Our interstate system is in terrible shape and must be tended to now, but the usual “kicking the can down the road” approach so common in Washington will only exacerbate the issue.
The Obama Administration is absolutely correct that we’re facing an infrastructure crisis that can’t be avoided. Recent studies have suggested that repairs, maintenance, and growth-related improvements to our interstate systems could cost as much as $1 trillion. But from a federal government that routinely spends hundreds of billions of dollars more every year than it receives in tax revenues siphoned off of the burdened American worker, and from a highway trust fund that will reportedly be bankrupt in one month, it seems unlikely that we’ll be able to find that $1 trillion dollars without addressing some other major issues, right now.
Proposals by both parties in Congress seem laughable at best. Burdening the economy with increased gas taxes, income taxes, corporate taxes, inflation, or debt would be counterproductive if the primary reason to maintain or improve our interstate system is to benefit the economy. Judging by the results from the many other crises our federal government has recently encountered, it’s likely that a band-aid will be placed on the issue and it’ll be passed down the road. Nothing fundamental will be addressed, nothing will actually be “fixed,” and we’ll be facing the issue again in the near future, hearing all of the usual rhetoric about increasing taxes or taking money from the other party’s pet project for a superficial solution to a serious issue.
The bigger issue here (the one that seems to escape public debate) is the underlying problems with our infrastructure system. As it stands, the federal government extracts income from American workers, then disperses this “revenue” amongst the individual states with strings attached. The money is misallocated, and much of that money is directed towards projects that may never directly benefit many of the individuals taxed. Our current course of action has created an untold number of shortfalls within our interstate system, and simply is not working. It’s ineffective, and inefficient. In other words, it’s government as usual.
In order to avoid facing this crisis again, and to refrain from increasing the burden on the taxpayer, we have but two options:
1) The federal government reprioritizes both its role and its finances towards specific, necessary domestic issues like infrastructure, and away from doling out billions in foreign “aid,” billions more in maintaining a global military presence, and yet billions more in corporate welfare. If the federal government is going to continue to maintain its monopoly on infrastructure, it better ensure it has the funds available to do so, and do so without further damaging our struggling economy.
2) The federal government can return both the funds and total control of the interstate system to the individual states. With this proposal, federal fuel taxes can be ended, and the individual states can then determine if they want to continue accounting for the interstate system with public funding, instituting user fees, or turning the operation over to the private sector as much of the world has trended towards.
This proposal is consistent with the libertarian philosophy that the individual state is easier for the public to hold accountable than a bloated federal government is, and a state will best understand what its needs are and how to address them. Either proposal, though, will be a step in the right direction, and both deserve serious consideration in Washington D.C.
It’s simply not enough to pick and choose a handful of projects, inefficiently throw billions of taxpayer supplied dollars at it, and pretend that a crisis was averted. Regardless of the issue at hand, it’s vital that we open the debate beyond the false dichotomy we’re typically presented with if we’re to address fundamental problems in Washington. Our infrastructure undeniably plays a critical role in the economy at local, state, and national levels, and we’re only setting ourselves up for failure if we don’t take serious consideration of the root issues, today.
-Chris Mayo (L), candidate for U.S. House of Representatives (IN-7)