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LA Metro parts company with Trump administration over hiring for transportation projects

The Red, Purple, Blue and Expo Lines meet at 7th Street/Metro Center Station in downtown Los Angeles.
The Red, Purple, Blue and Expo Lines meet at 7th Street/Metro Center Station in downtown Los Angeles.
Todd Johnson/KPCC

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Los Angeles officials are once again diverging from Trump administration policy – this time on the issue of hiring for big transportation projects. 

When officials push large transportation projects, they tout the traffic benefits. But they also sell them as job creators, as in ads supporting Measure M, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by county voters last year.

One ad read: "'Yes on M' will create 465,000 new jobs that will grow our economy."

Passage of Measure M kicked off a transportation building boom in Los Angeles County. But changes at the federal level could mean those jobs won’t benefit as many people who live here as before the shift.

The Trump administration is rolling back a program that encourages the hiring of local labor for transportation projects that receive federal funding.

In 2015, the Obama administration changed federal rules that prohibited geographic preference in the spending of federal dollars, allowing local transit agencies to give preference to contractors who promised to hire a certain percentage of local workers. 

Local governments around the country, which increasingly created their own streams of funding for transportation projects, have embraced local hiring as a way to use infrastructure investments to boost the local economy.

But critics of the program say local hiring preferences reduce competition and increase costs. The idea of geographic preference in hiring has also been challenged in court.

Thanks to four voter-approved sales taxes, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority projects get about 80 percent of their funding for operations and new construction from county taxpayers. But nine of the biggest future projects, including the last section of the Purple Line Subway, rely significantly on federal funding, thus precluding Metro from ensuring local hiring practices.

For projects that don’t rely on federal dollars, Metro will continue to require that contractors hire at least 40 percent of workers from the local community and 10 percent of workers from disadvantaged communities.