The Road to Ruin

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