2016 could be a big election year for local transit tax measures in California. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group is trying to rally and coordinate ballot measures in multiple Bay Area counties, including Santa Clara, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Contra Costa.
Backers hope the measure could lead to regional improvements and address the $59 billion transportation infrastructure shortfall. Plus, the measures could fund traffic-busting alternatives like transit and walking and biking infrastructure.
But Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association begs to differ:
“California is already a high-tax state,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an anti-tax group, adding that low-tax states like Texas and Florida do not suffer similar traffic problems.
He suggested California Governor Jerry Brown abandon the state’s “foolish” high-speed rail project and instead expand existing freeways with the money, a portion of which is raised from polluters complying with the state’s cap-and-trade program.
“There’s nothing more polluting than a freeway full of parked cars that are idled,” he said, explaining why he does not think the money should go toward building the state’s first bullet train.
Coupal evidently doesn’t know that Florida and Texas actually have really bad traffic. Miami ranks fifth-worst nationwide (worse than the Bay Area in eighth place), according to the 2012 Texas Transportation Institute report [PDF]. Meanwhile, Houston ranks ninth and Dallas isn’t far behind.
Coupal also doesn’t acknowledge that these “low-tax” states also have notoriously weak restrictions on land use development, meaning housing is cheaper because there’s more of it. If Coupal and his group really wanted to help California businesses, he would help the state overcome local land use policies in our metropolitan regions that have artificially restricted supply, inflated prices and rents, and driven development to the fringes, paving over open space and leading to polluting, crushing traffic.
Of course, his organization’s Prop 13 from 1978, which slashed property tax rates, hasn’t helped the situation. It disincentivizes local governments from approving new housing over retail in order to chase sales tax dollars, and it discourages longtime urban property owners from improving or developing their buildings, given their low property tax obligations.
Meanwhile, his attack on high speed rail is baseless. The rail system will expand capacity in the San Joaquin Valley along Highway 99. So how exactly would Coupal propose widening Highway 99, given that it travels through multiple densely built environments, including cities like Fresno and Bakersfield? There’s simply no more room in most parts of the corridor for expansion.
Bottom line: California needs to think outside the 1950s when it comes to moving people. More and bigger highways hasn’t worked so far. No wonder Bay Area county leaders are optimistic that voters will agree come next November.