“All politics is local: What we see here happens elsewhere” – Highway Trust Fund edition

Broken BridgeWhen our “Meet the New Press” radio show was around, that was an oft said saying as a take off of what Massachusetts pol (and later US Speaker of the House) Tip O’Neil used to say “All politics is local”.  We extended it as it seemed that all of the political problems we talked about locally about our hamlet and surrounds, we also heard about in other areas.  Also, we have seen the Democrat model replicate itself: what happens in DC is tried locally in Concord (especially if the Progressive Dems can’t pass the desired legislation in DC).

Well, our original mantra still holds true as we see, once again, politicians unwilling to make the hard decisions that we send them to Concord and to DC to do.  Remember a few months ago when everyone in Concord was wailing that our Highway Trust Fund was running out of money and that we had to raise more money to fix our “failing bridges and roads”?  I do, and it was clear that Progressive politicians (both Democrat and Republican) were unwilling to make the hard decisions we expected and failed to seal up the leaks that stole money from that Fund.  You know, the leaks that they themselves created simply because they saw a pot of money that was not being used fast enough?  So under Republican leadership in the NH State Senate (thank you, NH State Senator Rausch for that 4 cent rise in my gas tax- but remember, too, that 9 NH House Republicans voted to raise it under the proddings of Democrat David Campbell (he of DuckGate fame) 23 cents)

So, with that reestablished, we see what happened locally is now happening in DC – almost a mirror image of poor judgment, political greed, and a willingness to spend other peoples’ money for things other than what the original authorizing legislation forbade (emphasis mine, reformatted):

The Highway Trust Fund is running on fumes, and this is sending certain congressmen and the administration into a tizzy. The administration insists that America’s roads are crumbling, the bridges tumbling, and Congress must raise taxes, or else.

Sure – we always believe these calls of “DOOM!”

 “If they don’t act by the end of the summer,” President Obama says, “federal funding for transportation projects will run out — will run out. There will be no money. The cupboard will be bare.”

You would think that this would be not just a warning about roads and bridges but instead, a dire warning to the States – this is what happens when you outsource your responsibilities (transportation and fiscal) to someone else.  It is clear that the States are being held ransom by Obama / Federal government but the price of the malfeasance is more hoovering of taxpayer pockets.  It is not a feature but a bug that States haven’t realized that being self-sufficient from the Feds is far cheaper in the long term.

I seem to be on a rant lately but at least it is good timing as “elected official wannabees” are all campaigning up and we’re trying to ask the harder questions:

  • What IS the Proper Role of Government (e.g., what should it be doing / not doing at the local, county, State, and Federal levels)?
  • Given the Proper Role, what should the Priorities be?

Not many wish to be completely honest and transparent as to their answers – but we ARE looking for Champions that will do just that.  Part of their answers (another reason to listen to GrokTALK!) can be applied to this question and to the problem of “theft”:

This is a classic Washington crisis by the numbers. Congress sets up a “trust fund” — in this case, the Highway Trust Fund — and depletes it by spending the cash on projects that have nothing to do with highways. When there’s no money left, taxes must be raised.  The Obama administration sells this fanciful tale with claims that America’s cars and trucks have been made magically more fuel-efficient by government fiat, and since everybody is paying less than ever in taxes on gasoline, raising the tax on gasoline won’t actually hurt. It might sound plausible, but that’s not the story the numbers tell. In 2009, gross receipts for the gasoline tax were $24.6 billion. Every year since, they’ve gone up, to the most recent accounting of $25.5 billion. Separate taxes imposed on diesel fuel for the big rigs brings the total sum to $41.3 billion.

That’s a lot of money, and it’s keeping America’s roads and bridges in the best condition in decades. According to a Cato Institute review of Federal Highway Administration figures, nearly 9 percent of all bridges in the National Highway System were deemed “structurally deficient” in 1992. That number has been steadily declining, and less than 4.6 percent of bridges are now considered “structurally deficient.” “Structurally deficient,” by the way, is not “structurally dangerous.”

And going back to the idea of Priorities – if such bridges and roadways were all that darn bad and all that darn important, why aren’t politicians making the hard decisions of “not spend there – spend here” and let the lower level priority items go unaddressed (after all, high should come before low, right?).  The problem we see is that Progressives on both side of the aisle can’t make any sense of the notion of Priorities – EVERYTHING is important, even as Government grows and grows.  That in itself should be a warning – but never gets mentioned.

NOTHING can ever be cut, according to these clowns.  And in that same vein, we know what happens when politicians commit “legal theft” (because you don’t know how to best spend your own money – don’t you know that you are to spend not on your own family but for every one else’s) and then hand it off to bureaucrats:

Still, Mr. Obama and his transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, want to replenish the Highway Trust Fund with a $150 billion tax increase on U.S. businesses. Mr. Foxx says he will take “untaxed earnings … and plow some of that into infrastructure.”  If he gets the money, there’s no assurance he will spend it on tumbling bridges and crumbling highways. This White House has been spending the money intended for bridges and highways on niceties, such as bike paths, sidewalks, hiking trails and landscaping. Billions more go to high-speed rail, trolleys and other expensive mass-transit projects.

The sad truth is that Doomsday will not happen – it is merely the three card Monte again with smoke and mirrors.

No matter what Mr. Foxx, members of Congress and the president argue, bridges will not fall and roads will not crumble if these irresponsible new taxes are not enacted. What could happen is what should have happened years ago. Congress would set priorities of transportation needs, eliminate the wasteful projects and utilize highway user fees to pay for the repairs and reconstruction that are vital to the nation.

This is why self-reliance at the lowest level should be a much higher Priority for politicians instead of giving into the siren song of “free money” from the next level up of Government – they can’t do a “stick’em up” on you.  This is also a warning to local voters – keep things as local as possible, otherwise you will lose your local control.  You can walk down the street and yell at your Selectmen, City Councilors, and Mayors; as responsibility climbs up the ladder (which is exactly what Progressives want), those politicians and bureaucrats are less accountable and more willing to either ignore you or tell you to pound sand (which is exactly what Progressives want – to reduce YOUR power and enhance theirs).

Stop the tax and stop letting them take your power away.