Infrastructure is a worthwhile investment, part 2

Published 7:00 am Friday, June 15, 2018


Hampton is a Mississippi journalist. He retired as editorial director of the Clarion Ledger in 2012 and now teaches journalism.


It’s not fair to blame it all on elected officials. We can look in the mirror here. Our body politic is such that any proposal ANY, ALL, NO EXCEPTIONS, to raise taxes is politically toxic. Elected officials believe, and with good basis, that they will suffer dire political consequences if they support a basic fuel tax increase to fix roads and bridges.

So instead, we get smoke-and-mirror, duct-tape-and-bailing-wire schemes (lotteries, tax swaps, sports gambling) to try to repair some roads and fix a few bridges in a way that elected officials can say they did something without raising taxes. The problem is those schemes don’t add up to enough to do the job, and they can’t agree on one anyway.

Next will come the age-old political strategy of delaying so long as to create the crisis in hopes of forcing action. The problem is, with roads and bridges, not acting makes the long-term costs higher and could hurt people. You don’t play politics with infrastructure safety.

So, let’s look back to what our ancestors did before the big anti-tax bomb dropped. They funded roads with fuel taxes, which is the most and effective way to pay for roads and bridges. It is fair. It is a use tax. People who use the roads pay for the roads. Most other states have figured that out and raised their fuel taxes. We need to raise our fuel tax, allow it to adjust for inflation and include electric vehicles in the tax mix.

There was a time when our elected officials knew how to do these things. There was a time when voters understood that everybody has to chip in to pay for society’s infrastructure. There was even a time when elected officials were willing to make difficult decisions to do what was needed, even if it meant they might not be so popular. Roads should be easy. What about the real difficult issues that also need investment and commitment? Education? Economic development? Health care?

But all of that political ability and social responsibility is lost, forgotten somewhere in our past. Lost knowledge, lost wisdom, lost technology. Like Charlton Heston looking at the ruins of the broken Statue of Liberty in the Planet of the Apes, we are staring at the crumbling remains of the roads and bridges built by past generations, wondering why were we so foolish to let it all slip away? Dang it, even Mel Gibson in Mad Max chased the bad guys through the wasteland on smooth highways.