Hed — Kill the MTA

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has become the runaway train that no one is willing or able to stop. Scan the last few weeks of news clips and the dysfunctional, out-of-control MTA quickly emerges as this area’s biggest, most expensive embarrassment. Here’s but a sample:

– An audit of the MTA’s light rail line to Pasadena has found lax or nonexistent cost controls, inadequate documentation of work performed and unapproved spending increases. The audit resulted in disciplinary action against the project’s two top officers.

– The MTA proposed delaying construction of a San Fernando Valley rail line by up to 12 years, to 2015, with little indication of how the project will be paid for even then.

– Mayor Richard Riordan’s hand-picked choice to be the MTA’s new chief executive bowed out at the last minute, even though the board was prepared to pay him more than $200,000 a year.

– A blueprint on how the MTA intends to finish its ongoing rail projects mandated by federal officials late last year has been delayed and revised several times.

Will it ever end? Is there any way out of this mess, which was foisted upon us in the first place by state and local politicos who foolishly concluded that L.A.’s status as a world-class city was dependent on underground rail?

Not so far. In fact, the recent efforts in Sacramento to reform the MTA have proven more comical than sensible.

Last week, the state Senate approved legislation that would alter the composition of the MTA’s governing board, essentially reducing the number of board members and shifting more power from the county Board of Supervisors to the L.A. City Council. How such a shift is expected to lessen the political conflicts behind rail decisions is a mystery to us.

Thankfully, the legislation stands little chance of getting passed by the Assembly, although that body has its own ill-conceived measure that would only shift the names not resolve the conflicting agendas.

There is only one way out and it involves money.

If there’s one thing that will attract the attention of the MTA board, it’s the threat of a funding cut-off. To an extent, that has already happened, with Congress sharply reducing federal funding for rail construction and some lawmakers pushing for even more cuts if the MTA doesn’t get its act together.

On the local level, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is considering leading a drive to repeal a 1 percent sales tax that represents much of the MTA’s revenue stream. “The time has come to ask the fundamental question, ‘Where is this agency going?’ ” Yaroslavsky said. “Why should L.A. County taxpayers be asked to pay 1 cent on the dollar for this?”

They shouldn’t. Nor should city transit tax revenues be used to prop up what’s become the mother of all public works boondoggles (although the threats by Valley lawmakers to hold up such funding sound a bit disingenuous, because their gripes about the delayed East-West line represent political parochialism and not regional sensibility).

At this point, the only answer is receivership. If this were a business, the MTA would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the company would be forced to restructure its operations. Money streams would be closely monitored, deadlines would be established and creditors would be informed of the operation’s every nook and cranny.

Receivership of a government agency is not pretty. It will be a messy, lengthy process that’s certain to become political as well as litigious.

But there is just no other way. The politics, the corruption, the infighting and the delays are all out of hand. The current system cannot be fixed. It’s time to begin anew.

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