Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, was featured in a Los Angeles Times column about rising gas prices in California. On July 1, the state’s gas tax will rise by 3.2 cents to 50.5 cents per gallon. While many are opposed to raising gas prices, the tax is projected to bring in $7 billion this fiscal year to pay for much-needed repairs. Furthermore, road work and infrastructure projects can be done while fewer people are driving due to stay-at-home orders. Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy, explained that the gas tax also discourages use of fossil fuels at a time when the planet needs to be much more serious about addressing climate change. “It encourages people to move around by means other than burning fuel,” he said. “In a sense, a gas tax should put itself out of business by ultimately eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels.”
An article on Streetsblog USA featured a report authored by Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville on the transit funding initiative Measure M. Voters approved the measure overwhelmingly in 2016, largely due to a political campaign that focused on boosting the economy and easing traffic, but not on transforming the region’s car culture, the report noted. “Voters were expressly not offered a vision of a more multimodal or environmentally sustainable Los Angeles; they were mostly offered instead a vision of more jobs, better roads and easier driving,” Manville wrote. The transportation investments ushered in by Measure M have not led to higher use of public transit. “Los Angeles has a hard road in front of it in making the vision of Measure M a reality,” the report said. “An electoral victory is the end of a political process, but only the beginning of a policy process.”
A Daily News article discussing the upcoming June vote on Measure EE included comments by Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. Measure EE is a proposed 16-cents-per-square-foot parcel tax that pledges to pay for lower class sizes, attract high-quality teachers, and improve programs and services for students within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Yaroslavsky explained that “typically, when you have lower voter turnout, and there’s a campaign on both sides, it makes it more difficult for the yes side to get a two-thirds vote.” Proponents of the bills argue that the tax is necessary to make up for inadequate funding from the state, while opponents blame the district for mismanagement of funds. “My instincts tell me this is going to be close,” Yaroslavsky said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, nor would I be surprised if it lost.”
Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the county’s newest plan for improving traffic. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) proposed a controversial plan to invest in a high-speed commuter rail and implement congestion pricing on existing freeways. The proposal shelves planned freeway expansions, which experts have found does little to solve traffic congestion. According to Wachs, “the only proven way to reduce traffic is congestion pricing.” While the policy has been politically unpopular in the U.S., it has “increased highway capacity in the 30 or 40 places it’s been done around the world.” While the rail would not necessarily reduce traffic congestion, it would accommodate population growth in the region while reducing greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. “Transit enables higher density development and reduces vehicle miles traveled in relation to the population, whereas highways are associated with more dispersed growth,” Wachs explained.
An article about the tax proposal New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described on “60 Minutes” refers to UCLA Luskin Public Policy Professor Martin Gilens’ research to shed light on the discrepancy between American opinions about taxes and the powerful influence of conservative multimillionaires. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to tax income over $10 million per year at a top rate of 60 or 70 percent sounds radical but actually aligns with registered voter polls, including both Democrats and Republicans, the Intercept article said. Gilens’ research, conducted with political scientist Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, highlights the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy few. Gilens explains, “Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all. By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy.”