Ever Hear of Infrastructure?
If you want to know what is going on in Washington, you need to read Politico. The paper had a recent article that caught my eye about cracks in the “infrastructure crisis.”
I went to Wikipedia and looked up “infrastructure.” The word dates back to 1927 and is defined as “the installation that serves as the basis for any operation or system.” The term became popular in the 1980s, especially after the book America in Ruins was published. I remember when the book was released - it was all the rage among public policy wonks like me. One of the authors, Pat Choate, I remember for another reason. He was Ross Perot’s running mate (remember him?) on the Reform Party ticket in the 1996 presidential race. They both talked a lot of rebuilding stuff - starting with the responsibilities of the national government. No one listened. They lost, and so it goes.
Back to the Politico article and the infrastructure crisis. The story focuses on the differing views within the Congress. (No surprise in that, I guess.) The article quotes South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who said that claims of crumbling roads and rails are “usually a trumped up and exaggerated point.” You might be surprised to learn that Sen. Thune was once the executive director of the South Dakota Municipal League (my job, different state). Comments like that may be the reason he is not a municipal league director anymore and in the Senate instead. (By the way, Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall have nothing to worry about – they do a tremendous job and recognize infrastructure needs as real … and I have no interest in serving in the U.S. Senate. Also, the municipalities of South Dakota are pretty lucky in having Yvonne Taylor as director of their league.) The article is more interesting in showing how members of the Congress are sorting out the issue at the national level.
Next, I want to bring to your attention an aspect of the “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” which looks at the state of some of our public facilities and services and is put out by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Colorado has a reported $6.4 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. This information tracks closely with our own CML research.
My colleague, Kevin Bommer, has spent the past few years lobbying, among many other issues, water infrastructure needs in our General Assembly. He has had some modest successes. State lawmakers do not look at this issue as “trumped up.” They understand the challenges cities and towns are facing.
As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” Truer words were never more appropriate than looking at the infrastructure needs of our own state and of our own municipalities.
An excellent example is the great City of Sterling located in the beautiful high plains of northeastern Colorado. Jim Allen is the Sterling public works director and my great friend and colleague, Joe Kiolbasa, is that talented city manager, and both are deeply involved overseeing that city’s water treatment plant. Real challenges face this real community, in a very direct way. A recent article in Sterling Journal-Advocate does a great job of exploring the issues. To be even better informed about water challenges across the state, become familiar with the Colorado Water Infrastructure Network. (I am its vice president.)
You drink the water. Your drive on the streets. You play in the parks. What kind of partnership should our municipalities, citizens, the state, Congress, and the president have for infrastructure?
Are all politics truly local?
What do you think?