At Move LA’s Leadership Board meeting last week, LA Mayor Villaraigosa’s Washington DC legislative rep provided an update on LA’s chances of getting federal funding to accelerate Measure R projects. Leslie Pollner also told the board that Move LA’s national coalition building efforts are critical to the success of Measure R and America Fast Forward (the national version of 30/10) in Washington. Move LA's Executive Director Denny Zane and Outreach Director Dru Solari were instrumental in organizing an America Fast Forward support letter from more than 100 Democratic and Republican mayors that was sent to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congressman John Mica (R-FL), who chair the Senate and House committees that oversee reauthorization. Of the 112 mayoral sign ons, Move LA secured about half.
Pollner told the board that a draft of the federal transportation bill is likely to be released in May, and she flagged two key issues: No one has yet figured out a way to fund the bill, she said, and both Senator Boxer and Congressman Mica are committed to not raising the gas tax. Secondly, while there is likely to be a TIFIA program in both bills, she said, the longterm bonds that have together with TIFIA always been an important component of the 30/10 proposal are proving to be a heavy lift in Congress. TIFIA, or the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, provides federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees and lines of credit to surface transportation projects of national and regional assistance.
“The problem with a bond program is that it costs money,” she said. She did note, that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is looking for a Republican co-author for a bill that is similar to the one that created the Build America Bonds program but that would now be called “Transportation and Regional Infrastructure Projects” or TRIPs. Like the Build America bonds, TRIPs would rely on the federal government to cover some portion of interest payments.
The Build America Bonds program was created by the stimulus package to help finance infratructure projects and was considered one of the economic recovery effort’s “biggest successes.” But the program was unpopular with Republicans because of the government subsidy that it required. Pollner noted that Senator Max Baucus (R-MT), chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, is also interested in some kind of bonding mechanism to aid infrastructure projects, but she added that he is “very suspicious of programs that appear designed to benefit only urban areas.”
Polner summed up the situation by saying that “The good news is that clearly there will be something [to enable America Fast Forward]. But how we can move that bill through this Congress is still uncertain.” Denny Zane noted that another possible alternative would be to ask voters to extend Measure R sales tax to cover a 50 year time period instead of 30 years, which would provide a sufficient revenue stream to further reduce risk and still enable the acceleration of Measure R projects.