Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Infrastructure Crisis, Mr. Utt

An opinion published in the ViewPoint section of the Austin American-Statesman, on Friday the 16th of December 2011, was titled, “What Infrastructure Crisis?” by Ronald D. Utt of the Heritage Foundation (also found on the Heritage Foundation's website: www.Heritage.org ). I'd like to offer multiple corrections to the article. You can find and read the original article in either the newspaper's or the Heritage Foundation's archives.

First, Mr. Utt, an economist, disses the civil engineering (CE) professionals' perspective of a badly worn, worn-out, common carrier infrastructure across the entire United States. The CE perspective is shared by mechanical engineers (ME), electrical engineers (EE) and materials scientists (MS), plus the many folks who drive on the roads and bridges of the USA. Those who survived, and the next of kin of those who did not survive, the collapse of a bridge on Interstate Highway (IH) 35 (in Minneapolis, MN.) are especially aware.

It apparently hasn't occurred to Mr. Utt that decades of use, combined with exposure to the weather, wears out things like roads and bridges.

Next, is the attempt to deny that an infrastructure bank, to fund road and bridge (plus: water, sewage and electric power distribution infrastructure) maintenance and replacement, would employ a large number of people. It seems as if Mr. Utt has never observed work being done along the roads he commutes every day.

Next, he lists what he understands to be common carrier infrastructure, mistakenly including: residential housing, manufacturing facilities, office buildings, hotels, shopping centers, cars, trucks and buses.

Continuing to misinform, he compares our government's managed infrastructure with that of the former Soviet Union. Our crisis was created by the failed, Republican policy of 'supply side economics' (aka, trickle down economics) that under budgeted for operation, maintenance and replacement of infrastructure, preferring to market the idea that we should sell these facilities to private, for profit, industry; not the result of the actions of an authoritarian oligarchy billing itself as a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Common carrier infrastructure is a function of government because, when done correctly, it is quite expensive and must serve everybody; even where population density is so sparse that a profitable return on investment isn't possible. Mr. Utt declares that privately accomplished facilities would thrive, except that (once again) his examples are multiple things that are not infrastructure.

In Texas there is an example of a privately built toll road (the Camino Columbia Toll Road) that failed in less than five years, as drivers proved that they would rather be stopped in heavy traffic than pay profitable toll rates. We have more toll roads that were not built by TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) but are being subsidized by TxDOT, because they are not bringing in the projected toll revenue; said infrastructure is not, as was promised, self-sufficient.

What had worked, for decades, for transportation infrastructure is publicly owned and operated, by municipal, state and/or federal DOT. These facilities are supported by state and federal taxes on the fuels used by the vehicles that travel on these roads. While vehicles have gotten more efficient, inflation has made provisioning more expensive and fuel taxes have stagnated (since 1991 federal and 1993 in Texas) common carrier infrastructure has been utterly underfunded by supply side benefactors in Republican administrations (President, Governor and Legislators).

There really is a very significant infrastructure problem in the United States that should already be being addressed. It would be incredibly unfortunate if more folks were to be injured or killed before proper attention is devoted to resolving this crisis.

Republicans Refuse Responsibility

The extraordinary drift of the Republican Party into the far right, deep-end of politics continues as they try in vain to blame everything on the current President. When there is success then the President shouldn’t have done it, it could have been a huge mistake; like the federal bankruptcy proceedings that saved GM and Chrysler. Then there is a thing like health (Obamacare) care’s individual mandate that is unacceptable even though it was originally a Republican idea.

The Dream Act was first proposed by Senator Orrin Hatch (R – Utah) in 2003 and it went nowhere; though there was a Republican majority in the Senate and House – till January 2007, and a Republican President in the White House – till January 2009.

The Republicans had a majority in the US Senate and House at the start of the W administration in January of 2001; inheriting a federal budget surplus from the Clinton Administration. The surplus was turned into a deficit and the debt grew from $5.7 trillion to $8.6 trillion (by January 2007) and to $10.2 trillion by the end of W’s time in office. It took till the start of the Obama administration for Republicans to notice that the deficit is a problem!

Tax breaks for really rich folks (called, “job creators,” by Republicans even as thousands of factories and service centers – millions of jobs – left the United States during the W years) are at the core of Republican strategy. However, tax breaks for job holders was apparently not very important and a two month extension barely passed before congress left for their holiday vacations.

Complex regulations are an enormous problem for businesses now, according to Republicans, during the current administration. It wasn’t enough of an issue during the W admin because it wasn’t even mentioned, let alone being addressed.

The economy grew at the fastest rate in the last 30 years – more than 20 million jobs were created – during the Clinton presidency; the R’s theory suggests that there had to have been fewer regulations (except that there weren’t).

So, there are a bunch of new (to Republicans) problems in the Obama administration and it is entirely the President’s fault. Nonsense, ideas don’t stop in the legislature because of the chief executive, legislators are charged exclusively with passing bills before they can be sent to the next level; you know, the White House.

If the voters want to have a congress that will do their job; accomplish the things that will actually get our legislators’ approval rating above 12%… They should vote for new representatives: like me (candidate for the US House of Representatives, TX district 31).

Voters should also push hard for term limits for these new public servants, so that we will not forget that we are indeed civil servants to our constituents: voters!