L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa: The Next U.S. Secretary of Transportation?

L.A. Mayor and Metro Board Chair Antonio Villaraigosa (Left Center) at the announcement of the Expo Line's opening date | Photo: Metro Transportation Library and Archive/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Last Wednesday when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa delivered his state of the city address he largely avoided the main topic facing the city: the budget. That came on Friday in the unveiling of his budget, which included a proposal with significant layoffs.

The mayor's speech focused on transportation, and what may be his key achievement, the passage of Measure R. That measure, passed in 2008, includes a temporary half-cent sales tax slated to expire in 2039. It pays for transportation infrastructure throughout Los Angeles County. The tax, for instance, pays the construction and expansion of the region's rail system and maintenance of the highways. All of that work creates over 400,000 new jobs.

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Now the mayor is pushing to eliminate the sunset provision of Measure R. That would make the tax increase permanent.

Beyond Measure R, the mayor also focused on America Fast Forward, a bill that would create a loan program from the federal government to local entities and agencies constructing roads and rails. The plan is in the transportation bills awaiting passage in the House and the Senate.

So why did the Mayor focus on transportation? Well, Los Angeles is a vast and sprawling city. It is also a congested one. Certainly the city ranks among the top cities in which to have a serious conversation about transportation. It would be a wonderful moment if we could eliminate one from the relatively sparse list of common experiences shared my Angelenos. Right now my list includes sunshine, a healthy fear of earthquakes, and traffic.

A cynic (me) would also say this focus on transportation has something to do with the rumors that the mayor would like to be the next Secretary of Transportation should there be a second Obama administration. It seems unlikely that Villaraigosa is destined for higher office in California state government. So is the next stop on the Villaraigosa express D.C.?

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government in Los Angeles every week. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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