Recently Sen. Jeff Siddoway helped me realize that not all Republican legislators who’ve supported measures designed to destroy the public schools want to destroy the public schools. Now I’m hoping that Idaho also has Republican legislators who don’t realize that measures they support are designed to end public ownership of roads and bridges.
Sound impossible? Check out this headline from Bloomberg.com, “CPP Investment Board to buy 10 percent of 407 Toll Road for About $878 million.”
That’s right. Corporations with $2 trillion sitting in banks are seeking profitable investments. Maybe people can’t afford to buy new things, but they’ll pay for necessities like roads.
Republicans claim that we can’t take care of roads and bridges today because we can’t pay for them. Never mind that in the 1950s — definitely not boom years — we embarked on an interstate highway system that was the envy of the world. Republicans then supported building roads because such long-term investments would help both businesses and people.
For Democrats, there was the added bonus of good-paying jobs.
Today’s Republican leadership, however, is more interested in making the rich even richer.
Since 2008, the transportation policy of ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — has called for a “market-driven highway system” and “private investment in highway projects.” “Tolling,” charging to use roads, is the subject of five of its seven principles.
Do I need to remind you that several Idaho legislators are ALEC members?
Loyola University economics professor Walter Block published a major book urging privatizing roads in 2009. Ted Stossel, Peter Samuel, David Klein and Linda and Morris Tannehill have echoed his call. Most cite “reducing congestion” as the No. 1 argument for privatizing.
Road crowded? Just charge more. Make those who can’t afford a $5 toll each day to crowd into side streets so the paying customers can cruise without delays.
Economics professor Bruce L. Benson suggests privatizing even those side roads and giving the owners the power to police the environs so they can guarantee the safety of their customers. Just how high would tolls have to be to provide a private police force?
Powerful people who crusade against “one more cent” in taxes aren’t worried about your pocketbook. They have no qualms about you having to pay whatever the market will bear to corporations like Toll Road Investors or CPP Investments.
And toll supporters don’t have to convince the public to support privatization. They just have to prevent us from maintaining our decaying roads and bridges long enough that fear of death or injury builds. A collapsing bridge killing a dozen or more and embroiling the state in lawsuits would be a boon for them.
And once we let our roads and bridges go, the chances of buying them back are nil.
How do we retain our public infrastructure? To start off, we should follow Siddoway’s lead and give maintaining our roads and bridges a higher priority than new tax cuts. Idaho already collects the least taxes per person of any state.
Then we should spread the cost over a number of measures. Legislators are considering increasing user fees for long-haul trucks, vehicle registration fees and the gas tax. (It’s doubtful congressional Republicans can increase the federal gas tax; the Koch brothers and other oil billionaires are against it.)
There is also talk of increasing the sales tax another cent. Or we could add a new income tax bracket, perhaps charging an extra 0.5 percent for those making over $140,000 a year.
None of these options is appealing. But paying tolls to visit the kids in Moscow could be a lot worse.
* Judy Ferro is the state committeewoman for Canyon County Democrats. Email her at email@example.com.