Social media reactions are hardly ever what I might consider the most accurate bellwether of public thought on a particular subject. Perhaps it’s just the fact that people often take advantage of the relative safe “distance” provided by the web to act totally psychotic.
So I tend to take Facebook posts and tweets with a bowling ball-sized grain of salt. Still, with all that said, there are times a torrent of negative or positive social media comments can offer a general idea of popular opinion. By that paradigm, Gov. Kay Ivey’s recent op-ed explaining her support of a toll for the I-10 bridge over the Mobile River appears to have been about as well received as Jeffrey Epstein showing up to coach a high school cheerleading camp. (Too soon? RIP Jeff.)
Just on Lagniappe’s Facebook page there were 89 responses and if there was one supportive of Ivey’s position, I missed it. Reactions across the state were no better.
Whoever wrote the governor’s op-ed tried to structure a reasonable case for a toll, pointing out there have been tolls on the Bankhead Tunnel and old Cochrane Bridge at various times, so this isn’t really anything new and we shouldn’t be upset. However, what was conveniently left out of her article is the fact this toll would be — first and foremost — put in place to pay private investors a ridiculously high rate of return on their buy in. So they put up $2.1 billion and take in $8 billion to $10 billion or more over the life of the contract. That’s 500 percent or better. Usually you have to be at a payday loan place to see those kinds of interest rates.
Ivey’s argument was more of a “take your medicine” approach to the issue than any kind of explanation about what she’s been doing the past couple of years to help this project along and reduce or get rid of the toll the people of this area obviously do not want. It certainly offered nothing more than a defense of ALDOT’s position.
She whined that this is the biggest infrastructure project Alabama has ever done and it’s just the way our poor state is going to have to deal with it. But she also rattled off several federal requirements responsible for the massive cost explosion. Hello, McFly! Isn’t that a prime example of why the feds should pay for their required upgrades on a federal highway?
I will agree with the governor that the idea of no toll or no bridge is cutting off our collective nose to spite our face as traffic will continue to get worse, but it would all be so much more convincing coming from someone who actually has been working on this issue. That whole leadership thing, you know?
Ivey has called for a meeting of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority next month to discuss matters, but she’s already stated her support for the toll, so I’m not sure what to expect other than a dog and pony show to offer ALDOT more backing.
I have to wonder how many people who pulled the trigger for Ivey in the last election simply because of her party affiliation are feeling a little buyer’s remorse? Her failure to lead on the bridge issue is a prime example of why many of us in the news business thought it would be important to sit down with her during the election to try to get answers about what she would do regarding issues facing the state.
If Kay had wandered into our offices for a Q&A, for instance, we certainly would have asked about any plans for the bridge or support for tolls in particular. But we never got that opportunity. Nobody really did. Her handlers kept Ivey as far away from a hot mic or live tape recorder as possible.
Even trying to use campaign websites to compare her plans with those of challenger Walt Maddox was useless because Ivey’s site offered little other than platitudes and vagaries. Mostly there were feel-good slogans that would have looked nice embroidered on a quilt, but absolutely no meat and potatoes.
We bought a pig in a poke as governor. She slipped into the vacuum created by the Luv Guv and has pretty much spent the time since providing underwhelming leadership with little vision. And the bridge is a prime example.
If Ivey has been to D.C. to argue for the feds to pay to upgrade their road, it’s escaped detection. If she’s gathered all of our federal representatives to knock some heads and get them pulling in the same direction on this, I haven’t heard about it. If she’s expressed any disappointment that Alabamians will be paying the usurious profits of whatever private company lands this whale, it’s been kept pretty hush-hush.
What we need right now is leadership and creativity, not a sock puppet governor saying whatever she’s told and bringing no real ideas to the table.
If there’s absolutely no way to build this bridge without a toll, could the state just bond out the necessary money and collect a minimal toll that doesn’t include a 600-percent profit for a private company? Or maybe there are more creative ways to approach this problem, but no one in Montgomery seems interested in trying. Then again, presenting plans has never seemed to be Ivey’s strong point.
For example, Maddox offered many detailed plans on his campaign website, and roads and bridges were among his top priorities. He plainly stated he would use a 12-cent increase in the gas tax to pay for repairing our roadways and that would include building the bridge. Ivey didn’t even have infrastructure listed as one of her priorities.
I’m sure at the time, Maddox’s discussions about a gas tax increase rankled plenty of people — probably many of the same people now raising hell about a toll. But you got a gas tax increase with Ivey anyway. Sure, she’s signed laws for chemical castration, an abortion ban and protecting Confederate statues, if those issues fire you up. But Ivey also raised the gas tax 10 cents per gallon, signed a law exempting economic development professionals from registering as lobbyists and has been a complete no-show when it comes to protecting our environment from Alabama Power’s plans to bury toxic coal ash in the Tensaw Delta. And now she’s putting a private bridge developer’s profits squarely ahead of the pocketbooks of the people who put her in office.
Maybe next time we elect a governor, debates and interviews won’t seem like such a waste of time to everyone.
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