Today the American Society of Civil gave Missouri’s infrastructure a grade of C-. These “report cards,” issued every four years, are an outgrowth of the Society’s efforts to draw attention to the vital issue of America’s failing infrastructure which, as an earlier report shows (Failure to Act: The Impact of Current Infrastructure Investment on America’s Economic Future), is a significant factor affecting economic growth and prosperity.
This report does not come as a surprise – Missouri hasn’t been doing too well in this area for some time and the Society’s 2009 report for the state, while nominally better in some areas, wasn’t much different. It would seem that the past few years of GOP stewardship of the statehouse in Jefferson City has not done much for the state’s infrastructure and the corresponding issues of economic growth. Nor is it difficult to understand why things have been deteriorating at the current rate. Just consider the risible response of House Speaker Tim Jones to the report:
In my mind, it gave me facts and figures to prove that what we were working on was meaningful and the right way to go,” Jones said. “We need to work on the electric issue, we need to work on highway funding, we need to work on our water, sewer and roadways in general.
Jones seems to be saying that the GOP’s heart was in the right place, but unfortunately, the brains involved just weren’t up to the task. They were on the right track, he implies, because they spent a little time considering a few issues that form an essential part of their charge as lawmakers – so no matter if they couldn’t manage to do anything. Speaker Jones thinks his only failure, one that he suggests is trivial, was that he couldn’t rally his feisty partisans to support his goals this year:
Funding infrastructure was one of the key goals of the recently-finished legislative session, and it could be on the agenda for next session, too.
In particular, Jones had hoped to pass a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation. But that bill died in the Senate when John Lamping from Ladue filibustered the bill that his own party leader supported.
So let’s gauge Jone’s efforts. A modest goal – fix roads – and no result. I’m glad he feels good enough about his efforts to pat himself and his GOP colleagues on their metaphorical backs, although I’m a bit confused about how he can think of the legislative session that just finished as other than an abject failure.
I also have to say that I’m just as glad that the GOP response to infrastructure needs, a sales tax, has failed. Bear in mind that the same Jones who is touting a regressive sales tax to address a few selected infrastructure concerns, also supported a successful bill that would gradually cut already low individual taxes by .5%, phase in a 50% deduction for business income that is reported as personal income, and cut corporate taxes by 3% from 6.25% to 3.25%.
To summarize: the GOP response to infrastructure needs is make poor and middle class Missourians pay disproportionately for infrastructure essential to Missouri businesses via a sales tax. At the same time, one of their few successes, a so-called tax “reform” that the GOP pushed through both houses, would allow Jones and his pals to let those very businesses off the hook even more by cutting their already low income tax obligations to almost nothing. And of course, anybody but a Missouri Republican realizes that cutting state revenue this severely isn’t going to do anything for those outstanding infrastructure deficits.
Ironically, the only thing that stood in Jones’ way, at least in regard to the sales tax, were the ideological sensibilities and political fears of his GOP colleagues:
The sales tax idea went down in flames after lawmakers started to fret over the portrayal of the tax increase as the biggest in state history.
That’s tough campaign rhetoric to overcome.
What conclusion should we draw from the GOP reluctance to raise the revenue necessary to fulfill basic government functions such as providing the infrastructure essential to economic growth? I would suggest that, unless there’s a change in the makeup of the legislature, none of us hold our breath in expectation of a better report card four years down the road. I’m sure that the issue will, as Speaker Jones suggests, come up next year. I’m equally sure that the response will be just as befuddled and corruption-riddled as this year’s has been.