SAN FRANCISCO - The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's $40 billion sales tax measure moved closer to passage in the California Legislature late Wednesday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation that would raise the county's sales tax limit and allow voters to decide if they want to pay an extra half-cent sales tax to fund public transit and highway projects over the next 30 years. The MTA, known locally as Metro, has not yet said what portion of the money would back bonds versus pay-as-you-go projects.

The enabling legislation - which was approved by the lower house of the Legislature before stalling in the Senate in recent weeks - cleared the committee after Los Angeles County lawmakers agreed on a compromise that assured suburban lawmakers projects in their districts would garner funding, said Rebecca Marcus, chief of staff to Assemblyman Mike Feuer, the Los Angeles Democrat who sponsored the legislation.

Marcus said the full Senate could vote on the bill as soon as "early next week" and it is likely to pass now that local lawmakers have reached an agreement. It passed the Appropriations Committee by a vote of 14 to 0.

The bill requires Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature to become law. He is refusing to sign any legislation until he and legislators reach a deal to close the state's $15.2 billion budget deficit.

If the Metro sales tax can clear the remaining legislative hurdles and garner the support of two-thirds of voters in the November election, it would raise $30 billion to $40 billion to fund construction of new subways, light-rail lines, freeway interchanges, bus lanes, and local transportation projects in the nation's most populous - and most famously congested - county.

"Los Angeles County voters have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a once-in-a-generation investment in a transit system that works for the entire region," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a statement lauding the Senate committee's passage of the tax legislation.

Not all locals agree. Suburban members of the county Board of Supervisors continue to oppose the tax, saying it favors subway projects in the city of Los Angeles over bus, rail, and highway projects in faster-growing areas outside the city.

They blocked the measure from the county's consolidated ballot for the fall election until they learned that the move would force Metro to spend $10 million of taxpayer money to print a separate ballot, which the county board had no power to block. Metro is governed by its own board, which approved the tax measure last month.

"A few state and local politicians got together and pushed legislation that had Sacramento telling the MTA - and Los Angeles County voters - which projects they had to build with the sales tax," said County Supervisor Gloria Molina in an op-ed in yesterday's Los Angeles Times.

"They did not sit down with representatives of the other 87 cities in Los Angeles County" to build a consensus that benefited all local voters, she said.

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