Mayor had better prepare for pushback on his fanciful transportation plan

I must say, Antonio Villaraigosa is one of the great tap dancers of California politics. He was at it again this morning on Larry Mantle's "Airtalk" program, trying to explain why it's necessary for voters to scrap one version of Measure R, the half-cent sales tax to be used for transit projects, and replace it with another. In a nutshell, the mayor had been relying on a sort of federal loan guarantee that would help finance 12 mass transit projects in 10 years, rather than 30. But that plan is part of an overall transportation package that's been stalled in Congress, and might stay stalled for a while. With his own term quickly running out and matters of legacy at stake, Villaraigosa must put on those tap shoes.

This is where the voters come in. See, Measure R expires in 2039, which means there's a cap on the amount of revenue that can be guaranteed. By extending the tax - essentially making it permanent - local officials would supposedly have an easier time borrowing against future revenue, no matter what Congress does or does not do. I'm not sure how true that is - it's just what the mayor is saying. Frankly, the mayor has been saying a lot of stuff that doesn't make much sense - starting with the ludicrous claim that these projects can be completed in 10 years instead of 30. Construction of this sort is immensely complicated, expensive, and subject to significant overruns. Always, always. Let's also keep in mind that the marquee project of the 12 - the subway extension to Westwood - will do little or nothing to actually lessen traffic congestion whenever it's completed.

Of course, this really isn't about congestion. Here's a tip: Listen to how many times Villaraigosa ever mentions the word "traffic" in his campaigning for the subway. I think it came up once or twice during last night's State of the City address, but only as an aside. What he does repeat, over and over again, is how his transportation plan will generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, a highly misleading claim on all sorts of levels (hiring dates, longevity, economic impact, among them). No matter: Villaraigosa is betting that he'll get widespread support, especially from labor, because the extension of Measure R will be billed as a jobs plan. Traffic? Yeah, maybe that too. And of course there's the political imperative behind him getting this thing off the ground before he leaves office (assuming he doesn't bail to Washington first).

The tap dance campaign apparently took a detour this morning. The Weekly posted an item about how Villaraigosa angrily walked out of a Metro meeting after County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said that the proposed sales tax extension could amount to "gang rape" of some communities.

A witness at the executive management committee meeting this morning said the mayor straight flipped out after Antonovich complained that the tax extension was being done without consulting with various communities and constituencies in the same way things were done when the tax, Measure R, was passed the first time around a few years back: Antonovich said something like, we're going to be "gang raped again." The mayor stood up, yelled, called the language inappropriate and walked out, the witness says: But he returned to vote. The committee was considering a stance on the proposal -- in favor or against. The vote was 3-2, with the mayor, who chairs the Metro board, in favor, and Antonovich opposed.

The mayor should start getting used to pushback. In retrospect, the first Measure R didn't receive nearly the amount of attention it should have - and don't forget it was only after the vote that Villaraigosa came up with his cockamamie 30-10 plan. The free ride would appear to be over.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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