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Who is the Winner:  Highways, Public Transportation or Education?

Young Arkansas ArtistsUphams News Blog
March 20, 2013

Highway Funding vs. Eduction Funding

 In Arkansas, the legislature has proposed a bill that would transfer money from the state's general fund into its highway fund. What's wrong with that?

Education and social services are funded from the general fund.  Depleting that fund is not just funding highway infrastructure repairs and improvements, it is defunding one of the primary foundations for the future.  Education and the maintenance of stable family structures is essential to the formation and character of our country.

Note:  Image from AETN:  Arkansas Educational Television Network
 and their focus on Young Arkansas Artists.

Arkansas legislators are being deceptive as well by focusing on what will be supported rather than what will be neglected.

In Wisconsin, during the 2011 budget cycle, Governor Scott Walker proposed transferring $140 million from the state's general fund to highway spending in order to fund highway expansion projects totaling $400 million without raising the gas tax.

The Long Lead Time

Education of the young has a 15-20 year lag. For our fast-paced society, looking that far into the future is the same as looking through milk glass. We cannot imagine nor see the impact of underfunding this category of infrastructure.

It's easy to be dismissive, especially if my goal is to protect my personal pocket. Who cares about "those kids" across the street. But in the long run, education is more important than highways. Education is what generates a literary society and one that is tech savvy and one that has the ability to see across multiple micro-domains.

Although the ever-increasing populations in urban centers necessitates a rise in density, a reduction in the use of personal automobiles and a move towards public transportation,"my" ability to walk out the front door and get into my car reigns supreme. "Yes, we need our roads repaired." That's today. In tomorrow's new world, "localism" will be the new normal with youth walking to schools, communities leaving their homes to engage in (volunteer) group activities and business districts, just around the corner, providing most of what we need.

According to Eric Sundquist of the State Smart Transportation Initiative, states are in the difficult position of responding to real needs that intelligent, sensitive and future-looking legislators are capable of assessing while fending off (giving into) the loud voices of: "The road lobby still pushing for more, more." If we as ordinary citizens wait too long to pay attention to the conflicting options and the backroom deals, it will be too late. "Money is being sucked out of state and local treasuries" and we don't even realize what is happening.

The Commonwealth Promoting Transportation and Education

On Thursday, Feb 28, 2013, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey spoke to about 75 people gathered at the Framingham Sheraton for a MetroWest Chamber of Commerce luncheon. They focused on the state of the Massachusetts economy, suggesting that the Commonwealth is "at a crossroads" and we have a choice - work to continue the progress, accelerating investments, or become stuck in a rut.

But to get out of the impending rut, the Patrick administration, like all other states, needs to find a way to increase the revenue needed to carry out the proposed far-reaching plan that boosts spending on transportation and education in the fiscal 2014 budget. To do that they have proposed raising the state income tax rate from .25 percent to 6.25 percent, lowering the sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. These along with other cost-cutting changes would raise a net $1.9 billion in additional revenue.

What stands out in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the presence of both transportation and education, raised to the same level of importance, on the pedestal of priorities. Of course this doesn't begin to address the other areas of state government that are currently underfunded (whatever your favorite might be).

Invariably talk about raising taxes generates an endless stream of protest - angry, defiant, sarcastic and little-minded comments. Sometimes difficult to read and wade through, these comments come from other ordinary citizens who are feeling left out, or who want more coming their way. They certainly aren't in the "happy" crowd.

While you will never be able to please everyone, an increase in the transparency of government would go a long way toward generating confidence in decisions being made on Beacon Hill. Hope is around the corner with social media providing a way to "crowd source" our ideas into the notorious backrooms, generating the illusion or reality of "real democracy."

Encouraging and enabling open participation has two key characteristics. In order to have a meritorious voice, you have to be informed - reading, research, discussions with others and the ability to convey your ideas crisply and succinctly. But the flip side is this: I expect to be heard, paid attention to and acknowledged. Or "I" will be turned off and cease to participate.

Grass Roots Activism is Needed

Which leads to the concept of representative democracy. What is missing from many communities is real activism at the grass roots level - people getting together regularly to discuss, understand, have a voice in and take action about proposed governmental changes. Just imagine the City of Boston becoming a true representative democracy where citizens everywhere come out of their homes to share their visions for the future and, at the same time, adopting new ideas they learn by getting involved.

Back to the issues at hand - at least for today, highway transportation funding is essential. Even if we all gave up our cars, the movement of goods and professional services will require the highways. But let's think a little greener and a little more futuristically. Public transportation infrastructure needs to be acknowledged as essential for our future. Same with education. Governor Patrick's proposal is heads above those actions of other states that are "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

For more information on the states of Arkansas and Wisconsin, read Streets Blog.

Posted: March 20, 2013     Nancy J Conrad

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