Maybe We Need Taxes — A Bridge Too Far

It’s way too early to know what brought down the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River Wednesday in Minneapolis. It’s a tragedy and a shock, and I don’t mean to make political hay from it.

I do mean to bring up the possibility that too many years of “no new taxes” may be coming home to roost. Len Levine, commissioner of transportation under Gov. Rudy Perpich, was quoted on KSTP a few hours after the collapse as saying 40% to 50% of bridges in Minnesota are deficient. He called it a crisis, and said, “There’s just not enough money coming in to fix the system.”

We’re not paying as we go. We’re deferring maintenance on roads and bridges, pushing off the fixing and the paying into the future. Too many politicians are too goddam chicken to ask us to pay for what it takes to have a state and a country that works.

We’ve got problems with China dumping crap in the food it ships for cheap to us? Good luck catching the problem before it shows up in pets or pigs or humans — the number of USDA inspectors has been drastically cut, because government is the problem and tax relief is the answer.

The I-35W bridge collapse may change the public debate over the role of government. It may illuminate how inadequate “no new taxes” and “government is the problem” are as slogans or programs or a view of being responsible community members. “Let’s have a little civics lesson here, let’s look at what taxes buy,” my wife Lisa said.

A personal note — Lisa and I got a call at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday from Don Francis, Sr., in New Orleans. Don’s house was flooded by Katrina, he waded and boated through horrific water and scenes and was evacuated by helicopter after three harrowing days at the Convention Center. He and his daughter, Ciara, came to Minneapolis where a bunch of us (some of you reading this) helped them while they were refugees from their city. They’re back in New Orleans East, and as Don watched the frightening scenes of our bridge collapse, cars in the water, divers and rescue workers all over, he thought of us.  And called to see if we were OK. Tragedies, and friendships, come full circle.

— Bruce Benidt

Melting Frosty

Billiam the snowman is undignified, they say. He was made of snow, but the children know
how he came to life one day.

Yes indeed, the children know. The wholesome Minneapolis lads who helped an animated snowman named Billiam probe Democratic presidential candidates at the recent CNN/YouTube debate found their etchings on the front page of the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

Part of the reason for the ongoing attention to Billiam’s creators is that candidate Mitt Romney and other stuffy on-lookers are wondering aloud whether candidates should subject themselves to such indignities.

Huh? It’s obviously terrible politics to look so humorless to young voters. Beyond that, I honestly don’t understand the concern. Taking a question from an animated snowman is odd, but offensive? Billiam’s question was relevant and serious, and it added a few seconds of levity to the event.

If you’re going to open up questioning to voters, candidates need to take voters the way they are instead of insisting that they pre-sanitize themselves. If some want to express themselves through the media and tone of their generation, what’s the harm?


Life After The Newsroom Reminder

For any ex-journalists, or journalists who are thinking about becoming ex, a reminder:

Tony Carideo, Bruce Benidt and John Reinan — all former Star and Trib reporters — are hosting a gathering at 5:30 p.m. today, Aug. 1 at Fast Horse, 240 Ninth Ave. N. in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. We’ll talk about how journalists’ skills can apply in other lines of work. Also joining us will be Gary Hill, who left Channel 5 six months ago to work in communications for the Minnesota Senate DFL majority leader, and Jim McCartney, who left the Pioneer Press in February to join Weber Shandwick in health care public relations. And career counselor Lisa Dewey Joycechild will give some ideas on making your work fit you rather than trying to fit into a job.

All are welcome. Clothing optional.