SPEA study: Tolls, gas taxes most ‘tolerable’ road funding sources

Most Americans really don’t want to pay more money to maintain the nation’s highways, according to a study from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. But given a choice, they prefer tolls and fuel taxes to broad-based income or sales taxes as a funding mechanism.

SPEA faculty member Denvil Duncan is the lead author of a study on public attitudes about highway funding.

SPEA faculty member Denvil Duncan is the lead author of a study on public attitudes about highway funding.

And that should get the notice of policymakers, the study suggests, because government officials —  worried about opposition to “new taxes” tied to road funding — have been turning to general budgets funded by income and sales taxes to make up for lagging fuel taxes.

The study, “Searching for a Tolerable Tax: Public Attitudes Toward Roadway Financing Alternatives,” is published in the journal Public Finance Review. Authors are Denvil Duncan, Venkata Nadella, Ashley Bowers and John D. Graham, all of SPEA, and Stacey Giroux of the IU Center for Survey Research.

The study, based on a survey of a representative sample of 2,087 U.S. adults conducted by SPEA in the summer of 2013, was designed to gauge the level of public support for various ways of raising money to pay for highway maintenance and improvements. Among its findings:

  • None of the alternatives had anywhere near majority support, but the strongest support was 34 percent for tolls and 29 percent for a higher gasoline tax rate.
  • The lowest support was for increasing income taxes, 13 percent, and sales taxes, 18 percent.
  • Many of the respondents who opposed the funding mechanisms said they were “strongly” opposed. Those who favored the ideas were less likely to favor them strongly.

The topic matters because officials have struggled to find ways to fund highways and other infrastructure. Historically, road funding relied on per-gallon gasoline taxes. But that source has shrunk as vehicles have become more efficient. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, there’s a gap of about $94 billion between what the U.S. spends each year on highways and what it should spend.

The survey also measured support for a mileage user fee, in which motorists would pay according to how many miles they drive. Support for that idea was in the middle at 20.9 percent.

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IU study: Religious differences between men and women fade at higher income levels

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Scholars typically agree that women are more religious than men. New Indiana University research shows, however, that there is little difference between women and men who are high earners. When factoring in income, the greater differences in religiosity appear within, not across, genders.

Landon Schnabel, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington, conducted the study, “The Gender Pray Gap: Wage Labor and the Religiosity of High-Earning Women and Men,” to measure differences of religiosity both between high-earning women and men and within genders.

Landon Schnabel

Landon Schnabel

Schnabel’s findings reaffirm scholars’ assumptions that women are more religious than men on all measures and that income is generally associated with less religiosity regardless of gender.

“In my previous research I found that the nonreligious have the most egalitarian gender attitudes and that secularism seems to promote gender equality worldwide. So, I was puzzled by why women seem to be more religious than men,” Schnabel said.

“Scholars have argued that this pattern of women being more religious than men​ is universal and maybe even based on biology. But I suspected that social status and what people get from religion might be important factors that could help explain why women tend to be more religious than men.”

Schnabel goes a step further in his analysis of the 1994-2012 cumulative General Social Survey to find that higher-earning women are less religious than other women across all measures.

Income is strongly related to religiosity of men, too, but the results for men are less clear-cut, Schnabel said. Higher-earning men are more religious than lower-earning men on some measures, but not others.

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Supreme Court immigration decision: No precedent but a setback for immigrants

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

On June 23, a 4-4 split Supreme Court reaffirmed the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in United States v. Texas No. 15-674. The ruling upheld an injunction against President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive action Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.

DAPA would allow unauthorized immigrants who are the parents of lawful residents to apply for work permits and avoid deportation.

Linda Kelly

Linda Kelly

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and 25 other Republican governors immediately challenged the program. They argued that DAPA caused the states irreparable monetary harm.

The one-line decision was both lauded and denounced along party lines as a defeat for immigration reform advocates.

But the court’s decision will not be as legally influential as typical Supreme Court opinions, said Linda Kelly, the M. Dale Palmer professor of law at the IU McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

“It’s just an injunction. The case is still ongoing,” Kelly said.

The Supreme Court’s ruling does not affect the case as it continues to be tried in Texas.

In the case heard by the Supreme Court, the Texas litigants argued for an injunction against DAPA while the case was playing out more slowly through the system.

“The injunction is a temporary hold,” Kelly said. “It’s not a full challenge to President Obama’s authority. At this stage, it’s narrower.”

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Research continues as Indiana’s Mount Baldy reveals secrets of dune dynamics

Post by IU Northwest media communications specialist Erika C. Rose

Erin Argyilan has no doubt covered miles while traversing the sand dunes of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore over the past several years.

After logging all those miles, there was perhaps no happier day for the Indiana University Northwest geologist than the day she stumbled over an 8-foot hole hidden beneath the fine sand.

In 2013, Nathan Woessner, a 6-year-old boy from Sterling, Ill., was rescued after falling into a similar hole and being trapped under 11 feet of sand. It was, in fact, the boy’s close call that sparked all those miles Argyilan covered as she sought answers to the mystery.

Erin Argyilan

Erin Argyilan (Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications)

Argyilan’s discovery was a defining moment that validated more than a year of research. She had believed that the mysterious holes revealing themselves atop the 120-foot-tall Mount Baldy were caused by rotting oak trees buried beneath the shifting dune. And while her outings exploring the dune yielded many small holes here and there, each giving her hypothesis more credibility, it wasn’t until she could photograph a buried branch leading to a hollowed-out tree trunk that Argyilan could so convincingly prove what she believed to be true.

It was well known that the moving dune had, over time, buried a 70- or 80-year-old forest. Everyone had assumed that any trees buried under the sand would simply decompose. The discovery was that the rotting trees somehow maintained a hollow and hazardous structure and that their collapse could create holes in the dune.

The resulting study, published in the journal Aeolian Research, made the discovery official and gave the phenomenon a name: dune decomposition chimneys. Argyilan and her colleagues introduced the discovery to the world at the Geological Society of America conference in November. Argyilan’s co-authors, including IU Northwest associate professor of biology Peter Avis, contributed their specialized expertise — such as Avis’ knowledge of fungus living within the trees — to make the case.

More dune discoveries to come

The discovery laid the groundwork for more research, which promises to be equally historic. Argyilan and colleagues are well into the second phase of their research. This time they are investigating exactly how the holes — or, more accurately, tree branches and trunks — are able to maintain their hollow shape. Figuring out how this happens, and what conditions contribute to it, will have significant implications for understanding similar phenomena in sand dunes throughout the world.

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IU professor: House sit-in moves the conversation on gun control

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

The Democrat-led sit-in on the floor of the House chamber ended Thursday, hours after Republicans brought a major appropriations bill to a vote and adjourned the session. But the standoff over legislation that would expand background checks and prevent anyone on a terrorist watch list from buying a gun is unlikely to end anytime soon.

The partisanship was palpable. Democrats chanted ”No bill, no break” all night, at one point drowning out Speaker Paul Ryan. Aides restrained Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, when he tried to respond to and provoke Democrats on the floor.

Paul Helmke

Paul Helmke

But gun legislation isn’t intrinsically partisan, said Paul Helmke, former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne and current professor of practice in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington.

“One of my concerns is that it’s turned into Republicans versus Democrats. It wasn’t always that way,” Helmke said. “President Reagan supported the Brady Bill and assault rifle ban. You used to see urban Republicans supporting measures to restrict gun purchases by dangerous people and rural Democrats supporting gun rights.”

The debate has devolved into a partisan shouting match based largely on fears, Helmke said.

“It plays on people’s fears that some bad guy is going to attack you in the middle of the night. It plays on the fear that the government or civilized society isn’t going to be around to protect you,” Helmke said. “I’m not anti-gun. If you’re in a remote area or a dangerous profession, it might make sense. But a lot of it is just playing on people’s fears.”

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‘Brexit’ vote pits independence and identity against economic concerns

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Today’s “Brexit” vote will decide the future of the United Kingdom’s relationship with Europe. Public opinion polls have swayed and show a divided U.K. Results are expected early Friday.

The vote is a manifestation of an underlying problem for European integration: The European Union fosters multilateral institutions but not a shared European identity.

Timothy Hellwig

Timothy Hellwig

The “Leave” camp argues that the EU’s influence on culture and judicial matters transcends the economic concerns that originally enticed the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community in 1973.

“The major argument of the ‘Leave’ camp pertains mainly to appeals for independence and self-destiny for Britain,” said Timothy Hellwig, director of the Institute for European Studies in IU’s School of Global and International Studies. “Many, if not most, Britons are skeptical of the EU and see it as an unaccountable bureaucracy, located far away in Brussels, which is not in tune with the needs and desires of the British public.”

The “Remain” camp argues that the EU offers Britain security, increased influence and economic benefits.

“Britain will likely be worse off in terms of trade, commerce, investment and finance if it leaves Europe,” Hellwig said. “Also, advocates for the Remain side emphasize Britain’s historic role as a global and regional leader and point out that without influence throughout the EU, Britain’s economic and political role in the world would diminish.”

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IU anthropologist urges collaboration with local peoples in creating climate mitigation policies

Post by Kevin Fryling, who normally writes at the Science at Work blog:

Large-scale, international conservation and climate change mitigation efforts must engage with the voices and needs of local and indigenous people, IU anthropologist Eduardo S. Brondizio writes in an essay published June 10 in the journal Science. The essay was written in collaboration with Francois Michel Le Tourneau of the New Sorbonne University in Paris.

Science commentary image

Photo by Kevin Frayer/Stringer/Getty Images

The paper was partially inspired in part by the Paris Climate Change Conference, officially called the Conference of the Parties in Paris, or COP21, in December, which brought new hopes and commitments from public and private sectors to mitigate climate change. Among the goals to emerge from the conference were landscape restoration, protection of watersheds, carbon sequestration and the expansion of renewable energy programs.

“This was good news, but it also raises questions about where and how such commitments will be realized. The types of cooperation between stakeholders, including researchers, needed to connect a complex matrix of ideas, goals, cost-benefit, resources and governance approaches,” said Brondizio, a professor in the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Anthropology.

A significant portion of international efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change focus on sparsely populated areas, he added, especially in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Northern latitudes. But Brondizio writes that the onus of these plans — in terms of costs and restrictions on local livelihoods or unfair distribution of the benefits — increasingly falls on the shoulders of rural and indigenous populations, whose needs are pressing and often not heard.

“Although we tend to think about sparsely populated landscapes in distant regions and corners of the world as encompassing small segments of the population, in many regions, in fact, they include large sectors of society,” said Brondizio, a member of the IU faculty since 1998.

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Lecture explores importance of trauma-sensitive schools

Post courtesy of newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino:

What teachers don’t know could be hurting their students’ educational and social development, Michael Gregory said.

Gregory, Harvard Law School professor, was the keynote speaker Thursday for the annual Martha McCarthy Education Law and Policy Institute: The Future of Professional Ethics Conference.

Michael Gregory

Michael Gregory

He addressed the issue of knowing where students come from and what their home and community environment are like when trying to help students learn.

Gregory works with the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, a collaboration between the Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School. It was founded in 2004 with the mission to “ensure that children traumatized by exposure to violence and other adverse childhood experiences succeed in schools.”

At present, the collaboration focuses on uniting schools, families and policy in a way that benefits students in schools, he said.

“I think our project is somewhat unique among advocacy organizations because we consider our constituents to be both kids and families, and schools,” Gregory said.

Co-author of the two volumes of “Helping Traumatized Children Learn,” Gregory said there are five core ideas that resonate most with educators and states. The first two points are the problem, the third is the solution and the fourth and fifth are the steps that people need to take to see results.

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Study ties ‘achievement gap’ to racial disparities in school discipline

Disparities in school discipline are estimated to account for about one-fifth of the “achievement gap” between white students and black students in U.S. schools, according to a recent study co-authored by an Indiana University Bloomington sociologist.

The study, “The Punishment Gap: School Suspension and Racial Disparities in Achievement,” was published in the journal Social Problems. Brea Perry, associate professor of sociology in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, is co-author with University of Kentucky sociologist Edward Morris.

Brea Perry

Brea Perry

Using student disciplinary records and test scores from an urban school district, the researchers show that black students were significantly more likely than white students to be suspended from school. And they found that students who were suspended were likely to fall behind in achievement.

Their conclusion: The difference in the degree to which black and white students are disciplined — which they refer to as the “punishment gap” — is a crucial but under-examined factor in explaining unequal test scores, the so-called achievement gap. It accounted for 20 percent of the difference between white and black students in reading scores and 17 percent of the difference in math scores.

“If you want to think about interventions or policies for reducing the achievement gap,  our research suggests that reducing the punishment gap is a good place to start,” Perry said.

Previous research, including studies by Indiana University education professor Russell Skiba, has shown that students of color face more frequent suspensions and expulsions than others, with black students likely to receive harsher discipline than white students even when they committed the same offenses.

It also is well established that being suspended can cause students to disengage from school and to struggle academically and socially. But the current study is the first to take a comprehensive look at the relationship between suspension and student achievement.

The study examined longitudinal data for over 16,000 students in grades 6 to 10 attending 17 schools in a Kentucky school district. Black students in the sample were much more likely than white students to be suspended from school. Socioeconomic status, family structure and other factors beyond school control accounted for some of the discrepancy, but not all of it.

Students who were suspended were likely to already be behind their peers academically. But after being suspended one or more times, they fell further behind on measures of achievement such as standardized test scores.

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IU expert: Attempts to dictate restroom use by transgender people likely to become a non-issue

Post by IU Newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino

Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced that public schools must allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that coincide with their gender identity as opposed to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Failing to do so, the administration said, would amount to a form of sex discrimination that is barred by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Brian Powell

Brian Powell

“The policy is that schools can’t discriminate against people who identify as a particular gender,” said Brian Powell, James H. Rudy Professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington.

Because of the administration’s guidance, it may now be possible for a school to lose federal funding for effectively discriminating against its transgender students, Powell said. If a school violates a federal law, it is at risk of losing federal funding.

This guidance has sparked much public controversy over an issue that Powell said is not new.

For years, transgender people have used the restrooms they felt safe and comfortable in with few if any ramifications, he said. Now, however, measures like North Carolina’s House Bill 2 – which requires people to use public restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates — have interrupted normal social actions and interactions and are prohibiting people from behaving as they have behaved for years.

As a result of this bill, North Carolina has been hurting financially as well as socially as people refuse to move, vacation or host events in the state, he said. It’s a backlash very similar to what Indiana experienced with its Religious Freedom Restoration Act last year.

Powell said most of the arguments in favor of legislation like North Carolina’s are founded on hypotheticals and not real situations that have occurred.

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