Claremont Insider: Gold Line's Future Tied to Sales Tax Approval

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gold Line's Future Tied to Sales Tax Approval

Friday's Los Angeles Times carried a front-page story about the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) decision to pursue passage of a half-cent sales tax increase for LA County. Money from the proposed measure would go to fund transportation projects throughout the county, including the Gold Line Foothill Extension from Pasadena to Claremont. The measure will be placed on the November ballot, assuming it is approved by the state legislature.

Back in June, the MTA board decided to put off until the November election the decision on whether to include the Gold Line Foothill Extension in the agency's Long Range Transportation Plan. That decision not only cost the Gold Line $80 million in LA County money, but also may have cost the Foothill Extension $320 million in federal grants that were dependent on the county funds as a match.

The sales tax increase is being pushed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is the MTA board's chair. The increase would raise the county sales tax from the current 8.25% to 8.75%, which would tie LA County for the highest sales tax rate in the state along with Alameda County. Estimates are that the half-cent increase would generate up to $40 billion over 30 years.

The MTA board approved going forward with the sales tax measure on a 9-2 vote, with the only "NO's" being the two San Gabriel Valley representatives, LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich and Duarte Councilmember John Fasana.

Antonovich and Fasana objected to the fact that the MTA board would not commit to making a solid pledge of $735 million to the Gold Line. The sales tax measure allocates that amount, but there are no guarantees that the money could not be moved to other projects, such as the Expo Line Extension to Santa Monica, which has been competing with the Gold Line for MTA funds. The measure only promises a minimum of $325 million to the Gold Line and indicates that an additional $400 is available.

LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina abstained from voting, citing her concerns with the haste with which the allocation of the money was decided.

Supervisor Antonovich has raised his own concerns with the sales tax measure, saying that the way the MTA has allocated money has been too LA-centric and that areas like the San Gabriel Valley have not received their fair share of transportation funds. Antonovich's reservations played into his refusal to support the sales tax measure, and the MTA board's reluctance to commit the total $735 million to the Gold Line Foothill Extension make us wonder if there isn't a Villaraigosa sponsored bait-and-switch going on here.

Villarairgosa's sale tax needs a two-thirds majority to pass, so he needs every San Gabriel Valley vote he can get. We vote to support this tax increase with the carrot of $735 million dangling in front of us, then once the measure is passed, they pull that $400 million and give it to the Expo Line Extension or some other LA project. At least that seems to be the sort of scenario that troubles Antonovich.

Saturday's LA Times had yet another front-page article
on the proposed sales tax increase. The article reported that passage of the measure is no sure thing with voters having to approve a number of other state and local tax increases on the same November ballot. The article also reported that four members of California's congressional delegation - David Drier (R-26), Gary Miller (R-42), Grace Napolitano (D-38), and Hilda Solis (D-32) - have issued a joint statement that supports giving more of the sales tax money to the San Gabriel Valley.

The text of the statement is available on the LA Times' Bottleneck Blog, and seems to echo Supervisor Antonovich's concerns about the equity with which the MTA transportation funds are being dispersed. According to Times blogger Steve Hymon, Congresswoman Solis has indicated she may actively campaign against the sales tax measure. Judging from the statement's language, Solis and the other three representatives who signed the statement certainly feel strongly that the MTA is sticking it once again to our area:

If inequity and insult aren’t enough, Metro Board Members said no to a commitment of less than one half of one percent of its capital budget for the only project ready to be built in LA County – the Gold Line Foothill Extension. This project could save our residents money – households that use public transit save an average of $6,251 every year. It could create jobs - every $1 spent on infrastructure results in a gain of $6 in jobs. Construction alone could create at least 2,000 new jobs. It could deliver needed economic development – more than $40 billion by 2030.

The Federal government has stood up and done its part to demonstrate support – our local Congressional delegation has already delivered $27.19 million. If Metro would commit its share, we could fight for an additional $320 million in Federal funds. Rather than join us, Metro said no to the San Gabriel Valley.

“Residents of the San Gabriel Valley deserve better than what Metro delivered yesterday. It’s time to say no to inequity, no to insult, and yes to economic development in the San Gabriel Valley. It’s time to say no to Metro.