Sunday, January 10, 2016

After 763 water main breaks in two years, Syracuse asks for infrastructure help. They won't get any.

Above: A WPA water line project in Annapolis, Maryland, 1938. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA installed 16,000 miles of new water lines all across the country. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

The city of Syracuse had 391 water main breaks in 2014. So, they asked New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for assistance. His response was, "fix your own pipes." Then, in 2015, Syracuse had 372 more water main breaks. That's 763 breaks in two years. Aware that their governor is less-than-interested in helping, they're now asking for help from the federal government. Unfortunately, Congress is now controlled by Republican & Tea Party radicals who haven't the slightest interest in the nation's infrastructure. Their legislative goals are largely confined to (a) tax breaks for the rich and (b) getting involved in as many middle-eastern affairs as possible.

Syracuse has estimated that it will cost $726 million to repair / modernize their water lines. If we created a new WPA, made it even larger, and operated it under the same financial scheme as was done during the Great Depression, Syracuse would only have to come up with about $145 million, and the federal government would fund the rest. Unemployed Americans would have jobs and Syracuse would have a new water system.

But we're not going to create a new WPA, are we? You see, at the same time that we've let our infrastructure fall apart, we've fallen into a habit of insulting the unemployed, promoting illegal tax evasion by the super-wealthy, and worshiping the holy "JOB CREATORS" - even though the holy "JOB CREATORS" haven't been interested in creating good middle-class jobs for decades (yet--just coincidentally of course--they've done a very good job at making themselves richer... and richer... and richer).

So, the city of Syracuse will be on its own. Governor Cuomo has suggested that the city should build up its local tax revenue. And you know what that means. Yep, more regressive taxation - higher taxes, higher tolls, higher fees, higher fines, and higher utility rates that will disproportionately impact the middle-class and poor. And that's the last thing that middle and low-income Americans need right now because, "Virtually every state tax system is [already] fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families."

Perhaps Syracuse can do what other cities and towns have done in the face of little or no state & federal help: Target middle and low-income Americans with more aggressive law enforcement, more regressive traffic fines, more regressive court fees, more interest on those fees & fines, and more jail time for those who can't afford to pay (see, e.g., "Limit cities' reliance on revenue from traffic fines," Denver Post, May 17, 2015).

Syracuse is hardly alone in its need for infrastructure assistance. Across the nation, there are about a quarter- of-a-million water main breaks, every single year. In Flint, Michigan, where the state just poisoned thousands of children with lead-tainted water in an effort to save money (austerity), the mayor (who was not responsible for the decision to switch to a cheaper water supply) said, "We need funding and we need resources. It's an infrastructure crisis for us, so we know that's going to be a tremendous cost and burden on the city of Flint that we can't handle by ourselves."

America has turned away from the New Deal, in favor of political corruption, austerity, apathy, and trickle-down economics. And so, we see that the new mentality is "fix your own pipes." So be it. But there's a price to be paid for that sort of anti-social, psychopathic public policy. And that price is dam failures and death in South Carolina, poisoned children in Flint, and hundreds of water main breaks in Syracuse. And a recent New York Times article reported that "The federal Department of Transportation estimates that obsolete road designs and poor road conditions are a factor in about 14,000 highway deaths each year."

We need a New Deal. Unfortunately, all we're going to get is more crumbling infrastructure, more traffic fines, and more tax breaks for the rich.

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