Even before the governor signed legislation allowing the MTA to put its $40 billion tax hike on the November ballot, mailboxes at homes all over Los Angeles County — all 3.87 million of them – were filled with beautiful and colorful 16-page brochures explaining what your money will buy.
It reads like a transportation miracle: Eased congrestion, freeway and street and rail and bus expansions, more synchronized lights and pothole repairs, safer roads for drivers and cyclists and pedestrians, safer and cleaner transit and — unbelievably — existing fares will be maintained “especially for seniors and the disabled.”
Best of all, your taxes will “enable people and freight to move freely in L.A. County.”
Now that is quite an education we got for our money but I’m skeptical. These are carefully scripted claims that could be fulfilled with one extra pothole, one extra synchronized light and so on right through the wish list.
It all depends what actual plans get developed and implemented, how much costs run out of control as they always do and most of all which projects go first. So the likelihood is there won’t be money left 20 years from now to complete everything especially with the top two projects being the costliest of all: The “subway-nearly-to-the–sea” or more precisely Westwood and the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica.
Out of all the information contained in the education and “information purposes only” brochure, there seems to be one serious omission: No timeline.
Understand, this is about educating voters — advocating they actually vote for the wish list. That’s because the MTA is forbidden by law from using public money to advocating support for the half-cent sales tax. It can only inform the public about what the plans are for their money but there’s no law that says they have to give complete information.
Crimes of commission, no. Crimes of omission, yes. MTA officials say they were scrupulous on that point and a dozen lawyers carefully went over every word, every element of the brochure. Sorry, I forgot to ask how they billed for their work.
But I did get what the 3.87 million brochures cost to print: $486,360 at at about 12. 5 cents. And to mail at 13.7 each or $528.297 each. A total of $1,014,657 in public money — nearly a quarter of the total budget authorized by the MTA in July for its “information purposes only” education campaign.
The $4 million or so in public money for education is undoubtedly a drop in the bucket compared to what contractors, consultants, unions and other special interests will cough up to actually convince the public that their $40 billion will really, truly, honestly produce a traffic and transit system that works in 30 years.
You can trust them on that, I’m sure. Just because billions and billions have been poured into transportation projects for the last 30 years and congestion keeps getting worse is no reason to question the MTA this. Remember that old stock market rule: Past performance is no indicator of future performance.
I’m not a bad lawyer mayself and I’ve gone through the brochure and I could defend everything in it as educational, not advocacy. I’m also not a bad journalist and I get a certain delight in showing that it does make promises that are meaningless, vague or questionable since nothing is actually costed out.
And if you really believe that “people and freight will move freely in L.A. County” in 30 years, you’re a dreamer or gullible. They are saying where in L.A. County this will occur and they certainly aren’t saying it will happen in all or most or anywhere in particular.
I affirm to you the language in the brochure is as perfectly “educational” as lawyers could make it without actually promising anything that could make officials accountability for how they spend your money.