From One Political Junkie to Another: Investing in Infrastructure

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One of the most popular talking points in modern politics is “Investing in Infrastructure." Republicans use it to justify bringing in pork while sounding off on a strong economy and smart business. Democrats use it to justify bringing in pork while sounding off about community and creating jobs. But what does infrastructure mean? Bridges, roads, parks, electric and technological advances. In short, public resources that can be used to increase private commerce. Better roads means cheaper shipping, better ports mean more cargo routes going through your area, it is a simple equation that has worked for thousands of years.

When the Roman Empire expanded, one of its first courses of action was to build roads. I am a fan of Roman history because I believe it to be one of the closest comparisons to modern America you can find. Anyway, solid reliable roads allowed for better communication and for goods to be exported from the Empire into the new colony. This influx of luxury goods often won over the populace far faster than the iron fist of the Roman legion. Scattered across Europe, the vestiges of Roman infrastructure remain to this day as a sign of their lasting impact.

When I was working for Rep. Norm Dicks, this was one of our biggest talking points. Building projects in your hometown brings jobs and leaves behind something everyone can use. If there were complaints about taxes and costs, stress how much business this will create. Better streets, parking, sidewalks and whatnot encourages more shopping, lowers the cost of doing business, etc.

This discussion has come to Whatcom County in the form of the WTA bus levy, Prop 1. I cannot stress how important this is to pass. I have poured over the WTA budget, they are not lying when they say they are barely scrapping by. Ridership continues to soar, and with the drastic drop in sales tax revenue, they do not have the dollars to keep their current levels of service. This levy will ensure they keep the lights on and the buses running.

This is about investing in infrastructure. Fairhaven, the Guide-Meridian, downtown, all these places benefit immensely from regular and reliable bus service. They deliver customers and employees without fail. Without this levy, WTA would have to cut Sunday service, which would have a drastic effect on sales, traffic and church attendance. In short, we would be kicking our economy while it’s down.

The tax increase is not much, only two cents on every ten dollars. For those two cents, you get to truly invest in our local economy, invest in a working and effective system. WTA has offered a moderate proposal, based on prudent financial thinking. Now it is time to turn rhetoric into action.

Too often these promises wither on the vine when it comes to committing the resources. “I don’t ride the bus,” people say, “Why should I pay for it?” The frustrated taxpayer is approaching the problem as a consumer, as opposed to a business owner. We all own the government, and we need to put on our owners' hats for this situation. So as the owner of Whatcom County government, why should we support this proposal?

The buses prevent traffic. With more and more people discovering our little hideaway the traffic problems on the Guide-Meridian and Lakeway are only going to increase. The buses keep people out of single-occupancy vehicles and reduce congestion. A win for both the bus rider and the car commuter.

Reduced traffic keeps our roads in better condition. Our roads will not last forever, already we are shelling out taxpayer money to repair, resurface and maintain them. Reducing the number of cars saves us money down the line on repair work.

Good for the public health. More cars on the road equals more carbon-dioxide in the air. This leads to more asthma, lung troubles, and heath difficulties for our aging population here in Bellingham. More health troubles, more it strains our medical systems with unnecessary challenges.

Finally, good for the economy. As I have touched on before, stores need customers who can get to the front door. By delivering consumers, buses are increasing business sales. A few extra cents sales tax is not going to keep a customer from spending their money, but being unable to get to the store sure will, in a heartbeat.

There is a great deal of pressure on both sides of this issue. The WTA drivers union is looking at losing several jobs if the budget shortfalls are not fixed. Brett Bonner has rallied some of the usual anti-tax activists and is making a push to defeat this in preparation for a future political run. There will be a great deal of arguing over missing reserve funds, percentage of cents on a dollar, and union payoffs. But hopefully, amid all the heat and accusations, the benefits of investing in infrastructure is not lost.

Bio: Riley Sweeney, an Olympia, Washington native, was born while his father worked on Maria Cantwell’s first run for State House. Doomed from the start, he has worked as a political organizer on a cross-section of Democratic campaigns in the last seven years. He lives in Bellingham with his lovely partner Bryna Hoffmeister. When he is not reading about politics, organizing political events, or writing about politics, he produces a radio drama with Bryna, plays fancy board games, and frolics in the beautiful Northwest.

About Riley Sweeney

Citizen Journalist • Member since Aug 10, 2009

Riley Sweeney, raised in the Pacific Northwest, moved to Bellingham during the Bush years, worked on a cross-section of political campaigns during the Obama years, and then fled to the [...]

Comments by Readers

Riley Sweeney

Mar 16, 2010

Thank you guys for letting me air my views. Stay tuned, in next week’s column I tackled the County Government, Ward Nelson and a non-partisan view on the importance of process.

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Craig Mayberry

Mar 17, 2010

At some point in time we need to have a realistic conversation about the overall transportation strategy in the state.  Last year I wrote a blog on this site about mass transit and compared the strategy of Washington State and British Columbia.  In BC they use general fund dollars to cover some of the mass transit spending.  They have consistently invested in mass transit (primarily full functioning bus transportation) for a couple of decades and they now spend about 1/3 of what we do roads and infrastructure.  We should not even be having the debate over the WTA tax increase going to the voters.  The state needs to adjust their transportation strategy to one that is more economically viable and provide the funds instead of WTA going hat in hand every time we want to improve service.

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Marian Beddill

Mar 21, 2010

I support this proposal for additional revenue into the WTA transit system. As just mentioned, more people riding the busses means less people driving their cars, thus less congestion.

Ah - traffic congestion! Can that be solved by road construction? Ask Seattle or Los Angeles or any big city! Road construction does not solve traffic congestion.

When I was an engineering student in the 1950’s (major in Civil with specialties in hydrology and traffic), they taught us that the two principal results of trying to solve congestion by constructing new roads or lanes are:
1) spend a lot of money; and
2) shift the location of the congestion to the next intersection!

Ride the bus! (or walk or bike.)

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