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Monday, March 31, 2014
L.A. could clash with L.A. County on transit tax measures
Ahalf-cent sales tax increase being weighed
for Los Angeles for the November ballot could endanger a countywide
measure being studied for 2016, some transit activists say.
By David Zahniser and Laura J. Nelson, March 31, 2014
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said: "If you're trying to ask the
question, where do you get the biggest bang for your buck, then the
argument swings pretty forcefully toward" a higher countywide transit
A plan for increasing the sales tax to fix Los Angeles' broken
streets is on a collision course with a similar levy being pushed for
regional transit projects.
Two weeks ago, the top budget advisor to the Los Angeles City Council
said a tax increase is the only way thousands of miles of severely
damaged roads and sidewalks will get repaired. A half-cent increase in
the sales tax, which would generate $4.5 billion over 15 years, should
appear on the November ballot, City Administrative Officer Miguel
Santana said. The proposal will get its first public hearing Wednesday.
But public transit advocates are voicing worries that a city tax
increase could jeopardize their proposal for a countywide sales tax
increase for transportation projects, one that would go before voters in
The back-to-back measures may
undermine support for a second tax increase, said Denny Zane, whose
organization Move L.A. is promoting the transit tax concept. "When you
need a two-thirds vote," to pass a transportation measure, "you don't
really start out with any margin for error," he said.
If voters approve the street repair measure in November, the tax rate
within Los Angeles' city limits would jump to 9.5 cents on every $1 of
retail sales. Passage of a countywide transit measure, which could raise
$90 billion over 45 years, could send the city's rate as high as 10 cents.
Los Angeles is one of 88 cities in the county but has roughly 40% of
the county's population, making it a crucial part of the electorate in
deciding any regional transportation tax.
Zane's organization held a daylong conference last week on the
proposed transit tax, which could not reach the ballot without a vote
from the 13-member Metro board.
Dozens of speakers outlined the types of projects that could be built,
including rail extensions to airports in Los Angeles and Burbank; light
rail stretching across the South Bay; and a transit tunnel through the
Bob Waggoner, a construction union leader who took part in the
conference, said winning approval of a countywide transportation tax
should take political precedence over a city measure.
"What's certain is that if the city of Los Angeles passes a street
measure in November, then there is going to be a problem passing another
measure in 2016," said Waggoner, political director of the
International Union of Operating Engineers. If the proposed city tax is
defeated, it still could create problems, he said. "We come back two
years later and [voters say] 'Here we go again, another tax.' And
there's another chance of it being voted down."
None of the city's elected officials has come out in favor of a street repair tax, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is one of the Metro board's 13 members. Councilman Mike Bonin,
a Garcetti appointee on the county Metropolitan Transportation
Authority board, has come out in favor of a transit tax in 2016. But he
declined to comment on the city's street tax proposal.
Another Metro board member, county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas,
said the transportation tax measure would offer greater regional
benefits in air quality, traffic reduction and economic development. A
tax increase for the Metro system, Ridley-Thomas said, would also
attract more federal funding than a city streets measure.
"If you're trying to ask the question, where do you get the biggest
bang for your buck, then the argument swings pretty forcefully toward" a
higher countywide transit tax, he said.
Garcetti has collected polling data on voters' support for the
proposal, but his spokesman, Jeff Millman, declined to release the
results. He also declined to say where the mayor stands on the possible
tax increases. "We're reviewing the proposals," he said.