Monday, September 1, 2008

Focusing on the Transportation Crisis

Last week I attended the kickoff of the Governor's Transportation Funding Conference in Boise. Here are some of the more salient quotes I jotted down as the hosts welcomed the audience, as well as my own thoughts as they were uttered:

Otter: "People are acutely aware of the deteriorating infrastructure that we have."
Me: I'm not sure most people really are aware, particularly when the ruling party continues to bang the tax-cut drum, insisting that in spite of enormous and long overdue infrastructure needs, we need to be returning money to taxpayers. People haven't received the message: "Due to lack of investment and planning and increased stresses on our infrastructure, we've dug a huge hole for ourselves and it's now going to be very expensive to restore roads and bridges from their current state of disrepair."

Otter: "You're all part of this solution. I don't know what the solution is."
Me: I'm pretty sure you do know what the solution is--some combination of higher taxes and fees. You just don't want to say it. Instead, you'll provide all the evidence and let people draw their own conclusions.

Otter: "We're heading towards a crisis that puts our economy at risk."
Me: We need more of this sort of candor.
Crapo: "As a strong fiscal conservative Republican, I believe this spending is justified."
Me: Government spending that's justified?? You mean the private sector ("the markets") can't solve this issue? Why is it so difficult to admit that government can deliver services and serve the public interest in ways that the private sector simply cannot and should not? Why apologize for wanting to spend public money on a system of roads and bridges that nearly everyone uses and expects to be well maintained and safe? See Oliver Wendell Holmes' quote on taxes.

Crapo: "We must not forget our transit needs."
Me: I appreciate mention of public transit, though the other lead-off speakers did seem to forget about such needs. Kudos to Sen. Crapo for bringing it up, though it's a shame it's still treated as more of an afterthought. The transit issue has to assume a larger place in the overall discussion--otherwise, we're simply talking about myopic band-aiding of a more serious problem (our addiction to oil). Cheap gas is history. People want to get out of their cars. We need alternatives to driving our own cars and we need the funding mechanisms (and the legal authority) to build such solutions.

I returned at the end of the day for the public comment segment, which was to have begun at 4:00. I arrived at 5:15 and they hadn't begun taking comments. Then they took a 15-20 minute recess, at which time I had to leave.

Hats off to Dept. of Transportation from some great information, including this brochure and this web site. They make a compelling case for needed investment and mustering the political will to make such investment.

New West journalist and Dist 21 legislative candidate Sharon Fisher has more:

P.S. Here's a bonus fact: the fuel efficient Toyota Camry is Idaho's most popular car. Whouda thunk?

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