the safety of the people they are sworn to serve," he said.

If the sales tax increase were enacted, Bratton said that 750 of the new officers would be spread out in the field. Another 228 would be assigned to gang enforcement, while 168 would be named senior lead officers, he said. Finally, some of the additional $200 million in annual funds would be used for computers and other technology.

Councilmember Greig Smith spoke out vehemently against raising the sales tax.
"The reason I'm against this is that it's not going to pass (in a citywide vote)," Smith said. "The voters told us this just three months ago and now a more recent L.A. Times poll says support for this has gone down to 50 percent.

"We need to stop cowering behind saying 'Let the voters decide,' and show leadership to find funds within our existing budget to give this police chief what he needs," Smith added.

In November, voters rejected an L.A. County-wide half-cent sales tax increase to fund the hiring of more law enforcement officers in L.A., at the County Sheriff's Department and in other municipalities. Only 60 percent of voters supported the measure, short of the necessary two-thirds supermajority.

Other opponents of the tax including the four candidates challenging Hahn for mayor have said it would drive people to shop in other cities for major purchases and thus deprive the city of additional revenues. They favor finding other ways to fund the hiring of more police officers.

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