Friday, November 28, 2014

700 water main breaks every year in Indianapolis. Instead of water rate increases, how about a New Deal?

(WPA workers building a water reservoir in Loudonville, New York, circa 1935-43. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)
A few days ago, a 66-year-old pipe broke in Broad Ripple, a district within Indianapolis, Indiana. A utility company worker said, "The age of the main and the pressure on the system is what caused the main to break. We have 700 water main breaks in Indianapolis every year."

Currently, there are about 22.5 million Americans who want a full-time job but can't find one, and the labor force participation rate is historically low. During the Great Depression, the New Deal hired millions of unemployed workers into the WPA, and these workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines across the nation. Many of those water lines are still with us today, serving well beyond their life expectancy.

We could do the same today, were it not for (a) our lack of history awareness, (b) our never-ending & irrational fear of bogey-man "Socialism!," and (c) our perpetual worship of the holy "job creators" (as evidenced by our refusal to substantially increase their tax rates) even as the holy "job creators" have shown their incompetence (or indifference, take your pick) at creating good jobs.

(Another New Deal program--the Public Works Administration (PWA)--helped fund infrastructure work across the country. Above, we see workers--most likely private contractors--casting water pipes in San Francisco, circa 1934-38. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

So, if we're not going to create a new federally-funded WPA to modernize our infrastructure, what are we going to do? Well, one of two things. Some jurisdictions will do little or nothing, and continue to experience dozens, or even hundreds, of water main breaks every year. Other jurisdictions will raise taxes and/or rates on the middle-class & poor to pay for repairs and improvements. As the utility company worker in Indianapolis said, "...we’re talking about old infrastructure that needs to be either repaired or replaced and the only way that we can do that is if we ask for water rate increases." Yes, when we forget our nation's history, and when we tremble under our covers at night in fear of the bogeyman, the only way (the ONLY way) to modernize our infrastructure is by water rate increases that disproportionately burden the middle-class & poor. And so, the utility company did raise rates and more rate increases are likely.

We are living in amazing times. The super-wealthy keep getting wealthier, the political right tells us that we can't tax the super-wealthy because they're the holy "job creators," the holy "job creators" aren't creating good jobs, and the middle-class & poor--whose wages are stagnant--are being asked to shoulder a disproportionate (i.e, regressive) burden for our infrastructure repair & improvement. And, to pour salt into the wound, millions of Americans voted to put more Republicans into Congress, and these Republicans are already crafting plans to lower taxes on the super-wealthy and raise taxes on the middle-class & poor, just as they did in Kansas, wrecking that state's budget (but giving more after-tax income to its super-wealthy residents, thank you very much).

Weep for our infrastructure, weep for our wallets. Corporate America and the political right are having their way with us.

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