Thursday, March 29, 2007

More on Infrastructure

Not only is Deval Patrick concerned about the revenue gap for maintaining our infrastructure, but I wake up to finding it as the Boston Globe's top story this morning. How refreshing: a relevant, fair story coming out of the Globe - and it's given proper respect on the front-page to boot.

Also, kudos to Governor Patrick for his new press releases to bloggers (as promised during his meeting with us in Boston last Saturday) - it's nice to actually be able to report on a story before the Globe! Woot, woot.

Enough of the glowing Patrick praise, he's going to earn his weight in gold if he can figure out the Bay State's way out of this mess. It's Sink or Swim, Governor... or should I say Sink and Swim, given the state of our state's bridges? Everyone knew our infrastructural needs were bad, but I don't think many had any idea they were this scary:

The projected $15 billion to $19 billion shortfall over the next 20 years, up from prior estimates of $9.5 billion to $15.7 billion, is a conservative calculation, commission members said.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation does not have the money or expertise to maintain and fix Storrow Drive, Soldiers Field Road, Longfellow Bridge, and its other roads and bridges.

Yikes. I don't know what's scarier: the fact that one of the best ways to get around Boston in a car is falling into major disrepair - or the fact that the Department of Conservation and Recreation is in charge of Storrow Drive? Of course they don't have the expertise (or the money). Let's put it in the hands of some organization that does - there must be some kind of organization in Massachusetts that's in charge of keeping track of the highways, with lots of experts and personnel. Oh, yes, that's right - the Massachusetts Highway Department. Who'd a thought?

Fixing the Bay State's infrastructure is a must: everything depends on it, from jobs to entertainment. Yet, the revenue has to come from somewhere. The Massachusetts state gas tax is fairly low compared to other states in the region, but even a modest gas-tax increase would be difficult to pass. Furthermore, I'm not so sure it's the best solution anyway: there are lots of pros and cons (it's not a very progressive tax, but we need revenue for our state's roads and curbing mileage has environmental benefits). So what do readers think? How to we bridge this gap?


Anonymous said...

One thing to keep in mind - the bond money can only be used on CAPITAL expenditures. The vast amount of the shortfall is due to EMPLOYEE/PAYROLL costs, which cannot be bonded. Which will mean getting rid of excexx employees and sweatheart pension deals.

Ryan Adams said...

For every sweatheart pension deal tehre is out there, there's a gazillion merely fair ones. People who get pensions, at least from the state, don't get social security - and must always pay (dearly) toward their pension fund. If someone puts in 20-30 years in a company, they deserve a good pension or at least 401k matching program.

Anonymous said...

Our Employees

It's a sign of civic disengagement that we do not think of state employees as our employees, as people we care about, whose morale is important to use, and for whose services we are grateful. Too often we think of them as lazy, unmotivated folk who just haven't been exposed by the Herald (is that a newspaper?) yet.

Boy, do we need more transparency in government if it's ever going to be adequately funded.


Anonymous said...

KBusch - if they were REALLY our employees, would you let them retire after 23 years of service, at full pension, regardless of age (most state workers have to be 55) and then pay 100% of their health insurance for the rest of their lives even if they go on to get other jobs and also collect Social Security? You would have to be a VERY rich boss!

Joel Patterson said...

I love how "anonymous" is so resentful that an employee might retire with a lifestyle above the poverty line, and with good health care. It's not like those things are as expensive as a war in the Middle East.

lenstewart said...

Turning back to infrastructure, for a moment...

...It's like when you take your car in to see what's making that little "pinging" noise, and then they tell you the whole transmission and drive shaft have to be replaced.

I'm afraid that legislators and our last several governors have played "business as usual," on this stuff, and diverted attention to things like "we can cut the income tax without harming services," and the like.

Now, as Ryan has said, Deval is starting to bring some of these major structural issues forward, because he said he would. No photo-op governing, thank you very much. Real, hands on stuff now.

And, the solutions are going to be really tough. And, if he proposes tough solutions, there'll be tremendous pressure to ignore the whole thing and go back to debating around the periphery of the whole situation.

I for one want to tell the Gov that we're with him through the tough part, and that we really want someone to lead the problem solving with honesty about what it's going to cost, and move us to real, long-term solutions

Ryan Adams said...

Good words, len.

Anonymous said...

unfortunately the word infrastructure to me brings up "the Big Dig", oh that went well. And the blame for that can be spread around to all the people running Beacon Hill at the time. Republican and Democrat.

Anonymous said...

Drop the requirement for state troopers to be paid $75 bucks an hour to sit in their cars at all these state road construction sites.

Ryan Adams said...

I agree - for the vast majority of construction projects, we don't need police. That could save this state (and private builders) a lot of money.

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