Disagreement over synchronized traffic signal proposal stalls state budget talks

Proposal point of contention in state budget dispute

News LA Times August 06, 2007
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A proposal aimed at reducing Los Angeles traffic congestion may fall to the wayside, as Republicans voice their opinion that other cities should be allowed to compete for the money.

Senate Republican lawmakers have refused to vote for a budget approved last month by the state Assembly, and cite the proposal as a reason.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine) said any budget compromise needs to put the California Transportation Commission or another third party in charge of a process in which all cities with traffic congestion could vie for a share of the money.

"It's a sticking point," Ackerman said. "I would just like to see a fairer distribution of that money by having all congested areas of the state compete."

The funding is included in a so-called trailer bill stating that the $150 million go to any California city with a population over 3.5 million—criterion that only Los Angeles meets.

Ackerman admitted that Los Angeles is one of the most congested cities in the state, but he said a fair distribution process would probably give Los Angeles $100 million of the $250 million set aside in the budget for traffic signal synchronization, instead of the proposed $150 million.

"This should be a slam-dunk for a project that passes every test on its merits," said Steve Maviglio, a senior advisor to L.A.-area legislator Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez. "We are hopeful that Senate Republicans would be more interested in easing gridlock and cleaning the air than petty partisan political payback."

"The millions of commuters who are stuck in traffic every day should not be further stalled by partisan bickering in Sacramento," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

"The people were promised traffic relief when they voted for the bond, and we will continue to fight to make sure that the promise is kept."

City officials said signal synchronization would reduce traffic delays by 32% and reduce emissions by more than 900,000 metric tons per year, benefiting the entire region.

However, state Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), who represents a small part of Los Angeles, sees the proposal as "clear pork," benefiting one area of the state over others. "When the voters voted for that, they voted for $250 million to be made available statewide on a competitive basis," he said.

Democrats say that before putting the transportation measure on the ballot, the governor and legislative leaders, including Ackerman and Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, were in agreement that the bulk of the $250 million would go to Los Angeles. But the agreement was not put in writing, and the bond measure voted on did not mention any specific portion for the city.

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