Measure R passed in November of 2008 with over two thirds of LA County voters supporting a half cent sales that that would fund transportation initiatives over a 30 year period. TPR offers the following exclusive interview with Assemblymember Mike Feuer of California’s 42nd District on current efforts to make that sales tax permanent. For the extension to appear on the ballot in November, Feuer has already passed AB1446 through the Assembly but needs to gain further blessing from Sacramento and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Feuer explains what makes the extension so important and how its value is reflected at the state and local level.
"By making the measure permanent, we’re enabling not only the projects contemplated under Measure R to move forward at a much greater pace, but we’re also infusing additional dollars into our transportation funding for the indefinite future." -Assemblymember Mike Feuer
You authored and recently succeeded in passing AB 1446 through the California Assembly, a bill that would grant voters an opportunity to permanently extend the Los Angeles County Measure R sales tax for transportation improvements. Who supported the bill? What is its intent? And what hurdles does the measure face before finally being placed on LA County’s ballot?
Mike Feuer: Measure R promised LA County voters that a wide range of significant transportation projects – from the subway to light rail to freeway improvements – would be built within 30 years. AB 1446 could, by building on Measure R, utterly transform Los Angeles in the next decade. And that’s the goal. We need to find ways to jumpstart the jobs and the transportation projects that are going to be completed pursuant to Measure R. We need the jobs now, and we need to break the chokehold that congestion has on LA now. It’s fundamental for our business community; it’s crucial for quality of life.
There is a remarkable coalition around both Measure R and my legislation, AB 1446. Everyone from key leaders in the business community to our strongest environmental advocates, the labor community, neighborhood activists – it’s a very broad representation of some of the most important stakeholders in Los Angeles, and we’re all in this together. Of course, that coalition is reflected in the breadth of the political support for the measure.
It is extremely unusual in Sacramento when a piece of legislation has as its main proponents and key witnesses in committee hearings, the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Federation of Labor. I’ve almost never seen that. But those were the principal witnesses who testified in favor of my bill in committee hearing after committee hearing. It says something about the statewide significance of this bill as well as the local importance of getting this measure passed.
Michael, the broad-based, bipartisan support you cite is likely a reflection of both Metro’s initial successes in implementing Measure R in Los Angeles County and the Agency Board’s political discipline in denoting and staying true voters regarding where and how the money would be spent. With no project prioritization and specification in an extension of Measure R, will the broad coalition of rail supporters you cite remain united?
I think so. And, by the way, the legislation does nothing to alter the project list or the prioritization. All it says is that the measure will be extended and, with that extension, will allow Metro to bond against the longer revenue stream. That is the extent of my measure. It does not alter the list or the priorities in any way. That message should resonate in every community in Los Angeles County.
I know that there have been advocates in some parts of the county who have sought to amend my measure substantively: to alter the project list, to change priorities. That would be incredibly detrimental to the ultimate success of the measure. The importance of the bill is in its ability to dramatically accelerate the construction of these projects. It took a great deal to get the original Measure R passed through the legislature. We should limit ourselves to the bottom line here: let’s make the extension happen, let’s give bonding authority, and let’s enable those projects to leap forward.
Assembly Bill 1446 calls for the permanent extension of revenue collection of a half-cent LA County sales tax. What’s the significance of extending and making permanent Measure R, both for LA County and as a matter of public policy?
By making the measure permanent, we’re enabling not only the projects contemplated under Measure R to move forward at a much greater pace, but we’re also infusing additional dollars into our transportation funding for the indefinite future. The Measure R projects are fundamental; they’re crucially important. But they’re not the only projects one could envision to continue on the path of making Los Angeles one of the most public-transit-friendly places in the world.
Measure R not only funds those transit projects but also funds important freeway and road projects. We’re going to have a perpetual need for those improvements to be put in place. I think by making this measure permanent, we are saying to future generations in Los Angeles, “You will have a continuing opportunity to evolve your transportation system to fit your needs.”
Assemblyman Feuer, it appears presently that there is not yet a majority consensus on the LA County Board of Supervisors for placing an extension of Measure R on the County’s ballot. What must happen locally to leverage your state legislative efforts on AB 1446?
It’s obviously utterly crucial for a majority of the Board, were my measure to pass, to allow the voters to decide for themselves whether the extension is a good idea. Board members who vote to place this measure on the ballot, were the legislation to pass, are not necessarily stating that they agree that the measure should be extended. What they’re saying is that the voters should have that chance to speak for themselves.
And I’m hopeful that that message will persuade even a board member or two who may not feel that the extension is something that they support. Let the voters decide. You know, there is, around the world, such a thirsting for autonomy—a real desire for residents of every country to be able to express their will. I hope the Board recognizes that this is an example of that—an opportunity for people to shape their own futures. Let the people decide for themselves.
Let’s turn to state policy and the June 2012 election results. It appears that term limits for the legislature has been modified, and the top two candidates on a primary ballot, regardless of party affiliation, will face a run-off election. Please comment on both of these changes and on what the significant takeaways are from June’s election results.
The change in term limits will have an extremely beneficial effect on public policy in the state for years to come. But it will not have an immediate effect because it doesn’t affect any sitting member of the legislature—either myself or any of my current colleagues, even the newest one. It is going to have a powerful effect over time, not all at once.
But once it is fully operative, giving legislators as much as 12 years in a single house means they will have the ability to develop real expertise—as used to be the case—on key substantive issues. Coalitions will strengthen because legislators will no longer be viewing each other in such a competitive way. Currently, each member of the legislature almost immediately is potential competitor of the other; that’s going to change now. I think that it is going to have a liberating effect on the relationship between legislators and special interests because the longer a legislator is in office, the more power that legislator will accrue independent of any interest that may have been helpful to an election for them.
I think we are going to see more bipartisan work, as members get to know each other on a personal level better. What does not see is that politics—decisions in Sacramento, in Washington, in City Hall—are certainly based on policy, but they are also based on the strength of personal relationships and on trust among legislators. With more time in the legislature, I think the members will have a feeling for each other on a much deeper level. It’s a very fundamental change, which I strongly support.
My own view is that elections are term limits, and I’m not a big fan of imposing term limits. But if we’re going to have them, this is a much better iteration. I think it reflects broad public frustration with the status quo; it will be up to those future legislators to demonstrate to the public that the faith that was placed in them by allowing them to serve longer was well placed.
As for run-off elections, I think the jury is out. It’s very unclear that moving to top two will really have a moderating effect on policy emerging from the legislature. In many districts, the top two would have been the top two under the former system. In many others, there will be a rerun of the primary in November, which is both incredibly expensive and wasteful and actually further strengthens the special interest influence on those candidates. So I think it is very much an open question as to whether the top two will have the kind of effect that its proponents thought. I’m obviously optimistic and hopeful that it will. In this round, it is very unclear.
Let’s focus on LA County primary election results—most specifically on the LA County District Attorney contest. With the incumbent City Attorney losing the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s contest, are your plans to run for Los Angeles City Attorney next year altered or impacted?
The results in the DA’s race were stunning. They demonstrated the impact of newspapers—in particular, the LA Times—on the outcome in ways that we haven’t always seen in previous elections. With a turnout that was this low—I think 17% in LA County—the voters who participated were the highest-propensity voters in every neighborhood. Those voters pay great attention to the newspapers. The result of the DA’s race was precisely what the LA Times advocated. And that did not need to be the outcome. Jackie Lacey, who won, was certainly not the candidate with the most resources in the race, and she had a campaign whose presence was very nominal in most neighborhoods, including my own. So I think the results were a testament to an informed electorate paying close attention to the newspapers, both editorially and in the articles they published.
As for the future, in the wake of the election results, there is obviously speculation that the current city attorney will run for re-election. We’ll see if he does. But I am definitely in the race. I have respect for the City Attorney, and I hope to have a chance to sit down and talk about this with him, but I am moving forward with my campaign.
It’s been fascinating. The response that I have received for my candidacy has been incredible; there has been an outpouring of support, with people saying, “We need you to stay in the race.” It’s been extremely heartening. This is a real opportunity, and I intend to seize it. The LA City Attorney has the potential to serve as what in essence is the Attorney General of the second-largest city in the nation. The office could again become the best public law firm in the United States. I’m looking forward to that chance.
Lastly, the fiscal constraints in Sacramento impose obvious constraints on local government, which itself has experienced declining revenues. How then does one build a great City Attorney’s office given declining revenues and given the need to better professionalize the office?
The City Attorney is an independently elected official but, by the same token, needs to collaborate closely with other leaders in the city. I think it’ll be incumbent on me, were I to be successful, to forge that close collaboration with the new mayor and with the new City Council. I used to chair the Budget Committee in the City Council. I understand the constraints, but I also understand the opportunities there.
I think there is a possibility for a new day in the relationship among the key branches of government in Los Angeles. Hopefully, those who allocate funds will recognize how crucial the City Attorney’s role is to the quality of life in every neighborhood of the city. And that role requires resources. It’s a job that I’m looking forward to performing. I’ll have a very important role in making very clear to elected officials that this is a high-quality office; we are very much in this together. From the get-go, I will need to earn the respect and the trust of the mayor and the City Council. With that respect and trust, resources will follow, I’m confident.