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OCTA Opposes Bill on Measure M Funds


SANTA ANA — The Orange County Transportation Authority voted 7 to 3 Monday to oppose state legislation that would allow voters to decide whether Measure M sales taxes can be diverted from promised transportation projects to bankruptcy recovery efforts.

With the three county supervisors who sit on the OCTA board in dissent, the other directors voted unanimously to oppose the bill being carried by Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange).

Conroy told the directors his bill would do nothing more than amend the state's Public Utilities Code so that Measure M sales tax money could be used for the bankruptcy instead of certain transportation improvements voters approved in 1990.

A public vote would also be required under Conroy's legislation, before any money could be shifted.

"It doesn't force anyone to do anything. It just keeps our choices open," Conroy said. "Right now we don't have any choices."

But opposing OCTA directors said they feared setting a bad precedent.

The resolution calling upon the OCTA board to oppose the bill sparked criticism from some members of the audience and Supervisor Jim Silva, who said directors were forgetting their duty to serve Orange County residents instead of just OCTA interests.

"It's time to shed the OCTA hat, and replace it with the people's hat," Silva said. "Since Day One, I've said this decision should be with the voters. Let the voters decide."

Carole Walters of the Orange Taxpayers Assn. challenged the OCTA directors either to support Conroy's legislation or to forgive the county's debts to the cities or special districts they represent. The county still owes more than $400 million to cities and special districts that had money in the county's ill-fated investment pool, and many of the OCTA directors also sit on city councils and district boards across the county.

"It's time we tell you what to do with our money," Walters said.

Orange County is committed to completing a bankruptcy recovery plan this week that doesn't rely on Measure M funds, so Conroy's bill isn't seen as an essential factor.

But Conroy and Silva touted the legislation as a necessary "backup" in case any of the revenue-raising elements of the bankruptcy recovery plan fail to materialize.

Measure M was specifically crafted to make it difficult to divert its revenue, and the ballot measure incorporated certain restrictions that probably helped persuade wary voters to tax themselves for transportation improvements.

But Conroy said, "I think it's a good idea to use transportation funds for the bankruptcy, and I've been pushing it."

Silva, usually a steadfast opponent of taxes, also suggested allowing voters to decide whether to extend Measure M's half-cent sales tax beyond its 20-year life span.

"I can also see Measure M extended . . . for a possible five years or whatever it would take."

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