- Written by Ken Alpern
14 Aug 2012
GETTING THERE FROM HERE - There is now an opportunity for voters to not only ensure the existence of the Measure R-funded rail, freeway, road and other transportation projects, but to see these measures built within their lifetime.
Furthermore, the opportunity to pursue other decades-overdue projects is now also on its way to landing within the grasp of the taxpayers, voters and commuters of LA County to ensure that the 21st Century is an era that transportation was an ensured priority.
Tentatively entitled Measure J, a new measure has been approved both by the Metro Board and the County Board of Supervisors for voters this November to extend the half-cent Measure R sales tax for another 30 years. The Metro Board approved the measure with eagerness while the County Supervisors did so with reluctance—in large part reflecting a can-do approach to building new projects on the part of Metro and a more territorial perspective on the part of the County Supes.
For example, when the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) learned that funding for the much-desired Foothill Gold Line Extension to Claremont was NOT in Measure R (there is considerable disagreement on whether that line is funded either to Azusa or to Claremont), SGV Metro Boardmember John Fasana and Ara Najarian supported converting funds from freeway projects to build that extension, while SGV County Supervisor Mike Antonovich dug in his heels to oppose Measure J.
Closer to home, both the Mayor and City Council of LA similarly supported the Expo, Crenshaw, Downtown Connector and Wilshire Subway lines—and wanted to expedite their construction with a 30/10 or America Fast Forward approach of using bridge loans to expedite their funding—while Mid-City County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas remains hesitant to support more construction unless project additions such as a Crenshaw Line Leimert Park subway portion can be ensured.
However, the greatest moral challenge, if not the greatest fiscal opportunity, of Measure J goes beyond the desire of current adult residents and commuters to get these Measure R projects built within the next 10 years or so; by extending the Measure R sales tax to the year 2069, we are asking future generations to help pay for projects built today.
The argument can be made that those reading this are benefiting from the fiscal contributions of taxpayers that were made 30-60 years ago (when most of our modern roads and freeways were built), and that future residents and commuters will benefit from what we build today. However, most of that funding 30-60 years ago were paid for back then by those taxpayers—although some of the bonds that funded those projects are still being paid today—and Measure J is different.
Measure J is, for the most part, the result of a failed effort on the part of Sacramento and Washington to match the local efforts of LA County in funding those freeway and rail projects that Measure R would pay for over 30 years. Mayor Villaraigosa and an army of local politicians begged Washington to provide bridge loans—using the future guaranteed revenue of Measure R—for an America Fast Forward program to expedite these projects over 10 years.
Unfortunately, the Democratic-controlled Congress of 2009-2011 did NOT create such a program, and did NOT create a proper seven-year transportation budget, and did NOT create a federal stimulus program that funded transportation like its promoters promised. Unfortunately, the current Republican House and Democratic Senate has only come up with a smaller transportation budget … but there is a small America Fast Forward program for L.A. County to work with.
Sacramento, meanwhile, is so fiscally irresponsible and caught by their own perverted and confused priorities that there was little if any it could do to benefit LA County.
So LA County had to rely on Measure J (and itself) in order to ensure that the Measure R projects could be built. Borrowing from future Measure R sales tax revenues (and, in effect, our children and even grandchildren) will be the ticket—should Measure J pass—to getting to building the Wilshire Subway, Downtown Light Rail Connector, and a host of other freeway and rail projects over the next ten years.
County Supervisor Don Knabe, whose district arguably stands either the most or least to benefit from Measure J, has been the most articulate in his reticence to tax our children and grandchildren. Knabe’s district’s rail projects (Green/Crenshaw Line to LAX, South Bay Green Line, Southeast LA County rail line), and a variety of freeway projects are much lower on the priority list of Measure R projects with respect to funding and construction.
However, the need to build an expanded and upgraded series of freeways in the South Bay, Southeast Cities, Ports and Eastern L.A. County, as well as the aforementioned rail projects, is fundamental to the economic enhancement of the entire county. Measure J would best ensure that the outlying county projects are as expedited as those planned for the traffic-choked core of LA County.
Measure J is, therefore, somewhat of a gamble—but a good gamble, if not an excellent gamble—that L.A. County will build both Measure R projects and projects beyond the immediate scope of Measure R (but intended by Measure R to become a reality):
1) A first-class rail line, likely light rail and likely underground to connect the San Fernando Valley, the Westside, LAX and the South Bay
2) A series of Metrolink and MetroRail connections to each other and to our regional airports
3) A series of freeway expansions and upgrades to our ports and through the suburban and rural portions of our county
And for those doubting the wisdom of Measure J? The following must be considered:
1) Will Measure R projects be the limit of what we build in 21st Century L.A. County, or will we strive for more?
2) Will we stop fighting for state and federal matching funds to build Measure R projects, so that Measure J can fund those other defined projects out there that Measure R did not specifically ensure?
3) Will we forget that Measure J allows the opportunity to pull the plug on the sales tax extension beyond 2039, should spending and construction costs become irresponsible and/or undesired?
In short, Measure R makes our transportation dilemma an issue of “when” and not merely “if” our immediate projects are built. Measure J ensures that these projects will be built very soon, and places the burden on our county to ensure that Measure R-listed projects is but the beginning of what we need to empower the economic vibrancy of LA County for both ourselves and for future generations.
Vol 10 Issue 65
Pub: Aug 14, 2012