The Bus Riders Union made phone calls and went door to door today, in a last minute effort to defeat Measure R, which would raise the sales tax in Los Angeles County by a half of one percent to fund transportation projects.
Spokesperson Lisa Adler argued that that a sales tax increase in a struggling economy would disproportionally impact the county's poorest residents. She also said Measure R puts too much emphasis on freeways and rail lines, and does not provide enough to enhance bus services, which low-income residents rely on the most.
Measure R would raise an estimated $40 billion over the next 30 years for transportation and transit projects.
"The time to make this investment is now," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has been a vocal supporter of the plan and also chairs the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. Most of the Measure R funding would pass through the MTA, the county's public transportation agency.
The measure requires a two-thirds majority to pass -- a high bar to reach during tough financial times in a county that has one of the highest sales tax rates in the state, and on a ballot that includes numerous other tax and bond proposals.
The Los Angeles County sales tax is already at 8.25 percent in most places.
"This is the wrong time to burden people with even higher taxes," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe.
Local, state and national politics
Still, with gridlock gripping the region, the measure's proponents say that fast-tracking major plans to build up the county's comparatively anemic public transit system could solve the congestion crisis and boost residents' quality of life.
According to a 2007 national study by the Texas Transportation Institute, drivers in Los Angeles and Orange counties spent an average of 72 extra hours stuck in rush-hour traffic in 2005, making the region the most congested in the country.
Opponents of the tax, however, claim the new funds would be unfairly spread throughout the county, with the Westside and city of Los Angeles reaping more of the money than the rest of the county.
Disputes over how the funds should be spent have grown bitter as the months have gone by.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents the North County area, criticized the spending plan as "Robin Hood in reverse," adding that it was "crafted in the heat of the night by Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa without input from elected officials outside the city of Los Angeles ... "
At this month's MTA Board of Directors meeting, Supervisor Gloria Molina got into brief shouting match with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, saying she was "tired of getting shortchanged on the Eastside."
The spending plan is mandated, in part, by state legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month that exempts the tax from the current sales tax cap.
The lion's share of the funding, 35 percent, would be spent on building new rail and bus rapid transit projects, including $4.2 billion for a subway connecting downtown with Westwood.
The project list also includes connecting the Green Line to Los Angeles International Airport, extending the Gold Line through the Foothill Corridor to Azusa, connecting the San Fernando Valley with the Westside along the San Diego (405) Freeway corridor, and accelerating the Gold Line Eastside Extension and Crenshaw Transit Corridor projects.
The remaining funding would be split among bus operations, highway projects, system improvements and rail operations, with 15 percent of the total given directly back to local governments for street repairs and other transportation-related projects.