When Uncle Sam stops being Uncle Sugar Daddy

Bennett, infrastructure, highways
Scott Bennett is director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

By Steve Brawner

President Trump has talked about spending up to $1 trillion on highways and other infrastructure projects, but most of what would be spent in Arkansas wouldn’t come from Uncle Sam.

Instead, it would be up to Scott Bennett, and others like him, to find the money elsewhere – mostly from Arkansas taxpayers and drivers.

Bennett, director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, met at the White House Aug. 31 with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and other state transportation directors.

“One of their guiding principles is leveraging private investment. … They’re looking for $200 million projects where you put together all the state, local and private investment you can, and you’re still $20 million short. Those are the projects that they want to fund,” Bennett said.

“Devolution” and public-private partnerships

The idea of pushing projects down to the state level is known as “devolution,” and it’s something Republicans talk about, though sometimes quietly. “Public-private partnerships,” where private companies perform traditionally public services, is also a trendy idea sometimes embraced by both parties. Toll roads are often operated by private companies, and so are prisons. Continue reading When Uncle Sam stops being Uncle Sugar Daddy

What kind of country?

Immigrant, immigration, DACA
New Americans take the Oath of Allegiance in Little Rock.

By Steve Brawner

The next six months are going to tell us a lot about what kind of country this is, and whether the United States Congress is still capable of fulfilling its constitutional duties.

That’s because Congress now has a deadline, and unlike past deadlines, it’s not one that can just be postponed through a continuing resolution or legislative trick. This time, 800,000 young people depend on Congress acting. Continue reading What kind of country?

Harvey, and other threats

By Steve Brawner

The United States has been struck by arguably its worst natural disaster in its history. So far, the death toll is about 60 people.

For them and their loved ones, that’s everything, of course. But had Hurricane Harvey struck some parts of the world, the toll would be in the thousands. In India, Bangladesh and Nepal, flooding occurring at the same time has killed more than 1,200 people at last count. According to the online Quartz magazine, August floods and mudslides in Africa killed 1,240 people, more than 20 times Harvey’s toll. In Sierra Leone by itself, an August mudslide killed more than 1,000.

Harvey’s comparatively low death toll is notable but not shocking. Arkansans have long experience with tornadoes that cause tremendous property damage but little loss of life.

People can differ in their explanations for all this, but the nation’s wealth, freedoms and values clearly are a factor. The United States has poverty but not squalor – not teeming masses living in cardboard slums perched onto hillsides. Our structures usually are built on strong foundations using good material and away from flood-prone areas. That’s the result, partly, of those government regulations everyone is always complaining about. When a disaster does occur, we have the resources to rescue the victims and then care for them in churches, convention centers, sports venues, or wherever. If the local hospital is flooded, a hundred others can accept its patients. Because we live in a relatively uncorrupted society, we know that the mayor’s warnings can be trusted and that most offers to help will be legitimate. Because we decided long ago to be a United States and not merely a collection of feuding allied states, a disaster affecting a corner of the country becomes the concern of 300 million people who can pool their resources to help those in need.

A realistic S.W.O.T. analysis

The purpose of the preceding paragraph is not to inspire a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” Nor is it to elevate mankind beyond its proper place. It’s to help us conduct an accurate SWOT analysis. Continue reading Harvey, and other threats

Tax reform storms

tax, taxes, debt, deficitsBy Steve Brawner

This column was going to argue that Hurricane Harvey federal recovery aid should be funded through spending cuts elsewhere or through a special tax rather than increased deficit spending. Then a Houston-based Facebook friend pleaded for a cease-fire to all Harvey-related political talk, particularly by those of us sitting high and dry.

Point taken. Harvey is the only story that matters right now, but this week that story is about rescue, relief and resilience.

So we’ll fill this space on the opinion page with something else until a discussion about how to fund the recovery is more appropriate.

President Trump’s tax speech

President Trump Wednesday kicked off his legislative effort to reform the nation’s tax laws. In a speech at Springfield, Missouri, he outlined his goals broadly: a simpler, more competitive tax code; lower taxes for businesses and the middle class; and bringing corporate profits back from overseas.

Republicans know they must pass something big, considering voters have given them control over everything. When Democrats were similarly situated in 2009-10, they passed Obamacare. But Republicans have already whiffed on that.

Continue reading Tax reform storms