L.A. Mayor Tells Congressional Hearing To Speed Up Transportation Funding
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida held a bipartisan Congressional field hearing in Los Angeles on Wednesday morning, with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others pushing Southern California's transportation priorities.
Sen. Boxer was present as the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public works and Mica as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"We believe, all of us, coming from different parties and different places ... now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a transportation bill," Boxer said.
“Anyone who comes to Los Angeles and thinks we do not need improvements in transportation must be living on another planet,” Mica said.
Villaraigosa was present to support the 30/10 Initiative, which takes its name from the fact that it is meant to allow Los Angeles County to complete 30 years worth of construction and development on public transportation to happen in just ten years.
"When they came to me with this idea I embraced it immediately because it was really a no-brainer," said Boxer. "We're getting the ability to give Los Angeles ... the ability to get a $500 million loan and the cost to the federal government is $20 million."
Local transportation officials say the 30/10 Initiative would result in the creation of 160,000 jobs and reduce the number of gallons of gasoline used in a year by 10.3 million. There's also hope opening up more routes and ways to travel would ease some congestion in the county.
"I left my house at quarter to seven and I a was late," joked Congresswoman Grace Napolitano of California about her commute to the hearing.
The 30/10 Initiative is an attempt to get the federal government to fund $40 billion in new transit projects in the Los Angeles area immediately by offering the revenue from the Measure R sales tax as collateral. The Measure R sales tax is a half-cent sales tax for Los Angeles County that is expected to generate $40 billion in revenue over thirty years. Measure R was passed by a two-thirds majority in November 2008.
"The 30/10 Initiative is a brilliant idea," said California Congresswoman Jan Harman, who is retiring next Monday.
The funds of Measure R are untouchable without going to the people of Los Angeles for another vote and can only be spent on public transportation, so there is almost no danger that the money will be appropriated for for other purposes after the federal government invests its money.
"Every time we go to Washington the Feds tell us to come back with a revenue source," said L.A. County Supervsiro Don Knabe. "Well, the voters of this county, Los Angeles County, have responded three times over the last three decades to tax themselves for transportation."
In recent weeks, the plan has received the backing of the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce. Sixty mayors across the country have also signed on to support the bill, which L.A. leaders believe could work in other counties.
Metro spent nearly $600,000 last year lobbying federal lawmakers and agencies. Several more thousand dollars were spent sending local officials to Washington, D.C. to meet with Mica's staff and other federal officials. Metro CEO Art Leahy is expected to visit D.C. again next month.
The Wednesday hearing is one in a series that will take place before the vote on an upcoming transportation authorization bill. Mark-up on the bill is expected to begin next month, but such matters are often delayed. On Wednesday, Mica and Boxer talked high-speed rail in Fresno. Mica backs high-speed rail, but only in congested corridors sucha s those in the Northeast.
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