Thursday, February 28, 2008

The coalition to not leave you alone 

One product of being taught by free market types in graduate school -- my undergraduate education had mostly left-liberal faculty, where in my senior year I was the only econ major wanting to take the Friedman side of a debate on monetary and fiscal policy -- is a certain resignation that, at times, elections bring together enough people in a coalition to create a majority that imposes its will to take the income of the minority. You might wish to complain about it, and surely it's wrong, but the process may require a certain amount of wasteful spending in order to get something done. That's the logrolling I wrote about on Monday, for example.

So where does this coalition come from? Drew Emmer points to a "shrewdly calculated outcome" of a relatively large coalition of firms who stand to benefit from greater government spending on transportation. It's a pretty interesting group, including pavers, engineers, local government, and large associations of firms who want someone else to pay for improvements on roads they ship on. Even a few firms that provide professional services, like the contractors' law and accounting firms are in on the game. If you were teaching state and local public finance or political science and wanted to show how coalitions form, Drew's list would be a good one.

But it extends a little further. My own union's lobbyist makes his reasons plain:

This is good news for higher education because the $416 million the governor had designated for roads and bridges in the bonding bill is now available for other types of projects�like higher education. IFO supported the gas tax increase for this reason.
The public universities are relying on the government to definitely spend their 3% of the budget on bonds, and now that they pushed the governor's road requests aside there's more room at the trough for these porkers to lard up. Understandable, though hardly commendable. But look who else is in? I got a copy of an email sent by ISAIAH to its membership:

Congratulations everyone! ISAIAH marks a huge victory with the successful passage of the Transportation Funding bill into law on Monday February 25, 2008!

Over the last four years, ISAIAH leaders have been champions of a vision for a transportation system that works for everyone, including those unable to drive. Every person has the regular need to travel, whether it is to their home, workplace, school, church or another location. ISAIAH envisioned that Minnesotans should be able to rely on transit as a thriving part of the state's transportation system.

This law was made possible through Minnesotans gathering around a common vision for a transportation system that: gets everyone where they need to go; is a responsible stewardship of our resources for the public good; considers the legacy we leave for the Minnesotans who will live here 30-50 years from now. is critical to note that the content of this law was shaped by the participation of these groups and many others. This includes ISAIAH and the Transit Partners Coalition of which we were founding members.
ISAIAH, of course, is a social justice group that affiliate with churches. I attend church at one of the group's sponsors. I drive about 300 miles per week, and my wife another 100 or so. We probably consume between us about 25 gallons a week. I wonder how the stewardship committee would feel if I withheld $1.25 a week from my offering (rising to $2/wk over the next few years), since the church has now decided I should contribute more to roads? Does the church think the government is a collection agent capable of doing His work?

And these folks aren't through:

While this is a critical infusion into Minnesota's infrastructure, it is also the product of compromise. ISAIAH and transit advocates believe some areas of transportation policy and funding still need additional attention in order to provide adequate and equitable support to our growing transit system. We will bring these to your attention as necessary at ISAIAH gatherings over the next year.

Of course, and if you resist the holy coalition that will not leave you alone until you have paid from your pocket for every additional need that they decide you should pay for, well, that would make you unholy, right?

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