California Legislature Must Restore Democracy to Transit Funding

Posted on 05 December 2012

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By Robert Cruickshank

Two pieces of transit funding news came out of Los Angeles today. The first is that the L.A. Streetcar won its vote among downtown property owners to create a local taxing district and raise $125 million in revenue to begin building a streetcar line.

Unfortunately, we also learned that Measure J, the Los Angeles County Metro transit tax extension that would have helped deliver more rail projects sooner “failed.” It received 66.11% of the vote, a huge landslide victory in almost any other race. But because of the rule requiring a two-thirds vote for most local taxes, Measure J had to get 66.66%.

Metro has said they may try again and there’s every reason to believe they will. Perhaps the next proposal can stay as far away as possible from the 710 extension, and include some more bus funding, both in order to defuse two major sources of criticism and to make a good plan even better.

But it shouldn’t take a two-thirds vote to pass a transit tax. Or any other tax, for that matter. California Democrats have begun exploring reducing two-thirds requirements for parcel taxes to fund schools and other reductions of the two-thirds rule are under discussion. Getting rid of the two-thirds rule for transit funding absolutely ought to be among them.

Many transit taxes across California have “failed” even with widespread majority public support. Monterey County saw transit taxes go down in 2006 and in 2008 despite winning 60% of the vote, leaving many important projects unfinished, including rail to the Monterey Peninsula. Alameda County also saw a transit package narrowly miss the two-thirds mark this year, and is funding a recount to see if 400 votes will flip and lead to Measure B’s passage.

The cost of the two-thirds rule is high. As gas prices soar, as people need reliable alternatives to driving, the lack of transit is an increasing drag on the economy and on household budgets. Money not spent on gas is money that can be spent at local businesses and helping put people back to work. Anti-tax folks may think they’re saving money, but as they sit in traffic and pay high gas prices, they’re losing more than they would pay with a higher tax.

Two-thirds rules aren’t democratic. They give outsize power small groups who can hold the public process hostage. As California dismantles the legacy of the tax revolt, a revolt that very nearly destroyed the state, the two-thirds rule for local taxes - including transit - must go.

Robert Cruickshank writes on California politics at Calitics and California High Speed Rail Blog. This article was originally published at California High Speed Rail Blog.

There are certain instances where majority vote does not serve the entire population in a democracy....this is one of them. There are other priorities more dire than transit. In todays "world" we can not continue to put the environmental impact in the back burner when current climate condition clearly demonstrated the need to preserve and protect the current infrastructure that is in dire need of repair and proper maintenance. We must anticipate the danger it will bring if we don't think these safety issue first before a devastation and catastrophy finally hit California. With limited resources available it is best to consider what is MOST important to our STATE than building another TRANSIT infrastructure that would require more maintenances and protection to deal this transit system if approve at risk for the anticipated natural catastrophy that will eventually hit California....such as the next "BIG" Earthquake that California is expecting.

We should better use the limited resources we still have and put it to use to protect our States highways, bridges, city streets, electrical wirings transit trailways and system and most importantly our levies around the delay and waterways to mitigate any potential danger catastrophy will eventually bring when it arrives.

We have seen what happened in the South Coast as a result of Hurricane Katrina; and the current devastation of Hurricane Sandy to the north east coast. Now we have just were given a warning from mother nature what the rise in rainstorm in recent times. We can either take these imminent threat of rising global warming results and events, OR take it seriously and STOP denying the fact that the danger is here and WE ARE at risk of the future danger from the changing temperature and climate changes.

Once we have done the needed safety measures then we can consider investing in future TRANSIT projects....but NOT NOW.