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FAQ: Everything you need to know about Measure M

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) employees hold up a banner for the first train in 53 years to break through, on arrival at Santa Monica station in Santa Monica, California on May 20, 2016.
The USD 1.5 billion extension connects the Expo Line from its current end location near Venice and Robertson boulevards to downtown Santa Monica.  / AFP / FREDERIC J. BROWN        (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) employees hold up a banner for the first Expo Line train to Santa Monica on May 20, 2016. Measure M would continue Metro's rail building boom with $120 billion in projects over 40 years.

Los Angeles County voters are deciding Measure M, a proposed countywide sales tax increase to fund billions of dollars in transportation projects. The initiative must get two-thirds voter approval to pass. Here's what you need to know:

Q: How much would Measure M increase county sales taxes?

Measure M would add a half-cent sales tax and extend the existing Measure R half-cent sales tax passed by voters in 2008. Both would be permanent unless voters act to repeal them.

This would be the fourth sales tax increase to fund transportation in L.A. County, bringing the base sales tax rate to 9.25 percent. In some cities, which already levy their own sales tax increases, the rate would be higher, with South Gate, La Mirada and Pico Rivera topping the list with 10.25 percent if the measure passes.

Q: How much money would this raise?

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority estimates the sales tax hike would raise $120 billion over 40 years and $860 million in the first year.

Q: What projects will be funded with the revenue?

About 35 percent of the revenue would fund major new transit projects, such as a subway under the Sepulveda Pass, extension of the Gold Line to Claremont, extension of the Crenshaw Line to West Hollywood and acceleration of the Purple Line Subway construction along Wilshire Boulevard to finish in 2024, 10 years earlier than scheduled.

About 17 percent would fund a dozen highway improvement projects, such as widening parts of I-5 in the Antelope Valley and southeastern county, adding bus lanes to the Sepulveda Pass section of the 405 freeway and adding truck-only lanes to a section of the 710 freeway.

Another 2 percent would cover bike and pedestrian projects and 17 percent would be returned to the 88 cities of L.A. County for local transportation projects, including repairs to streets and sidewalks.

The rest of the revenue would fund ongoing bus and rail operations and infrastructure maintenance.

See a full timeline of all 46 capital projects on the Metro website.

Q: How much will this cost me?

A Metro-commissioned study by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. estimated the tax increase would cost each county resident about $25 a year. But the independent research firm Beacon Economics estimated it would cost more, between $35 and $65 per resident each year.

According to Professor Mark Phillips, who teaches tax policy at University of Southern California, only about a third of incomes in California are spent on taxable goods. California does not charge sales tax on food or services.

Q: Will Measure M improve traffic in L.A. County?

The Yes on M campaign supporting the measure cites a Metro study conducted by Cambridge Systematics, which projected the hours of delay that drivers in the county will experience 40 years from now given expected population growth. The study compares traffic levels for a future that includes 25 major projects that would be funded by Measure M against traffic levels in a future with no added investment.

The study found traffic delays were 15 percent less in the future with Measure M projects.

However, much research shows transit and highway building have little short-term effect on traffic delays. A USC study done after completion of the first segment of the Expo Line to Culver City found no significant change in traffic along adjacent sections of the 10 freeway or surface streets. 

Studies also found peak delays slightly increased on the 405 freeway through the Sepulveda Pass after a $1 billion expansion project added a lane to both sides, although the length of the rush hour decreased from seven to five hours.

Q: Who is supporting this measure and who is opposing it?

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other L.A. city politicians have led the campaign for Measure M, raising more than $4 million from construction and development firms, transit advocates and labor groups. The L.A. County Federation of Labor has also officially endorsed the measure.

Transit, walking and biking advocacy groups like Move L.A., Investing in Place and the L.A. County Bike Coalition have also endorsed the measure as have the Sierra Club and the AARP.

The official No on M campaign is led by community activist Damien Goodmon of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, who says Metro's plan doesn't fairly distribute projects where need is greatest.

Many elected officials from the South Bay and Southeastern Gateway cities also oppose the measure because they say projects in their areas were given lower priority while projects in L.A. city have been granted higher priority.

Officials in Beverly Hills continue to oppose construction of the Purple Line subway through that city and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association also opposes the tax increase.

The No on M campaign collected its biggest contribution from the Coalition to Preserve L.A., a group pushing the anti-development Neighborhood Integrity Initiative for the March municipal election in L.A. That group is mostly funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Voting has begun in California. KPCC is here for you and will help you develop your Voter Game Plan. Use our election guide to find your personalized ballot.