Following up on all these candidate pledges leads me to an excellent example of why the fiscal absolutism of politicians like Stace Nelson, Larry Rhoden, John Thune, and Kristi Noem leads to bad practical outcomes.
Via Governing, I learn that the Reason Foundation just released a report on how to modernize the Interstate Highway System with toll financing. Easy, tiger—yes, the Reason Foundation recognizes that South Dakota is a terrible place for toll roads, that our low traffic and higher costs mean coin booths on I-29 and I-90 would not be nearly as effective or politically palatable for funding our reconstruction needs as they would be in some other places.
But Reason's Robert W. Poole, Jr., says we need to do something to re-vamp and re-ramp the Interstate system. Our roads are aging, but political gridlock leaves us stuck in an outdated and insufficient funding system:
The need for massive investment to transform the first-generation Interstate into what this report calls Interstate 2.0 occurs just as our 20th-century highway funding system—based on fuel taxes and state and federal highway trust funds—is running out of gas. Steady increases in vehicle fuel economy, the lack of inflation indexing of fuel tax rates, and political gridlock over increasing fuel tax rates all make it very difficult even to maintain current pavement and bridge conditions and prevent congestion from getting even worse. The transportation community agrees that we need to phase out fuel taxes and replace them with a more sustainable funding source, generally agreed to be mileage-based user fees of some sort. But no consensus exists on how and when to do this [Robert W. Poole, "Interstate 2.0: Modernizing the Interstate Highway System via Toll Finance," Reason Foundation, September 2013].
The political process exists to reach workable consensus. But when special interest groups tie politicians up in red-line pledges, we can't get there. And what do we get? Crappy roads that will only cost more to fix the longer we wait.
Fixing the Interstates is an excellent example of why responsible politicians can't adopt zero-growth fiscal policy. Sometimes your costs increase and your needs don't change. If we're going to ship more milk and beef and French cheese out on I-29, we need to spend more to keep I-29 intact. Toll booths may not be the best answer for South Dakota, but shouting, "Not one penny more in taxes or spending!" is no answer.