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