Tuesday, September 23, 2003 -- OpEd Piece

Expect sales tax increase on ballot in ‘04
Proposed ½-cent hike would fund transit projects in L.A. County
By A. Dennis Lytton, Political Director
The Transit Coalition

None of us like taxes. Sales taxes touch the lives of both rich and poor alike. What we hate most about taxes is the sense that our money is being wasted and misspent.

Senate Bill 314, introduced by State Senator Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), would authorize the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to put on the ballot next year a proposal to increase the sales tax by a half-a-cent per dollar for up to six-and-a-half years to pay for massive congestion relief. The bill has been passed by the legislature and now awaits the Governor’s signature.

Senator Murray’s proposal would not be a “blank check” for the MTA. On the contrary Murray’s bill would treat taxpayers as investors by mandating how most of the nearly $1 billion-a-year generated by the tax is to be spent. Projects reaching every corner of the County would include:

• Full funding for Exposition Boulevard light rail from Downtown to the Santa Monica Pier to be completed by 2011.

• An extension of the recently opened and highly popular Metro Gold Line from its current terminus in East Pasadena to the San Bernardino County line by 2012.

• A Metro Center Regional Connector that would connect the Gold Line to the Blue Line and Santa Monica Expo Line, allowing commuters to enjoy a one-seat ride from Santa Monica to Pasadena, Long Beach to Pasadena, East LA to Santa Monica, etc, by 2012.

• Full funding for an extension of the Metro Red Line to Wilshire and Fairfax. This mere three-mile extension would serve an estimated 50,000 passengers on opening day in 2012 and reach the densest areas of Los Angeles.

• Widening and interchange improvements to the I-5 Golden State and Santa Ana Freeways, and the SR-14 Antelope Valley Freeway.

• Other regional improvements including more clean fuel natural gas buses increased Metrolink commuter train service, sound wall construction, and surface street maintenance.

Moreover, the projects earmarked by Murray’s bill spend only about three-quarters of the money that the sales tax increase would be expected to generate every year. Potentially more than $2 billion extra would be available over the six-and-a-half year life of the sales tax for badly needed transportation projects, such as Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s proposal to extend the Metro Gold Line west from Pasadena into Burbank and the San Fernando Valley.

The budget crises in both Washington and Sacramento have dried up state and federal sources of transportation dollars. Even if more state and federal money become available, expansion of our rail rapid transit system may only continue at a glacial pace. More local dollars are needed to match and supplement dwindling federal and state resources.

The transportation problem is obvious to all of us who commute in Los Angeles. Traffic is getting worse. Our commutes are getting longer. The quality of life of all area residents, whether they are in the majority who drive or are among the 1.5 million people who use buses and trains everyday, are degraded by congestion, pollution, and time and productivity lost.

As the region continues growing our mobility will only become worse if we do nothing. By 2025 average rush hour freeway speeds in Los Angeles County are expected to drop to less than 17 mph.

In recent months grass roots community groups, such as Friends4Expo and the Transit Coalition, have tirelessly lobbied the MTA, state, and federal officials to “see the light” that they have seen in an expansion of our rapid, modern rail transit system. They have seen it.

Since opening last July, the Metro Gold Line to Pasadena has proved popular for commuters whether they are traveling to work or entraining themselves in Old Town Pasadena. There is a growing sentiment in the region that we need to expand this successful alternative to our grid locked freeways.

Murray’s bill spells out a vision of transportation relief that will positively affect the lives of everyone in Los Angeles County for generations to come. A half penny increase in the sales tax would do so much yet cost so little.

The Governor should quickly sign into law SB 314 so the MTA can get on with the business providing relief to L.A. County’s more than 10 million residents.

A. Dennis Lytton is a member of the Transit Coalition. Write to him by email at lytton@verizon.net

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