Saturday, June 21, 2008

Paying for the Pink Line and other new rail projects

There will likely be a 1/2-cent sales tax increase measure on the ballot in November to help pay for new transit projects.

I am hoping that Metro will choose Alternative 11 as part of the Westside Transit Corridor Extension Project, a combined alternative which includes both the Wilshire Blvd. and Santa Monica Bld. alignments. If Metro unfortunately approves the Wilshire-only option at this time, this means a separate Santa Monica / La Cienega alignement will have to be lobbied for. (This blog will certainly continue to do that lobbying and hope you will too.) Hopefully, Alternative 11 will be chosen.

However, whenever a Santa Monica Blvd. alignment is approved, built either in conjunction with the Purple Line or by itself. It is unlikely without a new source of money that even the Purple Line by itself will ever get built, no matter how desperately it is needed.

This truth will set you free, but first it will tick you off. I will state the following about taxes which many of you don't want to hear, but need to hear:

Reaganomics has failed under three Presidencies now. Advocating low taxes for the wealthy as a matter of policy is certainly a person's right, however, contrary to what these "supply-siders" tell you, this policy doesn't result in the enormous economic growth that then causes additional tax revenues to come flowing into government coffers. Experience has now shown us how real wages have remained stagnant, that prosperity did not trickle down to the middle and working classes, and money did not flood the government coffers. Reagan, Bush I and especially Bush II all exploded the federal deficit, believing (or at least successfully selling the idea) that their "something for nothing" approach would actually work. It didn't and doesn't.

Conservatives know that the American people would never tolerate the severity of cuts to protective services (military/police/fire) and social services (Social Security/Medicare/education) and crumbling infrastructure (bridges, dams, rails, highways) that would be required in order to allow them to pay the derisory levels of taxation they'd be willing to pay. In particular, long-term investments like infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to the political circus and interests of short-term budgeting. Therefore, in order to get what they wanted, conservatives had to come up with an economic theory that said that tax cuts for the affluent wouldn't actually require any pain for anyone. ("W." and the neo-cons extended this amoral "something for nothing" approach in Iraq when they convinced themselves and sold the radical and now discredited idea we could have a successful war without common sacrifice.) Conservative political strategists knew that they would be selling something that people would want to believe. Who wouldn't want to believe in "something for nothing"? Elder Bush once accurately called it "voodoo economics". The truth is self-evident. Lower taxes actually responsibly require cuts in spending. Conservatives had control of the Presidency and Congress for 4 years (2002-06) and put their faith in voodoo economics rather than objective reality.

As much as conservatives know that people want to believe we can have "something for nothing", the truth is, and adults know this, that if we want something funded, it has to actually be responsibly paid for and not dumped into the future like a maxed-out credit card. George W. Bush's failed economic policies have proven once and for all that supply-side economics just doesn't work in the real world. Low taxes for the wealthy only extended wealth at the top. Prosperity does not trickle down to the masses, nor are the government coffers increased in this approach. Let us put aside the wishful belief that needed investments in the common welfare don't actually have to be paid for. There is no tooth fairy and there is no transportation fairy who will wave a magic wand to pay for these improvements. We, all of us together, will have to pay for them, for they will benefit everyone economically and environmentally directly and/or indirectly in the County, even if we don't use these lines ourselves.

While I enthusiastically support the 1/2 cent sales tax increase to pay for transportation projects, I know several people who do too in theory, but have great skepticism that the money will all go to transit. Transportation money is an inviting target to raid in a budget crisis because the anti-tax and social service lobbies are much more vocal. The Governator is once again proposing raiding transit funds again in the current state budget negotiations. Many people understandably just don't believe that the politicians won't be able to resist raiding any new transportation money for other non-transportation related purposes.

With gasoline prices ever upward and realistically over $5/gallon over the summer, and with ever-worsening congestion, a tipping point has been reached where the masses really want more transit capital projects like new rail lines built. The real question now is that is whether their desire so focused and determined that they are actually willing to pay for them. I believe they will if they believe that the money will actually go to transportation. Is it really possible to design this upcoming sales tax increase ballot measure so that the money CANNOT be raided, period? Convincing people that is really the case may be the real challenge.

The sales-tax increase measure will meet with several responses:

1) Yes, we desperately need these projects and we need to pay for them.
2) I'd like to support this, but I just don't believe all the money will actually go to transportation.
3) I'd like to support this, but I'm so pinched economically I just cannot afford it no matter how much I know this money is needed.
4) I support more transit funding, but the government should just better use the money it already has and cut government "waste".
5) No new taxes, period. I don't care what gets cut or destroyed in the future. Nor, do I care if Southern California remains economically or environmentally sustainable because I will be dead eventually anyway or just move somewhere else.
6) All transportation money should go to preserve my divine right to drive and park an automobile anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and I want all transportation money spent on roads and screw the common good.

Getting to two-thirds voter approval will be tough, especially in a difficult economic climate. To get to yes, in adding to the 1s, we need to hope that enough 2s vote for it anyway by convincing them the money cannot be raided. 5s and 6s won't vote for it under any circumstances. 3s are possible, but they are most likely to switch sides to "no" in the privacy of the voting booth. A number of 4s are still possibles too. The Governator is finding out that this myth of all this "waste" is coming up against reality. One person's "waste" is another person's "lifeline" and "essential funding".

The 1s will vote for this. The 5s and 6s will not. Some 3s and 4s will still vote for it, but the issues involved go beyond just transportation funding into larger issues about personal microeconomics snd government funding and may be solely beyond persuading on this issue.

I don't think we can get to a two-thirds vote unless enough of the 2s are convinced that the money will not be raided for other purposes. Let's hope they design this ballot measure right. Even then, a two-thirds vote is a very high hurdle.

High-speed Rail will also be on the ballot this fall as a bond issue. We desperately need that too. But that's for another blog post.

1 comment:

David Lancaster said...

Hey Dan,
Like your blog, but I think the whole Reaganomics doesn't work is not the best argument there is for this sort of transporation project. Los Angeles was built because we sold our soul to Southern Pacific. LA has a fascinating history, I definitely recommend Robert Fogelsohn's "The Fragmented Metropolis," its considered the gold standard in Political Science for development in So Cal. Anyways, projects like these are more like investments into infrastructure that will bring about more economic growth and save us money in the long run.