Where potholes and politics meet

Posted 6/16/21

Nothing can unify a divided population quite as fast as an exponentially large pothole - right? Whether you're a staunch conservative, a far-left liberal or somewhere in between, we can all share common animosity towards the familiar experience of seeing

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Where potholes and politics meet


Nothing can unify a divided population quite as fast as an exponentially large pothole – right?

Whether you’re a staunch conservative, a far-left liberal or somewhere in between, we can all share common animosity towards the familiar experience of seeing a giant chunk of highway missing a split second too late to swerve away from it – followed by the silent praying that happens immediately after impact where you wait to hear the dreaded “thud, thud, thud” sound of a flat tire.

We all need to get places, and we all need roads, bridges, and highways to get to those places. Unfortunately, maintaining these resources is costly, time-consuming and burdensome – which often encourages politicians at every level of government to defer such maintenance as long as possible.

When that deferred maintenance finally becomes so drastic it can no longer be ignored, whichever unlucky politicians find themselves in charge at that time must then go about figuring out how to make up for decades of disrepair while impacting their constituencies the least – whether it be through physical construction delays and detours while roads and bridges are fixed, or the financial consequences of higher taxes necessary to pay for these expensive projects.

The country finds itself at such a pivotal crossroads regarding its infrastructural future right now.

Rhode Island might be used as the marquee example of infrastructural woes on the NBC Nightly News – featuring a frightful sight that more resembled a giant Jenga board than a bridge – but our plight is far from unique. Across the nation, roads, bridges, dams, levies and other major infrastructural features rank perilously close to failure in terms of their safety, overall condition and remaining usability.

However, you could actually argue that Rhode Island is doing better than some of its lowly-ranked infrastructural peers. We recently jumped Iowa and West Virginia (no longer last place!) in the percentage of structural sufficient bridges, and are actively addressing some of our most crucial infrastructural issues through state bonding and the continuing RhodeWorks program – which began in 2016 and aims to make 90 percent of the state’s bridges structurally sufficient by 2025.

President Biden’s administration has also now advanced a $2.3 trillion nationwide infrastructure plan that aims to address infrastructural physical deficiencies and utilize temporary corporate tax rate increases – combined with closing corporate tax loopholes and infusing the IRS with $80 billion in additional funding through his $1.8 trillion “American Families Plan” to better identify and shake down tax avoiding companies – to pay for it all.

As with any ambitious agenda, there is bound to be skepticism and conflicting reports about how effective these plans will actually be.

For example, while proponents of the infrastructure plan herald it as a means to create living-wage, union-protected jobs, the independent Tax Foundation reported that the long-term effect of raising the corporate tax rate would actually result in over 100,000 fewer jobs down the road – a result of workers being the ones to bear the brunt of capital tax hikes through things like lower salaries and increased cost of corporate growth and development.

However, the primary gripe you will continue to hear – especially from the right side of the aisle – regarding the infrastructure spending plan is the elements that don’t reflect traditional definitions of “infrastructure”, such as the $400 billion that is earmarked for improving healthcare for senior citizens and individuals with disabilities.

Republican lawmakers have proposed their own pared back infrastructure bill that would seek to eliminate any talk of funding any cause that does not fit a traditional definition of infrastructure, and it will remain to be seen how far the Democrats are willing to bend on such an ultimatum. Ironically enough, one of the methods the Tax Foundation supports to raise the necessary money instead of corporate tax increases – a significant hike of the gas tax – is a non-starter with Republican legislators.

The key disagreement essentially boils down to the question: If infrastructure is defined as the physical, logistical components that allow our economy to function, do people therefore count as infrastructure?

The question sounds ridiculous, but when you think about how many otherwise healthy Americans are foregoing working and contributing to the economy in order to take care of their elderly or disabled family members, the concept doesn’t seem so whacky. If facilities to care for these individuals are necessary to allow hundreds of thousands of Americans to work and contribute to the economy – and such facilities simply do not exist in the capacity necessary – would that not conceptually fit the definition of an infrastructural problem?

Unfortunately, given the current polarization-fueled gridlock in Congress – further complicated by the dissension within Biden’s own Democratic Party – it seems unlikely that there will be a bipartisan answer to this bipartisan problem with the sort of rapidity that it warrants.

For now, Rhode Islanders will just have to keep a keen eye out for those potholes.

pothole, politics


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