Why you want this tax hike

Antonio Villaraigosa is the mayor of Los Angeles.

In 2005, I asked Angelenos to join me in re-imagining their city as a dynamic world capital defined by its flexibility and mobility, not by traffic and smog.

I challenged them to imagine communities connected not by bigger, wider highways but by a real network of public transit options -- rapid buses, trains and subway lines -- connecting every neighborhood in our county’s 88 cities.

I asked them to imagine cleaner and greener neighborhoods where we each pitch in to combat global warming and create a more sustainable city.


Today, when I take the helm as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, I will seek to place a measure on the November ballot increasing the county sales tax by half a cent to raise the badly needed funding to help make this vision a reality.

Over the last three years, public transportation in Los Angeles has received an unexpected boost as record gas prices have changed the math and more commuters are ditching their cars for trains and buses. Yet, as a board member of the MTA, I have also watched every year as transit lines get cut, projects are scaled back and critical construction on our clogged freeways is delayed by budget concerns.

Lack of political will and lack of funding have always been the fundamental obstacles in the way of a vision that demands long-term commitment and big investment.

The political will is now here. We have the opportunity to create a greater Los Angeles no longer chained to its cars and dependent on foreign oil, and where we are making smarter investments to ease traffic congestion and improve our quality of life.

The measure other board members and I are proposing -- which will raise the sales tax from 8.25% to 8.75% -- would bring in $40 billion over 30 years while costing the average Angeleno less than the price of half a tank of gas per year.

It would help us expand our growing subway system into a comprehensive network that really goes places, so that a student at USC or a commuter in the Valley could finally take the train to the Westside or LAX -- and tourists could reach Hollywood Boulevard without having to get into a car.


It would give regional cities the flexibility and money to repair cracked roads, fill potholes and make intersections and streets safer for pedestrians and bikers.

It would fortify our network of rapid bus lines and allow for more service in the underserved corners of South L.A., the Valley and East L.A.

And it would fill in the funding gaps on critical highway projects such as the widening of our clogged artery, Interstate 5 between the 605 Freeway and the Orange County line.

Quite simply, it would fundamentally reshape Los Angeles -- and Southern California. And in the process, it would pump $32.1 billion in construction funding alone into our economy and create more than 210,000 jobs.

Los Angeles is not immune to the economic chill blowing across America. But the costs of the status quo are unacceptable. In L.A., traffic congestion costs the region $9.3 billion every year, and we waste 384 million gallons of gas stuck in traffic. The average commuter spends three full days each year trapped in gridlock -- 72 hours devoted to traffic, not family -- while the congestion blocking our delivery trucks is driving up shipping costs by up to 250%.

Our population and economy will only continue to grow. Unless we have a comprehensive plan for improving traffic, the gridlock will continue to get worse.


Unfortunately, we can no longer reliably wait on Sacramento or Washington to come through. Just this week, Sacramento dealt a major blow to plans to invest in our roads when lawmakers, trying to balance the budget, hinted that they would raid $2.5 billion in state funds that voters earmarked for transportation projects. At the same time, federal gas tax revenues are fluctuating while inflation drives up the costs of our construction projects.

In this vacuum, the cities of Los Angeles County need to come together and step up. In my mind, there is no comparison between the $25 our measure will cost the average Angeleno each year and the estimated $2,000 we each spend on wasted gas, car repairs and time lost in traffic.

It’s an investment we can’t afford not to make, and it’s going to take all 88 cities in the county -- all 10 million Angelenos -- to come together. It’s time to fund our dream of a re-imagined Los Angeles.