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Lawmakers question how L.A. transit tax money would be spent

May 18, 2012 |  1:10 pm

The rhetoric over a proposed extension of a Los Angeles County transportation tax heated up again this week after three members of Congress and a county supervisor called into question plans for using billions of dollars in additional revenue

The rhetoric over a proposed extension of a Los Angeles County transportation tax heated up again this week after three members of Congress and a county supervisor called into question plans for using billions of dollars in additional revenue.

"In advance of a vote on extending the tax, we believe Metro should develop a comprehensive spending plan to implement a truly regional transportation system," said a letter sent this week by Reps. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk).

The lawmakers singled out the Foothill Extension project, saying that "the current funding stream does not include the additional $764 million needed to complete the voter-mandated project to the County line in Claremont."

"This issue must be corrected in your future funding strategies and expenditure plans," the letter read.

Some transportation officials -- including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who is leading the effort -- strongly support an indefinite extension to Measure R, the half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2008. They say it will allow them to speed up construction of rail lines and other projects across the county by borrowing against future tax revenues.

But there has been pushback against the tax extension -– and the way it is being handled -– by several members of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors, including Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Gloria Molina.

In April, Antonovich used the term "gang rape" during an MTA meeting in a reference to the initial Measure R campaign, which was also championed by Villaraigosa. Villaraigosa objected and briefly left the session.

A spokesman for Antonovich later wrote: "If L.A. city wants a tax to pay for their individual projects, then they should vote to tax themselves without including the rest of the county -- who have their own vital transit needs."

At another committee meeting this week, Molina also voiced her discontent with the initial Measure R campaign, comparing it to a "cat and mouse" political game.

Molina said she wants to be supportive of the tax-extension proposal but "I don't want to play this game again."

"The reason I couldn't be supportive the last time is because there were a group of people here -– and I'm sure they're the same group concocting the list today -- that would not share it with some of us," she said, "because some of us might be concerned about how some of the money is just going into one region versus another."

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-- Ari Bloomekatz

Photo: Rail cars on Metro's Gold Line Eastside Extension. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times 

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