20
Sat, Apr

Does Metro Deserve a $120 Billion Blank Check?

LA WATCHDOG

LA WATCHDOG--How does Metro expect us to understand its 27 page, 12,000 word ballot measure that would increase our sales tax by half a cent to a whopping 9½%, one of the highest rates in the county? 

Or should we just trust Metro’s Board of Directors led by Mayor Eric Garcetti, his three appointees, and the four County Supervisors who voted to place this ill-conceived measure on the November ballot? 

But there is much more than a plain old multibillion dollar tax increase buried in these 27 pages of mumbo jumbo that will make the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its Board of Directors less accountable to the voters. 

If the proposed half a cent increase in our sales tax is approved by two-thirds of the voters, Metro will collect an additional $860 million in the first year, bringing the total haul from the four voter approved sales taxes to $3.5 billion in 2018. 

However, unlike the 2008 voter approved Measure R half cent increase that was to expire in 30 years (2039), this tax does not have a sunset provision unlike the March version of this ballot measure.  Furthermore, this measure proposes to make the Measure R half cent tax permanent. 

As a result, Metro will be able to incur substantially higher levels of debt that will burden the next generation of Angelenos who will not have the opportunity to say “No More Debt” at the polls.  

There are also serious questions about Metro’s management and organization and whether it has the ability to manage its daily operations, increase ridership and fares, properly maintain its aging infrastructure, and execute its ambitious expansion plans on time and on budget, especially given recent problems with the widening of 405 through the Sepulveda Pass and the Regional Connector. 

Metro claims that there will be enhanced level of accountability for expenditures.  But how is it possible for seven politically appointed members of the Independent Oversight Committee to oversee a sprawling enterprise with over 9,000 employees, $2 billion in annual expenditures, a $750 million operating loss, $15 billion in assets, and a multibillion capital expenditure program? 

There are also a number of pet projects in the measure’s Expenditure Plan, including $1.1 billion for the bike path along the LA River, the “LA Street Enhancement & Great Streets Program,” and Jose Huizar’s Historic Downtown Street Car.  And needless to say, there are other stinkers buried in the $120 billion Expenditure Plan. 

Metro has been actively promoting the Los Angeles County Transportation Improvement Plan, assisted by Garcetti, the Board of Supervisors, and all the special interests who will benefit from the increased revenue and the proceeds the billions in new debt.  But this measure is going to be a tough sell. 

In 2014, Measure J, the thirty year extension of the Measure R half cent tax, received only 66% of the vote, just short of the two thirds needed for approval.  But this ballot measure is more complicated as Metro is asking us to pony up an additional $860 million a year and $120 billion over the next 40 years. 

The voters of the City of Los Angeles are also frustrated with City Hall.  For example, our City does not have a plan to repair our lunar cratered streets despite the fact that the City is entitled to more than 8% of the sales tax revenue generated from the four voter approved sales taxes.  As of now, the City is expected to receive over $18 billion from this Local Return program over the next 40 years. 

Furthermore, Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council have refused to reform its finances, refusing to Live Within Its Means and ignoring the common sense, easy to implement recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission.  These include multiyear budgeting, the establishment of an Office of the Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s fragile finances, and the creation a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s unsustainable pension plans. 

And finally, we, the voters, are being overwhelmed by numerous ballot measures (see the note below) that will funnel billions of our hard earned money to our inefficient, bloated State, County, and City governments which are controlled by self-serving politicians and their cronies.  

Metro does not deserve a $120 billion blank check.  

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The ballot measure shall read as follows: 

Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan.  To improve freeway traffic flow/safety; repair potholes/sidewalks; repave local streets; earthquake retrofit bridges; synchronize signals; keep senior/disabled/student fares affordable; expand rail/subway/bus systems; improve job/school/airport connections; and create jobs; shall voters authorize a Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan through a ½ cent sales tax and continue the existing ½ cent traffic relief tax until voters decide to end it, with independent audits/oversight and funds controlled locally? 

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Note: In addition to Metro’s permanent $850 million increase in the county’s sales tax, voters are being bombarded by the City’s $1.2 billion bond measure to fund supportive housing for the homeless and the County’s evergreen $95 million parcel tax for its parks.  The Los Angeles Community College District announced a $3.3 billion bond measure.  And the state ballot has a $1 billion cigarette tax, a 12 year extension of the $10 billion of “temporary” soak-the-rich income tax, and a measure authorizing $9 billion in school construction bonds, 

Other taxes that are waiting in the wings are a $4.5 billion bond measure to repair the City’s streets and sidewalks, a homeless tax to fund the County’s homeless initiatives, a tax to fund the City and County’s $20 billion stormwater / urban runoff program, and an increase in the State’s gas tax.  There is also the issue of how to fund the unfunded pension liabilities of the City and County that exceed $65 billion (about $10,000 for each of the City’s 4 million residents). 

Earlier this year, we were also hit with an additional tax of $150 million associated with DWP’s $1 billion rate increase. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected].)

-cw 

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