Measure J: Transit Tax Extension Holds Narrow Margin in Internal Poll, But Needs More Campaign Cash to Win
A county sales tax measure to accelerate transportation projects has slightly more than the two-thirds level of support required for passage, according to internal polling from the Yes campaign.
Measure J is leading 68-22, according the poll. However, the pollster warns that after voters hear positive and negative messages about the half-cent sales tax extension, the margin narrows to 67-27 -- putting it on the cusp of defeat.
Measure J is an extension of Measure R, the half-cent sales tax measure voters narrowly approved in 2008. Measure R is set to expire in 2039. Measure J would extend the tax for an extra 30 years. That would allow the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to borrow more money now to accelerate projects already funded under Measure R.
Supporters contend that the measure will accelerate the creation of 400,000 jobs, based on this report from the L.A. Economic Development Corporation. It also will speed up the completion of seven transit projects (shown below), as well as funding highway projects and bus operations. If Measure J is approved, the Westside subway, now set for completion in 2036, would be done in 2022. The Sepulveda Pass project, now scheduled for 2039, would be completed by 2025.
Opponents, including Supervisors Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich, argue that the jobs figure is exaggerated. They point out that Measure J won't create any jobs that would not already be created under Measure R. A ballot argument against the measure, signed by the two supervisors, calls it "a blank check that our kids and grandkids will pay for the next 60 years."
The polling memo, by Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates, argues that "job creation is Measure J's most effective selling point" and that the prospects for passage "look promising."
However, the memo also warns, "The close margin in favor of the two-thirds vote required for Measure J passage argues that a well-funded advertising campaign is essential to assure victory."
That is far from a sure thing. According to a fundraising report filed this week, the Yes campaign has raised just $171,000. That puts it ahead of the $103,000 the Measure R campaign had raised at this point in 2008 -- but it's still not much considering the need to reach a countywide electorate.
Matt Szabo, the executive director of the Yes campaign, said the campaign has raised substantial contributions since the Sept. 30 deadline, and that the campaign will have enough money to run TV spots.
"We're ahead of where we were four years ago," Szabo said.
So far, Westfield Corp. is the largest contributor to the campaign, putting in $100,000. Westfield owns the Century City Mall, which will be close to a stop on the Westside subway extension. Other major contributors include the L.A./O.C. Building and Construction Trades Council ($25,000), the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12 ($25,000) and contractor CH2M Hill ($20,000).
Update: The Beverly Hills Unified School District board voted 5-0 on Tuesday night to oppose Measure J. The district has been fighting MTA for years over the routing of the Westside subway under Beverly Hills High School, and recently filed an environmental lawsuit to try to block tunneling under the school.
In the past, the school board has stressed that it supports the subway but opposes the current route. But by taking a position against Measure J, the board is broadening its opposition in an effort to send a message that "MTA is run amok," said Brian Goldberg, the president of the Beverly Hills Unified board.
"The only way to put some boundaries around MTA's tactics is to starve the beast," Goldberg said. "This is one way to send the message that MTA has to clean up and change the way it does business and stop creating sweetheart deals for developers at the expense of the residents of L.A. County."
Some Beverly Hills Unified board members are joining with the Bus Riders Union, the No on 710 Committee and the Crenshaw Subway Coalition to form a "No on J" committee. Goldberg said the group would seek to raise money from Beverly Hills parents.
Another concerning sign for the "Yes on J" committee is that the MTA is not spending as much money as it did in 2008 to inform voters about the ballot measure. In 2008, the MTA spent $1 million to send color brochures about Measure R to every registered voter. But at the direction of the board, the MTA is not doing that again for Measure J, said Marc Littman, an MTA spokesman.
"We're doing an extremely limited public education effort," Littman said. The MTA has a Measure J website and some brochures, and has sprung for some print advertisements.
Asked if that meant that the Yes campaign would have to raise money to make up the difference, Szabo said the MTA educational effort "wasn't part of Measure R's budget four years ago and it isn't part of Measure J's budget now."
Update 2: In 2008, the Yes on Measure R committee raised
First posted at 11:49 a.m.