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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The consequences of tax cuts
Posted by Jill | 7:02 AM
Funny how Republicans change their minds about taxes when a high-profile disaster takes place in their own state.

With giant maw of the 24/7 news cycle requiring constant feeding, most of the cable news time has been taken up for four days now with the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis -- and now that they're running out of human interest stories, the fact of neglect of this country's infrastructure, largely due to Republican policies of low taxes and spending and the resulting deferred maintenance, is becoming clear.

And suddenly, the tune changes:

In the past two years, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota twice vetoed legislation to raise the state’s gas tax to pay for transportation needs.

Now, with at least five people dead in the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge here, Mr. Pawlenty, a Republican, appears to have had a change of heart.

“He’s open to that,” Brian McClung, a spokesman for the governor, said Monday of a higher gas tax. “He believes we need to do everything we can to address this situation and the extraordinary costs.”

Even as the cause of the bridge disaster here remains under investigation, the collapse is changing a lot of minds about spending priorities. It has focused national attention on the crumbling condition of America’s roadways and bridges — and on the financial and political neglect they have received in Washington and many state capitals.

Despite historic highs in transportation spending, the political muscle of lawmakers, rather than dire need, has typically driven where much of the money goes. That has often meant construction of new, politically popular roads and transit projects rather than the mundane work of maintaining the worn-out ones.

The grunt work of keeping roads and bridges under repairs doesn't generate the opportunity for smiling politicians to cut ribbons while surrounded by smiling and applauding citizens. If it's not glamorous, and it doesn't directly contribute to a politician's re-election chances, it doesn't get done.

The irony is that we are in a time when individuals have been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain and update their homes, but have allowed their leaders to defer maintenance on the larger "home" that is the community and state in which they live. Crumbling roads and bridges are every bit as unsafe as a termite-eaten, mouse-accessible house. If there were a house in every neighborhood that was as neglected as many of the bridges in this country, the neighbors would scream at authorities to do something.

If we had any kind of Democratic leadership at all capable of framing an idea in a way that the simple-minded fools who have fallen for the "All government spending = welfare for lazy minorities" meme that has been drummed into their heads since the Reagan years, this would be a perfect time to demonstrate what government spending does. But alas, we don't.

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