Lost amid the avalanche of punditry surrounding November’s mid-term elections were a couple of statistics that bode well for the construction industry.
While the national media obsessed over the usual cat fights, crooks and randy congressmen, the people of the United States were also asked to say yes or no to a record breaking $79 billion in state and local bond issues for public works projects. And, according to Reuters news service, voters approved a whopping 88 percent of these projects. The pundits would have you believe that the country is evenly divided along bitter partisan lines. But when it comes to supporting our public infrastructure, the people – by a landslide – want it and want it improved.
What voters clearly disapproved of at the polls this year were social experiments, eminent domain seizures and giveaways. The biggest bond proposal to fail on election day, according to the Associated General Contractors’ The Data DIGest, was a proposal in Los Angeles for $1 billion to build affordable housing.
Californians earn double bonus points for being sensible of late. You may recall that just a few years ago their former governor Gray Davis declared “the days of building new roads in California are over.” Shortly after saying that, Davis was given the bum’s rush by voters who preferred a more vigorous leader who goes by the name Schwarzenegger. And those same voters this year ponied up for almost half ($43 billion) of the bond issue approvals in the country. The Data DIGest, also cited a report that said Californians (and Minnesotans) voted to prevent their state lawmakers from raiding road building funds to make up for budget gaps elsewhere. Sanity erupts where you least expect it.
Back in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan launched a revolution of sorts when he declared: “Government isn’t the solution, government is the problem.” Reagan was right insofar as so much of the government had become a cash cow for special interests – everything from do-nothing bureaucrats, to welfare chiselers to corporate lobbyists and their clients.
But the anti-government sentiment sometimes went too far. Every time gas prices rose, commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity bellowed about how our gas tax (lowest in the industrial world) was too high. Yet neither said how they were going to get to and from work if the roads that the gas tax built were to suddenly disappear.
Most of the politicians in my lifetime have been slicing and dicing demographic schemes and poll testing positions to cobble together enough votes to win elections. But this divide-and-conquer mentality has had a poisonous effect on the national mood. All our differences become media flashpoints, blown way out of proportion. And the things that unite us, the goals and needs we share in common get dropped from the national dialogue.
But for one glorious day every two years, the media put a sock in it and the people have their say at the ballot box. And what they said on November 7 was clear: they want more schools, roads, parks, playgrounds, bike paths, water works, cultural centers, electrical utilities and libraries – projects that improve the quality of life for everyone.
The people spoke. I hope someone is listening.