Monday, August 20, 2007

Bridge Loan

By Mitchell

OpinionJournal has a very interesting editorial on the economic consequences of the Minneapolis bridge collapse, which should be required reading for everyone - not only those outside the area with an interest in how this story turns out, but those within the Twin Cities who very much have a vested interest - both in terms of transportation and taxes - in what happens next. Among their findings:

James Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who runs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently stood beside the wreckage and recommended an increase in the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal gas tax, as a way to prevent future bridge collapses. His wing man, Alaska Republican and former Transportation Chairman Don Young, agrees wholeheartedly.

As it happens, these are the same men who played the lead role in the $286 billion 2005 federal highway bill. That's the bill that diverted billions of dollars of gas tax money away from urgent road and bridge projects toward Member earmarks for bike paths, nature trails and inefficient urban transit systems.

Hardly a surprise, I suppose.

People from outside Minnesota keep asking me where the outrage is. I'm not always sure what we're supposed to be outraged about - there's always so much from which to choose - but a common theme centers around how our tax money is being used. As I mentioned in a piece last week, Thomas Sowell points out that there's plenty of money being spent on infrastructure; the question we should be asking is how that money is being spent. The OpinionJournal piece seconds these concerns: while Oberstar brags of "secured more than $12 million in funding" from a recent spending bill, the actual disposition of the money goes unnoticed: "$10 million of that was dedicated to a commuter rail line, $250,000 for the 'Isanti Bike/Walk Trail,' $200,000 to bus services in Duluth, and $150,000 for the Mesabi Academy of Kidspeace in Buhl. None of it went for bridge repair."

It's not as if we're not paying enough taxes: seventh in the nation in personal income tax, third highest in corporate tax rates, and a budget surplus of $2 billion. Additional spending goes not to infrastructure, but to things such as "health care, art centers, sports stadiums and welfare benefits." Etcetera, etcetera, and so forth.

Very little of this will be a puzzlement to people who live in Minnesota, or have spent some time here. But it needs to be mentioned nonetheless. There's nothing like a tragedy to stampede people into action. This was true even when people voted with their hearts much less than they do in our Oprahfied era. Even though the attempt may be doomed to failure (see Drew's post earlier today on doomed heroes), someone has to bring up the facts. Someone has to stand athwart history, yelling Stop.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Mitchell.

    The "Federal Highway Bill" diverts gas tax money from roads and bridges to "bike paths, nature trails and inefficient urban transit systems" is just one of the ways environmental activists who have taken a massive hold of the government have found ways to spend money from gas taxes.

    Academy of Kidspeace gets tax money from road use? Now that's a way to teach kids to support terrorists, hate our troops (we have a few from church in the military) and chanting for the defeat of this nation.

    One Presidential candidate and prominent second-term Senator vowed to take every penny Exxon Mobil makes, and seize it, as to take all of Exxon's multi-billion dollar profits in order to spend it on environmental activists' requests.

    Also the leftists in control of the Energy Committee are siding with the Japanese automakers, since they are the ones who have the resources to make 50-mpg small cars.

    What does it say when tax money for roads goes instead to making alternatives? Pork. When Young Gun DeMint (our Senator here) has been on a Pork-fighting mission, his Senate "priority list" has dropped to next-to-last because of his seniority.

    If the tax money on gas is used to pay for a bike trail, that's just a way to say "make people who buy gas for cars pay for all of the bike trails, forest lands, and other junk". Environmentalists want us off our cars and trucks, and businesses not to be able to deliver heavy goods. They would love to see a day when GM, Ford, and Chrysler are out of business because they make big cars, and we're left with all the major automakers from Asia because of their minicars of 45 cubic inch engines, 90" wheelbases, two doors, very tiny, and are the only cars permitted by government rule and high fuel taxes. They would also like to see major trucking firms and other businesses that rely on the road to grind to a halt on the basis of "global warming".

    Beware if their future calls for global warming policies to be enforced by use of the gas tax.

    I say raising the gas tax is just a knee-jerk reaction to this collapse. I have said private funds can do a better job, and selling naming rights and allowing billboard companies to bid on billboard spaces on the bridges with a 50-50 partnership (advertising revenue goes 50% to paying off the cost of the roadway/bridge and maintenance, 50% to the advertising company itself) would create additional revenue that it could pay off a bridge quicker.

    The advancement of technology from firms such as Daktronics makes it more feasible to put LED boards with advertising to pay off costs of the bridge AND potentially warn motorists of Amber Alerts, incidents on the road, and other warnings would be a huge gain.

    I say change state law to permit naming rights and advertising billboards (LED style) on bridges to pay for them. That's potentially a few hundred dollars each year that could pay maintenance costs and construction of the bridges very easily. Also if you're using an old tire core fee, use part of that fee to pay for roads and line the barriers with old tires for motorist safety.


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