By a vote of 74-22, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a two-year transportation bill that contains big money for loans that could speed construction of L.A. County transit projects.
The bill includes a billion dollars a year in matching loans for local projects. Sen. Barbara Boxer says L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed the idea and brought with him the Chamber of Commerce and the unions.
"And he said, 'we just passed a half cent sales tax but it’s going to take us 30 years to build it out. And we have an idea: if the federal government could front the funds, then we can go for those projects now and build them over 10 years.'"
In a statement on the bill's passage in the Senate, Villaraigosa said that, "In Los Angeles, this will allow us to create 166,000 jobs now by accelerating bus and rail projects." That requires the House to pass a similar bill, however.
The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act was already in place, but Congress hadn’t allocated much money for it. Boxer says GOP leaders in the House and Senate loved the idea of positioning it as a transportation lender: "When L.A. votes to tax themselves at half a cent sales tax to fund, say seven projects, that funding comes in every year for 30 years, so there’s no cost and no risk to the federal government to front the money."
Boxer and Villaraigosa says it’s now up to the House to pass a transportation bill. In a statement, Villaraigosa said, "If the House passes a transportation bill with America Fast Forward, local transit agencies will be able to compete for $2 billion in low-interest TIFIA loans. In Los Angeles, this will allow us to create 166,000 jobs now by accelerating bus and rail projects."
Boxer, who heads the Environment and Public Works Committee, predicts chaos if the House allows the latest extension to expire at the end of the month. "The gas tax will no longer be collected for the highway trust fund if they don’t act, all the contracts that are being carried out now will have to be stopped and we’re looking at 1.8 million unemployed if they don’t act," she said.
Boxer says that if the House can’t find enough votes to pass its own bill, it should just pass the Senate version. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner says that’s the plan right now. The House returns to Washington next week.
This story has been updated.