If Metro doesn’t know how to spend your money, it’s time to take some of that money back

If Metro doesn’t know how to spend your money, it’s time to take some of that money back

I’m declaring war on bureaucracies that collect endless truckloads of your money and use a share of it to figure out how to get even more of your money.

Metro, the L.A. County transportation agency, has been calling 100,000 people to ask them how the agency should spend its fiscal year 2024 budget of about $9 billion starting July 1.

Anyone who picked up the phone was invited to participate in a webinar, Tuesday evening from 6: 00 p.m. to 7: 00 p.m., where they could share their hopes and dreams of having a useful transit system. Tuesday’s “town hall” was the second of three. The first one was in October, and there will be another one in March.

Every time you buy anything in L.A. County you are paying 2% of every dollar you spend to fill up Metro’s tanks of cash. Are they really collecting so much extra money that they don’t even what to do with it?

Here’s my two cents: Give it back.

Or Metro could always try fulfilling the promises that were made to voters in 2016, when Measure M added a fourth half-percent sales tax increase and made the previous, temporary half-percent sales tax, Measure R, permanent.

Voters were told that Measure M was needed “to improve freeway traffic flow/safety; repair potholes/sidewalks; repave local streets; earthquake-retrofit bridges; synchronize signals; keep senior/disabled/student fares affordable; expand rail/subway/bus systems; improve job/school/airport connections; and create jobs.”

Doesn’t that give them an idea of what to do with the budget?

Metro also could set priorities based on the survey it conducted last year, which found, among other things, that fewer females were riding transit. Riders said they want the trains and platforms to be clean and safe.

So if Metro already knows what people want, what’s the point of the town hall meetings?

It could be that Metro simply has a dedicated share of its budget for community relations. But my guess is that the agency’s meetings are actually a series of focus groups to work on the next tax increase. Because with all public infrastructure projects that have to go on the ballot, there’s a tendency to wildly overpromise, dig a bunch of holes, and then ask for more money.

In 2016, Measure M asked voters if they wished to “authorize a Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan through a half-cent sales tax and continue the existing half-cent traffic relief tax until voters decide to end it.”

That made a total of four half-percent sales taxes in L.A. County to pay for transit. Every time you spend $100 on taxable items in L.A. County, you owe an extra $2.00 just for Metro.

Now let’s take a closer look at that phrase, “until voters decide to end it.”

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act. Among other things, the initiative gave voters the power to end or reduce a local tax, such as a sales tax or an extra tax on real estate called a parcel tax.

A Prop. 218 initiative can be used to cut the taxes that are filling up Metro’s treasury with all those billions that the transit agency now says it doesn’t know how to spend.

How many valid signatures does it need to get on the ballot?

It needs a number equivalent to 5% of the number of votes cast in the governor’s race in the last general election. In November 2022 in L.A. County, that was 2,389,227 votes. So the number of signatures needed to get a tax cut on the ballot is 5% of that total, just 119,462.

Yes, in a county where more than 500,000 voters signed petitions to recall District Attorney George Gascon and it wasn’t enough, fewer than 120,000 signatures would be enough to qualify an initiative that would let voters decide to cut the sales tax that funds Metro and all its town halls.

Do you want to see an efficient, well-run transportation system in L.A. County, with buses that show up on time and trains that are clean and safe?

The prospect of a countywide tax cut could do wonders to help Metro officials think of ways to make that happen.

Write Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley