Friday, June 08, 2012

Crumbling country watch

Browsing a weeks-old National Law Jouirnal, I came across one more sharp snapshot of desperately needed infrastructure upgrades gone a-begging:
Federal court officials in Nashville, Tenn., have waited more than 10 years for their turn to build a new federal courthouse.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) has had the courthouse on his agenda since he arrived in Congress in 2002, and he's still stressing patience to the city and judges who are stuck in the current 58-year-old building. "We're near the top of the list, so that day will come," he said.

But it may not be coming any day soon. The budget crunch in Washington means that the Nashville project, and a dozen like it across the country, likely will have to wait years longer.
Not only are new courthouse projects not being funded in this year's and next year's federal budgets, but court administrators have removed two projects from future plans and given up on doing feasibility studies to put new projects in the pipeline. And there is a push in Congress to reclaim $364 million from a courthouse project in Los Angeles, even as the government is contracting to design and build it, fueled by a government report that found federal courthouses had been so excessively big from 2000 to 2010 that some courtrooms were left vacant.

The lack of funds for new construction again this year prompted a warning from Judge Julia Gibbons, the chairwoman of the budget committee for the U.S. Judicial Conference, who told Congress during a March budget hearing on Capitol Hill that stopping courthouse construction projects can make problems like overcrowding or security issues worse over the long haul.
I needn't rehearse the slam-dunk case for boosting federal infrastructure spending in detail: the spending is desperately needed; the money can at present be borrowed literally for free; it's the most direct and efficient source of economic stimulus; the costs of letting our infrastructure crumble will outstrip the costs of borrowing. See Jared Bernstein on his cherished Fix America's Schools Today (FAST) program. And as for our long-term structural inflation remains a problem, though one that evidence suggests that the (endangered) Affordable Care Act is starting to fix.  But the main problem is simply a lack of political will to tax ourselves at rates necessary to support the commonwealth.

The U.S. of course remains an ultra-wealthy country. GOP anti-tax mania, driven by the party's corporate and private wealth constituency, is nothing short of willed national decline. Labeling all new taxes "job-killing" is a textbook case of an ideology cooked up to serve elite interests -- an ideology that creates an illusion that the U.S. cannot afford core investments in the common good.

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