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The Disturbing Case of Antonio Villaraigosa

by Francisco Frias Tuesday, May. 22, 2007 at 5:09 AM

A contrast between the MTA's fare proposals, the declared goals of our society, and Antonio Villaraigosa's public statements regarding transportation issues.

As some of you may know, the Los Angeles MTA has announced astonishing fare hikes. A day pass will increase from $3 to $5 in July and to $8 by January, 2009, and a monthly pass will go from $52 to $75 in July and to $120 in January, 2009.

Not only will these fare hikes punish poor people, the proposal presented by MTA officials works against the declared goals of our society of reducing petroleum dependence, decreasing traffic, improving air quality, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Apart from this, the proposal contradicts just about every public statement Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has ever made about mass transit.

During the first mayoral debate he declared that "we must build mass transit on a scale we've never seen before." The proposal also includes service cuts.

During his campaign he made the claim that traffic costs the Los Angeles economy $11 billion dollars per year. This proposal will surely cause more people to drive.

Recently, during his state of the city address, he said, "We are the impoverished inheritors of a persistent refusal to plan and invest. As a result, we waste more time stuck in traffic. We get less time with our kids. And we spend more days of the year choked by smog."

He is widely regarded as a visionary political leader. He seems to understand that the car as the primary mode of transportation will only provide diminishing results. In one of his earliest speeches he declared, "We are not going to build more freeways in the city of Los Angeles."

In another of his early speeches he said, "You can use public transit. You can get where you want to go. We've got to start to articulate that vision for the city, or this isn't going to be a city where any of us want to live."

The MTA's proposal makes us the perpetuators of "a persistent refusal to plan and invest," and with the predictable results of increased traffic and pollution, contributes to a degradation of the quality of life of the region. For these reasons, it is astounding and disturbing to observe Antonio Villaraigosa's silence on this matter.

Another quote from the state of the city address: "It is outrageously shortsighted to shortchange transit investments in California's most gridlocked cities. "

When we consider how a world class mass transit system for a city like Los Angeles might be funded and sustained, consider how the MTA is currently funded. Almost half of it's budget is derived from 1% of the local county sales tax. A half-cent increase in the local county sales tax would result in at least 600 hundred million dollars in additional revenue. For a person that consumes $4,000 in taxable goods and services in a year, such an increase would represent a mere $20 in additional taxes.

According to the FY07 budget $338.8 million is derived from .25% of the 7.25% retail sales tax collected statewide under the Transportation Development Act. Additionally, $67.9 million is derived from the statewide 4.75% sales tax on diesel fuel and 4.75% sales tax on $0.09 of the state excise tax on gasoline under the State Transit Assistance program. It is the “spillover” funds from this program which Arnold Schwarzenegger is withholding from mass transit agencies.

Earlier this year when the California Transportation Committee shortchanged the county of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa led a diligent effort to claim L.A.'s share and even passed out flyers to motorists urging them to call the CTC and demand L.A.'s fair share. Most of those funds are assigned for roads and highways. There is no such effort by Antonio Villaraigosa on the part of mass transit.

That 28% of California's population resides in Los Angeles county gives the region the power and influence to shape the transportation policy of the entire state of California. A mere 10 cent increase in the gasoline tax dedicated to mass transit would result in revenue of $1.6 billion annually. Even the Los Angeles Times recently suggested that the gasoline tax should be raised or indexed to inflation.

As we can see, there are numerous options for Los Angelenos to consider regarding how to increase funding for mass transit in the region with the aim to vastly improve it. As the political leader of the region and gubernatorial hopeful, Antonio Villaraigosa has the opportunity to boldly lead the transformation of the region's transportation system, and even that of the entire state, but instead he lacks the balls to challenge the philosophy of conservative anglo-saxons which opposes any and all tax increases. A tax increase for the purpose of funding mass transit would help our society fulfill its declared goals, as well as help regulate the price of gasoline by relieving demand.

The number to the mayor's office is 213-978-0600. Perhaps the reader will be interested in encouraging the mayor to either find his balls or his principles and to state a position on the MTA's proposed fare hikes that is consistent with the declared goals of our society as well as his own public statements.

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