Public Works Projects: Can Taxpayers Afford To Allow Government To Control Spending Without Accountability?

The “Biggest Little State in the Union” is in the final stages of the relocation of Interstate Route 195. The Iway is a short stretch of highway that passes over the Providence River, and is easing the traffic congestion that plagued commuters between the West Bay and East Bay of the state for years.

Last night, as I was zooming across the new “Iway” bridge, I found myself admiring its design; the internally illuminated concrete piles, the arches (that seem to be the same color as the garages at the house where I grew up,) the suspension cables, and its over-all smooth-ness. There aren’t potholes or big bumps to jar ones passage across the Providence River as had become the norm with the old Providence River Bridge. Perhaps it was my imagination, but even the road surface material seemed to be quieter, surreal.

Alas, that was then this is now. This morning I decided to skip the gym and, while the weather permits, read the ProJo Online with a cup of coffee on my deck. Much to my chagrin, I read that the cost of relocating route 195 is already more than double from initial estimates and the project won’t be completed until 2012. That is a swing from $299 million in 1993 to a whopping $758 million today and the initial estimate accounted for inflation. One would hope that there are people much smarter than I am who cost these things out at the outset. In commercial real estate we use a Pro Forma to determine the feasibility of a project/venture so there aren’t any surprises and the developer/owner doesn’t run out of money. Try to imagine the developer of a housing development, an office building or retail plaza going back to the lending institution every year or so asking for additional funds to complete the initial project. We have all seen enough unfinished housing developments and commercial buildings sitting vacant to know that lending institutions won’t hesitate to kill funding on a poorly managed/executed construction project. It is not so easy with Public Works Projects. We can’t have unfinished bridges, roads, sewers etc because the public welfare and safety depends on these projects.

What can we do? For sure there is no easy answer, but we need to address the fiscal irresponsibily of governments because we are at, or quickly approaching, the “tipping point” where our society just cannot afford more taxes without permanently handicapping the economy at-large. Every dollar that is paid in taxes is one less dollar that can be spent on breakfast in a local coffee shop, or on a bouquet of flowers, or dining out, or attending local theater. The segment of society that “feels it most” could be those that can afford it least – those with lower income. They may not pay income taxes but they pay the onerous gas tax every time they fill-up, and other “sin taxes” when they buy a six-pack of beer, or a pack of cigarettes…and these monies are continually squandered by the politicians who control the purse-strings of government. Why do the Gas Tax and other “road taxes” often go into the General Fund and not remain earmarked for transportation issues? Why aren’t monies received from liquor and cigarette taxes earmarked for healthcare/Medicaid? Monies received from specific sources should be disbursed for corresponding specific uses. This would force our politicians and the bureaucrats to be responsible and accountable with our money. There would be no General Fund “black hole” sucking in these revenues to be lost and only to resurface as some pet project or other pork-barrel spending.

So as we approach the Primary and then the General Election, pay attention to what the candidates say, and what the politicians have done. This is the only time the citizenry has a voice. We need to speak with a voice that is loud and clear: “We are not going to tolerate, nor can we afford wasteful spending.” Don’t forget to vote.

Thanks for stopping by.

May You Be Healthy, Wealthy, and WISE

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