Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sam Thinks He Can . . .Opine

If you read the "about me" blurb in my profile, you'll notice I've proclaimed to cyberspace that I like to write. If you look at the date of my last significant blog you'll notice that it's been a month since I've posted anything here. If you draw the conclusion that it's been a bad month because I haven't had the time to do something I like, you'd be close to the mark.

As I tap this out on my iPod Touch, I am flying back from my third assignment as event photographer at the Little Everglades Steeplechase. While the other "I like to" listed in my profile was enjoyed, I've been feeling the need to experience the release writing gives me. I am suffering major "blog guilt", a phrase aptly first used in my consciousness by Facebook friend, (wait for name to drop) Peter Sagal. The only solution is to keep tapping.

How about our government? I've spent the past month fighting with the Minnesota Department of Human Services because of the incompetence of DHS employees, taking on regulatory creep by the Minnesota DNR, and lamenting the sad state of politics in Minnesota evidenced by Republican retaliation against party members who supported a transportation bill vetoed by GOP Veep hopeful, Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Over the next couple of weeks, let's examine my angst and challenges, starting with the lamentation.

Sherry Engebretsen, Artemio Trinidad-Mena, Julia Blackhawk, Patrick Holmes, Peter Hausmann, Paul Eickstadt, Greg Jolstad, Scott Sathers, Christina Sacorafas, Sadiya Sahal, Hanah Sahal, Vera Peck, Richard Chit

Each of the persons identified above lost their life when the I-35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River on August 1, 2007. For years, the State of Minnesota neglected recommended repairs to transportation infrastructure, including needed repairs to the now collapsed bridge. This month, over Governor Pawlenty's veto and just after the release of a legislative auditor's report that the Department of Transportation did not have sufficient funds to even maintain our roadways, the Minnesota Legislature passed a transportation funding bill that will ultimately cost gasoline consumers an extra 8-1/2 cents per gallon.

Six Republican legislators voted their consciences and deviated from the party line by siding with the DFL to override the veto. Their principled decision has been rewarded by ostracism from the Republican caucus and, in some cases, challenges at what should have been cakewalk endorsing conventions. Governor Pawlenty and his supporters lost no time lambasting the "tax and spend DFL" in a series of speeches and television advertisements (on Fox, of course), as if the Democrats had just used taxpayer money to purchase a warehouse full of Tommy Bahama khakis for a nudist convention.

The recriminations against the proponents of the transportation bill were so strident, even I was concerned that I would not be able to afford to drive anymore. So I did the math, trying to figure out what necessities I would have to give up in order to make up for the extra tax burden.

I get about 20 miles per gallon with my vehicle and drive about 20,000 miles a year. With those constants, I will pay about 54 cents a month in extra gas tax for each of the 13 lives lost when the bridge collapsed. In order to put this in perspective, I've identified exactly what impact this will have on my lifestyle. For convenience sake, I've assigned a sacrifice to each of the victims. That way, it's easy to determine if any particular life lost was not worth the sacrifice I am now forced to make in order to provide the Minnesota Department of Transportation with enough money to avoid another major disruption to free flowing traffic.

Sherry Engebretsen, One (1) weekday edition Minneapolis Star Tribune per month
Artemio Trinidad-Mena, One (1) pack Orbitz chewing gum every two months
Julia Blackhawk, One (1) cup of coffee at Papa's Café every two months
Patrick Holmes, Twenty (20) minutes parking at State Office Building per month
Peter Hausmann, One (1) small soda, McDonald's every two months
Paul Eickstadt, One (1) iTunes music download every two months
Greg Jolstad, One (1) Powerball ticket every two months
Scott Sathers, One (1) vending machine can of Coke Zero per month
Christina Sacorafas, One (1) order of anchovies on restaurant salad per month
Sadiya Sahal, Two (2) movie rentals from Coburn's per year
Hanah Sahal, Ten (10) ounces of gasoline per month
Vera Peck, One (1) Almond Joy candy bar every two months
Richard Chit, One (1) Exacta box bet at Canterbury Park per season

The 10 ounces of gasoline per month attributed to Hanah Sahal might have propelled my car an additional 3 to 4 miles. Hanah was an infant when she died, probably not worth much. So, depending on where I might travel to with those 3 to 4 miles a month, I might be getting the short end of the stick. On the other hand, on balance, it appears that the value of the lives of the other 12 victims of the bridge collapse outweigh my sacrifice. And, since it might otherwise be me on the next bridge to go, I'm willing to do without the anchovies.

Shame on you, Governor. Shame on you, spineless politicians who couldn't resist the opportunity to parlay the public's short attention span into a chance to spew tried and true inflammatory political rhetoric. Your constituency deserves leadership that explains the need to pull together to address pressing needs. The victims of the I-35W bridge collapse deserve to be remembered as harbingers of government's assumption of responsibility to protect the rest of us. And Hanah Sahal deserved a life.

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