The Metro Board of Directors on Thursday voted 10 to 3 to ask Los Angeles County voters to extend the Measure R half-cent sales tax for 30 years beyond its 2039 expiration date to possibly accelerate transit and road projects funded by the original Measure R while creating jobs in the region.
The three ‘no’ votes came from Supervisors Mike Antonovich, Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas. The remaining members of the Board voted ‘yes.’
The Board had to decide between an indefinite extension of Measure R, a 30-year extension and leaving Measure R as is. Metro staff proposed an indefinite extension but the Board chose to back a motion by Directors Diane DuBois and Richard Katz to go with the 30-year option.
The Board hopes to put the issue to voters in November when a high turnout is expected because of the presidential election. In order for that to happen, the state Legislature must first approve a state bill, AB 1446 (by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles), that if signed by Gov. Jerry Brown would allow the Measure R extension on the ballot. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors must also vote to allow the item on the November ballot.
Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Antonio Villaraigosa said after the vote that the extension proposal was backed by a wide coalition who viewed an expanded transit system as a way to make Los Angeles County look and function better while creating jobs in the process.
Villariagosa also noted that a new transportation funding bill pending in Congress would include an expanded federal TIFIA low-interest loan program. A Measure R extension could allow Metro to leverage those loans into potentially hundreds of millions of dollars for project acceleration.
Metro staff are recommending an extension of Measure R as a way to possibly complete the 12 Measure R transit projects by the mid-2020s and have the projects under construction within five years; the staff report is here (pdf). Under current plans, six Measure R plans would not have been complete until the late 2020s or 2030s but now may be accelerated. The projects are:
•The Westside Subway Extension to Westwood
•The Eastside Gold Line Extension to South El Monte or Whittier
•The Metro Connector to LAX
•The Green Line South Bay Extension to Torrance
•The West Santa Ana Branch Corridor project
•The Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project
In addition, a Measure R extension would help fund the Regional Connector, which is currently planned for a 2019 completion.
Metro staff says that an extension of Measure R would allow them to use future Measure R revenues beyond the year 2039 to pay back loans and/or bonds that could be used to accelerate the projects. The Measure R extension proposal, however, does not obligate Metro to take any loans or sell any bonds.
Here is an earlier Source post looking at the details of the proposal.
Staff also say that a Measure R extension would supply an extra $3.7 billion to the 16 different highway projects funded by the original Measure R. Staff say that is money that otherwise does not exist and the funds could help the projects be completed at an earlier date.
The original Measure R half-cent sales tax increase was approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008. It needed two-thirds approval to pass and received 67.93 percent of the vote with more than two million county residents voting for it.
Metro Director Mark Ridley-Thomas also offered a motion to delay the vote on whether to put the issue to voters until July, pending another round of polling of county residents, citing the $10-million cost to Metro of putting the issue on the ballot. His motion lost on a 9 to 3 vote, with Ridley-Thomas, Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich supporting. Director Gloria Molina was absent.
In response, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky offered a friendly motion that would prohibit Metro from spending any money on a public information campaign in support of the extension.
Supervisor Don Knabe said he did not support the Measure R extension because Metro just went to voters four years ago with a detailed spending plan over the next 30 years.
“Once you give the agency an open checkbook for life, you lose the discipline of what we’ve created,” Knabe said. “I just think it’s disingenuous to go back to the voters and say but we had a plan and now we need more money and we need more money forever.”
Supervisor Mike Antonovich reiterated criticisms he has made of the original Measure R and said that an extension would amplify those mistakes by failing to build a regional transit system, not funding the Gold Line from Azusa to Claremont and beyond to Ontario Airport. He also questioned whether Metro would have funds in the future to operate new transit lines.
Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian said he believed the Measure R extension should ultimately be decided by county residents. “Let the voters of the county decide what they want,” he said, adding that all the many arguments for and against an extension should be put before voters.