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What Ton of Fat?

February 11, 1986

We were disappointed to hear President Reagan, a former Los Angeles resident who says he wants to come home when he leaves the White House, lambaste the city's proposed Metro Rail subway project in his weekly radio address last weekend.

Defending the 1987 budget that he sent to Capitol Hill--which includes more spending for programs Reagan likes but no new taxes to pay for them--the President claimed there is "a ton of fat" that can still be cut from federal spending. The only example he cited was Metro Rail, the planned 18.6-mile subway between downtown and the San Fernando Valley.

The federal government will contribute $2 billion of the subway's cost, a substantial sum to be sure. But Reagan's glib use of that figure was misleading. He did not mention that the federal contribution will be spread over at least ten years. Nor did he mention that he has signed legislation authorizing more than $100 million in federal spending for Metro Rail. He owes Los Angeles a fuller explanation for his change of heart.

The most serious omission was the fact that state and local government have earmarked more than $1.3 billion of their own money for Metro Rail, and that in 1980 local residents even voted a special sales tax to support its construction. That happened because Southern California residents are painfully aware of the need for mass-transit in urban centers--projects like Metro Rail, San Diego's new trolley system and the Long Beach-to-Los Angeles light rail line, both of which could be jeopardized by Reagan's budget cuts.

Maybe part of the problem is that Reagan hasn't tried driving from his former home on the West Side towards downtown lately. When he visits now, military helicopters whisk him from place to place, except when motorcycle officers are sweeping clean places for him on the roads. One day he will ride on freeways and surface streets like the rest of us. Los Angeles lives with the traffic every day, which explains why it carries on the uphill fight for funds. Maybe someday he'll thank the city for not giving up, but we'd pass up the gratitude if he would just find something else to call a ton of fat in the meantime.

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