When Los Angeles County voters agreed in 2008 to raise their sales taxes to improve local public transit, they may not have considered that some of the new trains wouldn't start running during their lifetimes. Measure R promised a slate of vital projects, including an extension of the Wilshire Boulevard subway, light-rail lines to Los Angeles International Airport and the Eastside, and busways in the San Fernando Valley -- but some won't be built until the end of the initiative's 30-year time span.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa thinks that's too long to wait. He's absolutely right.
The mayor has been spending a lot of time in Washington lately talking up his "30/10" proposal, one of the more innovative ideas to come from City Hall. The gist: Villaraigosa wants to shorten the completion of a dozen Measure R projects to a decade. It's not clear how this would be done, but the simplest and most direct way would be for the federal government to serve as L.A.'s banker, supplying the money up front to build the new transit lines. The county would pay the Feds back over the course of 30 years with the $40 billion that the tax hike is expected to raise.
Villaraigosa says his plan would create 166,000 construction jobs at a time of soaring unemployment. Such figures should be viewed with skepticism, but there is no question that the infusion of federal cash would have a big stimulative effect in Southern California, where the construction sector is particularly in need of a boost. Over the longer term, it also would reduce gridlock, create alternatives to driving amid rising gasoline prices and clean our notoriously foul air. And best of all, as Villaraigosa has been repeatedly stressing in Washington, it wouldn't add to the federal deficit because the money would come as a loan, not a handout.
One California senator, Democrat Barbara Boxer, is very much on board with the 30/10 plan. But new ideas can be tough to sell in the Capitolsays his plan. We'd urge the rest of the California delegation to learn more about it. We can't think of a reason why lawmakers in either party would object.
Well, OK, we can think of one. Led by county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, some north county and San Gabriel Valley politicians fret that the cash infusion would discourage federal investment in projects that aren't included in Measure R, such as a future light-rail line to Ontario International Airport.
Backers of this speculative venture have been a deeply divisive force, threatening to derail the far worthier Wilshire subway and campaigning against Measure R even though it will benefit their region. Voters didn't listen to these voices when they approved the sales tax hike, and neither should members of Congress.