The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday voted to endorse the half-cent sales tax measure on the city’s March ballot, citing the need to preserve law enforcement, firefighting and other vital city services.

“Public safety will be threatened if Measure A fails,” said chamber Chief Executive Gary Toebben.

Of the chamber board debate on Thursday, Toebben said, “It was a tough decision, but to avoid layoffs of police officers and firemen, the board felt it was necessary that we support Measure A.”

However, another major business group, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, earlier took a position opposing the sales tax measure.

If voters approve the sales tax measure, L.A.’s sales tax rate, which now stands at 9 percent, would rise to 9.5 percent, making it one of the highest in the county. The sales tax rose a quarter-cent on Jan. 1 thanks to statewide voter approval of Proposition 30.

The half-cent sales tax increase would generate an estimated $200 million a year in additional money for city coffers. The city budget has been running an annual deficit of about $210 million.

Before placing the sales tax measure on the ballot last November, the City Council rejected other money-raising proposals, including raising the tax on real estate transactions.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has withheld his support of the measure, saying he wants to see commitments to privatize operations of the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Los Angeles Zoo, among other things. All four major candidates running to replace Villaraigosa as mayor have gone on record opposing the measure.

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