It’s doubtful anyone will be reading this column. Who wants to be told they need to pay higher taxes, especially in mid-March, as income tax season is upon us?
Yet, buried in the news of this ludicrous Presidential election campaign is the troubling realization that our country is falling apart — literally.
The DC Metro in Washington shutdown on March 16, throwing that city into turmoil.
Electrical maintenance issues were blamed for creating safety issues that could have maimed or killed passengers. In Congress, there was the usual pointless finger-pointing; the states of Maryland and Virginia blamed each other and the DC metro authority. But the real issue was simply: lack of funds to keep up with needed repairs.
The DC Metro was just a symbol of maintenance issues plaguing nearly every major transit
system in the U.S., estimated to equal $86 billions in repair backlog, according to a recent report on National Public Radio. The Chicago Transit Authority claims it faces a $13 billion backlog in repairs, even though it recently spend $5 billion in upgrades, while much of San Francisco’s famed BART system is in “end-of-life” status.
In Milwaukee County, it’s time to replace many of the buses in our system. Perhaps, too, we should be increasing the number of routes and bus frequency — while keeping fares from being increased — to encourage more use of public transit.
Transit is just one of the many infrastructure burdens facing our nations. A 2013 report from Transportation for America said that one in nine bridges in the U.S. are structurally deficient. Here in Wisconsin, we’re finally nearing the end of the long repairs to the Hoan Bridge following a partial collapse in 2000. Repairs too were needed after the 2013 Lee Frigo Bridge sag over Green Bay Harbor. No one was injured, fortunately, in those incidents; yet, should we ever forget the 2007 collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis that killed 13 and injured 145 others?
There’s so much work to be done! Here in Milwaukee, our county government is facing a
decision as to what to be done with the now-closed Mitchell Park Domes, our iconic geodesic structures that bring us warmth and greenery in the depths of our long Wisconsin winters. It’s been estimated that the cost of repairing the existing domes would cost between $65 and $75 million.
The Public Policy Forum, a nonpartisan research group, found that the capital needs of Milwaukee County’s arts and cultural facilities and parks totaled $246 million over the next five years. The forum noted that, since 2001, tax dollars for county-owned cultural facilities have been cut by more than 40% in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Consider, too, the constant road repairs and upgrades that are needed. Our extreme weather changes from hot summers to frigid winters reeks havoc on our streets and now as spring approaches we’re dodging gaping potholes on our city streets. (How well I know, having just spent good money on front end repairs to my car!)
Yes, we have lots of work to do in our country.
Meanwhile, we still need to pay for a military and intelligence network to protect us, to keep a competent police force, to maintain our fire departments, to provide for those who are unable to provide for themselves, to ensure a clean environment, to pay the interest on our national debt, and on and on.
There’s no question that many of us can and should pay more in taxes. It’s also true that the poorest among us must not be hit with hidden taxes or forced to reach into their meager pockets for increased taxes.
Sadly, given the current political climate, there’ll be few politicians who will say taxes should go up.
The need to change the public dialogue on taxes is critical. Those of us who can pay more, should. It’s all part of being part of our society. Alas, in the words of John Donne, “No man is an island.”
Please, let’s continue this dialogue. What do you think? — Ken Germanson, March 19, 2016.