State bill introduced to allow Metro to seek ballot measure

As many of you know, Metro has been exploring the possibility of going to Los Angeles County voters with a ballot measure in Nov. 2016. Although no decision on the ballot measure has been made  — I can’t emphasize that enough — a state bill that would allow Metro to seek a new sales tax via the ballot has been introduced by State Sen. Kevin de Leon. It is SB 767; click here to read the text of the bill.

The decision on any type of ballot measure will ultimately be made by the 13-member Metro Board of Directors, the elected officials and their appointees who oversee Metro. The Board in 2013 asked Metro staff to begin asking cities in L.A. County and other interested parties for their input about a potential ballot measure — in particular about transportation projects that cities would like to see funded.

Some history: L.A. County voters have approved three half-cent sales tax increases to fund projects and programs in L.A. County: Prop A in 1980, Prop C in 1990 and Measure R in 2008. The Prop A and Prop C sales tax increases remain in effect until voters decide to end them. Measure R was a 30-year sales tax increase that went into effect July 1, 2009, and expires on June 30, 2039; Measure R is generating the funding behind the five rail projects that Metro is currently building, as well as highway projects that Metro helps fund in coordination with Caltrans.

A ballot measure (Measure J) to extend Measure R another 30 years went to voters in Nov. 2012. It garnered 66.1 percent approval from voters but failed because it did not meet the two-thirds (66.67 percent) approval required for passage.

Metro staff is expected to release details on a proposed ballot measure later this year. One interesting fact: Nine of the 13 current Metro Board Members were not on the Board in 2008 when Measure R was placed on the county ballot — and three Board Members have joined the Board since this past December (Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts). At this time, I don’t think anyone can predict what the Board will or won’t do — especially since there is not an actual expenditure plan yet. Metro will also presumably have a new CEO by the time the ballot measure issue reaches the Board.

The state bill allowing Measure R to go to voters was signed into law just weeks ahead of the Nov. 2008 election, a reflection of the fact that the agency didn’t ultimately decide to pursue the ballot measure until spring and summer of 2008. It’s different this time around with a lot more lead time although the state bill certainly doesn’t guarantee anything will happen.