Taxes and Collapsing Bridges

I-35 Bridge Collapse

In a short blog post, The Great Disinvestment, Paul Krugman noted, “[I]t’s absurd that the federal gasoline tax has been flat in nominal terms since 1993, which means that in real terms it has fallen 40 percent.” That really struck me because it so highlights the results of the Republican Party’s absolute insistence on never raising taxes. There is nothing principled about this stance; it is just irresponsible.

In The Wrecking Crew, Thomas Frank argued that conservatives are not just naturally bad at governing. He claimed that they intentionally ruin the effectiveness of government and rack up large debts so that when the Democratic Party is in power, it will have to spend most of its time and resources fixing the damage. I do not accept this thesis. It is too Machiavellian, and frankly, I don’t think that they are cunning enough for such a project.

But I wrote about the book before, Why Are Republicans the Wrecking Crew? In it, I discussed how it doesn’t actually matter. The result is the same. The Republicans rule both incompetently and recklessly. When the Democrats come into office, they do feel that they must clean up the mess. That’s a fundamental problem because Democrats do want the government to work. But it isn’t as though the Republicans don’t want the government to work. It is just that they get carried away by their rhetoric.

Let’s look at the federal budget from 2011, but it always looks about like this:

US Federal Spending 2011

Most of that is stuff that Republicans want to keep, or at very least, know that they would cease to be a viable political party is they touched. So all their posturing is nothing more than their attempts to harm Democratic constituencies while rewarding their own. This was clearly on display with the most recent farm bill. The Republicans actually wanted to give farmers—who are mostly large corporations—more money while they gutted the food stamp program. One of the reasons that we even have a food stamp program is because price supports (welfare for farmers) makes food more expensive (a tax on people who eat). So it was seen as only fair that the government help out the poor since they were paying more for food than they should.

As for the gas tax, well, Republicans don’t care about paying for things. Actually, the obsession with “pay fors” is one of the maladies of the Democratic Party. Republicans only think we should pay for things when the Democrats are in power. Meanwhile, over the last two decades, the gas tax is roughly half what it was two decades ago. This is while we should (1) be encouraging people to drive less with higher taxes, and (2) have more money to repair our crumbling infrastructure.

This is why we can’t have nice things bridges that don’t fall down.


The gas tax is not the only way we pay for bridges and roads. But the fact that we can’t raise taxes—even to keep up with inflation—is indicative of why the United States is literally falling apart.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Taxes and Collapsing Bridges

  1. Sometimes, I think we should allow our transportation system to be significantly degraded. Conservatives benefit from reliable air travel, long range commuting and interstate highways. As you know, the whole enterprise of far flung, sprawling suburbs (and the de facto segregation imbedded therein) require good, well maintained, wide freeways.

    The frequent flying finance hot shot; the guy who owns an exoburban McMansion; the NASCAR dad, who drives his family 300 miles to go dirt biking; the long haul trucker, who loves Rush Limbaugh, are the types who would get slammed the hardest due to major failures in our transportation system.

    In time, they would either figure it out (I know, that is unlikely, they would probably blame "the blacks" or "foreigners"). Within a generation, however, we could really see a leftward shift in our politics. The suburbs and the exoburbs, are the seedbeds of our uniquely crazy American conservationism. Horrifically bad infrastructure would force us back into cities and close knit rural towns and that is where progressive politics grows best.

  2. @Colin Keesee – I know the feeling. But I think you hit on your own refutation. Crumbling infrastructure would just make conservatives claim that we are spending too much on food stamps and transit systems.

    Let’s face it: there are a lot of conservatives who vote against their own interests. As I show in [url=]It’s the Poor, Stupid[/url], most poor people vote Democratic. But the poor in Texas still vote Republican. Kansas too! So I don’t think there is a lot of rationality about how these people vote.

    Also: look at how conservatives responded to the financial crisis of 2008. They didn’t say, "We need more regulation!" They said, "This happened because there was still too much regulation!" Remember, that was what Milton Friedman said after each one of his policies in Chine failed. It appears that no amount of failure will ever cause a conservative to rethink their ideology.

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