L.A. may extend tax hike to pay for transit

Officials are pushing support for an extension of the measure that makes the L.A. County sales tax one of the highest in the state

Transportation Management News Los Angeles Times January 12, 2012
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Transportation officials in Los Angeles are gunning for voters to support an extension of a sales tax that could raise billions, but hiked the Los Angeles County sales tax to 9.75%, according to the L.A. Times.

In 2008, officials convinced the county electorate to approve a half-cent levy for rail and other transportation efforts, increasing the sales tax to one of the highest in California. Officials want this tax, called Measure R, to be extended at least another 10 years after next fall’s presidential election.

At the time it was passed, the full effects of the recession had not yet hit. The tax was supposed to expire after 30 years and yield some $40 billion.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials have scrambling since to find ways to borrow against future Measure R revenues so they can build the transportation projects faster.

Villaraigosa has traveled to Washington several times in an attempt to garner federal funding and low-interest borrowing rates to build several Measure R projects in 10 years instead of 30.

But congressional Republicans have been slow to lend support, so state and local officials are pursuing other options. And now, because of the slow economy, the estimated amount of money Measure R will generate over the 30 years has been revised downward to about $36 billion.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill in the Legislature this week, setting the stage for a November ballot measure to prolong Measure R's life span.

"This extension would enable Metro to bond against future Measure R proceeds and build those transit projects much sooner than originally contemplated, without relying on federal or state funding," according to a statement from Feuer.

Arianna Smith, a spokeswoman for Feuer, said that the lawmaker had not yet decided how long the extension would be but that it might need to be longer than 10 years.

"Feuer wanted to be positioned to create options in case Washington doesn't act," said Peter Sanders, a spokesman for Villaraigosa. "The mayor is also exploring options to extend Measure R funding should Washington fail to act."

Measure R passed with support from 67% of county voters. Officials said a two-thirds majority would also be needed to pass an extension. Before such a proposal could be presented to voters, it would have to be approved by the Legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the county Board of Supervisors.

Feuer spokeswoman Smith said the bill would probably be considered by an Assembly policy committee before the end of April.

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