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

31 thoughts on “Maybe We Need Taxes — A Bridge Too Far

  1. Structural failures don't kill, low taxes do says:

    “It’s a tragedy and a shock, and I don’t mean to make political hay from it.”

    Yeah right – it’s such a tragedy in your mind that DOT funding bills is your first reaction to hit the blog.

    What an asinine, irresponsible and manipulative post. What EVIDENCE do you have that insufficient resources are to blame? It couldn’t possibly be a design flaw, or faulty construction or structural failure? With your ilk it’s always a political conspiracy. Why, I bet Rove and Pawlenty conspired to bring down the 35W bridge. In several months you’ll write about how the NTSB investigation was a white wash. You’ll call for Congressional action to subpoena Rumsfeld and Gonzalez.

    Take a chill pill. That buzz inside your head isn’t the GOP’s black helicopters, it’s the 12-pack of Schlitz you slammed before writing this excrement.

  2. The last line of the flaming response above — “That buzz inside your head isn’t the GOP’s black helicopters…” is perhaps the best line written so far on this six-month-old blog.

  3. What is fascinating to me is your stat of 40-50% of bridges in Minnesota being structurally unsound. Living in a country (UK) known for its crumbling infrastructure — this amazes me!
    From an outside perspective, the other point that interests me in reading the coverage of this bridge collapse is how quickly the reporters asked, and government officials offered up, that they did not BELIEVE this collapse was the result of a terrorism attack. Since 9/11, I have taken note that each time a tragedy of this nature takes place in the US, almost the first thing offered up is whether it is believed or not believed that it was the result of terrorism. Any ideas on why this is the norm now?

  4. I have to say that this is a sad excuse to try to conjure up some support for taxes. It would appear that you wrote this post 5 or 6 hours after the accident, which means that apparently your grieving time was spent stewing about the fact that people don’t pay enough taxes and bridges collapse as a result of it. I hate to ask if you know no bounds to your liberal outlook on life, but come on, man, this is going out of the bounds of human decency.

  5. Maybe the problem is that the inept government maintained it.

    Ever think that of possibility? No,..of course not. Government and higher taxes is the solution to everything of course!

    What a joke.

  6. Josh says:

    If only we spent billions like Ted Kennedy did on Boston’s “Big Dig,” we’d all have safe highways. Oh wait, that concrete slab broke loose and crushed a motorist two months ago. Never mind.

  7. bbenidt says:

    Do read the post on the link above. The passion in this left/right contrast is striking. I posted this on the writer’s blog:

    You are absolutely in line to challenge my thinking, viewpoint, facts, credentials. But the challenge to my heart and the hate in your own words — and we on the left rant and sling hateful words also — show the depth of the divide between people of differing views that is so harmful to this country.

    My anger and passion about this indeed come from that heart you wonder if I have. The goal is to avoid more of these tragedies, to have fewer families grieving. That lack of support — of tax money pulled away from the maintenance of levies — can be deadly was one of the hard lessons of Hurricane Katrina. If our unwillingness to pay our share to support the things we all use and need turns out to be part of the cause of this bridge tragedy, then we need to look clearly at that issue without the cant and the rants from either side.
    –Bruce Benidt

  8. Good Lord. You right-wingers: what are you so angry about? Finish this sentence & keep it as an “I” message: I feel __________. I am so mad about___________. Statements like this “I’m so mad that liberals always__________” or “I’m so mad that all you liberals____________” don’t count. Because they’re not about you, they’re not “I” messages. Can you three or four talk about your feelings and why you feel so angry?

  9. Lisa, I would think that it was apparent as to what we’re angry about. The fact that people so quickly jump up and point the finger at the government and the lower tax crowd when something like this happens is very aggravating and very trivial. It’s not like we point the the finger at the left when there’s a disaster, yet every time something happens in this country, people like you guys make a knee-jerk reaction and the finger immediately comes out.

    Personally, I don’t think either side is to blame, but if people want to try to play the blame game, I could just as easily point the finger at the left’s funneling of transportation money to unnecessary mass transit systems. I just don’t think it’s very productive and would rather see a resolution other than “more taxes! more government!”

  10. Geoff Trowbridge says:


    O RLY?

    Sorry, I must’ve imagined all those emails that blamed 9-11 on Bill Clinton.

  11. arclightzero,
    Thanks for writing. I appreciate your time and viewpoint. I’d so much rather connect than preach (and I preach a lot). In a heated moment, it’s like strengthening a not-much-used muscle to calm down and listen fully to the other person. Hearing–and feeling heard–is moving. Thanks again.

  12. Curtis says:

    It’s way too early to get political on this issue. Everyone, please take a moment to think of the poor people that are still stuck in the rubble (under water) and the rescue workers risking their lives to recover their bodies. Republican or democrat – I’d rather be human.

  13. Lisa, I completely agree. Connecting is a much better solution than slamming heads. Agreeing to disagree is much preferred over a war of words as far as I’m concerned – so long as the feelings are reciprocated. It’s easy to get spun up and angry about these sorts of things, and I sometimes forget that it’s not always easy to get my point across when it’s shrouded in anger.

  14. Unnecessary mass transit funding? UNNECESSARY MASS TRANSIT FUNDING. If you live in Minneapolis, you’re sorely aware that we live in the fricking ice ages when it comes to mass transit and that if we don’t fix it soon, the collapse of the 35w bridbe will be the last thing keeping us all awake at night. I’m off to read more liberal blogs now.

  15. ss says:

    sigh. To a liberal the only solution to any problem is to beg for more money. “Give us more. We spent it all.”


    Cutting bloated entitlements and silly subsidies, or limiting the ever expanding universe of nanny-state hand-holding programs never. even. crosses the mind.

  16. Curtis says:

    For Chuck and SS, who must have missed my last post. If you feel you MUST post on this, give it a few days or get in the water yourselves.

    It’s way too early to get political on this issue. Everyone, please take a moment, correction – a couple days, to think of the poor people that are still stuck in the rubble (under water) and the rescue workers risking their lives to recover their bodies. Republican or democrat – I’d rather be human.

  17. J. Buttafuoco says:

    Curtis – ah people are responding to the obscene pablum that initiated all these posts. Your beef is with the originator.

  18. Malaprop says:

    In Re: Pawlenty Policy = 35W Bridge Collapse.

    See also: Willie Stark, All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren (Pulitzer Prize, 1947).

    Maybe this become’s T-Paw’s Rudy G moment.

  19. Bruce, thank you for the response. This interaction has been an interesting lesson in right vs. left passion and how it is so easy to let it loose when perhaps it shouldn’t have been. It’s so easy to forget the human factor in something like this as people struggle to find something to blame. Passions aside, it’s times like this when people like us need to take the time to listen to one another and appreciate the fact that we’re all human beings which transcends politics and should give us a reason to work together.

    Again, thank you for being decent about all of this.
    -Ryan Evans “Arclightzero”

  20. John Reinan says:

    We’ve spent more than $600 billion so far on the Iraq War. What kind of bridges and road repairs could that money have bought?

    New taxes might be the answer, especially a gas tax. But it would also be worth looking at where our existing tax dollars are being spent.

    We spend more on national defense than — what? The next 10 nations combined? The next 20? Something like that.

    But that money is going for high-tech fighter planes that cost $250 million each. How does that help us find the next cell of crazy Wahabbi Muslims who want to blow us up?

    The military budget has long been a jobs program for the well-connected. No less a personage than Dwight Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex.

    I say, ratchet way back on military spending and start rebuilkding America. Yes, it’s the old guns vs. butter argument. I say butter is better. We can have a plenty big enough military on half of what we spend now.

  21. John, what is the point of arguing this? Do you think that taking money from national defense and putting it in infrastructure would have kept this from happening? The fact still remains that even if the money had been diverted to road maintenance, the bridge was not scheduled for overhaul or replacement until 2020 or so.

    This incident didn’t happen as a result of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and don’t for a minute try to convince anybody that “they” knew there was a problem but didn’t do anything about it. As it looks right now, this was not an accident that could have been prevented if only there was more money available.

    And please, why even bring up the military industrial conspiracy theory. I certainly hope that you’re bringing it up for argument’s sake and not because you actually believe that the Iraq war is all just a money making venture for the administration. In fact, as far as this context is concerned, why even bring it up at all? You might as well also say that road construction projects are all just a money making scheme for union fat cats… It’s just as absurd, and completely irrelevant to the situation.

  22. For the record, I’m a moderate. Call me a wuss if you want. That’s just me.

    Today the issue is infrastructure because the world has witnessed what happens when it gets ignored and collapses. People die. (Side note: The news of five deaths in Minneapolis overshadowed the news of more than 100 deaths in the Congo as a result of a train accident that occurred on the very same day. Go figure).

    Klobuchar was right in saying bridges in America shouldn’t fall down. So by all means let’s get out there and make sure all “suspect” bridges are either limited to certain kinds of traffic or closed until they receive that “clean bill of health” (*cough*).

    Once America can sigh a collective breath of relief again as it passes over the bridge, perhaps someone will stop on the other side to say a prayer of thanks. And while they’re stopped, they’ll hear the voices of the mom and two kids who happen to LIVE under the bridge in a cardboard box. And maybe that happy-to-have-survived-crossing-a-bridge person will decide to do something about the homeless, hungry, uninsured, uneducated and underserved who are citizens of the U.S. before they vote in another elected official bent on funding expensive and pointless wars or suggesting that the U.S. serve as the rest of the world’s watchdog instead of taking care of the issues in our own backyard.

  23. John Reinan says:

    My point in bringing up the military industrial complex is very simple.

    A bridge collapsed. Bruce said we should raise taxes to repair bridges. Several people jumped in with criticism of that position.

    I’m simply saying we could take money that we’re already spending, and use it for a different purpose.

    When the business climate changes, businesses adapt. I used to be a newspaper reporter. Now newspapers everywhere are saying, “We don’t need as many reporters. Thanks, but see ya later.”

    Businesses cut spending, cut people when times change.

    Well, times have changed in national security. We’re not facing a giant, monolithic opponent anymore.

    I’m saying, yes — we can say to half our generals, half our troops, half our weapons suppliers, half our contractors, “We don’t need as many of you anymore. See ya later.”

    They can go find other jobs. Millions of people in the real world do it every year.

  24. John, by your logic, we should also take a long hard look at health and human services, because while defense may be the single biggest line item, the combined health and human services portion of the budget leaves defense in the dust. Just as defense may be a bloated dinosaur, health and human services is a much bigger gorilla to deal with.

  25. John Reinan says:

    If our government were willing to take a serious look at both military and HHS spending, I would be all for that.

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