Spotlight on Measure M

This week, Eno released an important new paper from UCLA’s Michael Manville about one of the most significant transportation ballot measures in recent years. Los Angeles County voters approved Measure M in November 2016. The fact that a transit measure passed is, in itself, not much of a surprise. Eno has tracked these measures across the country for a number of years now and transit projects are consistently popular.

What makes Measure M so important is its scale and scope, the unique conditions of getting a ballot measure passed in California, and the coalition necessary to deliver on the Measure’s ambition. These are the issues Manville addresses in the paper.

In total, voters across the United States were presented with about $75 billion in transportation measures in 2018. About 77 percent of those passed, resulting in an average of $288 million. In fairness, some of the measures were quite small but it is still noteworthy that Measure M is expected to generate $120 billion over forty years. (That’s billion with a B.) What’s more, Measure M has no sunset. The voters approved the ½ cent sales tax boost in perpetuity.

On top of that, California law requires most tax proposals to secure a two-thirds super-majority to pass. Los Angeles County’s magnitude and diversity increased the challenge involved in fashioning a single measure that needed such a margin. That was compounded by the fact that Los Angeles is simultaneously a large transit market and a market where most voters never use transit. A transformative ballot measure therefore needed to make transit expenditure appealing to voters with little personal experience using transit.

To get there, the report emphasizes the long and careful process of coalition building that made the measure’s success possible. A range of stakeholders contributed ideas to the regional transportation authority—Los Angeles Metro—for projects, and a transparent and agreed-upon process winnowed those ideas down into a final project list and sequence. This process resulted in Measure M finally appearing on the ballot with what the report calls “a strong consortium behind it, and little organized opposition in front of it.” Without the coalition, Measure M’s odds of passage would certainly have been much lower.

The report delves into other particular reasons why Measure M is an unquestionable political achievement but its impact extends far beyond Southern California. As Eno continues to comprehensively catalog, analyze, and assess transportation measures at the ballot box, the lessons from Measure M and others hold important lessons for other places as they embark on their own campaigns.

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