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MTA takes first step in getting tax hike on ballot

Road Sage

June 27, 2008|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

With gas prices soaring and mass transit ridership on the upswing, local transportation officials Thursday took a key step toward asking voters in November to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to fund at least $30 billion in road and mass transit projects. Here's a quick guide to what happened -- and what may happen in the months ahead:

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What did the MTA decide?

The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted 9 to 2 to draft a sales tax proposal. It votes on the final ordinance next month.

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So there's time for the whole thing to fall apart?

Of course. This is Los Angeles County and there's a ton of politics involved. First and foremost, the state Senate could fail to pass AB 2321, which gives the MTA the right to pursue the sales tax hike. The bill made it through the Assembly in May. It's also possible that local politicians who serve on the MTA board will disagree on how to divvy up sales tax revenue, resulting in the tax being dropped.

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Who might be opposed?

A coalition of cities in southeast Los Angeles County has said it will likely be against the tax because it doesn't fund projects in its area.

Even more upset are officials from the San Gabriel Valley. The board Thursday also voted not to put $80 million for the extension of the Gold Line from Pasadena into its long-range plan.

Proponents say they need that money now to seek federal funds to build the project -- and that the board's action could cost support in their area for the tax.

"To me, the best way to generate goodwill [in the San Gabriel Valley] was to program the $80 million" for the Gold Line, said Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, whose La Canada Flintridge district includes parts of the western San Gabriel Valley.

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What would the sales tax fund?

The state bill on the sales tax outlines several projects that would get some money, including the Expo Line, a rail or busway along Crenshaw Boulevard, funding for the Gold Line extension and a subway extension, as well as improvements to the 5 Freeway. All that totals about $4 billion. That means it's up to the MTA to spell out how to spend the rest, leaving board members leery of which projects will get money and when -- assuming, of course, that the sales tax musters two-thirds support among voters.

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With these issues on the table, why did the board vote to draft the sales tax proposal?

Board members said it was the county's best hope of getting transportation funding now. "I would love if we had a White House investing in public infrastructure, but we're a nation at war," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "The likelihood in the next few years of getting the support [in federal dollars] we need is not likely."

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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Steve Hymon writes The Times' blog about Southern California traffic and transportation in real time. Check it out at latimes.com /bottleneck.

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