The Road to Ruin

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Here
in Missouri the sky may not be falling, but the infrastructure is
in bad shape. You couldn't prove it by me, but I must admit that
I don't know what "infrastructure" means. I looked for
the word in my New Collegiate Dictionary, which isn't so new, notwithstanding
its name, and couldn't find it. It seems to be one of those new
words, like "closure," which people use so glibly you'd
think they knew what they were talking about. From the pictures
we're shown of crumbling concrete bridge supports (it's always the
same picture, though) I gather that "infrastructure" refers
to roads and bridges, but in that case, why don't they just say
so? I thought words were supposed to convey meaning, not conceal
it; but admittedly, I'm a crabby old man.

Anyway,
the state of Missouri is concerned about its crumbling infrastructure,
and wants to do something about it. What, do you suppose, is the
state's recommendation? Ah, you're a smarty: you guessed it. Raise
taxes! The rulers want to raise the sales tax, and add four cents
per gallon to the gasoline tax. The gasoline tax was probably targeted
for an increase because it is one of the lowest in the nation. We
are reminded of this from time to time, in such a way as to imply
we should feel ashamed, instead of proud, that we have a low tax.

Well,
of course, I voted against it in the recent referendum. I generally
vote "no" on any proposal of the government, especially
if it involves higher taxes. Placing more money in the hands of
the politicians is like giving booze to an alcoholic: just plain
stupid. To my delight, most Missourians sided with me on this one:
the proposed tax increase was rejected.

There
was organized opposition to the measure, pointing out that the increased
revenue might find its way into other projects than road improvement,
and that the claims of crumbling infrastructure were exaggerated.
It was also maintained that the tax would fall heavily upon the
lowest income groups, and that big trucks would get a break, relatively
speaking, on the gasoline tax increase, since they'd pay the same
four cent per gallon increase as everybody else. Huh?

Wake
up, objectors! Taxes always weigh heaviest upon the poorest. Indeed,
all expenses fall most heavily upon the least affluent; why should
taxes be any different? And should large tractor-trailer trucks
be singled out for a larger fuel tax increase than pickups? What
is the logic of that? Is it that large trucks do more damage to
the roads than small ones? I see weighing stations along the highway,
operated by the state. Presumably, since scales are involved, the
larger heavier trucks pay a higher toll for using the roads, quite
independently of gasoline taxes. Isn't that enough?

Nobody,
it seems to me, was asking the right question: who owns the roads
and bridges? Shouldn't the owner pay for repairs? No doubt some
would say that the "people" own the roads, just as they
refer to the White House as "the people's house." Well,
when I tried to arrange my daughter's wedding reception at "our"
house, I didn't get to first base. When I offered to sell my share
of the place, there were no takers. So forgive me if I am skeptical
about the "people's" ownership of the roads.

When
my house needs repairs, does the state chip in to pay for them?
I could, I suppose, raise my fees to cover the costs, but my patients
could just as easily switch doctors if they found my charges excessive.
(Besides, Medicare will punish me if I raise my fees!) Can I decline
the state's invitation to repair its "infrastructure,"
as my patients can decline my invitation to share in the cost of
repairing my roof? No, of course not. The sovereign citizen must
labor to repair the servant's property.

Hasn't
the deterioration of roads and bridges been foreseen? The state
has owned these structures for decades and watched them decline;
now it's decided they have to be fixed pronto, and, surprise, there
is no money. Well, raise taxes. Amazingly, no one seems to question
that.

I
have copies of the state's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report
for 1998 and 2000. They show that Missouri had an excess of revenues
over expenditures averaging two billion yearly for about the last
dozen years. That ought to fix a few potholes, and repair some bridges.

The
state's constitution authorizes taxation only for public purposes.
That term is somewhat ambiguous, but paying additional taxes to
a state which annually has a two billion dollar surplus wouldn't
seem to be paying for a public purpose, but for an enhanced nest-egg
for the state. Yet, when time comes to draw on the nest-egg, no
one even considers it. Rather, raise taxes.

The
state owns the "infrastructure" and has an obscenely large
surplus of revenues dating back over a decade – and perhaps
before that. Let it fix its own property!

August
10, 2002

Dr.
Hein [send
him mail
] is a semi-retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis,
and the author of All
Work & No Pay
, which will soon be available at Amazon.com.

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