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Friday, November 29, 2013
Editorial: Paying for L.A. County's transit future
There's no need to rush on new taxes. Planners should take their time in weighing city and county transportation needs.
An Expo Line train pulls into the La Cienega/Jefferson station in Los
Angeles. Metro's board of directors is beginning to discuss putting
another sales tax measure on the ballot.
The half-cent sales tax approved by L.A. County voters in 2008 has already changed the landscape of Los Angeles.
The Orange Line busway
extension to Chatsworth opened three years ahead of schedule.
Construction is underway on two light-rail lines — the Expo Line
to Santa Monica and the Gold Line to Azusa — and will soon begin on the
Crenshaw Line. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is also
extending the Purple Line to Westwood and the Green Line to Torrance.
These projects would be in slow motion — or stalled — if Measure R
had not passed. There's not much state or federal money available these
days for major transportation projects. Los Angeles County has been able
to kick-start projects with the local sales tax revenue Measure R
That success has made some politicians ambitious. They want to raise
more money to build more transportation projects in less time. But is
the public on board?
Metro is discussing putting another sales tax measure on the ballot.
The options before its board of directors include a 2014 or 2016 ballot
measure that would either extend the existing sales tax 30 years beyond
its current 2039 sunset date or create a new sales tax on top of the
The discussions are in early stages. Here are some early thoughts.
We have serious reservations about an additional sales tax. Advocates
say an increase would allow Metro to launch new projects that could be
completed within 10 years. That's tempting. But county residents already
pay some of the highest sales taxes in the state. Would new
transportation projects be worth increasing that burden?
Last year, Metro leaders proposed Measure J, which would have
extended the half-cent sales tax 30 years. Their argument was that
transit managers could borrow money on the bond market to accelerate
construction now and repay investors with the tax revenues that would
roll in after 2039.
This page backed Measure J, but voters narrowly rejected it — in part
because the Metro board itself was split. Some saw Measure J as too
L.A. city-centric. In considering a new sales tax proposal, Metro
leaders must consider transportation needs throughout the county, but in
the end they should select the projects that deliver the greatest
impact, even if they are concentrated in the city.
That's why a 2014 ballot measure should be off the table, and 2016
would be a better target. Metro leaders would need to adopt a package of
projects by April in order to get something on next November's ballot.
That's too little time. These are tough political decisions that involve
planning for the next generation of Los Angeles County residents.
There's no need to rush.