I guess it is that time of the year for everybody to have their hands out, to the detriment of those who actually pay, the taxpayers. On Thursday, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) hosted one of its “On The Move” listening sessions, where representatives from various organizations discussed what type of projects should be prioritized. Consider this Exhibit No. 1 in classic displays of public choice economics in action.
It was plain to see that people who represented a specific organization placed a high priority on funding the project that most affected their group. This is what tends to happens in democratic societies. The people who want the public goodies take the time and effort to get them. For instance, Show-Me Policy Researcher Kacie Galbraith and I were at a table with a woman who represented bicycle enthusiasts. Not surprisingly, she pushed for more funding for bike trails. Show-Me Policy Analyst David Stokes was at a table where a representative from Citizens for Modern Transit talked up the benefits of high-speed rail.
This is not to say that some of the projects that some people favor do not have merit. I favor increased funding for road maintenance and highway safety. But when you get a lot of special interests together, the result is a lot of projects that “need” to be funded. For example, MoDOT has four long lists of proposed projects just for the Saint Louis District, with total costs in the billions.
I do not really blame people for showing up to try to get a piece of state funding. However, we should consider what William Graham Sumner wrote:
Whenever A and B put their heads together and decide what A, B and C must do for D, there is never any pressure on A and B. . . . The pressure all comes on C. Now, who is C? He is always the man who, if let alone, would make a reasonable use of his liberty without abusing it. He would not constitute any social problem at all and would not need any regulation. He is the Forgotten Man.
“C” is the Missouri Taxpayer here. Do not forget that the Missouri Taxpayer will pay for these projects. I believe in funding transportation, but the state should only fund what is necessary, not what every special interest wants to have financed.