Capitol Connections – Week 17
At a recent legislative breakfast, a friend asked a $64,000 question. She asked what we were doing about all the reports of raw sewage dumping into our waters across the state. I cannot speak for the other legislators but I felt like the answer “nothing” might have been close to accurate.
To be clear there is money in our capital budget to help with the Lake Champlain clean-up and other work on the Lake Memphromagog and the Connecticut River basins, but much of that is an after the fact response and in no way proactive work.
Throughout the week the raw sewage question kept haunting me. I began to wonder what else as a state we were being remiss with and did some research. Sadly, after years of neglect we have amassed a huge burden for our children and grandchildren to fix.
The Agency of Transportation has estimated that in order to fix our structurally deficient bridges we need to spend $100 million every year for the next twenty years.
There are roughly 1200 dams in Vermont and 198 have been classified as having a significant hazard potential. The cost to remove those that need it is estimated at $22 million and those needing repair will cost $35 million.
Vermont has nearly 1400 public water systems, most being small community organizations. The cost to keep these systems from falling into disrepair is a staggering $510 million over the next 20 years.
Waste water needs are staggering too. We have 7000 miles of rivers and streams and over 800 lakes and ponds we need to keep clean. The estimate to keep our wastewater and storm water sewer repairs and retrofits current is $150 million annually. The American Society of Civil Engineers scores states on the quality of their Infrastructure. Vermont’s wastewater system scored a “D” on their most recent report.
The list of infrastructure need goes on and on. Solid waste disposal, roads, school replacements all come at a cost.
It is easy to cite problems with no solutions. The problems we face are not those created by any one Governor or legislature, but come from decades of indifference. It seems we all live in the moment. It could be our one-year budgeting cycle adds to this short sighted view.
Our failure to keep current on our obligations is not just limited to the bricks and sticks of government. Our state pensions for teachers and state employees are under funded by some $1.8 billion that we are projected to pay retirees over their lifetime. We will pay roughly $70 million next year alone to catch up on these back payments.
In the same way we pay millions of dollars to try to catch up for the years we did not fund our retirement liabilities for teachers and state workers, we now need a similar commitment to help make sure Vermont’s infrastructure does not fall apart.
The old adage of “pay me now or pay me later” comes to mind. Seems we have chosen to pay the bills later. In truth however it will not be us who pay later. Our children and their children will be saddled with these debts. As the line from Apollo 13 said, “Houston we have a problem”.