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California

L.A. County voters may be asked to extend transit sales tax

Los Angeles transportation officials want to ask voters during next fall’s presidential election to support at least a 10-year extension of the Measure R sales tax, a move that could raise billions more for transit projects and likely speed construction.

When officials convinced the county electorate in 2008 to overwhelmingly approve the half-cent levy for rail and other transportation efforts, it increased the sales tax in Los Angeles County to 9.75% — one of the highest rates in California.

At the time, the full effects of the recession had not yet hit. The tax was supposed to expire after 30 years and yield some $40 billion.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials have been working since to find ways to borrow against future Measure R revenues so they can build the transportation projects faster.

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Villaraigosa has traveled to Washington several times in an attempt to gain federal funding and low-interest borrowing rates to build several Measure R projects — including the Westside subway extension and Crenshaw light rail line — in 10 years instead of 30.

But congressional Republicans have been slow to lend support, so state and local officials are pursuing other options. Meanwhile, because of the slow economy, the estimated amount of money Measure R will generate over the 30 years has been revised downward to about $36 billion.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill in the Legislature this week setting the stage for a November ballot measure to lengthen Measure R’s life span.

“This extension would enable Metro to bond against future Measure R proceeds and build those transit projects much sooner than originally contemplated, without relying on federal or state funding,” according to a statement from Feuer.

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Arianna Smith, a spokeswoman for Feuer, said that the lawmaker had not yet decided how long the extension would be but that it might need to be longer than 10 years.

“Feuer wanted to be positioned to create options in case Washington doesn’t act,” said Peter Sanders, a spokesman for Villaraigosa. “The mayor is also exploring options to extend Measure R funding should Washington fail to act.”

Measure R passed with support from 67% of county voters. Officials said a two-thirds majority would also be needed to pass an extension. Before such a proposal could be presented to voters, it would have to be approved by the Legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the county Board of Supervisors.

Feuer spokeswoman Smith said the bill would probably be considered by an Assembly policy committee before the end of April.

Denny Zane, director of the transit advocacy group Move L.A., said Feuer’s bill paves the way for transportation officials to speed up projects because “we all know that Congress is an uncertain place.”

“It’s very positive to have several choices to get an ... accomplishment,” Zane said.

Metro Chief Executive Art Leahy said the bill provides a local alternative to Villaraigosa’s initial plan of accelerating projects with federal help.

“It’s another option,” he said.

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com


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