Monday, June 01, 2009

Jeff Flake doesn't think that AZ is getting its fair share of federal spending...

...Perhaps somebody should tell him that the situation might be more equitable if our entire Congressional delegation, instead of just the Democrats, worked to represent Arizona.

Or perhaps he'd find the situation more equitable if only he'd pay more attention to Arizona reality instead of his personal ideology.

Over the last few months, AZ Congressman Jeff Flake, when not proposing anti-earmark amendments or calling for investigations of his Democratic colleagues, has been co-authoring (with a member of the Heritage Foundation) a number* of op-ed pieces on the topic of "donor states" and federal highway funds. "Donor states" are states that pay more in federal gas taxes than they receive back in federal highway funds.

* = "number" is a misnomer here. Actually, it's only one article used as a template, with the numbers and names changed to adapt to the locale of the piece's publication - Texas here, Georgia here, Florida here, Arizona here.

Flake and his co-author argue that the solution to this perceived inequity is to remove federal bureaucracy from the federal interstate highway system. He wants to keep the federal fuel tax in place, but all of the revenues collected in a particular state would stay in that state, to be administered by that state's own transportation department.

Just a reminder, the Arizona Legislature sets the budget and the priorities for the Arizona Department of Transportation. For the sake of brevity, we'll leave for another day the discussion of the utter foolishness of the idea of letting the AZ legislature control the upkeep of the federal highways in AZ. Let's just say that relying on the AZ lege to make sure AZ's interstate (and intrastate) roads are well-maintained and safe isn't a terribly bright idea.

While Flake's idea is more subtle than Texas Governor Rick Perry's call for Texas' secession from the United States, it may be even more indicative of the current wave of Randian selfishness and divisiveness that constitutes conservative political discourse. Here, instead of outright political secession, they're advocating ideological, economic, and social secession.

It's no coincidence that the states that they're targeting with this message are states that are either Republican-leaning already or are states that the Reps hope to reclaim in 2010 and 2012. Or that the states that they criticize by name - Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York - are pretty solidly Blue.

They're appealing to the "Us vs. Them" mentality that percolates just under the surface of all of us (yes, even me :) ), they're ignoring the fact (and hoping that readers similarly ignore) that the interstate highway benefits everybody, and everybody benefits from the funds expended on interstate highways.

Simply put, federal money spent on highways in New York benefits drivers from Arizona, just as money spent in AZ benefits drivers from New York.

And while the conservatives/Republicans have been crying about America's "descent into socialism," they're using the incorrect word.

The proper word is "society."

It should be noted that while Flake's articles have been appearing for just a few months, his scheme has been percolating for a while, as witnessed by the proposed (but stalled) Senate Concurrent Memorial advocating the precisely the same idea, sponsored by Ron Gould at the start of this year's AZ lege session. Gould pushed this last year, too.

It should also be noted that Flake and his compatriot are being very selective in their use of statistics. A study from the non-partisan Tax Foundation, ranks Arizona as 21st in terms of federal spending received vs. federal taxes paid ($1.19 received for every $1.00 paid in 2005).

That overall picture, no matter how much more accurate its evaluation of AZ's economic benefit from federal spending, is far less ideologically convenient for Flake than the numbers associated with highway spending alone. Hence, he ignores it.


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