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EDITORIAL : DIGGING A DEEPER HOLE; HOUSE PANEL'S OK OF 2 SUBWAY PROJECTS REWARDS THE MTA'S RECKLESS WAYS.

THE Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been burrowing itself into bankruptcy by building an extravagantly expensive subway that mostly benefits fat-cat contractors who have too-cozy ties with MTA board members.

The subway, in turn, bleeds money from the MTA's inadequate bus system. Bus riders, who represent the vast majority of the MTA's transit customers, responded with a civil rights suit. A federal judge ruled in favor of the bus riders and ordered the MTA to improve service.

So what happens when the MTA takes its case to Washington while, at the same time, dragging its feet on improving bus service?

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approves a six-year, $218 billion, nationwide transportation improvement plan that preserves funds for Eastside and Mid-City subways. That's right - subways.

That's pouring more of the taxpayers' money down a rat hole, a rat hole that's infested with more financial irregularities than the MTA's hard-pressed inspector general can keep track of, a rat hole that's the subject of continuing investigations.

Further, the committee's action ignores the failure of the MTA to come up with a financial restructuring plan that satisfies officials in Washington - let alone the people of Los Angeles - who are responsible for making sure that coveted federal transportation dollars are spent wisely.

Fortunately, Tuesday's vote by the House committee isn't final. The authorization for the subways doesn't automatically guarantee their funding. Moreover, the House bill will have to be reconciled with a Senate measure, which sets spending at $214.3 billion.

Therefore, there's still hope that reason may prevail. And that can happen, too, if enough MTA board members muster the courage to sever their political ties with the lobbyists and contractors, declare a binding moratorium on subway construction and start paying more attention to the needs of bus riders and highway users.

Likewise, Congress needs to pay more attention to what really is happening - including the corruption - in Los Angeles. The truth of the matter is that the rail lines contemplated by the MTA would serve only a tiny fraction of the area's commuters while draining funds needed for vitally needed highway and bus-transit improvements.

And finally, let's forget the fantasy that this is ``free'' money since it's coming from Washington.

Actually, only about 90 percent of the gasoline tax dollars that Californians would send to Washington are expected to be returned to this state. That's all the more reason why this area's congressional representatives must insist that the money be spent wisely, not recklessly on money-losing subways.

So excuse us if we don't join the celebration for the lobbying victory in Washington by interim MTA CEO Julian Burke. What happened is more cause for an investigation than a party.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 27, 1998
Words:447
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