Politics

Let's See, California Has No Money, and the Freeways Are Lousy and Clogged, So….

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L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten chooses this moment in time to warn against the evils of–shudder–congestion pricing. An idea whose limited and tardy application in Southern California Rutten calls "a policy that discriminates against the working poor in a particularly burdensome way, because our public agencies provide most neighborhoods with the sketchiest of public transit alternatives." His fantastical plastical argument:

Let's imagine the new lanes are built and the new tolls are in operation. You're a single mother working in a downtown law office part time because your hours have been cut as one of the firm's economy measures. Just about noon, you get a call from the day-care center, where your 3-year-old is running a high fever. You decide to give up two badly needed hours of work to pick her up early, hoping she won't need a visit to the pediatrician because the state no longer funds healthcare for the working poor. About the same time you leave, the firm's managing partner heads out for lunch and a round of golf at his club.

Champion of the working poor

Despite the time of day, L.A.'s freeways are inexplicably clogged -- virtual gridlock for no apparent reason. The new toll lanes, however, are moving freely. For the senior partner, it's a no-brainer. He pays the $1.40-a-mile toll without a first, let alone a second, thought and arrives at his club early enough for a Bloody Mary before lunch. Our single mom, however, looks at the bumper-to-bumper traffic around her, glances over at the freely moving toll lane and has to do the mental math to decide whether getting to her child in less than 90 minutes is worth being late with this month's rent.

What the heck, she's already disadvantaged by the status quo, so what's another hour of anguish?

A society that can rationalize the imposition of such pain doesn't need to worry over how to define equity; it needs to worry about its soul.

You call that imagination, Rutten? First of all, the senior partner didn't even smoke a thousand-dollar bill for breakfast, fondle his Mexican maid for lunch, or shoot a street urchin for a nightcap…. More substantively, as the Reason Foundation's Ted Balaker has tirelessly pointed out in such obscure fora as the Los Angeles Times, the way that the crappy status quo hurts our single mom RIGHT NOW, every day, is that the child care center in question often charges by the minute or half-hour, at rates that rack up during rush hour quite a bit higher than an HOV toll lane ever will. Congestion, which political pundits love complaining about but rarely propose solving beyond the impossible dream of "getting people off the road," is just horrifyingly costly, inefficient, and polluting. (Also, I'd bet a fistful of daycare credits that most people for whom $10 represents a possible late rent payment are not likely to be driving alone on a freeway to a child care center; if anything, they tend take the bus.)

I love how public policy fix-it ideas like toll lanes get called "ideological" by the Tim Ruttens of the world, but the absolutely abysmal status quo, in which people pay more and more money while their highways and roads get worse and worse, is magically free of the ideological taint.

For instance, you want to talk about making things harder for the working poor? Getta load of how the dominant political party in California intends to fix the budget crisis:

Democrats yesterday proposed a $15 automobile license fee and said they may consider a 9.9 percent per-barrel levy on oil produced in the state.

Plus:

Democrats are also eyeing possible tax hikes on tobacco products and liquor, though they did not provide details.

Does our struggling single mom not pay for license fees or gas? Is it possible that she may be so bold as to enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage or cigarette? And if the answer to any of those questions is "yes," how in hell does a couple of measly toll lanes require an entire society to search for its "soul," while a series of far more costly and impositional price-hikes isn't even considered "ideological"? Such, such are the joys of elite discourse in my native state.

Meanwhile, make sure to read Rutten's non-ideological examination of the "particularly American cesspool" of the "lunatic right, for whom the election of Barack Obama was much more than a political defeat: It was a racial and existential nightmare," leading directly to the recent slayings of an abortionist and Holocaust Museum guard, etc.