The Minnesota Transit Programs That Weren't


As we detailed in a LegAlert last Friday, the Minnesota bridge collapse tragedy highlights the more general failure of states to invest in infrastructure maintenance.  Most state legislatures have failed to muster the political will to vote for the revenues needed to maintain the transit infrastructure across the country.

Ironically, Minnesota's legislature was not one of them.  Repeatedly in recent years, bipartisan majorities in the Minnesota legislature have voted to raise gas taxes to fund transit improvements, only to see the present governor, Tim Pawlenty, block the bills. Back in 2005, Pawlenty vetoed a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase that had been passed with bipartisan support, and just this year, when the legislature voted to increase the gas tax by a nickel-per-gallon, Pawlenty ostentatiously vetoed the bill within twenty-four hours of passage.

A Change of Heart: But now in the wake of the bridge tragedy, Pawlenty has changed his no-new-taxes tune and is now willing to support a gas tax increase to address critical infrastructure needs.  "The bottom line is, all of us -- here in Minnesota, Republicans, Democrats, nationally -- know and have known for years that we need more resources," Pawlenty said, "Someone needs to break the logjam." Better late than never, but it shouldn't take a deadly tragedy for political leaders to recognize the need to invest in our transit infrastructure. 

The right-wing ideologues are already demanding Pawlenty's head for this heresy. The Minnesota Free Market Institute has denounced Pawlenty's position as "a serious mistake" while conservative strategist Paul Weyrich has observed that "anti-tax people... will try to drive him out of consideration for vice president or anything else." 

E Coli Conservatism:  Rick Perlstein, a historian of right-wing movements in America, has coined a term, "E Coli Conservatism," for a right-wing movement so hell bent on defunding government that it doesn't care about the deaths left in its wake, including ineffective food safety inspections that leave Americans eating poisoned food, a consumer protection system that ignored lead paint in children's toys for years, and now a deadly, crumbling transit infrastructure.  

In the wake of tragedy, Governor Pawlenty has finally stepped away from this extremist, self-destructive ideology.  Hopefully, as we look for the political will to invest the estimated $1.6 trillion needed to repair the nation's infrastructure, more of his conservative compatriots will join him.