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Villaraigosa in D.C. seeking support for faster subway, transit funding

March 16, 2010 |  3:31 pm

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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was back in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday wearing a "30/10 for L.A." sticker as he made the rounds to build support for federal help to speed expansion of the region’s transit network, including the subway to Westwood.

The mayor already has picked up a key ally, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), in his effort to get Washington to provide the Los Angeles region with assistance -- perhaps federal help in paying interest on loans or using federal stimulus money -- so that projects now expected to take 30 years could be built in 10.

Boxer’s support is important because she chairs the Senate committee that will write the next big federal transportation bill. Her staff and officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation are looking at ways the federal government can help Los Angeles -- with or without legislation.

"What we’re saying is let us do over 10 years what we were going to do over 30 years, and bring the jobs faster," Boxer said at a Capitol news conference attended by Villaraigosa and a delegation of business and labor leaders from Los Angeles.

Villaraigosa, who appeared before Boxer’s committee last week to testify in support of federal-local partnerships to speed up transit projects, acknowledged that asking Washington for more money at a time of massive federal budget deficits is a "very difficult proposition."

He said the Los Angeles region isn’t coming to Washington with its hands out, but rather offering to put up billions of its own dollars from Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by Los Angeles County voters last year. The program is expected to raise $40 billion for mass transit projects, including extension of the subway to Westwood and extension of the light-rail Gold Line to the San Gabriel Valley. The mayor’s office estimates the projects would create 166,000 jobs, mostly during the construction phase.

When he was speaker of the state Assembly, Villaraigosa said in an interview, "Everybody would come with their hand out. I would always tell people, 'Hey, I’d get more excited about your program if you’re putting up your own money.' "

In an effort to win support for the initiative, Villaraigosa and Boxer said the 30/10 plan could serve as a national model.

"This is the template, not just for L.A., but for what every city, county and state ought to do in these times -- put up their own money, make the investments, create the jobs that we need right now and get the added value of cleaning the environment and reducing congestion," the mayor said.

The mayor may need to spend more time with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Caught by a reporter in the Senate subway, Feinstein said she wasn’t familiar with the mayor’s plan and suggested that the effort could run into resistance.

"The line is long for money from the federal government," she said. "And no one looks at the debt, and no one looks at the deficit."

-- Rich Simon from Washington

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