Murphy Addresses the “Big Lie of Government” and China’s Threat to the U.S. Economy at GITA Conference

By Joe Francica

Tom Murphy, keynote speaker at GITA
Tom Murphy, himself a career politician having served as mayor of Pittsburgh and before that as a Pennsylvania legislator, exposed the "big lie of government" during his keynote presentation at the GITA Annual Conference in Seattle, March 10-12. Speaking about the laissez faire attitude of today's elected officials, he confronted a fundamental falsehood. "We [think we] live in an environment where we can have good schools and good roads without making the investments." Murphy feels that it is difficult to get people to wake up and realize that investments are needed in public infrastructure in order for the U.S. to compete in the global economy. "People have a stake in the status quo. That's the challenge," he said. It is a topic that not even our presidential candidates will address. "It's a difficult conversation to have... You have a federal government that has largely checked out of the conversation," said Murphy.

Murphy addressed a series of topics dealing with infrastructure improvements and environmental concerns. He stressed that while these are critical issues, not enough politicians are willing to champion the cause and pursue the necessary actions. He cited four forces he believes may overtake us if they are not recognized:
  • global warming
  • competing demand for energy
  • lack of infrastructure investment
  • unsustainable development trends
"We're playing a game of chicken and [we think] that technology will save us," said Murphy. He asked the audience if they believed that their driving habits would change with gasoline at $4 per gallon. "Yeah, about ten percent of you... How about if it was $10 per gallon? Do you know what gas is in London [UK]? It's $10 per gallon!"

Greater demand for energy resources is tightening its grip on the American economy and our way of life. According to Murphy, what has changed is that the Chinese people want to live like we do. The Chinese want to achieve our standard of living. In that pursuit, their country has added greatly to the global demand for oil.

In the U.S., Murphy said, we remain ignorant to the threats posed by the strain on energy resources. "We've been running this country with this 'Ozzie and Harriet' view of our economy," he said, referring to the 1950's TV show that portrayed an idealized average American family. "That's not who we are anymore... That's the challenge!" What is the reason for the change? Murphy pointed to the fact that the U.S. population was much smaller then and gasoline was $0.15 per gallon.

Murphy also noted that the number of immigrants entering the U.S. within the last two decades has exceeded the previous high recorded in the 1890's. Combine that with a steadily growing population and the impact on our roads, transit and health systems reaches a breaking point. Murphy added, "Do we have the infrastructure to absorb another 120 million people?" The result is urban sprawl and worsening traffic congestion. "Is it sustainable to continue to push people out of the urban areas and expect people to pay $4 per gallon if they are still working in the central urban districts?" Murphy questioned.

Sustaining the American dream will require the cooperation of regional governments working together to support creative financing, sometimes with public/private partnerships, to begin and sustain infrastructure improvements. Other methods include the establishment of Tax Increment Financing zones, called TIFs, which borrow against future tax revenues. Murphy cited the following cooperative agreements:
  • Denver presented a bond issue of $2 billion to voters to build 119 miles of light rail that brought together seven counties and 32 municipalities to help mitigate traffic congestion.
  • St. Paul and Minneapolis, beginning in 1971, brought together 188 municipalities and seven counties to share 40% of their tax base.
  • Pittsburgh experienced remarkable change by adding parks and other infrastructure improvements, even with the loss of the steel industry. A sales tax of 0.5% was used to fund regional development, with 132 municipalities participating.
  • The Chicago Skyway Tollroad received $1.83 billion in a lease agreement with an Australian company to manage the toll road for 99 years.
In the end, Murphy believes that it will take strong leadership from elected officials with the foresight to acknowledge the need for infrastructure improvement. Recognizing China's aggressive development in the past decade, which has unfortunately come at the expense of human rights and environmental neglect, Murphy had this to say: "China's form of government... I don't condone. But I have great admiration for their understanding, to take their country from an agrarian economy, to invest in infrastructure, and to become an economic powerhouse."

Published Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Written by Joe Francica

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