Voters in California OK high-speed rail, transit tax questions

| 11/19/2008

Two transit initiatives in California won approval from voters on Election Day. Approved was the nation’s first high-speed rail system and a sales tax increase for transportation work.

By a margin of 52.2 percent to 47.8 percent, voters endorsed Proposition 1A on the statewide ballot to use nearly $10 billion in bonds that are intended to help reduce congestion. The bonds will be used to help pay for a $45 billion transit system that will include a 200 mph “bullet train” that could go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about two and one-half hours.

Construction on the 800-mile track could begin as early as 2011.

The endorsement from voters will ensure $9.95 billion in government bonds to help foot the cost for the high-speed rail service. Ninety percent of the bonds will be used for the main segments of the rail while local systems that feed into the main line will get the other 10 percent.

Advocates say the high-speed train will significantly reduce pollution because nearly half of all pollution comes from motor vehicles. They also say that it will reduce the number of people driving by nearly 93 million drivers a year.

“High-speed rail is the best environmental alternative to help solve our state’s growing gridlock,” Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, said in a written statement.

Opponents said the project is a money drain on an already over-budgeted system. They cite the more than $40 billion price tag to complete the rail line to eventually connect San Francisco and Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego.

A separate question to win approval asked Los Angeles County voters whether to authorize a half-cent increase in the sales tax. By a margin of 67.41 percent to 32.59 percent, county voters endorsed Measure R on the ballot authorizing an increase of the county’s sales tax from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent. The revenue will be used to fund mass transit and road projects, including carpool lanes.

“Los Angeles desperately needs to improve our transportation system. People spend too much time in their idling (vehicles) sitting in traffic,” Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, said in a written statement.

Critics of the initiative said that it fails to provide adequate funding for projects throughout the county.

The tax is expected to raise as much as $40 billion during the next 30 years. Most of the funding – 35 percent – will be used for expansion of bus and rail. The remainder will be earmarked for a route linking downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica, highway improvements, and local transportation needs.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor