Yesterday, I noted that a local backroom politico had blamed the 35W River Bridge disaster on “No New Taxes”; that if the state had only raised more taxes, the bridge would still stand.  Nick Coleman echoed (literally and metaphorically) the same sentiment (and drew the only response that really fits).

Of course, it was BS (via Ed).

So who is accountable?  And what can “the system” do about it?

More later – or Monday. 

UPDATE: Sarah Janecek beats Coleman like a baby seal:

“No New Taxes” has nothing to do with what happened, yesterday.

A few facts for Coleman. In general, the major bridges the federal government has built become the responsibility of states to maintain, and states routinely seek and are granted federal funding to help with the maintenance. The maintenance work being done on the I-35W bridge by Progressive Contractors, Inc., out of St. Michael, Minnesota, was on the list of projects of the 2007-2009 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) list. Right there on page 116 of the report is the I-35W bridge. The $3.3 million price tag was being paid mostly by the federal government ($2.97 million) and not the state ($330,000).

The National Bridge Inventory conducted by the federal government in 2003 reported that the bridge had a “sufficiency” rating of 50% on a scale of 120. That’s not great, but that’s where about 80,000 of the country’s bridges stand. The significant finding of that Inventory, however, was that structurally, the bridge “meets minimum tolerable limits to be left in place as-is.”

The federal government didn’t flag structural issues; neither did MnDOT.

That’ll leave a mark.

40 thoughts on “Unaccountable

  1. Senator Klobachar said the same thing this morning. She threw in Katrina at the same time. Said Bush was responsible for the levy failing.

  2. Fact: Minnesota had a $2.5 Billion surplus at the start of the 2007 legislative session.

    Fact: All spending bills originate from the legislative branch, not the executive.

    Fact: The DFL-controlled legislative branch had $2.5 Billion in money available to avert the 35W tragedy and fix the bridge. They did NOTHING.

    Fact: The DFL is responsible for the deaths and have blood on their hand alone.

    Hey liberals…you wanna play the Blame Game…let’s rock.

  3. But Dave, at least we still have taxpayer funded abortions in Minnesota. That’s whats really important to DFLers.

  4. Correct, Chuck. While the DFL-controlled House and Senate wasted time debating the Freedom to Poop act…the bridge continued to weaken. They had all the money and time to get this bridge fixed, but ignored the problem.

    Time to impeach Larry Poga-duh-miller and Large Marg Kelliher. They should be imprisoned for murder.

    Ain’t the Blame Game fun?!?!

  5. Fact, Pawlenty vetoed spending bill after bill that included more funding for transportation – not that the repair of the 35W bridge was included.. it wasn’t, in any bill he vetoed.

    Fact, Republicans stood in the way of higher gas taxes for the past 20 years, which might have funded more roads, or it could as easily have been wasted on boondoggles.

    I don’t buy that crap much, but blaming Democrats is also crap, maybe slightly less than blaming Republicans, because the Democrats at least TALKED about underfunded infrastructure and that it was dishonest to not count that as a deficit, but then of course, they didn’t go and do anything about it.

    This is a shared responsibility, both parties didn’t address this, including Pawlenty, but it points out that Government that fails to account for infrastructure maintenance as a real expense is just fooling itself and the public along with it.

    We want cheap government, we waste 100’s of billions on things, including btw, defense, and so we pressure our congressmen, and elect those as well, who use budget gimmicks and ignore unfunded and yet very real needs. This is OUR fault, Mitch’s, mine, yours.

    I don’t blame Republicans, I do in part blame an attitude that all government spending is wrong and one that wants to put blinders on about real needs and roles for the government. I also blame an attitude that caters to it’s constituents, and ignores unsexy things like bridges. Bridge replacement is messy and costly and most people just resent it.

    I also don’t think government should pay for ALL things, including not paying for farm bills that aid those who need no help, but to afford paying that farm bill or to pay for left-handed widgets for that matter, we’ve ignored some pretty vital infrastructure, including, btw, better levies in N.O. Is that Bush’s fault, no, just like the media, the TV shows, the commercials in the US, we get what we want, what we ask for. We elected a Congress and President that willingly ignored needs, same thing in the State. And they did so from both parties. When Pawlenty was the minority leader he didn’t fund it, neither did Arne Carlson, neither did Roger Moe.

    Once again, here we are obfuscating the real problem. Instead, it’s devolved into partisanship. Aren’t we better than that? Anyone? I no longer think we are capable of not succumbing to our baser desires. Certainly this blog invites it.

    We have to be honest, take accountability, we may need to pay more in taxes to fix this, if so, are you ready to? We may have to choose to stop paying for Iraq (heavens!) or paying huge subsidies in tax deferments to corporations, or maybe do away with Medicare D.. who knows, but if it takes more money, and we generally think our spending on programs is mostly right (a big assumption for some – but think in the macro scale) then are we willing to finally face up to that?

    Mitch has claimed that the tax cuts from 2001 have resulted in a rosey economy. I counter that energy costs have FAR more than eaten those tax cuts up, there is no more ‘fuel’ there, and there has actually been negative growth in higher paying jobs, as well as overall decline in wages and benefits. Whether all that is true, can we reasonably afford to pay for the infrastructural needs, given the downturn in the economy. What do we recommend go away to pay for it? We have the most expensive military in the world, more expensive than all the rest of the military in the world put together. For what? To fight to contain a Shiaa/Sunni Civil War? Reallly?

    If we want to stop the blame game – then maybe we shouldn’t be blaming Democrats for wanting some sort of accountability on Iraq – calling them traitors and pro-surrender. The conduct of both sides is attrocious.

  6. Gawd. PB’s back. Apparently his OCD couldn’t be held in check any longer.

    From Pawlenty to Shiaa/Sunni Civil War. . . Gah, the twisted mess that is your mind is borderline disturbing.

    Seriously, go out and get a friend, or buy a six pack, hell, score some weed, because what you do here is just pathetic.

  7. It’s not fair to say both sides are to blame.

    One side wants New Urbanism which means living in condo lofts in converted warehouses and riding light rail to the pedestrian mall. To achieve that, they need to force people to live in the urban area to avoid “sprawl,” so the party controlling the Met Council froze highway projects for more than a decade, and forced through a Constitutional amendment that no more than 60% of transportation funding can go for roads and bridges. No less than 40% must be spent on busses and trains. And even with a budget surplus, these same people want to raise taxes even higher.

    The other side lets people live where they want to, and provides the transportation option people actually want to use, funded over the life of the project by long-term loans.

    It’s a completely different set of visions about what the Twin Cities should look like, who should decide – the government or the citizens, and how we achieve our vision.

    I know which side I’m on. Too bad my side doesn’t control the state or local government – and hasn’t, for ages.


  8. It seems to me the first order of business ought to be to determine why the bridge failed, and if the earlier inspections missed something.

    If you’ve got engineers (you know, the people who are supposed to know about such things) are saying the bridge doesn’t need to be replaced right now, it doesn’t make much sense to blame BushHitlercans (or anyone, really) for not spending money for a new/vastly improved bridge.

    The one place where I’ll halfways sort of agree with Uncle Nick is the silliness of spending a half a billion dollars on a ballpark(s), when it could be used for other (better?) things. That was a political decision though, and both parties were in on that, and if the voters don’t rise up and reject such things, well, then, we ought to lump ourselves into the blame game.

  9. Ok, pb or peevish or whatever you wanna call yourself. You seem to want to keep pointing to the gas tax. Answer me this:

    Since the gas tax was last increased in 1988, has the State of Minnesota:
    a) Received more money from the tax every year
    b) Received the same amount of money from the tax every year
    c) Received less money from the tax every year
    d) You are a douche and don’t have the faintest idea

  10. Nice try Dave. The answer is A but your exercise is pointless since you don’t take into account other related issues.

    1.) Inflation adjusted numbers which show MN is receiving less every year in real dollars than they did in 1988.
    2.) The population has grown (from the 1990 census to the 2000 census) by 13% – and one can easily assume the growth from 1988-2007 is much greater than 13%.
    3.) I assume that based on #2, that there has also been an increase in the amount of roads built.

    So each year MN is getting less real dollars from the gas tax to maintain more highways.

    Back to the issue: why do we as a society have the need to so quickly place blame on this tragic accident? Yes we must learn from it and move forward, but why the bickering as to who is to blame when we still haven’t pulled the deceased out of the river?

  11. Boy, that’s a major ASSumption, Fulc. We are using lots more gas and paying that same rate per gallon, therefore we are collecting LESS gas tax per gallon?

  12. I assume that based on #2, that there has also been an increase in the amount of roads built.

    Faulty assumption. Minnesota has built a TINY little residue of new roads in the metro – a tiny fraction of the increase in population and transit dollars.

    why do we as a society have the need to so quickly place blame on this tragic accident?

    Actually, I’m responding to “blame” “placed” by Mr. Hereditary “Journalist” and Non-Monkey, Nick Coleman.

    I have nowhere asked for anything but a rational, sane wait for actual engineers to get real empirical answers.

  13. Of course the answer is A. But Fulcrum, you are trying to mask the issue yourself.

    The amount of money captured by the gas tax has increased much faster than inflation. Real or not…there are more dollars and the amount has outpaced inflation.

    Playing the population game is also a red herring. Sure, the population has increased…does that mean the actual number of drivers and vehicles on the roads have increased by the same rate? Your population number proves nothing.

    As far as your third point goes, the actual number of NEW lane miles in Minnesota has been fairly small. Mostly, the DOT creates bypasses now, although I can name a few locations that have been improved from 2 lanes to 4 lanes. But we aren’t taking about thousands of miles.

    What IS true is that the rally cry of the yellow bellied DFL in the 1980’s was: “You can’t build your way out of congestion”. Anybody that believes that the DFL honestly wants to build road and bridges is a fool.

  14. But getting back to the topic at hand: Let’s all go down to the State Capitol and frog march Large Marg and Larry the Liar out in handcuffs. They are 100% responsible for all those deaths. They had the money, they had access to the reports. They didn’t spend the $2.5 billion surplus to fix that bridge. They are guilty of murder.

    Its the Blame Game. Isn’t this FUN!?!

  15. Dave,

    Of course they’ve received more money (Minnesota), but clearly, whether a Democrat or Republican house, senate, or governor, they’ve not planned for maintaining things, why, because we haven’t wanted to. Here’s a question I’m fairly certain you don’t have the answer to, but I won’t insult you for not. How much, per year, are we underfunding bridge repair – nationally? In short, how much, after adjusting for inflation, is MN short on paying for road repair – annually – just to keep pace with deterioration? It’s not about whether there is more money, it’s whether there was EVER enough to foot the bill.

    Anyway, so much for civility, I guess? So Mitch, when someone calls someone a douche, is that over the line?

    And Dave, we’ve failed to fund, whether gas tax, income tax or otherwise – the source of funding isn’t the question. The state, including the governor, has said this budget, and many in the past were, treading water. The question, or fact really, is that we don’t, didn’t provide sufficient funding to upkeep bridges, if you think otherwise, go look at the 35W bridge, a bridge noted as, not having redundancy, knowing that we had THE MOST USED BRIDGE IN 5 STATES that was rated structurally unsound, so bad that it had cracks that the state was considering patching as soon as possible, but was short of money… all that say, oh, I don’t know, maybe we didn’t do something as we need to. So maybe the question is, what do we do now?

    I was really, really, trying to do this civilly, I’ll continue, but I didn’t blame (only) you, I blamed me, my fault. Sue me if you like. But I think it’s pretty damned instructive that I – the actual centrist as opposed to this blog – claiming to be center right but really a long way from it – I am the one saying both sides share, I’m the one being civil.. I think conservatism has a fundamental flaw – ok a few – but chief is the belief that we (a government) simply can do things cheaply because we as individuals can. Issues are enormously complex, we pass assistance in the form of spending generated from taxes, because we think it’s the right thing. We get pork from that too – and we all don’t like it – but no one can stop it either, not Dems, not Repubs – so neither party is better in that regard. Yet conservatism at it’s core feels that government is generally bad, and so it looks to either privatize and/or cut spending. The message resonates with voters becuase whether liberals like it or not – there certainly ARE cheats and waste, and then we elect Democrats and Republicans who then cut spending (at least as adjusted for inflation) – and the byproduct is we gain contempt for government, and everything becomes a boondoggle, and we have propogandists who trumpet that mantra, so we believe it. We believe it because it’ easy, and because well then, we don’t have to pay any more. Essentially, we foolishly believe we can have something (bridge maintenance) for nothing (or nearly nothing). I certainly have an impression that other developed countries spend FAR more on infrastructure per capita on things like dikes, roads, transportation systems. Our solution is to build more lanes??? Denmark spent 40 Billion dollars on levy upgrades in the past 20 years, where we spent 450 million, sure the geographic areas were SOMEWHAT different (in that the N.O. Area is probably no more than 20% of the comparable area in Denmark), but still, the numbers are FAR different.

    No, rather than face that question, and fairly discuss whether public transit is a better use of funds, such that we can repair bridges, or, if we really want more lanes, then how much in additional revenue is needed – no instead we’ll blame Republicans (idiot Coleman) – start obfuscating about the issue as Mitch has (sorry Mitch) -or call genuinely interested and sincere people douches. Yeah, that will fix it.

  16. BTW, the answer to the underfunding question is roughly 7.7 Billion dollars annually is the current shortfall on bridge repair. I’ve heard elsewhere that the state is at least 50 million dollars underfunded on infrastructure and maintenance annually – my recollection is that it was the state chair of the transporrtation committee. So while money of course grows, so do costs, so does inflationary impact.

  17. Peevie:

    “was rated structurally unsound”

    Huhwah? The bridge was inspected numerous times and was rated as being structurally “deficient”. Not “unsound”. There is a HUGE difference.

    If you’ve listened or read anything, the people at the DOT have been clear: The bridge had problems but was NOT rated as being “unsound” or unsafe. There were NO indications of a complete failure and it WAS on the replacement list for 2020. If it WAS inspected and WAS unsafe, why the hell would they be putting a new deck on it?!?! You don’t spend millions on this new deck, then tear it down the next year, do you?

    The point of Mitch’s post was the Blame Game. And this game is NOT being played by anyone but the DFL. There are bodies in the water…and the DFL has the nerve to politicize this issue to score points with the public. Or…try to score points.

    And we DO NOT know the CAUSE of the failure! Don’t be surprised when the investigation comes back with a report that indicates that there was too much stress on the structure, due to the construction activity.

  18. The roads and bridges are — for state and local govts — actually for the common good ( a phrase I hate, by the way) Their existence effect every facet of everyone’s lives, and may therefore be viewed as a legitimate responsibility of govt–their existence, not necessarily their construction and maintenance. Govt may be needed for eminent domain reasons and for establishing minimum specifications, but not for much else.

    Blame, if the 35W bridge were privately owned, would be easy to establish. If an inspection can fix blame, then vicitms might be compensated. Not gonna happen here.

    Let’s start spending the taxes confiscated through gas and auto sales taxes on the “common good” roads rather than the boondoggle that is the LRT, trolley, and train systems.

  19. Before you insult Kermit, you should take time to read, you said, “Boy, that’s a major ASSumption, Fulc. We are using lots more gas and paying that same rate per gallon, therefore we are collecting LESS gas tax per gallon?”

    No, we are collecting the same amount per gallon, and yes there has been an increase in gallons sold, but inflation limits the purchasing power of the money collected – hence the term real dollars.

    Dave & Kermit, check out the second chart entitled: http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/departments/scr/report/transfund.htm#motor

    Granted, the chart is 10 years old (only one i could find quickly), and you will see that in terms of real dollars, the increase from 1970 to 1997 was a scant 5%, and from 1988 to 1997 relatively flat – even though we are consuming more gallons of gasoline.

    As to my so-called “red herring”, my point is that with an increased population you will have increased cars on the road. Granted it won’t match the increase in population, but with the booming growth in the “suburban” counties, one can only conclude that there are more cars on the states highways each and every year.


    You said: “Faulty assumption. Minnesota has built a TINY little residue of new roads in the metro – a tiny fraction of the increase in population and transit dollars.

    You called my assumption faulty, but then agreed with it. I simply said that there was most likely an increase in highways built in Minnesota – metro and outstate. I can easily point to the additional 3rd lane on parts of 494 as increased highway mileage. I never said it was a large increase, just stated that there were more highway miles to maintain.

    As to my first question, it was just a general lament, not an accusation against you…

  20. Fulc, inflation has been relatively flat for a long time, whereas tax receipts from the gas tax m,ost certainly have not. So the bite inflation takes on that purchasing power is negligible. It’s the will to build and maintain, not the capacity. A segment of our society hates motor vehicles and the freedom the provide.

  21. Inspections, insmecksions. Throw out the inspections. Obviously, they’re crap if a bridge that landed in the middle of the report has now landed in the middle of the Mississippi. If the engineering analysis was worth anything we should have seen 35W at the top of their “insufficient” list. Everyone is assuming these engineers are competent. I am not because the collapse has proven there is a big gap between their theories and reality. More at blog.fndbook.com.

  22. Fulcrum – I personally wouldn’t recommend arguing with Kermit on these issues. He has, from what I’ve observed here, at best a cursory understanding of Econ 101. (Calling the impact of inflation over the last 19 years “negligible”, not understanding the basic GDP equation, not understanding tax revenues in real terms, etc.) He is not going to change his mind in the face of any facts regardless of how compelling.

    I think a better line of argumment is based on the following:


    Gas tax revenues for FY 2004 were around $648 million. (this is the $0.20 gas tax that has been flat for the past 19 years or so)

    The link also includes detail on the $1 billion annually we need to maintain congestion levels and the $15 billion needed by 2025.

    So in other words the gas tax is not sufficient to keep up with our current needs. The question then becomes what do we want to do about it?

    1) let congestion increase at some rate based on existing funding
    2) find a funding source (Please be pragmatic – MN is not going to end all social programs in the course of the transportation debate. There is no evidence that the state is politically on the verge of doing so. Consequently please don’t go down that route)

    Have at it.

  23. Please note – The $1 billion and $15 billion figures refer to amounts above and beyond what the current funding acheives i.e. it would take about $0.25 per gallon more than current levels to get sufficient funding to maintain congestion.

  24. Bite me, Shabby Doo Doo. I said “Fulc, inflation has been relatively flat for a long time” NOT “the impact of inflation over the last 19 years “negligible””.
    It would seem my understanding of economics exceeds your somewhat limited reading comprehension.

  25. Are you kidding? Honestly?

    You stated:
    “Fulc, inflation has been relatively flat for a long time, whereas tax receipts from the gas tax m,ost certainly have not. So the bite inflation takes on that purchasing power is negligible.”

  26. Besides what makes you think that the CPI is a reasonable proxy for the inflation in road construction and maintenence costs.

  27. No. I’m not kidding. I said one thing, you put words in my mouth to puff up your self image while dismissing my point.
    You are dishonest. Too bad.

  28. You did write the sentence, “So the bite inflation takes on that purchasing power is negligible.” didn’t you?

    I wrote:

    “Calling the impact of inflation over the last 19 years “negligible” (the gas tax has been at $0.20 since 1988, or 19 years)

    How is that dishonest? How is your statement true in any way, data, links, facts, etc.

  29. 1. Shabadoo: you definitely came closer to what Kermit said than he did.

    2. Carol Malnau said in yesterday’s interview that the gas tax is nowhere near sufficient to keep the roadway infrastructure adequately maintained. (And then went on to say the money would have to come from other sources (?) as the 35 to 40 cent gas tax hike it would take to provide the required revenue would be too hard on the economy and Minnesotans – although what source of revenue will not be? and why not pay as you go?)
    I don’t like Molnau’s approach to her job but I think she did a good job in a tough interview – as did the Engineers that spoke – as did the press. Molnau definitely got defensive though. THERE IS NO WAY MNDOT or Molnau can be blamed for the bridge collapse, but the real question: Is her approach one that increases overall safety and effeciency? As Coleman says in Mitch’s referenced article: “Both political parties have tried to govern on the cheap, and both have dithered and dallied…while scrimping on the basics. ” And Pawlenty did veto a 5-cent (or 7.5 cent) gas tax increase – the first in 20 years – so less revenue for road repair. But a dose of hard reality seems to have changed his mind.

    3. The MNDOT interview yesterday was remarkable in its speed, openess, frank discussion etc. It was a breath of fresh air and a stark contrast of government approach to accountability to the federal adminstrations’ pathetic performance. Stark.

  30. Shabby, they were two different statements you chose to conflate. You reworded them and attributed it to me. That’s dishonest.

    Coldey, “you definitely came closer to what Kermit said than he did.” makes no friggin sense whatsoever.

  31. Generally two sentences in sucession, within the same paragraph, are part of the same argument i.e. no different statements. My statement is the direct implication of your two sentences, If that’s not what you meant, please explain what you did mean rather than calling me names. Links, data, etc are always useful. Thanks.

  32. No, I’m not playing that way. I said, quite plainly, that while the gas tax has remained static, the usage of gas has increased and inflation is not a significant detractor from that increase. You want to play games. I’m not5 interested.

  33. Kermit; I owe you an apology- on re-read you were trying to say that whatever loss of purchasing power occurs is more than offset by gain in volume revenues.You just did a poor job of saying it, as the record shows:

    Kermit Says: August 3rd, 2007 at 5:06 pm
    Fulc, inflation has been relatively flat for a long time, whereas tax receipts from the gas tax m,ost certainly have not. So the bite inflation takes on that purchasing power is negligible.
    Kermit Says: August 4th, 2007 at 8:49 am
    Bite me, Shabby Doo Doo. I said “Fulc, inflation has been relatively flat for a long time” NOT “the impact of inflation over the last 19 years “negligible””.

    Failing to mention actual data, or even acknowledging the other obvious components of a valid comparative analysis, adds more focus on your wording mistake. The foul language and personal insults you used further obscured your point, at least for me.

    Still, Shabadoo was trying to lay out an actual argument, so should not have to risk infection by being made to bite you. This is just my opinion, obviously – you may have other rules.

  34. I am not playing some game. I simply don’t see anyway you can conclude that inflation has not played a significant role based on the fact that MN would need to more than double the gas tax just to maintain our present levels of congestion. In other words, there is direct contrary evidence to your statement that the taxes collected have increased in excess of the costs (purchasing power) needed to maintain the roads.

    As I previously mentioned, why would you conclude that the CPI (measure of inflation) relates at all to the inflation rate of road maintenance. Furthermore, why wouldn’t the increased usage causing the increased gas tax revenues result in some directly related higher/more frequent maintenance costs?

  35. Coldeye observerd “(Kermit) You just did a poor job of saying it” which I can accept. I am by no means as eloquent or precise as our host here. I was merely trying to point out that which seems obvious to me: We buy more gas now than we did in 1988, therefore we pay more gas taxes as well. Since inflation has been very minimal there must be an overall net gain in revenues. I will let someone with the time and inclination show me I am wrong with either assumption using real data. Shabadoo has not.

  36. I should have took my own advice:”I personally wouldn’t recommend arguing with Kermit on these issues. He has, from what I’ve observed here, at best a cursory understanding of Econ 101… He is not going to change his mind in the face of any facts regardless of how compelling.”

    Kermit stated:
    “It’s the will to build and maintain, not the capacity”.

    I don’t think anyone disagrees that gas tax revenues have increased. I know that I don’t. But the increases are not sufficient to get us a well maintained, expanded highway system. Along the lines of your argument, we travel on the lanes more than we did in 1988, therefore they require more frequent maintenence i.e. more gas taxes to maintain. The maintenance dollars are paid out in current (inflated) dollars. Inflation at 3% would mean that the gas tax would have to be $0.36 in 2008 in order to have the same buying power. In other words gas taxes would have to go up 75% from the current levels. That doesn’t address the annual deficits that would accumulate in deferred maintenance and expansion.

    In other words, the will isn’t sufficient without additional revenues.

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