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Tuesday, December 24, 2013
L.A. County transit officials plan to put sales tax measure on ballot
Transit leaders are pondering whether to seek an additional
half-cent levy or extension of Measure R, either next year or in 2016.
Subway passengers wait at a station in downtown Los Angeles.
Transportation officials in Los Angeles County plan to offer a ballot
measure next fall or in 2016 that would raise the county's sales tax by
half a cent or extend the life of Measure R, the levy voters approved
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
and multiple advocacy groups say more transportation money would help
expand the region's fledgling rail network, improve complementary
service on bus lines, and speed construction and repairs on rail lines
"We need to have a system that works for us," said Hasan Ikhrata,
executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments. "We
need to maintain it, to bring it up to par, to expand it."
Metro staff officials say the
ballot measure would either create a new tax that would raise the
overall rate in Los Angeles County to 9.5% or extend Measure R's
half-cent levy beyond its 2039 expiration date.
Similar proposals have found success in the past: Taxes approved in
1980 and 1990 paid for many of the county's carpool lanes and the first
three modern rail lines. Measure R will partially fund a dozen rail
projects, doubling the number of Metro train stations.
Last year, a proposal to extend Measure R failed by about 2
percentage points, in part because coastal Los Angeles County cities did
not support it, a Times analysis showed. Some elected officials from
those areas had complained that the city of Los Angeles received the
lion's share of Measure R projects.
Metro has hired a Washington firm to poll hundreds of county
residents on two tax proposals. Councils of government have drafted
lists of projects they would like to see.
"There will never be enough money, obviously," said Karen Heit, the
transportation deputy for the Gateway Cities Council of Governments,
which includes Cerritos, Downey and Long Beach. "But to have a say in
how the funds should be divided is huge."
Still at issue is whether the measure will go to the ballot in 2014
or 2016, but Metro planning staff members prefer not to rush. Some are
concerned that the measure could compete with a $3-billion street repair
bond proposed by two Los Angeles City Council members, which could go to voters in 2014.
The presidential election in 2016 will ensure higher voter turnout,
Metro planning staff wrote in a memo to the board. Waiting two years
would give the agency more time to work with subregions and drum up
By some measures, a new sales tax could raise more than $100 billion.
Some projects that were partially funded by Measure R may see more
money, including a rail link to Los Angeles International Airport. About $330 million of the estimated $1.5 billion needed to complete the line has been secured.
Other projects being considered include improvements to eight
freeways, subsidies for senior and student transit fares, and a transit
and freeway tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, according to Metro's
ballot measure concepts.
Denny Zane, executive director of transit advocacy group Move LA,
said he hopes a portion of the money will go toward making the ports
more environmentally friendly, including building infrastructure to
support electric trucks. He said Move LA is also eyeing improvements to Metrolink service and bicycle lanes.
The legwork for the effort coincides with a push in Sacramento to
reduce the 67% voter threshold for such measures. Former assemblyman,
and current Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield recently
proposed a constitutional amendment that would reduce the voter
threshold for infrastructure bonds to 55%.
Adding another sales tax would allow Metro to perhaps finish some new projects within a decade.
An extension of Measure R would make money available after 2039.
However, Metro says it would help agencies pay down debt, freeing up
other funding for other projects.