Playing the “roads” card

Tax discussions invariably devolve to a point where one side finds it necessary to resort to the “roads” card. The assumption with this rejoinder is that “roads” are a major and necessary function of government. Setting aside the “necessary” aspect for now, let’s address the “major” assumption. At first glance it would seem something as ubiquitous as roads must carry a heavy cost burden: they are everywhere after all. But first glances are seldom correct. Let’s look at the numbers. In the state of Georgia the FY2012 budget allocates a mere 0.03% of the budget to transportation. The proposed Federal FY2012 budget allocates only 2.8% to transportation. Hmmmm… how can this major function of government be such a minor expense? The US contains approximately 4 million total miles of all road types. We could repave all of it EVERY YEAR and it would only cost roughly $400 billion (1/10th of the budget).

Tax discussions invariably devolve to a point where one side finds it necessary to resort to the “roads” card.

As I’m sure most are aware, the GA Department of Transportation has been busy around town the past few weeks, most notably with the repaving of the Hwy. 441 Bypass. This is a prime example of resource misallocation. This repaving was not necessary. I drive this stretch everyday. There was not a thing wrong with it and believe me I know bad roads! I lived in Indiana for several years where the roads were subjected to snow, ice and salt. They were rough, pot-holed and frost-heaved. They were only repaved when the cost of annual maintenance exceeded the cost of repaving. Our “old” Georgia roads would be the envy of any Hoosier! Why are we doing this? Jobs. The seen. We see the workers working; certainly this is good for the economy? What we don’t see are the jobs not created, the goods not purchased, all because present (taxes) or future (progeny taxation) funds have been redirected towards work that wasn’t even necessary.

Yes, roads need to be maintained, but absent any economic incentives (prices) bureaucrats have no way to efficiently allocate resources. Resources (money) get allocated based on personal whims and connections. I have no doubt somewhere in Georgia there are some beat up old roads that do need work (Fieldcrest Lane in east Morgan comes to mind!) but they are not political priorities.  Politicians waste money on pet projects and then have the audacity to put their hat in hand the following year asking for even more so they can accomplish what they failed to do the first time. And we give it to them, because we’re too busy with our own lives to care. We hear the President pontificate on our crumbling infrastructure. Nobody bothers to as ask why governments, the supposed stewards of our roads and bridges, were not setting aside funds all these years to properly maintain these depreciating assets. That’s what any good business does (good meaning one that does not go bankrupt due to mismanagement). With our revolving door governmental representation there is no accountability; 236 years of “the next guys problem” is the legacy we are left with. Concentrated benefits and diffuse costs perpetuate the problem.

So yes, we all love a nice new smooth road, but let’s consider the cost, in the end someone must pay. Let’s not spend money we don’t have.