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Villaraigosa: Cuts to transportation would be 'devastating blow'

July 21, 2011 |  1:50 pm

Villaraigosa testifies at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee in Washington, D.C. Thursday.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was back on Capitol Hill Thursday, warning that federal transportation funding cuts would deal a "devastating blow" to local projects and the nation’s economic recovery.

"When people walk up to me on the streets of Los Angeles -- in fact, when they walk up to mayors all across the country -- they don’t ask us about the debt," Villaraigosa told a Senate committee, alluding to the fight in Washington over raising the nation's debt ceiling. "They’ll say, 'Mayor, can you get me a job?' " He called it critical, at the very least, to maintain the current level of funding in order to generate jobs.

Villaraigosa’s appearance before the Environment and Public Works Committee comes as the House and Senate head for a showdown over the level of funding for the next big transportation bill. 

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who head the committees writing the bill, have agreed to authorize $1 billion a year, up from the current $110 million, for a loan program that Villaraigosa sees as critical to his efforts to speed expansion of Los Angeles' regional transportation system.

But the mayor has his work cut out for him in trying to win over House Republicans to maintain at least the current level of funding due to their concern about spending more money than is generated by gas tax funds. 

While the Senate’s two-year $109-billion proposal enjoys bipartisan support, it includes a $12-billion hole that senators must figure out how to plug. Mica has called his $230-billion, six-year proposal the "only fiscally responsible proposal" that would ensure the solvency of the highway trust fund.

Los Angeles County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has said that Mica’s proposal would reduce federal funding to the agency by 30%, or about $1.4 billion over six years, forcing delays to highway widening projects and bus purchases, among other things.

"Carmageddon," the devastating traffic jam that wasn’t, came up during the mayor’s testimony.

Calling the weekend shutdown of the busy 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass necessary for a project that will create jobs and reduce traffic congestion, he told senators: "Take it from a native Angeleno, congestion can be a job killer."

The mayor’s visit was short. He arrived at 4 o’clock in the morning and needed to be back in Los Angeles by the evening for a meeting he’s hosting as the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

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-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: Villaraigosa testifies at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee in Washington, D.C. Thursday. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

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