Speaking of demagoguery—here’s an item from the RG last week:
From Portland to Ashland, in communities large and small, a lack of money is making it difficult for many cities to maintain streets, according to the League of Oregon Cities.
“Cities do not have adequate resources to conduct proper street maintenance and preservation, but have to triage, choosing what emergency road treatments to provide while watching overall city road conditions slide,” according to a report by the association.
The piece goes on to describe a $170 million backlog of street repairs in Eugene, a city of roughly 100,000 households. That’s $1700 per household just to catch up on deferred street maintenance. Why aren’t we maintaining streets? Have we been going through tough economic times? No….economic growth proceeds apace… . The trend toward potholes…
…began to appear in the 1990s, when voters passed statewide property tax limit Measures 5 and 50, the league said in its report titled “City Streets: Investing in a Neglected Asset.”
Cities, counties, and states have a problem the feds don’t: it’s more difficult to borrow long term to fund current operations—like repairs. So, for example, Bush can run his war and actually decrease taxes, while local government are forced to conduct the political equivalent of bake sales to maintain their roads. Local governments also have another problem. Many of their programs have precisely zero sex appeal, like road repairs.
However the main problem, one faced by all levels of government, is the willingness of the conservative movement to demagogue the issue of taxes–hence the road repair problem started when property tax limitations were passed. Like most tax cutting plans, the property tax limits were advocated by interest groups that wanted to redistribute wealth upward—in this instance to property owners—and wanted to cut government spending on social programs. Lacking popular support for either of these goals they adopted the now familiar game plan: offer something everyone wants: lower taxes; establish that government is grossly inefficient and can easily eliminate billions and billions in waste fraud and abuse; proclaim a religious faith in the ability of unregulated markets to solve all problems. If that fails, announce that you have a “secret plan”.
The tax-cut demagoguery has now gone beyond cutting social programs and fattening up fat cats, it has resulted in an inability to address virtually any problem that has shared benefits and requires shared costs. The list such problems is long. From environmental degradation to to a grossly inefficient health care system to simply repairing roads and bridges.