Metro Board Can Move Measure R Funds with Two-Thirds Vote

Despite near unanimous opposition by a parade of public speakers, the Metro Board of Directors voted with near unanimity. In fact, there was more disagreement among the present Board Members over grammatical changes to the ordinance that will allow voters to vote on extending the Measure R sales tax than there was over Duarte City Councilman John Fasana’s plan to allow the Board to move Measure R funds dedicated towards highway projects to transit projects. You can read the Board

The Metro Board of Directors, led by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are proposing to extend the Measure R transportation sales tax passed by L.A. County voters in 2008.  Currently, the tax is set to expire in 2039, but under “Measure R+” it would expire in 2069. By extending the tax, Metro can bond against future revenue to build transit and highway projects faster.

The Fasana motion will allow funds to be moved from highway projects to transit projects, and vice versa, within a funding region. This motion will allow funds generated for highway projects in the San Gabriel Valley to be split between the Alameda Corridor East Grade Separation Project and the Gold Line Foothill Extension if two-thirds of the Metro Board of Directors approves the change. The motion was key to earning the endorsement of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments for the sales tax extension on the fall ballot.

A full list of the Metro Measure R project list and current funding plan is available here.

The only Board Member in attendance to vote against the motion was Metro Board Chair Mike Antonovich. Antonovich argued that because the Mayor of Los Angeles controls four votes on the Board of Directors, he could stop any transfer by just getting one more person to vote with him.  Of course, one could also argue that the entire five member Board of Supervisors could veto any swap themselves.

In truth, speakers spoke against pretty much everything on today’s agenda, which was both a continuation of the Board Meeting from 10 days ago and a special hearing on the Fasana motion. Many used the hearing as an opportunity to voice concerns with the proposed sales tax extension. Advocates for a variety of causes argued that the extension will speed up highway projects to the detriment of the region.

The always colorful John Walsh thundered that the tax extension, which would extend the sales tax until 2069, amounted to a “tax on our children’s grandchildren.” Later, he gestured disgustedly at the Metro Board that with the tax, “We are handing them a $135 billion blank check, unparalleled in the history of the world.”

Also testifying against the sales tax extension was the Bus Riders Union and opponents of the I-710 expansion project.  Speaking for the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, Damien Goodmon attacked public documents prepared to “explain” the sales tax extension for listing the Crenshaw Subway as a project that would be accelerated.  In truth, the Crenshaw Light Rail Line will receive no extra funding or accelerated timeline if the sales tax is extended. After Metro staff referred to this error as a “typo,” other Crenshaw advocates asked why South L.A. voters would support a tax that had no benefits for their immediate community.

In total, the Board approved the Fasana Amendment which allowed the swap of Measure R funds, a change to authorizing language to the ballot language for this fall’s extension, and a plan to publicize (not promote) the extension to L.A. County voters.  Measure R+ still needs the support of the State Senate, Governor Jerry Brown and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors just to make the fall ballot. It needs a two-thirds vote to pass.

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