Falling off the highway cliff

Tappan-Zee-Bridge

You may have noticed a slight improvement in the behavior of the political parties in Washington. For now, they have stopped feuding over the deficit and the debt ceiling. Apparently, we’re no longer due to fall off the fiscal cliff. Sorry that fiscal cliff. Unfortunately tax revenues have been falling in many states, and the feuding in Congress has not gone away. All the budgetary problems could be solved with a little horse-trading. Unfortunately, those of a Tea Party persuasion are not in a mood for bipartisan cooperation. This makes it next to impossible to agree solutions to financial problems.

The next big question mark hovers over the Highway Trust Fund which is run by the Transportation Department and used to pay for work on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects. It’s due to run out of money in July. If no new funding is put in place, work on thousands of projects will have to be scaled back or canceled. This is extraordinary because the work may stall during the perfect weather season for building. If funding is restored later in the year, it may not be possible to begin work because of the onset of winter.

Speaking at the site of the aging Tappan Zee Bridge in New York with the partially built $4-billion replacement as the backdrop, President Obama began a political offensive to persuade Congress to act.

What he says makes perfect sense. These major projects create jobs and everyone benefits from money being pumped into the local economy. According to the figures released by the White House, some 700,000 jobs will be lost this year if the funding gap is not “bridged”. As a response, Senator Barbara Boxer has proposed funding to maintain spending at current levels for six years, passing the buck to the Finance Committee on where the money would come from to pay for it. Some have quietly suggested raising the gas tax but, with the entire House and more than one-third the Senate up for reelection this year, a tax increase seems unlikely.

Highway-Trust-Fund

The President has promised to streamline the bureaucracy for the permits to undertake road and infrastructure projects. In theory, this will increase the number of jobs and keep America competitive by repairing the decaying infrastructure. Essentially he blames the problems on the Republican Party which refuses cooperation out of spite. The problem for the GOP is their policy to offset new spending with matching cuts. This maintains spending at current levels. So the price of funding the Highway Trust Fund would be cuts in some other area of federal government. That’s going to make the vote tough for anyone proposing a spending increase and for anyone defending current spending on another vital government service. The result is likely to be another failure to agree and so the best we can expect is a few men wandering round our roads and bridges with duct tape, hoping to patch them together until common sense prevails. Until then, the crumbling roads and bridges are a safety hazard.

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