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Do We Need Another Infrastructure Bill?

I live in Massachusetts, which is the only state whose population is large enough to send more than one member to the House of Representatives, and a completely-Democratic Congressional delegation to D.C.

At the state level, Democrats outnumber Republicans in both chambers on Beacon Hill by a 4-1 margin. The Governor, Charlie Baker is a Republican but that’s only a convenience for him. In any other state he’d be a Democrat. Remember Bill Weld?

Right now, there’s a big fight going on in Washington over the so-called infrastructure bill. I say ‘so-called’ because there are members of the Democratic caucus in both the Senate and the House who want redefine infrastructure as something more than repairing the bridges and roads. The want the word ‘infrastructure’ to mean social services, welfare, education benefits, all kinds of programs that will make it easier for some people to lead decent lives.

In other words, we’re not just talking about money that will go to the construction unions who build and repair all those bridges and roads. We’re talking about money that will go into the pockets of what Rush Limbaugh used to call the ‘deserving poor,’ as well as into the pockets of maybe some deserving people who aren’t all that poor.

Now let me make one thing very clear. I have never met a government welfare or social service program that I didn’t like. As far as I’m concerned, if you are ill or indigent or vulnerable in some other obvious way, we don’t stick you on an ice floe and push you into the Bering Strait.

The primary role of government is to maintain the commonweal, which means insuring that everyone lives a life that is safe and sound. So, I have no problem with giving free room and board to people who decide they don’t want to pay for such necessities themselves. Want to sit on your ass and play Ferdinand the Bull? Go right ahead. Personally, I’d rather work because for me, working is more fun than sitting around. But either way, whichever lifestyle you choose, the government should be on the hook.

On the other hand, if the government is going to spend money on infrastructure and public works, the least they can do is come up with some guidelines which insures that all those crumbling bridges, tunnels and highways get built in a proper way. And by ‘proper’ I don’t mean the grade of cement or the strength of the steel girders under the bridge. I mean doing the actual work in ways it should be done.

The roads in Massachusetts are the worst roads I have ever seen. There are so many potholes when the Spring thaw sets in that you think you’re driving across No-Man’s Land during the First Battle of the Marne. From Sturbridge to the New York State line is 50 miles, more or less, but the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) is only two lanes.

How do you charge tolls on a two-lane road, particularly a road that was built when the number of cars using it was probably less than half the number of cars that use the Mass Pike today? So fine, there aren’t any stoplights on the Pike. But why would you need a stoplight when you can’t go more than 20 mph except in the middle of the night?

Talking about the middle of the night, today I sat at an intersection in the town of Northampton for 30 minutes, maybe a few minutes more. The reason I sat there at 12 noon was because they were paving one of the streets that led into the intersection.

In Massachusetts, there seems to be some rule which says that you can only close a road down to repave it during the daytime, particularly during the rush hours from 8 – 10 and 9 - 3. Know why the paving guys can’t work at night? Because they would have to be paid overtime, which is something one of the country’s wealthiest states can’t afford.

The state gasoline tax in Massachusetts is at least a dime less than in the adjacent states of Connecticut and New York. Even our ‘live free or die’ northern neighbor, New Hampshire, has a higher gasoline tax. The gasoline tax in Massachusetts hasn’t been raised in the last thirty years, or longer perhaps. It’s a sacred totem and an adjustment is never discussed by the Legislature at all.

I have given up counting the hundreds, probably thousands of hours I have lost waiting for some dump truck to drop a load of asphalt and pull away. I have also probably spent several thousand dollars over the years replacing tires that should have lasted longer except they ran out of tread.

I understand why my friends in the State Legislature feel it incumbent for themselves to talk about such pressing matters as open-gender toilets and other compassionate things like that. Frankly, I’d like to see them spend five minutes trying to figure out how to help me get to work on time.

If that’s not infrastructure, I don’t know what is.

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