The result of last week’s 6th penny tax election showed that average citizens are very capable of understanding the need for taxes, and even more importantly, are comfortable imposing taxes on themselves to pay for needed infrastructure improvements. The tax also shows that a small amount of tax can lead to huge dollars for upgrades. It would have been nice if more than 30% of the County’s voters had participated, but kudos and congratulations to those who voted. It is too bad we don’t have a mechanism for a national infrastructure tax. I am pretty sure voters across the nation would spend 2 trillion dollars in new highway bridges, updated airport runways and new roads to speed our commerce along. To say nothing about the thousands and thousands of new jobs that would be created by the construction.
Instead, we can probably expect the same gridlock to continue. The President, Speaker of the House Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer recently agreed on the need for that 2-trillion-dollar upgrade, but no one wants to commit to a funding source. The Democrats suggested a rollback of the recent tax cuts, the Republicans are adamantly opposed to such a plan. The Republicans have suggested entitlement (Medicare, Social Security, Food Stamps, etc.) cuts, Democrats all say no. Gamblers are busy betting on which bridge will collapse next in what city with how much loss of life. Minnesota and Florida were recent winners in that sweepstakes that nobody wants to win. We here in Wyoming are quite lucky, most of our roads are in decent shape and the State does a good job of finding enough resources to keep them that way, although long-term prospects are not necessarily rosy. But other parts of the nation are not so fortunate. Some major roads are in such bad repair that they are considered major sources of wrecks, and they cost millions of dollars in extra repairs to the vehicles unlucky enough to have to use them. Bad roads slow down transportation and those slow downs add to the cost of moving goods. Most businesses operate on the “just in time” model now, wherein goods are not stacked in a warehouse but are “stored” in a truck that will deliver said goods “just in time” to stock them on the shelves of the store. If the truck is late for any reason the whole process gets out of whack, and the store, the product maker and the transport company all lose money. That’s the price paid for bad infrastructure.
The cost is exacerbated by our national political gridlock. Everyone agrees there is a problem, no one wants to compromise on a solution. There used to be enough fiscally prudent legislators in the middle, both Democrat and Republican, to make sound decisions about needed projects workable. But with more and more legislators in so called safe seats, where the only political pressure they feel is to appease their base, less and less of consequence to the nation gets done. Unfortunately, our Wyoming legislators fall into the safe seat set. They are worried about being outflanked to their right, a reasonable fear given the political structure in the state. But as a result they have almost no standing on a national level and have little ability to drive any discourse. We are lucky to get as much infrastructure money as we do. We should thank the Deep State, and the knowledge it provides about our circumstances, needs and abilities. We are a physically big state with a small population and are the possessors of a long road that connects a bunch of major cities on either side of us. Reminding the legislators from those cities that our roads benefit them helps keep us in transportation money.
As voters with the power to make decisions about local needs, we have done well. It is too bad our representatives don’t do as good a job. Infrastructure needs, whether that is good roads, airport improvements, water projects, should not be partisan. That doesn’t mean every proposal for every project should be approved. Projects need vetted, priorities need to be established. But there is no question that we have a huge backlog of projects that need attention. We can’t afford to wait until the water doesn’t come out of the tap, until the roof collapses, until the road is impassable. We need to remind our representatives, both State and National, to pay attention to our needs and to work together to address them. It is also important to support our legislators when they do the heavy lifting and to support them when they do right by us. Wyoming needs new revenue streams in order to complete the projects needed to keep the state humming. We need to be willing to pay. Or to accept the consequences if we won’t.
Our representatives bang the drum for no new taxes. They bang away regardless of our needs, our beliefs, our willingness to pay. Maybe they should ask us what we would pay for, and maybe even how. There are a lot of options, from tolls on roads to various sales and use taxes. How about a pro-rated tax? Determine statistically how many miles a new vehicle is likely to travel during its lifetime, adjust for weight, and add a onetime fee at purchase. I know we can do better than gridlock!
Dennis Jones is a retired resident of Rawlins. He worked construction for 15 years and was an employee with the Wyoming State Penitentiary for 25. He grew up in Fremont County, and he graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1972.