Kirk Ross has an excellent review of the miserable state of maintence in state and local government, which has been one of my pet peeves for decades, ever since I was responsible for routine upkeep of the bridge on the USS Charleston (LKA-113), where I was the navigator.
In the Navy, they spend what must be at least a third of their time doing maintenance on equipment and facilities. It's a never-ending job and they're very disciplined about it. Which makes perfect sense given the huge upfront investments we make in ships, aircraft, weapons systems, and more.
We the People make those same kinds of investments in public infrastructure. Whether its a sewage plant, a bridge, a highway, a government building, or any piece of capital equipment, we're spending millions or billions of dollars initially - but then, when the budgets get written and allocated, we're cutting corners like crazy when it comes to maintaining our investments in good shape.
It is long-term and butt-dumb stupid to put off improvements and needed repairs to the public infrastructure. But towns, counties and water systems do it all the time – shifting maintenance funds into other areas to make the budget. It’s a habit that is not exclusively a matter of rich and poor. In high-growth areas, resources are focused more on keeping up with expansion than keeping up with repairs. In less affluent towns, aging systems get patched over instead of replaced. In fact, you can see many of our finer cities, towns and counties represented each month on the tally sheet of fines handed out by the state’s Division of Water Quality.
Aside from that whole danger to public health thing, there are a couple of other reasons why this is troubling. First, the public sector ought to live up to the same responsibilities and requirements it asks of the private sector. When the state was cracking down on hog farms, the industry used to complain that municipal systems did more damage than the hogs did. While at the time a lot of folks called that hogwash, the farmers’ record since then has at least shown some improvement, while sewage plant spills are just as bad, if not worse.
This is the kind of approach the government-haters just love, love, love. They want to squeeze budgets to death, which means we fail to maintain our physical infrastructure, which leads to their calls for privatization, which means rich white boys like Fred Smith get to make even more money taking over government services, which means poor people get screwed, again. And all the while, the promise of trickle-down economics smells more and more like sh*t running downhill.
Ross has a killer closing paragraph:
Now, there’s a new report card out and we got an overall “C-” in a survey of infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The engineers fault that pesky deferred maintenance gene prevalent here. They gave the state a “D” in roads for all the potholes, cracks and crumbling overpasses and a “D” in dams. We did manage to pull out a “B-” in rail. State analysts are still trying determine if North Carolina’s GPA will require us to repeat 2006.
The only way I'll want to repeat 2006 is if the cowards in the Republican Party of Torture get kicked out the doors of Congress and the state legislature. In which case, I'll be looking for an instant replay in 2008.
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