Prop 13 & L.A. County’s New Transit Tax

Mission-Meridian-01_article_slideshow_01L.A. Metro has been hard at work cooking up a new list of big transit projects for the region, which would be funded with a new half-cent sales tax this November. The plan will be announced this Friday, but in the meantime, initial details leaked on some of the proposed projects last week, leading to this Los Angeles Times article from Laura Nelson:

As envisioned, the plan would funnel about one-third of the $120 billion into full or partial funding for five new transit lines and at least six extensions of lines that are already built or under construction, the officials said.

The project list appears carefully constructed to gain voter support in all areas of the vast county, with rail lines, highway upgrades and other proposed improvements reaching communities as far-flung as Sylmar, Torrance, Artesia and Claremont.

That political dynamic — to spread the projects around the county to secure the needed two-thirds support — is the direct result of California’s Prop 13. It passed in 1978 and was eventually construed to require super-majorities for even local tax measures. As a result, self-help measures like a local transit tax must prioritize political benefits (i.e. geographic equity) over economic effectiveness or other needs.

I discussed this dynamic briefly in this short KPCC radio piece on Friday.

State leaders could really help regions like Los Angeles and other counties around the state if they allowed voters to reform Prop 13.  Reducing the voter-approval threshold from two-thirds to 55% would not only ensure that locals could more easily raise funds for badly needed infrastructure, it could make those measures more effective by not having to please everyone and their mother.


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