The MTA tax measure currently being championed by the City of Los Angeles is dead on arrival in many parts of Los Angeles County, and will not come close to meeting the two-thirds threshold for voter approval in November.
Placing a flawed sales tax measure on the ballot with no chance of passage is the ultimate waste of taxpayer dollars. My constituents, cities and unincorporated communities in the San Gabriel, San Fernando, Crescenta, Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys–which make up 20% of the County’s population–have already begun registering their vocal opposition to the sales tax measure.
Our long-term transportation needs do require significant public investment in mass transit alternatives, as well as highway improvements, public-private partnerships, and other congestion relief measures like traffic signal synchronization, inland intermodal freight transfer facilities, highway-rail grade separations, and regionalization of air traffic to LA/Palmdale and Ontario Airports.
However, the MTA’s grand 30-year half-cent sales tax measure that is supposed to tackle these critical, regional issues facing the entire County was poorly constructed, rushed through an inadequate and abbreviated process, failed to garner true regional collaboration, stripped of amendments put forth by five of the MTA Board members, and failed to provide the fiscal and social equity necessary to protect the County taxpayers over the life of the $40 billion tax.
- The measure did not include an escalation funding factor tied to future growth in the County.
- Sections of the city and county will not receive funds in proportion to their population and/or their contribution to the tax fund.
- Billions of state and federal dollars leveraged from these new sales tax dollars that the MTA will allocate in the future will likely end up in the costly subway extension at the expense of the rest of the county.
- There is no guarantee that there will be any new bus service provided with the influx of new operations dollars.
Without extra measures of fiscal accountability to cut operating costs, improve service, increase our farebox recovery ratio and reduce the long-standing structural deficit, we will simply be taxing County residents $8 billion to pay for the MTA Board’s inability to make tough decisions that meet our obligation to spend current sales tax dollars for operations in a wise and frugal manner.
This current measure is steeped in a cynical political calculation that the November presidential election turnout, the tangible countywide frustration with traffic problems and the desperation to do something would be enough to win a two-thirds majority, even if the proposed sales tax measure was fundamentally flawed for most of County voters approving the measure.
There is a path forward that provides a successful solution, but it requires faith in the spirit of collaboration and consensus building with the full MTA Board, and trust in the voices of the many subregional areas of Los Angeles County.
The following is the MTA’s best course of action:
1. Withdraw the sales tax measure from the November 2008 ballot.
2. Engage each of the subregional Council of Governments (COGs) on the principle of equity underpinning the sales tax proposal.
3. Develop a new sales tax proposal that has broad consensus throughout the County from each city, unincorporated community, COG and MTA Board member based on the input gathered.
4. When this process is completed to the satisfaction of all parts of the County, place the measure on the next available ballot in May of 2009. .
By following this course of action, the MTA board can present a stronger, better, equitable and consensus-based vision for the expenditure of billions of County taxpayer dollars.