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Measure J hopes to extend half-cent transportation sales tax

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Measure J hopes to extend half-cent transportation sales tax passed by Measure R last year.
Corey Moore/KPCC
The 305 bus line is being discontinued as part of widespread service changes by L.A. Metro.

Corey Moore reports on Measure J, the ballot initiative that would extend the current Measure R half-cent transportation sales tax 30 years beyond its expiration date in 2039.

On November 6, L.A. County voters will decide whether they want a long-term extension of a half-cent transportation sales tax. 

Four years ago, voters approved Measure R, which initially added the half-cent tax. It expires in 2039, so Measure J seeks to extend this 30 years beyond that.  KPCC’s Corey Moore reports the new initiative – Measure J – would extend the tax 30 years beyond that.

Proponents are careful to emphasize that Measure J seeks to continue — not increase — the sales tax.

Voter approval would pave the way for Metro to speed up construction on a variety of transit projects by selling bonds against the measure’s anticipated revenue of $90 billion.   

“If we can extend Measure R through Measure J, that will allow us to hire a lot of people, to save taxpayers a ton of money because you beat inflation, you take advantage of the competitive construction bids right now because the industry’s depressed but also for another 30 years, you can extend the subsidies for bus operations as well as rail," said Metro spokesperson Marc Littman.

If Measure J passes, crews could start construction on up to fifteen rail and other transit projects within the next five years, instead of the twenty years currently planned. Some of those projects include the second phase of the Gold Line Eastside Extension, the Green Line Extension to LAX, and additional legs of the Westside Subway Extension.

Measure J has widespread support, from business, organized labor, even the environmental community. There is some opposition to the measure, including from L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks, though he says he understands the arguments for Measure J.

“This is a secondary way to accelerate these projects but at a tremendous expense to the population," said Parks.

Parks, who formerly sat on the Metro board, supported Measure R.  He says that legislation was well thought out, but that he feels another 30 years is too long to extend the half-cent sales tax for many in his South L.A. district.

“It sounds like its minimal sales tax and everyone gets to pay it who buys something," said Parks. "But in reality, if you’re on the low end of the spectrum and you’re working 2 or 3 jobs, you can’t afford to continue on the onslaught of raised prices. for electrical, raised prices for sales tax."

The Bus Riders Union also urges a “no” vote on Measure J, because it believes transit funding should go to expand bus service, not rail. About 200 people gathered recently for a Bus Riders Union protest in front of Metro headquarters in Downtown L.A.

Among them, 37-year-old Rosa Miranda, who lives in Westlake near Downtown LA. Through an interpreter, she criticized Measure R as a misguided effort.

“One that would invest billions of dollars in projects that are not serving us. And one that is also displacing many people and gentrifying in our neighborhoods and at the end of the day, not really doing much for the working class people of Los Angeles," she said.

The Bus Riders Union criticizes Metro for cutting or scaling back bus routes that carried many black and brown, low-income commuters. Metro spokesman Littman says his agency has had to cut costs by scaling back some routes, but he says it’s extended others.

“Guess what? Thanks to Measure R, 20 percent of all that tax revenue goes to subsidize bus operations," said Littman. "Because of Measure R, the Bus Riders Union and others out there are enjoying the lowest fares of any major transit property in the United States.”

And, says Littman, that’s not all. “Thanks to Measure R, we’re buying 700 new buses. So this B.S. that they haven’t seen any benefit, that’s ridiculous," he said.

Those state of the art buses will add to — and replace — coaches in a fleet of about 2,200. To pass, Measure J will need a two-thirds vote on November 6.

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