Measure R++? Maybe in 2014. Probably in 2016

When Should Metro Push for a Measure R or Measure J Type Ballot Initiative

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In November of 2012, the Measure J ballot initiative went down to a narrow defeat despite garnering over 66% of the vote. Measure J would have extended the 2008 Measure R sales tax so that further bonding would be possible and promised transit projects could be completed sooner. From pretty much the moment the final vote was counted, transit watchers have wondered when Metro would try to pass another funding measure on the ballot.

The 2012 initiative received 66.2% of the vote. It needed 66.67%. The successful Measure R initiative in 2008 funds almost every rail transit expansion project now occurring in L.A. County.

A staff report discussed at yesterday’s Planning and Programming Committee of the Metro Board of Directors examines the major questions surrounding a proposed future sales tax to fund transit expansion. As The Source notes, nobody on the Metro Board of Directors is saying they support such a measure, yet, but pretty much everyone who watches the agency believes that a new transit funding ballot initiative is just around the corner.

A read of the report raises many questions, but two stand out:

1) What makes more sense, a 2014 or 2016 ballot initiative?

2) Should the initiative fund an extension of the existing tax and project acceleration or should their be a new project list?

The lack of a new project list is one reason that many critics, including this one, give for the near miss in 2012. However, others argue that a list is likely to anger the people who’s project isn’t included. Indeed, one of two people to testify at yesterday’s hearing on the report was Doug Arseneault, legislative affairs manager for the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. Areseneault warned that if projects that benefit the San Fernando Valley were not accelerated in a hypothetical future transportation bond measure, VICE would likely oppose the measure.

Metro staff reported that one reason a new project list wasn’t prepared for the 2012 Measure J initiative was the rushed timeline. The timeline for a 2014 initiative would be similar to the one for 2012, so if a new project list is vital to the initiative’s success both at the ballot box and for building a county-wide transit system, then it makes sense to wait until 2016.

Making an argument for good government, Bart Reed, executive director for The Transit Coalition, pushed for a ballot measure to be placed on the 2016 election.

“In terms of looking at this potential election…there seems to be a strong belief that more projects would benefit the initiative by creating more support from the community,” Reed testified.

For example, “…if the Measure came about with new funds, we could finance part of a project that  a public private partnership didn’t do and get funding out to Montclair-Claremont (for the Gold Line) and finish out to the airport. (for the Crenshaw/Green Line.)”

If Metro decides to move a new funding measure to the ballot in 2016, the expenditure plan would not be released until August of 2015, a full 16 months later than it would be for the 2014 plan which would need to be finalized in April of 2014.

Video provided by the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti

The 2016 process allows for better and deeper public input throughout the process of creating the measure, including having local governments submit their own project list. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who figures to be a major player in any campaign for a county-wide ballot initiative, outlined such a plan at the Mobility 21 Summit earlier this fall.
There’s also the small matter of whether or not an initiative has a better chance of passing during a presidential election, where turnout is expected to be close to 60% of registered voters, or a mid-term Congressional and Gubernatorial election where participation generally slips closer to the 50% mark. Metro Board Members take it as an article of faith that the higher the turnout, the better a sales tax will do. But with the popular Governor Brown leading the ticket likely against an unknown and underfunded rival, we could see a disproportionate percentage of progressive voters heading to the polls in 2014 as well.


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