Your money or your life

I want to take a moment to draw your attention to the debate over transportation funding currently going on in Missouri. The Show-Me State is having a vote next month to amend their state constitution and provide a “temporary” increase in the sales tax to fund transportation improvements. As in other states with similar status-quo extension measures, the debate has created some strange bedfellows and attracted a lot of money.

During the past six weeks, the campaign committee for proposed Constitutional Amendment 7 has received more than $2.3 million in large chunks ranging from $7,500 to $160,000 at a time.

Much of the money has come from highway construction contractors, who could gain hundreds of new projects worth billions of dollars over the next decade. Significant amounts also have come from labor unions that would perform the work, engineering firms that would design the projects and others whose products would be essential to the job, such as heavy equipment dealers and concrete and asphalt producers.

Supporters of the amendment have tried to use “safety” to frame the issue for voters. With this narrative, we can either have (with just a teensy little bit of additional money) safe and reliable transportation or, if we insist on being stingy, we will have to suffer with an unsafe system, one that puts our children at risk.

Think I exaggerate? Here’s the latest prop hauled out by the Laborers International Union of North America (whose primary mission is to protect their jobs, I mean….our children):

Yeah, that’s them posing proudly in front of a yellow school bus with the front smashed in by a piece of debris fallen from a failing bridge. According to LIUNA, Missouri residents need to support the current transportation approach if they want their kids to be safe.

Here’s that bus up close from the news report.

This is the most irresponsible type of propaganda. It recalls the union strong arm tactics of old (you know, you could support us or there might just be an accident.....) Organizations like Building America's Future, which are part of the coalition represented with the website on this bus, should publicly distance themselves from distasteful shakedown efforts like this. I'm not a fan of BAF either, but this is far beneath them.

Let me repeat what I have said many times: We need more money for transportation, but only after we have reformed our approach. Simply pouring more money into the current system is bad for everyone: fiscal conservatives, social progressives, environmentalists, drivers, transit advocates, bikers and everyone in between. We need a new transportation approach for the next American city.

This fall, Strong Towns will release a report detailing what reform should look like. It will build on our World Class Transportation System series and apply Strong Towns principles to transportation decisions at the local level. I’m taking a short vacation starting today but next week I’ll be back and share with you some startling findings about the gas tax and the complete lack of financial viability of our current approach to transportation.

You can add your sales tax today, Missouri, but you’re only going to put yourself in a bigger hole tomorrow unless you stop and do reform first.