Could L.A.'s gambit to get fast track federal funding for light rail help out Hillsborough County?

In 2008, L.A. County voters approved a half cent sales tax to fund 12 new mass transit rail lines over the next 30 years.  But according to today's Wall Street Journal, L.A. leaders say it can be done in 10 if they can get the money up front, and then pay Washington back.

How would the rail project be funded?

One way to fund the rail project might be through the creation of a so-called national infrastructure bank - which would offer low-cost loans directly from the federal government to local governments.  But long-standing plans to create such a s bank remain stalled.

Another solution could be a combination of private and federal loans and loan guarantees.  That plan relies on extending the "Build America Bonds" program, begun in 2009 to spur job growth, beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of this year.

Yesterday Commissioner Jim Norman blasted other Board members on the fact that Eric Johnson, the County's Budget Director, had yet to address the full board on the funding mechanism.  Johnson has been involved in discussions on the proposal (as Mark Sharpe later told Norman), but the Commissioner - by far the loudest critic of the plan - questioned what will happen if the salex tax is approved and there is no funding coming from Washington.

Of course, Washington will not guarantee anything until the county has a plan and funding in place - hence the ballot measure to be voted on (presumably) later this year.

Could a plan that L.A. is asking for work for Hillsborough?  L.A.'s Chief Deputy Mayor, Jay Carson, tells the Journal that:

"We're not asking for special treatment for L.A., we're asking for L.A. to be a positive example for the country."

If that were truly to be the case (and the L.A. effort may go nowhere) it could augur well for Hillsborough County.

That is, if the voters approve the measure, and if the Commissioners ever approve putting the measure on the ballot.

We reported last night on the glacial pace of discussions yesterday at the Hillsborough County Commission on the proposed one cent sales tax referendum for transit.   It came on the same day as our big feature in the current edition of CL on the battle for light rail was published.  We disdain any attempt at self indulgence, but we do belief the piece is more prescient than ever after sitting through yesterday's meeting.

Ballot language is no closer to being approved than it was a week before. A week ago Monday, a group of attorneys and key officials with the county, the city of Tampa, TBARTA and HART all gathered around a table to discuss some of the key issues that needed to be resolved.  They came up with what they believed was the definitive 75 words that should be placed on the ballot on the rail issue.  Nearly all believed that they would prefer the flexibility of not including the 75/25 split of how the penny cent should be spent for the 30 years of the tax (75% for buses and light rail, 25% for road improvements).  They opted to give County Commissioners a second option of including that language in, because they believed they might get some pushback on it.

That they did yesterday.  The motion to approve the ballot language spelling out the 75/25 split explicitly was rejected, in part because Commissioner Rose Ferlita said she wasn't comfortable with it.  Discussion about what would go in the other 25% (what actual road projects) never came up, pushing the issue back further.  We reported in our piece that it looked like commissioners would not vote on the issue until April, but now there is a good chance it will not happen until May.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will appear in Washington today to go before California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer's Committee on Environment and Public Works.

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