Infrastructure: Spending Dollars Correctly

By August 19, 2007Infrastructure

Straight-forward editorial in the Wall Street Journal arguing that the problem with infrastructure is not how MUCH money is being spent, but rather HOW it’s being spent. The focus is on Minnesota and its tax revenues, the choices facing Governor Pawlenty, and the record of Chairman James Oberstar.

Minnesota spends $1.6 billion a year on transportation–enough to build a new bridge over the Mississippi River every four months. But nearly $1 billion of that has been diverted from road and bridge repair to the state’s light rail network that has a negligible impact on traffic congestion. Last year part of a sales tax revenue stream that is supposed to be dedicated for road and bridge construction was re-routed to mass transit. The Minnesota Department of Economic Development reports that only 2.8% of the state’s commuters ride buses or rail to get to work, but these projects get up to 25% of the funding.

Americans aren’t selfish or stingy, and they can see for themselves that many of our roads need repair. Minnesota in particular is a state that has long prided itself on its “progressive” politics and a willingness to pay higher taxes for good government. Minnesotans already pay twice as much in taxes per capita than residents in New Hampshire and Texas–states that haven’t had a major bridge collapse.

We suspect most voters would indeed be willing to pay more for better roads and bridges, if they had any reason to believe that is where the money would be spent. But they have long experience with politicians promising them that new taxes will go to such projects only to see it diverted for parochial ends. A new Survey USA poll finds that 57% of Minnesotans oppose higher gas taxes. Mr. Pawlenty can follow their advice, or Mr. Oberstar’s.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution speaks to this issue. That passage about light rail.

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