The Rise of Ballot Box Transportation and Finance in California, and Its Implications for the Future

Research Team: Brian Taylor (lead), Michael Manville, and Mark Garrett

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: Without question the most significant change to transportation finance in California over the past half-century has been the rise of voter-approved local option sales taxes for transportation. While the effects of the influx of money on California’s transportation systems has been widely noted, what has gotten less attention is the way that project lists, crafted for and approved by voters, can cast transportation planning into stone in ways that can bypass and obstruct state and federal goals for transportation.

Project Description: This research finalized work led by Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs that examined the rise of local option sales taxes for transportation, how they have played out over time, and what they mean for transportation planning in California today. The resulting published works explains how ballot box finance fits into the longer historical arc of transportation finance in California, analyzes the growth of local option sales taxes for transportation in California, examines voting patterns on proposed taxes to fund transportation, considers the equity implications of local option sales taxes, and explores the local politics surrounding the creation and promotion of transportation tax ballot measures.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $20,000

Policy Brief(s):