fresh voices from the front lines of change







It’s not just Texas.

Rick blogged yesterday on the collapsing roads and bridges of Denton County, Texas. Unsurprisingly, it’s happening in other places, too. From today’s Arizona Star:

PHOENIX — From Wickenburg to Eagar, streets in cities and towns across Arizona are falling into disrepair because there’s not enough money to keep them in shape.
Some cities are barely able to pay for routine maintenance, let alone build new roads to keep up with growth. Others, such as Eager, can’t even afford to fill the cracks in streets.

Municipalities rely on the state to fund road projects, but that funding no longer is keeping up with the soaring costs and rising demands of road work.

“When the money is not meeting the needs for growth, and infrastructure is crumbling, I don’t know how to say it differently — it’s bad,” said Tom Belshe, deputy director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

The longer Arizona’s roads go without repair, the worse they become and the more it will cost to fix them. The cost of highway and street construction jumped 66 percent since 2000 and is still rising, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The local municipalities are struggling just like the state trying to address their transportation need,” said Victor Mendez, director of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

In his new book, “Free Lunch,” David Cay Johnston points out that county and city governments have been giving away their tax base to chain stores and other boondoggles for a couple of decades now. The typical deal has the local government giving Home Depot or Target the land; building the structure to suit; financing the whole with municipal bonds issued by banks that are often connected to the chain store; and then allowing the store to keep the sales tax collected in the store to pay off the bonds. And if the store sits on government-owned land, they don’t pay a penny of property tax, either.

Why would any sane city council or county board take a deal like this? Because the chain stores manage to convince them that people will be pouring in from 50 miles around to shop at Wal-Mart — and while they’re in town, they’ll hit Main Street, too, and eat at the diner, and fill up the tank. And then there are all those great service jobs they’ll be bringing in, too.

Not one of these promises ever turns out to be quite as advertised. The Wal-Mart shoppers never set foot downtown. The “great jobs” often pay less than the local diner and hardware store did before they were driven under. The tax base collapses as the local stores fail; and the big boxes don’t pay anything remotely like their fair share. For all the energy conservatives have put into selling the romance of small-town American values, they’ve done a very thorough job of killing actual Mayberries from coast to coast.

After all: if there’s nothing left on Main Street, why does it even need paving?

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