Sunday, August 5, 2007

Should Soglin be licensed as a sewage treatment plant?

I generally steer clear of labels and personal attacks but sometimes some people are so full of [expletive deleted] that maybe they should be licensed as sewage treatment plants.

Maybe former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is one of them.

The mayor who once distinguished himself by showing up at a city council meeting wearing a duck costume wrote in his blog today that blame for the I35W bridge collapse can be laid on President Bush, former President Reagan and other Republicans everywhere who oppose new taxes.

Soglin writes: "The issue is the thousands of unsafe bridges throughout the United States and the Reagan-Bush policies that resulted in this loss of life." He adds: "The Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly, no brighter than their president, continue to push for tax cuts for the rich." Read it for yourself:

Of course, Soglin is correct that infrastructure rehabilitation has been neglected in this country (and the same is true for Canada, where steep taxes and government regulation are ways of life). He's wrong when he injects partisan politics into the blame game.

Here are the facts. Highway projects are funded largely by state and federal gasoline taxes. Wisconsin motorists pay 51.3 cents per gallon in gasoline taxes, higher than the national average of 45.8 cents and much higher than 40.4 cents per gallon in Minnesota. A comparable spread exists for diesel fuel.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which is hardly the lap dog of Republicans, wrote in a December 2, 2005 editorial that the Wisconsin legislature should repeal the automatic annual indexing of the state gasoline taxes because it relieves legislators from taking the political responsibility for these increases. As the state's largest daily newspaper wrote then: "As we argued in April [2005], the gas tax has gone up 13% in five years and is one of the highest in the country."

Wisconsin's gasoline tax indexing was the brainchild of former State Transportation Secretary Lowell Jackson, a Republican appointed by then-Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus, also a Republican. Jackson warned then that indexing was necessary to keep the infrastructure from crumbling.

In his dazed passion for partisan political bashing Soglin overlooked the real culprits. Here's what the Journal-Sentinel said: "Gas tax money should be reserved in a segregated fund for transportation. Improved highways and public transit are essential to economic development in the state. Without an adequate transportation infrastructure, the economy will simply stagnate. If workers, products and supplies can't get to jobs, markets and manufacturers, the region can kiss goodbye any hope of competing in the world market. That means spending money on road projects and on mass transit . . . Making sure the money is held in a segregated fund and not robbed for general budget purposes, as has happened of late will help ensure those projects get done."

While the former "hippie mayor" blithely bashes Bush for not mentioning the nation's endangered infrastructure in the president's remarks in Minneapolis Saturday, he, too, is guilty of omission for not calling out: (1) The specific failure of Minnesota's legislature -- in which Democrats rule the roost -- for not raising the state's gasoline tax in years and (2) The failure of Wisconsin's governor, a Democrat, and legislature to stay away from raiding the transportation fund for other purposes.

I'm not a blind Bush follower. Truth be told, I backed John McCain in 2000. Nonetheless bashing Bush may feed the savage souls of Democrats but the problem didn't get here overnight nor is the blame isolated to any one politician or political party.

It should behoove government to redirect its spending more on the traditional government services and less on social and politcally-inspired programs. The infrastructure won't be fixed by bashing but by reordering government priorities to, essentially, "get back to the basics."

That was echoed today by Senator McCain who blasted diversion of highway money for "pork" projects such as a proposed $50 million indoor rain forest in Iowa or a $233 million bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 inhabitants.

The problem with "pork" -- Washington, D.C. style pork, that is -- is that it's only tasty when you're swallowing it. I doubt there's ever been a governor -- or mayor -- who's ever done anything but gloat over getting federal money. So it's only "pork" when it goes goes to someone else's city or state and no party has a corner on "pork" -- it's a bipartisan taste. We need to be honest about that.

Fixing our infrastructure requires political courage, something in short supply in both parties.

1 comment:

Dad29 said...

Bread and circuses will prevail...