Monday, June 18, 2012

Brummett Opposes Highway Sales Tax Increase

Columnist John Brummett has been very mean to me lately.   He has quit writing stuff that is so outrageously wrong-headed that it provided a handy target for a whole quiver of my metaphorical arrows.   In other words, he is not being a good foil these days.   What a spoil sport!  I can remember back when I could count on that rascal to provide me a rich source of material week in and week out.    It made this blog so much better- and easier.  Now I have to work to find good material, which for someone as lazy as I am is quite off-putting.

He is even writing columns that I sort of agree with sometimes, and that is giving me panic attacks.   I keep thinking that I am going crazy or something.    But others have assured me that this is not true.  They say I am still the same bombastic, self-important, hyper-opinionated, self-aggrandizing ego-maniac I have always been.  What a relief!

Anyway, it turns out that, for the moment, John Brummett says he is opposed to the proposed ballot amendment to raise sales taxes (sans groceries and medicine).   The money would be used to fund a bond issue (politicians love debt) to spend on four lane highways.     Now the way he stated his opposition made it clear that he has not thought about it much, and his reason for the opposition was parochial.    Still, he came to the right place, even if it was by thoughtlessly blundering into it based mostly on feelings.   That's not how conservatives get there, but its a start.

Of course I don't expect him to stay there.    Positions taken on impulse based on parochial or emotional concerns are easily subject to manipulation.  Policy positions based on reason and principle are more unshakeable, and that's why today's political class despises them both.

He does have this interesting and true quote when noting that the highway commission took a baby step toward addressing his local pet peeve; "It is not like the Highway Commission to be even remotely flexible, so I should applaud the effort."    That's right.   It's not like them to be even remotely flexible, because flexibility flows from accountability.   The way the Highway Commission is set up they are not much accountable to anyone.  Basically it consists of nine powerful people who are probably more accustomed to speaking than listening.  They are such big players that individual legislators from either party are afraid to cross them.    They are a self-funded kingdom unto themselves.  This is an example of "fiefdom government" and it is another area in which Brummett and I concur.

You are not going to get flexibility, accountability, and responsiveness from an organization set up like the highway commission.    They are structured as an oligarchy, autocracy is built into the design.  Sure, they will feign attentiveness to the public immediately before a tax increase is on the ballot, but in the long term our experience with them will conform to the well-known scientific principle of "reversion to the mean."   The mean, or average, setting of the highway commission is that the personal agendas of the highway commissioners will take precedence over local needs on the ground.

If you have any doubt that I am right, consider that the nine commissioners are picked to represent districts whose lines were drawn based on Arkansas' population distribution in 1936!   Think of what Northwest Arkansas looked like back then verses now.   Think about how Little Rock has grown in those decades.  Obviously, population has shifted from South Arkansas and the Delta to central and northwest Arkansas during that stretch of time.   The have not even been responsive and flexible enough to assign representation by current population patterns. 

That alone makes it obvious that it would be stupid for anyone in the second or third congressional district to vote to give the highway commission any more money.     You would be voting against your own interests.   You would be throwing away all your leverage to force them to update their representation to the modern day from a time in which not only was music stored on plastic records, but those records spun at 78 RPM.

Of course the above logic does not apply to big corporations headquartered in NWA.    Those big boys have interests throughout the state.    It matters little to them whether or not the average citizen of NW or central Arkansas gets their money's worth.   The big boys will get theirs first, and leave the rest of us to fight over the scraps. 

The best case scenario would be to abolish the highway commission altogether and return their function to the legislature.  This would provide accountability to the citizens and representation is automatically adjusted to population shifts every decade.   Failing that, pressing the highway commission into much needed reform is the next best thing.   The very worst possible outcome is giving the present wasteful system our credit card so that can run up a billion dollar tab.


Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

The idea of raising sales taxes and spending it on a bond issue so nine unaccountable strangers on an antiquated highway commission can spend it is such a bad idea that even John Brummett can see it.

9:58 AM, June 18, 2012  

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