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Bridge collapse used to mine tax increase (08/05/2007)
By John Edstrom

With some of the victims not yet fished out of the Mississippi, the tragedy of the I-35W bridge collapse in the Twin Cities is already being mined politically in a way that continues to give the field of journalism an unsavory reputation. In particular, some of the Twin Cities media have used the incident to pursue their self-perceived roles as prophets of the secular religion whose high priests/politicians exhort us continually to expiate our sins by paying ever higher taxes to build an ever larger, more Byzantine cathedral of government.

Much was made, headlines derived, for instance, of the designation of the I-35W bridge as "structurally deficient," and the fact that problems with the bridge were discovered back in 1990. If you read these articles carefully, however, you will discover that "structurally deficient" means only that a portion or portions of a bridge are in need of scheduling for repair or replacement. The problems of 1990 were "fatigue cracks" and "corrosion." These were fixed. The bridge has been deemed adequate to continue in service until 2020. According to MnDOT, there was never a suggestion of any danger posed by the bridge, which was under continual, yearly inspection, supposed to have been perfectly adequate from a safety standpoint.

Now, obviously, these inspection regimens will have to be reviewed, as well as the actions of MnDOT and its various employees and officials. It may well come out that inspection procedures and standards are inadequate, that the performance of MnDOT personnel may be deeply culpable or, likely, that the accident was of a freak nature that couldn't have been foreseen, but may possibly be prevented in the future. This will all come out eventually.

But already the catastrophe is being used to boost the DFL's program of tax increases which were vetoed by Governor Pawlenty. In Friday's Minneapolis Tribune article, "MnDOT feared cracking in bridge metal," anonymous testimony to the effect that "There were people over there [MnDOT] that were deathly afraid that this kind of tragedy was going to be visited upon us..." is presented. MnDOT absolutely denies this allegation, introduced by a "construction industry official," in other words, an obvious shill for highway spending whose anonymous comments are not worth ink and paper to print them.

At the end of the article, a Dave Semerad, CEO of the Minnesota chapter of the Associated General Contractors is quoted, "Let's face it. They don't have any money. At the end of the day that's the issue. This is indicative of a long-term pattern." But at the end of the day, the bridge had been inspected appropriately, analyzed according to the accepted standards, and the prescribed, necessary actions taken. Now, we will hopefully find out how those standards should be changed, who applied them wrongly or negligently, or perhaps something entirely different. But none of this needs a gas tax increase to remedy.

Similarly, in the Friday St. Paul Pioneer Press, in an article subtly headlined, "Catastrophe highlights need for transportation funding," Governor Pawlenty is quoted as answering, "Yes, clearly," to the question of whether the bridge failure points up a need for "more money for the state's deteriorating roads and bridges." However, the text of the article makes it clear that Pawlenty referred specifically to the collapsed bridge and rescue efforts, for which federal money is already on the way. No "wheelage" tax needed here.

It is amusing to note that the Trib and Pioneer Press have actually beaten MnDOT to the punch in applying that standard bureaucrat's excuse for any screw-up, failure, or negligence " it's all because you didn't give me enough money. Only in government does failure or incompetence routinely demand a raise.



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