Fiscal Irresponsbility and Deferred Maintenance: The Bridges Edition

Fred Clark, at Slacktivist, fires off a essential rejoinder to deficit reductionists and austerians, with bridge reconstruction as the particular example (italics mine):

Let’s consider again the objection of deficit spending. The so-called deficit hawks object to repairing structurally deficient bridges because they say the government cannot afford to borrow money to do so — even at the low, low rates at which the government can now borrow it. Maintenance on these bridges must therefore, in the name of “fiscal responsibility,” be deferred indefinitely. This is nonsense — a dishonest trick that pretends to balance budgets by pretending that the cost of maintenance can be ignored, and that the cost of ignoring it can further be ignored, and so on. It’s a gimmick, a scam, a lie.

Deferred maintenance on these bridges is a liability, an expense that must be accounted for. It means we owe money to the infrastructure we are allowing to languish in disrepair — with interest on that debt ballooning the longer we put it off. Actually fixing the bridges pays that debt.

This is a point Democrats have been far too timid to make: there are many, many things that need fixing and improving for their own sake. That doing so would provide jobs and increased wages is an extra bonus. Because this is the alternative:

They claim that spending this $300 billion to repair crumbling bridges and put people back to work would entail “saddling our grandchildren with more debt.” They seem to think that “our grandchildren” will be far more grateful if we, instead, saddle them with crumbling bridges and the inability to travel 20 miles in any direction safely.

I wish that, during the ‘stimulus’ debate, some Democrat had asked conservatives, “We have over 100,000 bridges that need serious repairs. How do you solve this problem? Or do you simply not care?”

But that would require hearts and brains.

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2 Responses to Fiscal Irresponsbility and Deferred Maintenance: The Bridges Edition

  1. In my experience with university budgets, deferred maintenance is the first solution. At one time the university was fiscally responsible by not maintaining the university cars. I blew out three tires on one class field trip, and replaced them out in the boonies at high retail price.

  2. John says:

    As long as total replacement or initial implementation of highway infrastructure is reliably subsidized federally, and maintenance is dumped into the lap of local revenue, local governments will continue to cash in on federal highway construction windfalls for infrastructure far beyond what they can expect to maintain.

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