Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bridges and budget constraints

I was at a public presentation made by some Republican legislators last week -- I have some notes but don't think I'll post them -- the discussion was about veterans and our support for the Iraq War. Some chirpy woman, who had made several critical comments already that evening, declared that we had made no payment on the Iraq War, which only could make sense to me by her claiming that every dollar taxed by our Federal government has to be spent on all the other things in the budget. That is, her implicit assumption is that we can only spend a dollar on Iraq after all those farm subsidies, health care cost reimbursements and post offices named after everyone and his mother-in-law.

I find this logic either amusing or irritating, depending on my mood. At the time I was irritated, but after visiting with friends I let it go.

Irritation returned this morning as I read the second in the StarTribune's full frontal assault on your wallet in the name of safety.

For MnDOT to keep pace with all statewide transportation needs from 2008 to 2030 -- including construction, safety projects, maintenance, and upgrades -- it would cost taxpayers $38.1 billion, according to MnDOT's most recent estimates.

But over that same time period, with current funding policy, MnDOT estimates that it will only have $14.5 billion.

McFarlin said MnDOT's fiscal 2008 budget is short at least $85 million for scheduled construction projects.

At what point did anyone discuss redistributing money to transportation from other parts of the budget? "Which ones?" you ask. Well, Phil Krinkie has an idea: Maybe we don't need to spend money on transit, particularly when you buy an 80 mile project but get a 40 mile project instead. Nicole Russell wonders about $50 million to provide security at the GOP Convention. Nice that Bemidji State gets some sugar for engineer and nurse training but could that money be better spent?

Every additional dollar spent on bridge repair, construction, or inspection has three sources: You can tax more; you can borrow more; or you can spend less somewhere else. Dropping any of those three from the equation means you are optimizing subject to NO budget constraint. This is the height of folly; you cannot run your own home buying more of X, Y and Z without at least considering if you could do without so much of A, B, or C. Neither can you run a government.

(Crossposted from SCSU Scholars.)

No comments: