Our Crumbling Infrastructure Shouldn’t Be a Partisan Issue

Did Russia make 55,000 of America’s bridges unsafe to drive on? Did ISIS do it? Did North Korea?

No. Privatization, austerity, kleptocracy and plutocracy did. And they’ll continue to do so until we get real about infrastructure as an urgent political priority. Anybody who tells you that the war on drugs or the war on political refugees are better ways to spend our resources is very under informed about the major issues we face here at home.

For example, we’ll take it as a given that you’re familiar with the problems in Flint, Mich., where citizens still don’t have clean drinking water. Is this even America any longer when our infrastructure begins to resemble that of a Third World country?

This situation isn’t getting any better — and it won’t be again until we learn to speak like adults about the purpose of our tax revenue. Democrats have a communication problem about taxes and Republicans have a lying problem about them. Asking every taxpayer in America to help keep our water drinkable and our roads usable isn’t a burden, as some lawmakers want you to believe. It’s a mark of a developed society.

So, as hard as it is to do, let’s put aside the poisoned families of Flint and narrow our conversation down to the type of dread we’re more familiar with: shoddy bridges, congestion in our morning commutes and airports that can’t get us where we want to go.

What’s on the Table Right Now?

Before we go any further, it’s important to honestly look at the current infrastructure proposals on the table, such as they are. Candidate Trump, and now the Trump Administration, has promised Middle America and working Americans an infrastructure package that works for all of us and helps address this very real crisis.

Guess what we have instead so far?

More tax deductions for giant corporations. More privately controlled, for-profit corporations building what will become privately controlled, for-profit toll roads. If there’s any galvanizing and unifying truth to be found in America’s current political chaos, it’s this: Nobody likes paying tolls. And it sure as heck doesn’t need to be an industry unto itself worth, literally, billions.

Just look at China, where Chinese commuters pay the equivalent of $60 billion every year in road tolls to privately owned concerns, and yet the entire system now operates at a loss of about $660 billion. Whatever else it is, the private sector is clearly not inherently more “efficient” or “cost-effective” than publicly funded alternatives — not in Communist China nor in Capitalist America.

We’ll get to similar American horror stories in a moment, but the immediate point is this: Neither ignoring our infrastructure crisis, nor attempting wholesale privatization, is a rational course of action.

What our nation really needs is a new conversation entirely about the role roads, bridges, airports and public transportation play now, and could play in the future, in our everyday lives.

A Burden Shared Is Halved

One of the most important benefits of being an American citizen is that we don’t, or rather shouldn’t, have to worry about how hard it is to transport ourselves or our goods from Point A to Point B.

And consider this: Many politicians who fear globalization and want to see more domestic trade are the same ones who have stripped away funding from our infrastructure budget. But increased trade within our borders isn’t possible without functional bridges and passable roads, is it? We can’t simultaneously turn our back on the world and ignore our domestic needs.

America is supposedly a first-world country — and that means most freethinking adults here understand paying taxes is a transaction. We, the taxpayers, get to invest our money in the present and future quality of our country and what it offers its citizens. We accept that we pay taxes into a communal pool to pay for things like police stations and paved roads, because that’s how modern civilization works. In turn, having high-quality infrastructure lets each of us live happier and more productive lives.

Yes — taking an axe to our infrastructure budget represents a tax cut for constituents, but investing in it instead represents a very real benefit to all of us, from the very poor laborer to the very wealthy job creator. Because how we “do” housing and infrastructure in America is about much more than where we live and how we drive — it’s also about how we respond to major disasters like the housing crisis Puerto Rico has been facing and is still facing after the storms. We can focus on doing things like providing prefabricated housing, among other solutions, and answer real human needs when the unforeseeable happens.

No, we’re not advocating for wholesale socialism, in case you needed reassuring. There’s still plenty of room here for privately owned government contractors to build these bridges, re-pave our roads, retrofit our airports, make sure our water systems aren’t literally poisoning and killing our children and do a host of other important jobs that keep our citizens safe and employed. They’ll just have to do it under burdensome regulations like those envisioned by everybody’s favorite “Marxist,” president Obama, who claimed that major corporations doing work like this, on behalf of the government, should have to pay their workers a fair wage, offer paid sick leave as a matter of course and face reasonable punishments when they steal from taxpayers.

Not toll roads. Not shareholders pocketing profits from American commuters in perpetuity. We’re talking publicly owned public-works projects, built and maintained by Americans who are employed by fair-minded and cost-effective companies. The labor required can be privately owned, but the resulting structure is publicly owned. This is a huge distinction the Trump administration doesn’t seem to grasp, judging by the degree to which they want to let profit motive hold sway over the development of our shared infrastructure.

And we’d better tell both Republicans and Democrats how we feel about it right now. Because with each passing year, the problem gets more dangerous and more expensive to fix. The more-or-less “official” Infrastructure Report Card gave America’s infrastructure a D, as in Dismal, in 2017. This problem isn’t fixing itself. So what do we do about it?

To begin with, we can’t pretend for a moment that the tax plan that’s currently on the table will make this crisis any better. The GOP is proposing stripping even more tax revenue from the public coffers and concentrating it instead at the top where it rarely trickles back down.

It’s more of the same. We need new thinking. The truth is, high-quality and industry-ready infrastructure is easy to pay for when we have progressive taxation. That means everybody paying their fair share within reason.

Need more proof these people are out of touch? For more case studies that show why the privatization of infrastructure is a terrible idea, travel the dirt roads to American towns with plummeting home resale values — some of which are right in Vice President Pence’s backyard.


Sam Jenkins
EditorSam Jenkins
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Steven Singer
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Pat Greer
EditorPat Greer
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