The syllogism goes something like this:
- State and local governments have the primary responsibility for roads, bridges, sewers, and all of the other public works lumped together as “infrastructure”.
- State and local governments are not devoting enough attention or money to infrastructure.
- Infrastructure is deteriorating.
Why? The answer presented in this article at Governing is public pensions:
These states have little flexibility to ask their taxpayers for more money. They are taxed to the max. But more federal money alone won’t solve the problem. Consider the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City’s state-run subway and bus entity. The MTA already expects $7.6 billion in federal funds for its current five-year, $32.5 billion capital assets program, a number that is expected to balloon to at least $60 billion for the next five-year plan, which starts in 2020. Even doubling the federal contribution to $15 billion or so would leave the MTA with a massive funding gap, one traditionally filled with borrowing. But with its debt already at $41 billion — 16 percent of its annual costs — the MTA will have a hard time returning to the borrowing well.
And no matter where its funding comes from, the MTA will remain overwhelmed by its mushrooming operating costs. Its pension and retiree health-care expenses, for example, have more than doubled in just over a decade, now constituting a full 21 percent of its budget.
Connecticut and New Jersey are worse off. While New York largely funds its pension plans, Connecticut owes nearly 19 percent of its residents’ annual income in pension liabilities, totaling $48.5 billion. New Jersey owes nearly 20 percent, or $115 billion. Each state also owes roughly $36 billion for retiree health care. Without cost reform, any tax, toll or fare hikes will largely go toward these costs, not better infrastructure.
The federal government has infrastructure responsibilities of its own to address. A sound currency, a military in a sufficient state of readiness, and confidence in the government are all important components of our civic infrastructure which have been sadly neglected and I don’t think that public pensions are the main culprits there.
All I can add to this piece is that here in Illinois the pensions being paid to workers (especially high-ranking workers) for the state’s Tollway Authority were eating up most of the revenue being derived from Illinois’s toll roads, leaving little for maintenance or improvement. Open road tolling which allowed the state to reduce the number of human toll-takers and, presumably, their management was one of the smartest things we’ve done in recent years.