Measuring the Odds for Measure R+

Image from Metro Board reports via ## Source.##

The issue of whether or not Measure R+, our temporary name for a proposed ballot initiative to extend the 2008 transportation sales tax, will be on the fall ballot will be much clearer in a couple of days.  The Metro Board of Directors will vote on whether or not to place the initative on the fall ballot this Thursday.  The initiative still needs the approval of the State Senate and the Governor’s office, but if the measure passes muster on Thursday, it will most likely go before the voters.

Whether the voters will pass it is another story.  As in 2008, extending the sales tax would require a two-thirds vote of those voting.  The 2008 ballot measure passed with 67.2%.

In other words, it barely passed.

While the coalition that worked to pass Measure R in 2008 is coming back together under the stewardship of Move L.A., the opposition to the transit tax extension already appears stronger than last time.  The campaign for Measure R+ could have a tougher road to travel.  The plan calls for no new projects, just a “speeded up” project schedule.  In other words, if it matters to you whether the airport connector is completed in 2023 instead of 2028, then you’ll likely support the project.  If you wanted a Leimert Park Station for the Crenshaw Line, there’s nothing in this proposal for you.

Leading the opposition is Supervisor, and soon-to-be Metro Board Chair, Mike Antonovich.  The Supervisor famously compared the plan to “gang rape” of his constituents despite his Supervisor District receiving the lion’s share of the highway funding portion of the sales tax.  Antonovich voted against placing the initiative on the ballot in Committee.

Noting that rail transit generally requires a higher subsidy than bus transit, thus causing an overall increase in transit fares, the Bus Riders Union led the charge against Measure R four years ago. The civil rights group seems poised to repeat that role this time around.

“The original Measure R has offered nothing good to transit-dependent Black and Latino bus riders, who have seen close to one million hours of bus service cut and a 20% fare increase since it took effect in 2009,” explains Barbara Lott Holland, Chair of Bus Riders Union.  “Extending Measure R indefinitely will only accelerate the destruction of the bus system and the civil rights crisis that LA Metro now finds itself in, and will plummet the agency into a debt that the poor will be asked for pay through more fare increases and even deeper cuts to their service for decades into the future.”

The Los Angeles Times puts voice to a fiscal argument that extending a sales tax indefinitely out into the future doesn’t make a lot of fiscal sense long-term.  What if the transit needs of the county change in the next fifty years, and voters are paying a tax for a completed transit system with no revenue going towards future expansion?  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa argues that these future voters will have the benefit of a completed transit system, but that argument could be a harder sell than the argument for any transit expansion made four years ago.

Another group that opposed the 2008 tax was a loose coalition of legislators and municipal governments in the San Gabriel Valley.  These lawmakers gave perhaps the least articulate opposition demanding funds for a local project that was funded by Measure R at the same time they opposed the overall Measure.  Getting more funds for the Alameda Corridor continues to be their top priority, and there is little opportunity to close the $260 million funding gap in Measure R+.

Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition, argues that the alliance of San Gabriel Valley politicians is missing the point.  “It is really sad that the San Gabriel Valley refuses to understand a simple concept of just extending the measure and is attempting to seriously destroy the possibility of finishing the existing projects,” Reed notes.  Of the prospects of earning complete funding for the Alameda Corridor, “We probably need another 1/2 cent sales tax down the line to address the other project.”

Advocates had hoped for a Measure R+ map that looked more like this. Image by:## via John Ryan

Which is not to say that nobody is supporting the project.  As previously noted, Move L.A. still leads a coalition of labor, business, and environnmental groups supporting transit expansion in Greater Los Angeles.  Dana Gabbard, a Board Member for the Southern California Transit Advocates and contributor to Streetsblog also makes the case that if Los Angeles wants to maximize its transit tax and complete projects earlier than planned, that we’re on our own.  Gabbard is speaking here for himself and not So.CA.TA. nor Streetsblog.

“Given the toxic atmosphere dominating the national political scene this may be the best option to move forward via bonding in the hopes of positioning us for when the obvious need for infrastructure investment eventually forces action at the federal level,” Gabbard argues. “By already having projects moving forward we would at that juncture be very completive for whatever scheme our electeds in D.C. finally agree to. The parallels to the 1930s are obvious but currently masked by mindless ideology and (I suspect) venality/opportunism.”

If the race to pass Measure R+ is tight, it could end up failing because of what Metro didn’t do.

As in 2008, there is no set-aside for bicycle and pedestrian projects.  The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health calculates a $40 billion need in the six county region for bicycle and pedestrian improvements.  If L.A. County has one quarter fo that need, and based on the number of residents that is a conservative estimate, then it seems the height of folly to pass a $30 to $40 billion transportation funding plan that sets aside exactly $0 for bicycle and pedestrian funding.  Especially when the measure calls for billions to go to the most dubious highway expansion projects imaginable: the 710 Big Dig, the High Desert Corridor, and the mammoth 710 widening in Long Beach.

But before battle lines are drawn over whether to pass the sales tax, the first step is whether or not to place it on the ballot.  Thursday’s Metro Board meeting could be just a small preview of the battle to come.

  • zstern

    Interesting outline of both the opponents and the proponents.

    It is a shame that:

    1) the head of the BRU says “nothing” has been gained for black and latino transit riders from the original Measure R.  Is she oblivious to the fact that many blacks and latinos ride the expo line, will ride the orange line extension (a bus line by the way), and utilize many other Measure R funded projects.  Further – there are projects expected to be accelerated via Measure R+ (Sepulveda pass) that may even have a bus component. 

    2) Antonovich can’t look at LA county as a whole.  His constituents (like all LA county residents) stand to benefit from accelerated completion of transit projects through county-wide reduced congestion and improved transit options.  Relieving congestion on the westside of LA county is beneficial for all.

    I don’t understand the LA times argument that this is fiscally irresponsible.  Isn’t it more fiscally responsible to raise money when it is cheap (i.e. now)?  If planned appropriately, taxpayers 50 years from now will be paying for a transit system in LA meeting the county needs that is already built (rather than playing catchup like we are now).  The risk the LA times points out (no money for expansion in the future) is independent of extending Measure R –  that risk would only be caused by our region’s transit needs outpacing a 0.5% sales tax. 

    The only risk I see is that actual sales tax receipts are less than forecasted receipts.  If voters deemed this risk manageable until 2039, why not longer? The real risk is that this generations (people paying this tax now) will never get to realize the benefits.  Aren’t the majority of taxes (income, sales, cigarette, gas….) indefinite?  Doesn’t the government raise money against these future revenues all the time? 

    Let’s get this thing on the ballot and get it passed.

  • I think R+ is necessary considering how negligent the federal government is being with regards to funding infrastructure. The only thing I wonder is– would it be worth it to combine it with another 1/2 cent sales tax? The same people that are voting to extend the tax would surely vote for an incremental increase. Los Angeles deserves a first class rail network, not just a make-do network. Dream big.

  • Darrell

    “The original Measure R has offered nothing good to transit-dependent Black and Latino bus riders…” is breathtakingly false. Twenty percent of Measure R is dedicated to bus operations — representing nearly a doubling of tax subsidy there — without which service cuts and/or fare increases would have been much worse. And if Measure R ends, so will that bus operations subsidy.

    Second, just because new projects aren’t named doesn’t mean they’re not covered by the extension. After the original Measure R projects are complete, additional projects will be designated as they should be, in the Long Range Transportation Plan process.

  • I want to drive

     Hello, how do you get to EXPO?
    Let me tell you by cars
    If there are a log bus connection at each rail station, it is good idea. instead, I see a big parking lot at many Expo stations.
    Bus riders will use the rail if it takes them to destinations.
    i am disabled Asian. I depend on the bus/rail all the time.
    LA created an unique public transportation system, you need cars to use it.
    That is pathetic.

  • I want to drive

    Many bus service has been cut after 2008. Funny, isn’t Measure R supposed to help people who don’t drive.
    No, it help car drivers to reduce driving
    My friend told me honestly she voted no on measure R. She took bus when she was little. Her husband took bus for 10 years in WLA. After they got married, he stopped taking bus.
    Her argument. It concentrated too much on rail and nothing on bus. That is a major problem with Measure R
    Does rail really reduce cars on the highway?
    Another co-worker would not mind take rail and bus. he said he would walk/ride the  bike to metrolink station at Riverside. Then he would take metrolink train to Red Line. Then He would take blue line to Long Beach.
    Then He had to take bus. The problem is it is faster to walk than taking bus at Long Beach, and that is long walk. He decides to drive
    Every time LA builds rail, bus service get cuts. Many of them are actually the needed ones for the bus riders. Ironically, MTA cut 485, and 485 can take people easily to Gold line station.
    Then there is deal of regional connector. Do we really need that? It is a waste of money
    There is nothing wrong building rail, but LA has to improve the local bus connections.
    That is the reason ridership is low during non commuting hours
    That is the reason passengers don’t venture beyond the the rail stations surrounding.
    Oh, many rail supporters will not take rail if  the destinations are not within 5 minute walking distanc

  • I want to drive

    Do you take bus?
    . Twenty percent of Measure R is dedicated to bus operations
    There are bus cut after the Measure R has been cut.
    I admit the it keep fare lower for a while.
    However, the service remains terrible.
    You just prove you are another fake breed of riders. I need cars to get to rail
    If I have to take bus to rail, I will not.
    Disagree with me
    You should never mention about that funny 20% budget.
    Bus riders did not see that

  • We’ve gotten a lot of email about this story.  Ellen Isaacs, from Assemblyman Feuer’s office asked me to post the following: 

    15% of Measure R revenues are dedicated to Local Return – a category that includes bikeways, pedestrian improvements, streetscapes, street resurfacing, rehabilitation and reconstruction, pothole repair, signal synchronization, left turn signals and transit. 88 cities in the county have an opportunity to use such funds as they see fit. Supporters of bike/ped projects can advocate at the local level for such projects.

  • “Many bus service has been cut after 2008.” Without Measure R we would have had much worse cuts. Just look at Orange County, which recently cut 1/3 of their service and laid off a lot of mechanics and operators.

    “It concentrated too much on rail and nothing on bus.” The 20% for buses has already been mentioned by others. And a measure that overly funded buses probably wouldn’t have passed.

    ” Does rail really reduce cars on the highway?” That is a strawman. We are providing options. Plus the well known endued traffic aspect means the only congestition solution that will work is reducing demand (like London did with their traffic charges).

    “Then there is deal of regional connector. Do we really need that? It is a waste of money.” Actually it is very cost effective. Will have tremendous use and is a great investment to build on the existing rail lines.

    BTW, many folks complain we don’t have enough parking.

  • calwatch

    More fundamentally, I think there is a good question as to whether we are repeating the mistakes of the early 1990’s with the new Measure R+. Dana has been following this much longer than I have, but the 1990’s were down times for the MTA. The Hollywood subway collapsed, the BRU was created as a result of MTA staff deciding to eliminate monthly passes and Sunday service, lawsuits were flying, and the LACTC and SCRTD still couldn’t kiss and make up. Part of it was an accelerated, overly ambitious timetable to bring transit improvements to far flung areas of the county. Even today, we have delays opening the Eastside Gold Line and Expo Line. The Silver Line has not reached its rail-level potential. We don’t have a Taylor Law to strongly discourage crippling transit strikes in this state. We have to trust that projects going to be delivered on time, on budget, and ready for the public to use. Basically we’re given Metro a blank check, and one can see how much of the 1980 Proposition A rail plan was completed to tell you why you shouldn’t give one.

  • calwatch

    Rail is fundamentally more reliable, and less subject to the whims of stupid politicians trying to score political points (see El Monte Busway carpool lowering, elimination of West Wilshire bus lanes). It creates lots of jobs, is more energy and capital efficient over the long term, and has been proven to be a better generator of transit oriented development than bus. I would be happy to turn the right two lanes of Wilshire Boulevard into a bus lane, but that will never happen in this city.

  • zstern

    What is your alternative? 

  • calwatch

    Waiting until 2016 to see if MTA can deliver the Foothill Gold Line (yes, I know it is an authority, but still) and the Expo Line to the ocean, and start construction on the Regional Connector and Crenshaw lines on schedule. 

    We also may have more revenue to bond against. And we need to seriously consider whether this timetable of rail construction is realistic – there are only so many concrete plants, for instance. Also we need to watch carefully to prevent transit strikes, with a combination of aggressively addressing non-financial labor concerns and grievances while creating a Taylor Law (severe penalties for unions which strike) for workers that directly provide service to the public. What derailed the 1970’s RTD sales taxes was the frequent labor strife, which made Angelenos think that transit was unreliable.

  • zstern

    They way I see it is that we only have one entity that can build local rail transit in the county: the MTA.  Whether they complete projects on time or under budget is sort of irrelevant when considering the current and future transit needs in the county (i.e. it needs to be built).  There is no competing agency to give the money to – the only alternative is to not give them the money to build.  Of course it would be ideal for all projects to be on time and under budget (and we should demand and expect so) – it would mean more money to build other projects sooner, but – the MTA is what it is and if you are in support or rail investment in LA country then giving them money to accelerate the projects (whether or not they are eventually accelerated efficiently) seems to be the right answer. 

    Best Case Scenario:  Measure R is extended and projects are accelerated efficiently.

    2nd Best Case Scenario: Measure R is extended and projects are accelerated inefficiently (but still accelerated).

    If we don’t extend Measure R there is no acceleration of current timetables.

    Your concerns (can MTA handle the aggressive timelines?  can the construction industry handle the aggressive timelines? can we avoid labor strikes?) are all valid.  But I fail to see how not extending Measure R mitigates any of that.  Your concerns seem to be independent of that. 

    I definitely do not mean this in a condescending way at all – I just want to fully understand the counterarguments to an extension.

  • Dan W.

    Stop whining. Measure R prevented cataclysmic bus operations cuts because 20% of the revenue goes to buses.

    The BRU campaigned against Measure R and would ironically have been partially responsible for those bus cuts should Measure R have failed.

    Yes, the Regional Connector is one of the most needed projects period as it will reduce the need to transfer twice downtown and open up new mobility options for countless people — Pasadena to Long Beach / Santa Monica to perhaps Whittier.

  • Fred

    Considering the ineptness of the MTA, we should repeal the existing Measure R and return the dollars already collected to the taxpayers.

  • How about something beyond a sentence to justify that stance? By what criteria are you making this statement? I’m no apologist for Metro but have long since tired of empty bashing as being unproductive for the dialogue about the future of our region.

  • I worry about whether R (and R+) are overpromising and the less than stellar history of labor/management relations. Also things that are rarely mentioned, like the abysmal record Metro has for rail car procurement. In the end however flawed the process hopefully it will deliver and make things better — and I am mindful and take comfort at the stirring words in the conclusion of Tennyson’s Ulysses (via Babylon 5) — ONWARD!:

    Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

  • Nathanael

    BRU are lying as usual.  Rail — if put in the busiest corridors — requires less in the way of subsidies than buses and therefore keeps fares *down*.


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