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Public transit ego trips

Los Angeles County voters, fed up with soaring gas prices, pollution and gridlocked traffic, might be asked in November whether they’re willing to tax themselves to improve matters. But ego conflicts and parochialism among local politicians could prevent them from ever getting the chance to decide.

Measure R, a proposed half-cent sales tax initiative to pay for public transit projects throughout the county, is having a tough time making its way to the voters -- and the hurdles got higher Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors denied a request by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to put it on the November ballot. This move won’t kill Measure R, but it will waste millions of taxpayer dollars.

The MTA will now sue the county to get the measure on the regular ballot; if the lawsuit fails, the agency could then pay an additional $2 million to $4 million (on top of the $7.2 million it had already budgeted) to get the initiative on a separate, supplemental ballot. That still won’t guarantee the measure will appear, because it also has to be approved by the Legislature. And a pair of Democratic state senators who are on the all-important Appropriations Committee -- Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles and Jenny Oropeza of Long Beach -- haven’t indicated whether they’ll let the bill move to the Senate floor.

It would be nice to think that the politicians involved in this fight were acting to protect their constituents, yet it’s impossible to see how preventing voters from making their own decisions is in anybody’s interest. Moreover, lawmakers have been granting broad concessions to the likes of Cedillo and County Supervisor Gloria Molina in an attempt to win their support for the measure, guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transportation construction in their districts. Yet the holdouts insist that the allocation of the sales tax money is unfair, in part because it would fund at least a portion of the proposed “subway to the sea” on the Westside. Molina, for one, wails that the Westside gets a subway while her Eastside district only gets a light-rail line.

Grow up, people. The projects that would win funding under Measure R were identified years ago as the best way to make L.A.'s public transit system function as efficiently as possible. If the allocation doesn’t guarantee 100% regional fairness, that’s because ridership demand isn’t spread evenly across the county -- and besides, residents tend to travel throughout the county, meaning everybody benefits no matter where they live. It’s voters who should rule on Measure R, not a handful of turf-obsessed supervisors and state lawmakers.

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