Obama Transit-Infrastructure Funds to LA: Good Policy or Good Politics?

GETTING THERE FROM HERE-We live in fractured and psychologically-trying times, from both a political and economic point of view.  One side appears too naive, the other side appears too cynical, depending on the issue.  One side talks things up too much, the other brushes it aside in a manner that comes across as just plain cruel.  So when President Obama gives Los Angeles a first-rate budget of transit/infrastructure assistance, do we give thanks, raise the questions of how it'll be funded, or both? 

Transportation/infrastructure usually is not as much a partisan issue as other political battles, although it too often is.  In general, too many conservative/libertarian/Republican types underfund it ("how are we going to pay for it?"), while too many liberal/progressive/Democrat types fund it when tied to other required budgetary priorities and don't keep an eye on cost control ("our infrastructure is crumbling!"). 

Both are inappropriate extremes that leave the voters and taxpayers cold, and are left feeling that the nation is now adrift without the leadership needed to see proper transportation/infrastructure funding performed right. 

Compromise is HARD, but compromise and bold decisions are more likely to win the day in the eyes of an American citizenry that knows good will and good intentions when they see it, such as these four compromises: 

1) Allow the construction of the Keystone pipeline and allow clean coal initiatives and a support of more domestic drilling in order to get the GOP-controlled Congress to vote for a long-overdue gas tax hike.  If the cost of gas is made to stay low, then the impact of the gas tax hike is blunted if not nullified altogether. 

2) Increase the annual budgetary allowances for New Starts and maintenance/repair of our transportation/infrastructure in a "budget-neutral" manner that forces cost reductions and budgetary re-evaluation of military, education and health/welfare budgets, which are each by far greater than the transportation/infrastructure budget. 

3) Propose a sales tax dedicated only to transportation/infrastructure so that ALL American residents pay for that priority, be they paid under the table, or be they here illegally. 

4) If unearned income and dividends are to be taxed higher, then devote that tax revenue towards a new, guaranteed transportation/infrastructure budget. 

Are these four ideas filled with problems and potential pitfalls?  Certainly.  Will they infuriate the Far Left and the Far Right?


Will they be a compromise that ensures more funding to transportation/infrstructure?


It's wonderful news that both the first and second segments of the Wilshire Subway will get federal support, to say nothing of the Downtown Regional Connector (our second subway, which doesn't get enough attention). 

$115 million for the Downtown Regional Connector, $115 million toward the first phase of the Wilshire Subway Purple Line Extension to La Cienega, and $100 million to the Wilshire Subway second phase to Avenue of the Stars (Century City) is the sort of funding that we expect from our federal government. 

(Where the state's share of funding for these projects is going is another relevant question, but I digress.) 

Yet until we find a way to pay for this excellent new federal funding (increased taxes vs. decreased spending elsewhere vs. both), this new funding is only a tease, and not a reality. 

Both left- and right-leaning pundits and political leaders aren't being cynical when they ask how these types of initiatives will be funded...they're just being adults.  Paying for major new transportation measures with new, guaranteed funding has bipartisan support from those who want US, not our children and grandchildren, to pay for it. 

It is a reasonable question as to why this sort of funding wasn't promoted during the stimulus package of 2009 (which really had some horrible spending that benefited a few and added $1 trillion to our national debt).  The $1 trillion of the stimulus package and the $1 trillion of the Iraq war creates animosity among many voters and taxpayers to this very day...and is an animosity that can't be shrugged off. 

Yet it was the year 2008 that LA County finally said "Yes" to a Measure R that allowed a flurry of new rail, freeway, road and other transportation measures to become reality--the Wilshire Subway and Downtown Light Rail Connector were NOT "shovel ready" for federal support in 2008. 

The two subways are "shovel ready" NOW, however, so that while President Obama has hopefully learned to spend better than he did with a Democratic-dominated Congress in 2008, both he and the new, GOP-dominated Congress can really find the ability to fund quality transportation/infrastructure if they show they have the courage and political will to find a plan that might both infuriate yet satisfy the needs of our nation. 

It's always good policy to properly fund transportation and other infrastructure projects...but it's only good politics if agreements, and not merely rhetoric, come out of Washington, D.C.


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]  He also does regular commentary on the MarkIsler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)




Vol 13 Issue 11

Pub: Feb 6, 2015