“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Monday, June 28, 2010

Government Spending, Borrowing & Priorities

I happened to view two troubling programs this weekend on the History Channel. They dealt with the crumbling US infrastructure for services such as fresh water, sewage, power distribution and, of course, the perennial bridge conditions.

As I watched, I was shocked to hear, twice, the phrase 'best quality materials were not available' when discussing the construction of critical infrastructure projects.

The first for which appropriate materials were not available was New York City's underground Delaware aqueduct from upstate New York. The second was the Tappan Zee bridge.

The aqueduct was finished during WWII, so high quality steel in adequate supply was unavailable. As a result, engineers were unable to stem a leaking section of the water supply pipe without essentially patching it with concrete and hoping that would hold.

It did, for a while. But now it is estimated that the water supply pipe sends upwards of a million gallons per day, if I heard it correctly, into the surrounding ground, causing sinkholes and serious land erosion problems in a town located about 100 miles north of New York City.

The Tappan Zee, according to the program, was unable, during the Korean War, to be supplied with sufficient structural steel, so wood was used instead in internal sections. The bridge is now on the verge of becoming unusable.

Other elements of the programs highlighted the routine bursting of waste water pipes from aging metal materials, the acid contents, and the snags caused by internal corrosion which exacerbate the problem.

What struck me, as I viewed these two chilling programs, was how warped and reversed our governments' spending priorities have become at all levels.

How many times do you hear municipal union members scream about cutting school, fire or police employees? Never mind that we've allowed schools to become bloated, and police to serve in many capacities which vastly overpay them, such as routine traffic control.

In many states, legislators, often due to federal government requirements, have been forced to spend money on non-essential programs. The overall level of governmental control, permitting and general invasiveness into our lives costs money, both in terms of time and the staffs we now pay to conduct all of this extra government business.

Truly, our elected representatives have behaved as if there is no limit to the funds they can spend on our behalf.

Meanwhile, we have communities which have to boil water to prevent infection by e coli coming out of their taps, due to waste water pipe failures.

Somehow, in the past 60+ years, we've forgotten to hold our elected representatives accountable for providing basic services crucial to the level of civilization we've come to expect in America.

That has to end. Concerns about special education, universal health care, green energy sources and various other second-order, or lesser, issues, must be put on back burners, while we force our governments, at all levels, to address basic services.

We're staggering under previously unimagined debt and tax burdens, only to have basic infrastructure falling apart.

Priorities have to change, and fast. Or we won't even continue to enjoy the basic qualities of life we've come to take for granted for the past hundred years.

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