WPRI’s Dan McGowan lays out an analogy for Rhode Island’s lack of school repairs in an interesting Twitter thread:
Thread: I see a lot of folks asking the similar versions of the same question. How can we have let schools our schools go into such despair? Here’s a not-perfect explanation.
I drive a 2015 Hyundai. It’s not going to win any races or fancy car awards, but it gets me from point A to point B, is awesome on gas mileage and connects to my iphone so I can blast Jadakiss and A Boogie wit da Hoodie as loud as I want.
Also, I’d imagine the upgrade from my 2001 Ford was as refreshing as going from Mount Pleasant High to the beautiful facility at PCTA.
While I try to keep up with car maintenance, I let things slip every now and then. If I brought my car to a mechanic tomorrow, I bet they could find around $1,500 in problems. Since I’m a reporter, I can afford about $300 in repairs. So fix the tires, but skip the filter change.
After that, I’ll have $1,200 in needed repairs, but I’ll put it off for a while. But at some point, there’s a good chance I’ll hit one of those wonderful Providence potholes and damage something under the hood. Add $500 to the tab without touching the other needs.
Also, recently I saw the same exact car that I own on 195, except it had this sweet blue racing stripe. I MUST have that racing stripe, no matter what it costs. Add it to the tab.
This process will repeat itself again and again over the years, because that’s what happens with cars. (Also, I have zero knowledge of cars and I’ve never a seen a Hyundai with a racing stripe.)Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.
Now, back to school repairs. Think of that $1,500 as the Jacobs report findings for School X. Think of the $300 for tires as the standard repairs School X can afford. Think of the $1,200 as the running tab for everything else.
Think of the pothole as the random thing that goes wrong on any given day in any school. Think of the blue racing stripe as the new football scoreboard Councilperson A or School Board member B demands.
That’s how this happened to schools throughout Rhode Island. END.
No doubt, this is a significant part of the dynamic, but I think it comes after something else that McGowan doesn’t mention, and which I’d propose as the more fundamental issue. I’ll put it in terms of McGowan’s metaphor: It turns out that his income is more than enough to be able to afford all necessary maintenance and repairs every year. The problem is that his income isn’t growing very quickly, but the people on whose services he relies use political power to force him to pay them more than you can afford — and more every year, beyond his income growth — and that’s why he has to cut corners in your repairs and maintenance.
Our crumbling infrastructure is in large part a legacy of our heavy unionization. Every year, an increasing portion of local dollars is absorbed into contracts, leaving less money for maintenance for which the people are already taxed. As a double-whammy, the maintenance itself climbs in cost not only when done by government employees, but also when government forces itself to comply with laws for the benefit of private-sector unions, like prevailing wage.