Yesterday was “Fix the Sewers” day in the news media. A front-page New York Times story presented the sad story of many municipalities and water districts with need of making major repairs to sewer and water lines first laid more than a century ago. The problem is that the municipalities and water districts need to raise taxes to pay for the repairs but every time revenue-raising is mentioned, some politician or another, standing up for the people, just says “no.” The rally cry of virtually all of the citizens that the writer, Charles Duhhig, chose to quote in the article is the same: we already pay enough for our water and sewer service.
As reported in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post–Gazette, Pittsburgh provides a comic example of the contortions governments are going through to scrape together funds to keep clean water flowing in and waste water flowing out. The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority has been taking a lot of heat for putting a $5 per month opt-out program on their customers’ bills to cover a warranty program that pays for (extremely rare) repairs to the water line that are the owner’s responsibility.
It’s the opt-out that has people hopping mad, because the water company is collecting the money for a private company and it takes two phone calls to opt out of the warranty program. Yesterday’s article discusses some of the reasons the water company might have agreed to this kind of deal, so unfair to customers. Of course, politics and cronyism are involved.
But it turns out that in return for the help the water authority is giving it in marketing its warranty business, the private company has agreed to use some of the money it gets for warranties to fund efforts to get storm water out of sanitary sewers, thus reducing sewer overflows. Bizarre! Do you think water authority executives figured that they would get less slack imposing an opt-out program for a private company than raising rates or taxes?
I think the theme song for the current era should be that old blues-rock number by Ellen McIlwaine, “Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.” Everyone wants government services, but no one wants to pay for them. And no one wants to pay for anyone else’s, even if others paid for theirs or their kids’, or would pay for them if they were in a similar predicament.
No money for roads, for sewers, for bridges, for schools, for connections to technology. Plenty of money for iPods and iPhones and flatscreen TVs and electronic games.
Instead of engaging in exercises of nihilistic demagoguery tricked out as traditional values, elected officials and those running for office have a responsibility to plan for our country’s future. When tax and rate increases are necessary to meet infrastructural needs—and by the way create jobs— it’s not the time to score points or get greedy. It’s time to come up with a plan and raise taxes. If politicians and mainstream media came out in favor of the tax increases we need, as they might have done before the Age of Reagan descended, through repetition of the message they would eventually educate citizens of the need for revenues. Of course, the more we spend on fixing our infrastructure, the less there would be for military follies.