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Metro studying how to raise matching funds for transit, transportation projects


Metro is in the early stages of studying potential regional revenue sources that could be used used to match federal and state transportation funds.

"We're still in the very preliminary stages of looking at options," says Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen, who represents District 3 on the elected council.

According to Dirksen, the federal Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act approved by Congress in late 2015 requires local and regional matches for some of its funds. Dirksen believes the Oregon Legislature might require such matches for some of the funds in the new transportation package expected to be considered in 2017.

As part of the ongoing discussions over how to raise such matching funds, Dirksen introduced California transportation funding advocate Denny Zane at a noontime Wednesday presentation at the regional government's headquarters. Zane, a former Santa Monica City Council member and mayor, helped organize a campaign that passed a one-half-cent sales tax measure in Los Angeles in November 2008 to pay for transit and transportation projects. It will raise around $40 billion over 30 years. Zane is working on a second one-half cent measure that would raise $120 billion over 40 years.

According to Zane, several things were key to the passage of the first measure. The first was leadership for the then-mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. He put together a coalition of organization that include business leaders, labor unions and environmental organizations, which Zane referred to as a "green/blue/green" coalition.

"Although they don't agree on many thing, they were all worried about declining quality of life because of congestion problems," said Zane.

Tax measures require a two-third vote to pass in California. The first measure passed with just under 68 percent of the vote, thanks in large part to the support of minority and low-income communities that rely on transit.

The new measure, which will appear on the November 2016 ballot, increase the money available for non-transit projects to include highway improvements and funds to cities, among other things.

Although Portland has a national reputation for transit and transportation plan, Zane said Los Angeles will outdo it when the measure passes.

"We're going to have a more creative economy, so all you former Californians can come back," Zane said they room full of transit and transportation planners and advocates.

Having a sales tax already gives California an advantage over Oregon when it comes to raising money, however. Over half of the money raised is paid by businesses and tourists. The one-half-cent increase amounts to just $25 a year for the average Californian, and essentials, like food, are exempt.

"We could tell people, look at everything you can get for a dime a day," said Zane.