Subtitle: Trains, Planes and Automobiles, if the Federal Government is the answer, it must be a really stupid question, Part 5!
Last Thursday afternoon, March 29, 2018, in Richfield, Ohio, President Trump started laying out his outline for a major new “infrastructure initiative” to fix America’s crumbling roads, bridges and airports. I guess I’m wiling to give Mr. Trump a little latitude on this subject because of his history in the building industry, and I will wait and see what the actual design of his “plan” is, but I just have to question the basic premise whether the Federal Government should be the designer and overseer of this potential $1.5 – $3 TRILLION program.
Then I was watching one of the Saturday morning business shows two days later and they were discussing a recent report that “more than 55,000 bridges across the US are structurally deficient”. The discussion immediately went to the idea of the “infrastructure bill” that he discussed on Thursday. One of the panelist made the statement “Everyone knows that infrastructure is a responsibility of the Federal Government” like it was a matter of fact. Is it? I would contend that the reason why we’re in the condition we are today is BECAUSE of the involvement of the Federal Government in infrastructure.
Like most things related to government, particularly the Federal Government, being vague about the subject is just the beginning of the ruse. Let’s look at the definition from Merriam-Webster of “infrastructure”-
1: the underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization)
2: the permanent installations required for military purposes
3: the system of public works of a country, state, or region; also: the resources (as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity
Now, I’ll ask, “What parts of ‘infrastructure’ are Federal Government’s responsibilities?” I would say definition #2 above is definitely a Federal responsibility. But where do you draw the lines of responsibility for definitions 1 & 3? Does anybody think that having the Federal Government involved improves the value, quality or efficiency of “infrastructure”? Does anybody think having the Federal Government involved improves the value, quality or efficiency of anything? The answer to both questions has proven to be NO. I don’t disagree that there MAY be a need for the Federal Government to establish some minimum standards for some infrastructure components. But the idea that the Federal Government needs to be actively involved in all stages of infrastructure from pre-planning to completion is just foolish. And it’s also very expensive.
Let’s examine just one piece of Federal Government “infrastructure management”. The US Department of Transportation came in to existence on April 1, 1967(Note: yes that is April Fools Day). In just under 50 years it has gone from not being, to now being a massive bureaucracy with almost 59,000 employees. With a 2017 requested budget of $98.1 billion. What has happened to US infrastructure as this behemoth bureaucracy has expanded? It has consistently been disintegrating. We shouldn’t be at all surprised as this is the typical “return on investment” when the Federal Government gets involved. The Federal Government just operates at a net loss. But hey, it’s just free Federal tax money anyway.
There must be some benefits from the Federal Government being involved in “infrastructure” design and construction? You know there must be? But as I look at anything the Federal Government takes the lead on, it is always overly confusing or just outright dysfunctional, late and over budget. Why would it be expected that something as complex to start with as “infrastructure” can be any different? How could you question that using a formula crafted by the thousands of bureaucrats in Washington, DC, would not be the absolute best plan for every State, county and township across the Country? Well, because history is the greatest teacher. And history has proven that if the Federal Government, at least in its current modern form, is going to drive the bus, we need to be ready for a big bus wreck.
So, what would a good “infrastructure package” look like? The first component is that the money will be “block granted” to the States, based on population, population density and land area. With NO directive strings attached and independent of whom the Senators or Congressmen are from any State. The Davis-Bacon “Prevailing Wage” Act should be either suspended or repealed immediately to allow the project contractors to operate without dealing with a US Department of Labor anal exam. Next would be to require “fast-tracking” of Environmental Impact Studies that are related to infrastructure projects. And last, but certainly not least, end any federal planning rules and/or regulations. Then we might actually build some necessary roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
God Bless America! And America, Please Bless God Again!