By The Editorial Board, The Daily Breeze, June 2, 2016
A file photo shows the opening of of the Expo Line rail extension to Santa Monica last month. The Metro board is considering a proposal similar to Measure R, which helped fund the rail line.
In the next few weeks, the board that runs mass transportation in Los Angeles County is expected to give voters the list of proposed new transit projects to approve or reject in a November ballot measure.
If it’s not careful, the board will also give voters something else — a good reason to distrust the whole, $120 billion plan.
Persuading Southern Californians to raise sales taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements is no sure thing under any circumstances. It’s especially hard when a measure needs two-thirds approval to pass, as this initiative to extend the Measure R tax hikes would. Measure R barely cleared the 66.7 percent threshold in 2008, and the followup Measure J fell short in 2012.
Selling taxpayers would be even harder if they couldn’t be sure exactly what they’d be getting for their money.
The original Measure R included guarantees that the listed transportation projects wouldn’t be whimsically changed by the board after the initiative was approved. No money would be siphoned off by the federal or state government or for non-transit spending.
But as the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority prepares to unveil the new initiative colloquially called Measure R2, the Metro board hasn’t indicated it will include such lock-in language.
This alone raises fear of a bait-and-switch, fear that voters could OK an official list of projects in November and then see Metro make changes.
The fear is heightened by something that’s happening separately in Sacramento. Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Cerritos, unhappy that a first draft of R2 didn’t give his district a major transit project for at least another two decades, wants to overhaul the Los Angeles-centric Metro board by increasing representation for other cities.
The possibility of a measure without guarantees combined with a Metro board with shifting priorities is worrisome.
The editorial board spoke with state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and Richard Katz, the former assemblyman and Metro board member, who are among the politicians fighting for the San Fernando Valley to get its fair share of new transit projects. They said that even if the project list does right by their part of the county, a lack of guarantees would make them hesitant to support R2.
“I think it makes it hard to campaign for the measure if you can’t look a voter in the eye and say, ‘The list is the list,’” Katz said.
If Metro wants voters’ support, it needs to ensure they know what they’d get for their money.