Too often state and local government officials talk about receiving federal tax money as if its a gift -- cash from heaven. Federal tax money comes from taxpayers, the same taxpayers who pay state and local taxes.
Conversely, federal officials -- specifically the members of Congress -- act as if this federal tax money is theirs to give to the state as an act of kindness (perhaps in return for favors or political support).
It is, to say the least, an inefficient system. Yet, in a representative form of government it is the system we have.
As a result, some questionable local and state projects receive funding around the country while reasonable projects are not funded because Congress dithers.
This partisan game playing in Washington, D.C., might well have a dire impact on Washington state's infrastructure this summer.
Last week Gov. Chris Gregoire said she fears members of Congress are so paralyzed by partisanship they won't be able to pass a basic highway funding bill. A project that should be top priority is the bridge over the Columbia River at Vancouver that connects Washington and Oregon. Its northbound lanes are 95 years old. They were constructed on wood pilings sufficient to accommodate horse-and-buggy traffic, not the heavy horseless carriages of today.
Gregoire said she fears that the extreme partisanship in Congress is threatening the state's ability to maintain both its roads and its finances.
"I don't know that, collectively, they have an understanding of the impact it has outside, in a state," she said.
Unless Congress acts in the next five weeks, Gregoire said, the state's mega-projects "are all at risk," including the upgrade of the Columbia River Crossing between Vancouver and Portland, as well as plans to replace the floating bridge between Seattle and Bellevue.
In addition, she said, the state's already precarious financial condition could be shaken if Congress replays the prolonged game of chicken over whether to increase the nation's debt limit.
"I'm afraid of whether it will trigger the states back into a recession, or stymie us in our recovery," she said. "What degree it will hit us is the only question, not whether it will hurt us. I have clear evidence."
Gregoire's concerns are valid.
The members of Congress have got to look past their political ideology and focus on the fact that federal taxes are collected specifically for road projects and those funds must be used for that purpose.
Using the money to gain political favors by funding pork-barrel projects or withholding cash as political punishment is wrong.
Repairing the nation's infrastructure is critical to the nation's economic recovery. It has to be done state by state and community by community.
A good place to start is replacing aging and overcrowded bridges.