They’re not always crazy


Out here in the Laboratories of Democracy, ALEC is testing market-based solutions to problems other market-based policies created. But unless one of these solutions barrels right into you (ask Mike Stark), you might not know about it ahead of time.

You know when you hear a speech (or read a quote) by a not-as-crazy conservative and a phrase strikes your ear a little odd? After you baroo, the speech continues and you shrug it off as random weirdness. Something I learned during the George W. Bush administration was to pay attention to those odd phrases. They are usually either racial dog whistles or else a reference to some issue conservatives know about and the left needs to (unless you like getting blindsided). That happened again here recently.

In an article on the Cesspool of Sin’s $4.8 million effort to reduce its carbon footprint, a critic from a local business-owners’ organization argued that the money would have been better spent on transportation improvements, even though half the investment has already paid back in energy savings [emphasis mine]:

Regardless, Swicegood said, the money and energy would be better spent on projects such as rerouting and widening the tangle of interstates around Asheville. Efficient roads will be crucial to bringing new businesses and jobs to the area, he said.

Baroo!? But funding interstates is a state and federal matter, you say? And how much interstate would $4.8 million in local money buy anyway? What’s this guy smoking?

Funny you should ask. As it happens, in 2013 Republicans here passed the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) bill. (Primary sponsor? One of Swicegood’s friends.) Having cut taxes and facing Kansas-like revenue shortfalls, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and friends want to fund future highway projects around the state using public-private partnerships and tolls rather than gas or other taxes. The state Department of Transportation’s formula for prioritizing highway projects provides two ways local planners can boost their project’s STI score [emphasis mine]:

A project’s benefit/cost can be improved if funding is provided during the project submission phase through local entity contributions or tolling approved by the local planning organization. In addition, a bonus allocation of up to 50% will be returned to the contributing area for a subsequent project scored through STI.

The 50% bonus? “A little sweetener slipped into the bill” to make up for “the bitter pill of a half century of tolls.”

As it also happens, a needed project to widen and improve I-26 through our area has long been in the works. We have suspected that, as with Thom’s Tholl Road on I-77, tolling might be in this project’s future. Unless, of course, locals would like to avoid that and hasten the project along by enacting a local sales tax to raise the score.

As Admiral Ackbar said, “It’s a trap!”

Should Democratic officials pass local sales taxes to help fund highway construction, what do you think the attack ads will look like in coming elections? Or if they sign on to plans to bring tolls to local highways for the next 50 years? Like most states, in North Carolina the largest blocks of blue votes are in the cities where Democrats tend to control. So cities are next on the target list in the GOP’s effort to defund the left. One side benefit of cutting taxes for the rich at the state and federal level is to push the cost of government and infrastructure down to the cities where Democrats can take the blame for cutting services and/or raising taxes.

Not so crazy after all.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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