Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 5, 2010

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS.... To say that the United States has an infrastructure problem would be a serious understatement. We're currently "saddled with a rapidly decaying and woefully underfunded transportation system," which undermines our economy and weakens our position against global competitors.

A new bipartisan investigation found that U.S. investment in preservation and development of transportation infrastructure "lags so far behind that of China, Russia and European nations that it will lead to 'a steady erosion of the social and economic foundations for American prosperity in the long run.'"

That's the bad news. The good news is, President Obama seems deeply interested in making infrastructure investments a real priority, and approves of the kind of policies the bipartisan panel of experts endorsed, including "continued development of high-speed rail systems better integrated with freight rail transportation, and expansion of intermodal policies rather than reliance on highways alone to move goods and people."

So, there's reason for optimism, right? Sure, we have a serious national problem, but we know how to fix it, and we have a White House that wants to do the right thing. Especially when it comes to high-speed rail, which has broad national appeal, the president has already begun making key investments.

But as is often the case, Republicans disapprove of the sensible policy.

Republicans running for governor in a handful of states could block, or significantly delay, one of President Obama's signature initiatives: his plan to expand the passenger rail system and to develop the nation's first bullet-train service.

In his State of the Union address this year, the president called for building high-speed rail, and backed up his words with $8 billion in stimulus money, distributed to various states, for rail projects.

But Republican candidates for governor in some of the states that won the biggest stimulus rail awards are reaching for the emergency brake.

Scott Walker (R) wants to kill the investment in Wisconsin, and includes a "we'll stop this train" message in his campaign ads. John Kasich (R) wants to kill a project to link Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati by rail in Ohio. Rick Scott (R) wants to kill the rail project linking Orlando and Tampa in Florida. Meg Whitman (R) wants to kill the plan to link Los Angeles and San Francisco with HSR in California.

We're talking about projects that create jobs, spur economic development, relieve traffic congestion, and help the environment, all while offering the promise of transforming American transportation in the 21st century.

But they're not tax cuts, so Republicans aren't on board.

In fairness, I should note that the bulk of the GOP objections have to do with complaints about infrastructure upkeep and maintenance, which the gubernatorial candidates don't think their states can afford. Of course, as John Cole noted, "Turning down a billion dollar train because you will have to pay 8 million a year in maintenance is like giving away a free car because you might have to one day buy windshield wiper fluid."

The Republican line used to be that they can keep the trains running on time. The new line is that they can't keep the trains running at all.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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Comments

Whitman isn't going to win so California will take MUCH MORE OF THE MONEY.

There needs to be a bullet train from LA to Vegas. Perhaps Brown, the next governor, and the Nevada governor even if he is Republican will want the money for a train because both states' unemployment rates are well above 10%.

Posted by: Maritza on October 5, 2010 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting that no mention is made of finding the money to pay for it.

-a good place to start looking, is the two BILLION dollars a week we are "investing" in Afghanistan. . .

Posted by: DAY on October 5, 2010 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

It startles me that the Democrats are so weak that they could lose to these clowns. Not only will the GOP not keep the trains running, they'll make sure there aren't any trains at all, both literally and figuratively.

It's madness, and the Democrats should be hammering away at them for this. Even with the media tilted so far in the GOP's favor, this is still a message that could easily get through, if only they would push it.

Posted by: Shade Tail on October 5, 2010 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Prediction: The Republican governors will take the money, then use it to fund tax cuts.

Posted by: JMG on October 5, 2010 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

"Turning down a billion dollar train because you will have to pay 8 million a year in maintenance is like giving away a free car because you might have to one day buy windshield wiper fluid."

Of course, one finds billion dollar trains growing on trees all the time. I wonder where the money came from to pay for it.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on October 5, 2010 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Why on earth would Republicans be interested in projects that would improve our infrastructure, put people to work, save energy, make travel easier, and improve our technological capital when the ideas are being proposed by a Democrat?

Meanwhile according to The Onion, President Bush is working on putting a man on Mars quietly in his spare time.

Posted by: chrenson on October 5, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

What I don't understand is how the invisible hand of the free market allowed our infrastructure to become so dilapidated in the first place? where is the private sector? Where are the firms that will fix these bridges and highways??

It's the same reason why it took the New Deal programs to do rural electrification for instance. Large swaths of the south and Midwest in the 30's had no electricity, simply because it wasn't profitable for companies to make that sort of investment.

The larger question here is why does the government ALWAYS have to step in and fix what the private sector fails to do?

Posted by: citizen_pain on October 5, 2010 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

do the Republicans have a solution for the decaying infrastructure then? Perhaps a privatized program where construction ends up with toll roads/ train service?

I think JMG is onto something: the GOP candidates are making a big show out of it now, but once in office they'll take the money kicking and screaming like little babies, just like they've done with the stimulus moneys. And they'll find any excuse to cut funding and taxes regardless.

My take: The Republicans don't hate the money. They just hate the boss handing the money out.

Posted by: PaulW on October 5, 2010 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

The larger question here is why does the government ALWAYS have to step in and fix what the private sector fails to do?

You answered your own question: it's not so much that the private sector 'fails' to do such things as rural electrification, as it is that they consciously choose to not do them, since they're not sufficiently profitable. One of the main reasons for government existing in the first place is that there are certain things that private individuals or organizations either can not or will not do on their own.

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on October 5, 2010 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

Questions you won't hear on teevee

What I don't understand is how the invisible hand of the free market allowed our infrastructure to become so dilapidated in the first place? Where is the private sector? Where are the firms that will fix these bridges and highways??

If it helps...

I think the invisible hand of the market is busy in AZ taking care of nursing homes and the occasional nuisance fine:

Villa Campana, the 120-bed for-profit nursing home, owned by Kentucky-based Kindred Healthcare, paid the state a $10,000 fine this summer for failing to follow its own policies and procedures on caring for and preventing pressure ulcers. In one case, a patient developed a pressure sore that grew so severe it required surgery to remove the coccyx bone, a state report says.
There are also three pending lawsuits against Villa Campana alleging inadequate care: two in Pima County Superior Court and one in federal court.

The invisible hand can't be everywhere you know!
It's busy in AZ, keeping seniors out of the federal government death camps...
So cut it some slack... willya?


Posted by: koreyel on October 5, 2010 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

If the people in those states want to vote for those guys then let 'em. Then don't provide the funds to those states and put it in Democratic states where they will be happy to update their transportation infrastructure for the 21st century.

Let them cut off their noses to spite their collective faces. Screw 'em.

I'm to the point where I think all the tea baggers should just secede. They can have the south and Texas. And the new BlueUSA will enforce very strict border security so that the poor shoeless, toothless decrepit souls can't flee the hell hole they will have created for greener, liberal, pastures.

Posted by: Vince on October 5, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

["Of course, one finds billion dollar trains growing on trees all the time. I wonder where the money came from to pay for it."]

Ah, but wars in Moslem countries *do* grow on trees, am I right? Not to mention wars on drugs, and other reckless expensive boondoggles. And we apparently have plenty of money to pay for those.

*eyeroll*

Posted by: Shade Tail on October 5, 2010 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

when the ideas are being proposed by a Democrat?

In both Ohio and Wisconsin these projects were started and championed by Republicans. One reason that these projects were chosen over others is that Bob Taft in Ohio and Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin had the foresight to start these projects so that they were nearly "shovel ready" and thus awarded major funds to build what they've been planning for years. In fact Tommy Thompson was on Amtrak's Board of Directors.

Posted by: Michael on October 5, 2010 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

Vince: My friends and family here in Georgia don't want to secede. We have shoes, scrupulously maintained teeth, and well tended minds. Some of us are even proud liberals who aren't afraid of people who aren't exactly like us. If you're looking for a faceless, stereotyped group to castigate~ and you obviously are~ try to clean up your own little patch of heaven before "letting" mine secede.

Posted by: Decatur Dem on October 5, 2010 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

"Ah, but wars in Moslem countries *do* grow on trees, am I right? Not to mention wars on drugs, and other reckless expensive boondoggles. And we apparently have plenty of money to pay for those."

We don't, which is why I don't support such endeavors.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on October 5, 2010 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

gee, all these morons across the country are threatening HSR, but here in the NE corridor, where "high-speed" (i can't stress those air quotes enough) is in high demand didn't see a DIME of HSR stimulus cash.

how can you convince the morons in CA, WI, FL and elsewhere that HSR is worth the investment when the Acela runs a mere 30 minutes faster between Boston and NYC than the slow trains? why not spend the money to upgrade the Acela so it competes with the Japanese and European wundertrains. Get Americans from Boston to DC in 4 hours and CA will be clamoring for HSR.

Posted by: ahoy polloi on October 5, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

A bunch of cities in CA are suing the state over HSR, too. Approaching SF, the HSR board seems to be doing their best to bisect a bunch of cities, with a giant gash adjacent to a bunch of downtown areas -- not that the HSR would stop in these places, though.

But to buy off enough people, they've added enough additional stops that the projected time for LA to SF is something approaching 5hrs now, so barely shorter than driving, with prices that will be substantially above what carriers like Southwest offer.

The current claim is that it's superior to flying since there aren't long security lines. Of course, one credible terrorist threat (or attack) and that promise vanishes, too.

I wouldn't dream of voting for Whitman, but HSR's attempt to effectively run a highway through a bunch of nicely bikeable areas, possibly stealing land from Caltrain -- heavy commuter rail -- at the same time, isn't exactly a winner, IMHO.

Posted by: jon on October 5, 2010 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget the billions (yes, BILLION$$$) the GOP has 'pledged' to spend on the biggest boondoggle in human history: missile defense.
Where will that funding come from? (Sadly, even most Dem's are too gutless to oppose this total waste of tax money.)

But mention government spending on infrastructure and teabaggers go apoplectic. Amazing...

Posted by: nemisten on October 5, 2010 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

In both Ohio and Wisconsin these projects were started and championed by Republicans. One reason that these projects were chosen over others is that Bob Taft in Ohio and Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin had the foresight to start these projects so that they were nearly "shovel ready" and thus awarded major funds to build what they've been planning for years. In fact Tommy Thompson was on Amtrak's Board of Directors.
Posted by: Michael on October 5, 2010 at 4:4

Maybe michael, the few and the far betweenk, but they most likely voted against the stimulous fund, for pure political theatre. If they didn't and used brains, its like one of the few.At least they have some.

Posted by: Michael on October 5, 2010 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Well, historically, aside from the "infrastructure maintenance" BS, (passenger) rail issues NEVER get a lot of support from Republican officeholders. Ever. Mainly because Republicans, in general, are assclowns, but improving the country's rail system is seldom a priority for them. For a number of reasons:

1) GOP'ers mostly represent sparsely-populated "Red States" where HSR isn't, and won't ever be a major factor in tranportation.
2) They generally buy into the "Real Americans drive cars" cliche: trains are for the nostalgia-wallowing ("rail buffs"), the poor, or urban commuters; none of whom are part of the GOP "base", so therefore irrelevant.
3) Federally-financed HSR projects will offer fewer opportunities to Republican governors to grease their own pet lobbies like unrestricted "highway" grants do.
And most importantly:
4) It is an Obama Administration initiative, and thus must be opposed just because....

Posted by: Jay C on October 5, 2010 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

And it seems that Republican Governor of New Jersey Christie is about to stop work on a second rail tunnel to New York (Jersey City to Brooklyn) that would double freight rail capacity. He'd rather spend the money on road repair.

Posted by: emjayay on October 5, 2010 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Zorro that was rhetorical my friend :-)

Koreyel I hear you loud and clear.

Posted by: citizen_pain on October 5, 2010 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Decatur Dem: No offense was intended and no offensive stereotypes were meant by what I wrote. I grew up in SC and lived in Atlanta for 5 years, so I know that actually hardly anyone is toothless or shoeless.

What I should have been clearer about in my post was that the toothless and shoeless thing would happen after several years of the newly seceded south following tea bagger policies to their hearts content.

Sorry for the the appearance otherwise.

Posted by: Vince on October 5, 2010 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

Noted and accepted.

If I appear a bit thin skinned, perhaps it's because there's undeniably an assumption in Comments Land here and elsewhere that Southern= redneck= neoConfederate, and that everything above the Mason-Dixon line is enlightened and progressive, and it just ain't that simple. Michele Bachmann, fer chrissakes, is practically in Canada.

Posted by: Decatur Dem on October 5, 2010 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

["We don't, which is why I don't support such endeavors."]

OK, so you are bundling massive trillion-dollar free floating wars with drop-in-the-bucket single-billion train lines. I'll acknowledge the consistency there, but the massive disconnect with the scale of the spending rather boggles the mind. When people refer to the US as the richest country on Earth, that isn't hyperbole. We *do* have the money for infrastructure investments like train lines. Or rather, we would if we stopped wasting it on bombing the hell out of people who haven't attacked us (and weren't going to before we provoked them).

Posted by: Shade Tail on October 5, 2010 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

CP: I know you were being rhetorical, but it was a helpful opportunity to demonstrate the fundamental flaw in far-right thinking. Namely, that the 'Invisible Hand' isn't just invisible, it's incorporeal.

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on October 5, 2010 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

The main difference between Dem-favored spending and GOP-favored tax cuts is who controls the money. Give it to Democrats and you get roads, bridges, high speed trains and energy farms. Give it to republicans and you get hedge funds and overseas tax shelters.

The fewer the number of people who control the money the more uncertain the outcome. Hoarding and wealth are not the same things.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on October 6, 2010 at 4:23 AM | PERMALINK

To all those asking where the money for infrastructure would come from:

I visited the USA in spring (East coast) and was - well - shocked by the state of the infrastructure. The entire east coat resembles me of Eastern Germany - ca. 1991.

Investments in a worn-out infrastructure like yours will pay for themselves in no time simply because your economy relies on a well functioning infrastructure. You cannot sprint with such an anvil round your hips.

Posted by: Vokoban on October 6, 2010 at 4:33 AM | PERMALINK
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