Posted: 08/01/08 06:35, Edited: 08/01/08 06:48
by Dave Mindeman
One year ago today a bridge fell down.
It is still hard to think of that as a real event -- it was so unthinkable. Yet, for one year, on and off, it has been analyzed, scrutinized, and homogenized in every way possible, as a monument to infrastructure in need of repair.
Yet, where do we really stand.
That particular bridge was replaced....in record time. The funding of it was never in doubt; no one wanted that fallen bridge to symbolize any kind of futility about transportation solutions.
Yet, outside of that flurry of activity, the issue of how we replace and address the needs of our national highway system gets lots of Congressional talk, but little action.
One in four bridges is in need of repair in the US. Think about that. Think of the billions and billions, maybe trillions, of dollars that involves and yet year after year we push it aside like it will all go away like a bad dream.....or until another bridge falls down.
Does anybody have a solution?
We've got a lot of rhetoric about the problem, but we have really done very little to overhaul a transportation system that has been patched and essentially extended outward since 1950. That is nearly 60 years without major rennovation. It is a compliment to the builders that it has lasted that long.
We have had commissions. The latest, bipartisan, one said this
:A bipartisan federal commission, appointed by the president and members of Congress, has recommended that transportation spending from all sources -- federal, state and private -- more than double, to at least $225 billion annually for 50 years, more than $11 trillion in all.
Yet, here in Minnesota, it took a veto override and the symbolic effigy hanging of 6 legislators, to get a funding increase for Minnesota roads. An increase that isn't even going to cover 25% of the need.
Mention Federal highway taxes and the boo birds come out;Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., for one, argues that transportation funding must be reformed before taxpayers fork over more money. In 2006, Minnesota got back only 89 cents of every dollar contributed to the Highway Trust Fund, partly because of excessive earmarks in other states, Bachmann said.
Talk of reform is good for stalling tactics, but in the end someone has to pay more money to get this fixed. And you can blame earmarks as another diversion, but individual earmarks are such a small portion of overall transportation funding, that wasting the time talking about it merely adds more inflation and interest to the costs of when we actually do something -- money that could very well exceed the earmark funding being criticized.
Some people would just rather not talk about it. One month from now, the GOP will hold its convention in St. Paul, but the headline in Politico reads:GOP Hopes to Skirt Minn. Bridge Issue
Does that sound like leadership to you?Republicans say they would rather not dampen the convention by revisiting an old tragedy.
Yes, it's like the old family argument that goes on for years and gets buried with a, "Let's talk about that later, shall we
So, let's get specific...what do we really need? More commission
talk:The U.S. House passed legislation last week that would authorize an additional $1 billion next year for bridges across the country. However, a final report in January from a presidential commission concluded the country needs to spend at least $225 billion a year, every year, for the next 50 years to build a competitive transportation system.
Nobody is ready to put a realistic handle on that figure. Minnesota has made a ding in their portion of it, with the transportation bill, but everybody knows (at least if they are truthful), it will still take more. Yet, Marty Seifert, House minority leader continues his "issue avoidance" tactics;That (the commission report) will keep the debate open on how to pay for it. But House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, says additional funding needs to come from sources other than new or higher taxes. "Any kind of shortfall in terms of transportation, I think, is going to have to come from reprioitization or bonding.," he said.
Let's see, the state bonding bill can't exceed $1 billion (at least that has been the agreement).....and we have been in slash and burn budget mode for all of Pawlenty's budget tenure. Exactly what does Marty Seifert foresee as these new "sources"? We cannot keep doing this.
So, again, what are the solutions?
Well, number 1 -- let's stop building bridges in Iraq and start building them here. The Iraq War has simply diverted way too many resources from needs at home. If you want reprioritization, well there you go.
Secondly, we have to have a comprehensive tax plan. Less demagoguery about taxes and more discussion of what we do to pay for the need. Have your earmark discussion, but have it in a context of a realistic tax bill. And, that discussion, has to talk about more than a gas tax. We want to shift our focus away from gas consumption and if we do it right, gas tax revenues are going to decrease drastically in the future -- we want that. We have to put everything on the table. Higher vehicle taxes, toll roads, federal business taxes...yes, even an oil windfall profits tax. It all has to be there.
Thirdly, we need to get tough on collecting revenue. Oil subsidies would seem to be unecessary. Offshore tax schemes should be locked up. Defense contractors should have air tight oversight. Waste and fraud shouldn't be merely pointed out but prosecuted and collected.
We have a critical need for fixing this problem. And we need to find leadership willing to get the job done -- not avoid the subject.