Among the propositions that may be on the ballot in November is the Traffic Relief and Clean Air Measure that would raise the county sales tax by one-half percent, with the increased revenue going to fund transit projects. The need for this tax revenue and what effects it might have on future transit in Southern California was the subject of a meeting held by former Santa Monica Mayor Dennis Zane at Environment Now.
Speaking to an audience of transportation employees, transit enthusiasts, and transit and environmental activists, Zane asked the rhetorical question of where the money needed for transportation projects will be coming from. “Metro can identify no new money – and that’s probably optimistic!” But with the likelihood of three million more people coming to the area, the current transportation options will not support that.
Zane then introduced former Assemblyman and current MTA Board member Richard Katz, who stated that “the sales tax, to a great extent, is still a work in progress.”
For the tax measure to appear on the November ballot, the Legislature must approve Assemblyman Mike Feuer’s bill (AB 2321), that would extend the period in which the tax can be collected from six and one-half years to 30 years, and would require Metro to include specific projects and programs in its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). Feuer’s bill was recently passed in the Assembly but is being held up in the Senate.
If the measure passes, revenues will have to be allotted for various projects, not just mass transit, but also highway repairs. A percentage of the revenue will also be returned to cities for use on city-specific projects.
Katz cautioned that the $600 million generated by the tax increase will still not be enough to provide all the funding needed for Los Angeles’s many transportation projects. Funding from federal sources and private partnerships will be needed .
City Council member Kevin McKeown asked how the “local return” monies to the cities would be dispensed. Katz said that it would probably be about 10 to 15 percent of the total revenue. This would be enough for most cities to accomplish their transit goals, although those goals vary from city to city.
“In Santa Monica and Culver City, subway transit is big,” McKeown explained. “In other cities the big issue might be potholes that need to be fixed.”
The tax increase measure may also be facing an uphill battle for passage with voters, as past history has shown that such measures tend to be defeated.
Zane went over a recent survey, conducted by a research firm for L.A. County Transportation, that asked respondents if they would be inclined to vote for the Traffic Relief and Clean Air Measure. When initially asked this question, 69 percent said “yes.” Following questions on specific uses of the funding and alternative methods of funding transit, respondents were again asked if they would vote for the measure, to which 67 percent responded positively.
This bodes well, but much depends on voter turnout and how visible the issue is on the actual ballot. Katz mentioned that the measure would be at the end of the ballot and that many voters come to vote for candidates and never get to the propositions.
He cited the “Obama factor,” which should draw progressive voters in November, as well as the possibility that other propositions, such as the gay marriage ban, will increase the voter turnout.
“This is a hard campaign to pass,” said Katz. “[It] cannot survive any funded opposition. We’re being careful about how we’re putting the coalition together.”