Villaraigosa doubles down on transit legacy in State of the City address

Early into his remarks, the mayor reminded everyone of how he likes to "think big" - no doubt a reference to his monstrous transportation plan that would, among other things, extend the subway to the Westside. But with a federal financing arrangement caught up in election year politics, Villaraigosa now proposes a Plan B: Extending the Measure R half-cent sales tax that voters approved in 2008. That would make it easier for the MTA to issue bonds against future revenue and, more importantly, expedite construction that the mayor keeps insisting could be finished in 10 years instead of 30.

Extending the tax requires a two-thirds vote, presumably in November, but even before that happens, both the legislature and the governor would have to approve a measure to void the current Measure R tax. Villaraigosa is wasting no time drumming up support - press materials in advance of tonight's speech include quotes from numerous business and labor leaders who say extending the tax is a swell idea. Certainly, having the measure on November's ballot would be a plus (a presidential election year brings out the kinds of voters that Villaraigosa needs). But any tax increase is bound to be a tough sell, especially with that two-thirds requirement (the original Measure R barely squeaked by four years ago). And don't forget that Gov. Brown will be campaigning for his own tax increase. From the speech:

By extending Measure R, we will be creating jobs, relieving traffic congestion, and completing all of the light rail and subway projects in a single decade, instead of three. With these new resources in place, we can build faster, more effectively, more efficiently and at a lower cost. to you We will measure traffic relief in years, not generations. Projects that were scheduled to be completed close to the middle of the century--game-changing projects like the Sepulveda Pass rail line and the Wilshire Subway--can now be completed in a little over a decade.

All I can say is, I'm taking bets. As for the city budget, which will be released Friday, Villaraigosa says it is "prudent," "responsible," and will "protect vital services that Angelenos rely on." No specifics on how to eliminate a $222-million deficit, but he did say that the budget will include reforms to the civilian pension plan. (The Service Employees International set up picket lines outside Paramount, where the mayor was speaking.) Villaraigosa is also proposing the creation of an economic development office that will cost $2.5 million for initial funding. I must say the mayor seemed pretty comfortable - dare I say conversational? - during the 30-minute address. Guess he's prepping for Charlotte this summer.

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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.
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