Expansion of Measure R Half-Cent Sales Tax to Hit Ballot in November - NBC Southern California

Expansion of Measure R Half-Cent Sales Tax to Hit Ballot in November

The expanded Metro Orange Line will open Saturday, two days after the Metro board voted to put a extension for Measure R on the ballot.

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    Los Angeles County and city officials celebrated the expanded Metro Orange Line Friday, just one day after the Metro board voted to send an extension of the half-cent sales tax -- which would fund additional transportation projects -- to the November ballot.

    The Metro Orange Line Extension represents the first transit project funded by Measure R, an initiative passed in 2008 that imposes a half-cent sales tax to pay for transportation projects. It is currently set to expire in 2039.

    The express bus line extension adds 4 new miles to the popular service, expanding the Orange Line's reach north into the San Fernando Valley, ending in Chatsworth. The bus line will open to the public Saturday morning, with free rides offered from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, according to a Metro press release.

    Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority lauded the service at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Canoga Park on Friday.

    The opening comes after a 10-3 Metro board vote to ask voters to extend the half-cent sales tax by 30 additional years. Three county supervisors -- Mark Ridley-Thomas, Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe -- opposed the measure, calling the extension premature.

    Officials in support of the Measure R extension say the 30 additional years would allow the city to expedite infrastructure initiatives by borrowing against future Measure R tax revenue. In other words, Metro would be able to spend the money sooner, knowing the sales tax revenue would be coming in until 2069.

    "It accelerates 30 years' worth of projects to 10 years," said Zev Yaroslavsky, LA County supervisor and director of the Metro Board. "It's a no brainer. It's a win-win for taxpayers."

    Yaroslavsky added that current low interest rates and building costs have created the "perfect storm" to launch ambitious transportation projects.

    Voters are "thirsty" for improvements in transportation infrastructure, Yaroslavsky said, citing the 68 percent of voters who passed Measure R in 2008.

    The extension on November's ballot will need approval from two-thirds of voters.

    "I think voters are sick and tired of being stuck in traffic and they want alternatives," Yaroslavsky said. "They want highway improvements. They want mass public transportation."

    The new proposal is "almost identical" to the original Measure R approved by voters in 2008, according to a June 21 Metro Board memo.

    At the Orange Line ceremony Friday, Villaraigosa touted the extension as an example of Measure R's benefits.

    "Today we celebrate yet another Measure R transit milestone in Los Angeles with the opening of the Metro Orange Line Extension to Chatsworth," said Villaraigosa, who is chair of the Metro board.

    The Orange Line project was completed 3 1/2 years ahead of schedule and cost $61 million less than expected, officials said.

    Not all county officials are on board with the proposed extension of Measure R, which Metro board members had initially discussed extending indefinitely.

    Knabe said in a Thursday statement that while the vision behind Measure R is "well-intentioned," he considers it "disingenuous to the voters to give a blank check to the MTA."

    "The sales tax currently does not expire until 2039, so there is no reason to extend it unless we want to spend the next generation's money today," Knabe said.

    Ridley-Thomas said in an April press release that he does not see "overwhelming evidence of urgent need" to extend the initiative's expiration date. Ridley-Thomas had supported the measure when it was first brought to voters in 2008.

    In addition to a two-thirds majority among voters, the measure will need to be approved by the governor and Board of Supervisors in order to become law.

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