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For years we have acted as if we could tax our way out of an infrastructure deficit if only they (the Government of your choice) would have the wisdom and courage to do it. That is why so much effort has been put into calculating ‘backlogs’. But is it true that we can fix the problem with more money?
The pro side: Yes, if we are prepared to pay for it by forgoing personal consumption (ie pay more tax or more rates) or by reducing other government expenditures. However, without some reduction in the total renewal bill what we have to go without might be rather painful. But would this clear the backlog?
The con side: No, for just as work expands to fill the time available (Parkinson’s Law), the infrastructure deficit or backlog expands to meet the money being spent on it! The clue is in the definition “The term Infrastructure Backlog refers to the total amount or value of renewal works that need to be undertaken to bring a Council’s (or other entity’s) asset stock up to an acceptable standard” source LGMA Knowledge Base. Consider the key word ‘acceptable’. Think back to when you were young, your funds were low and an ‘old bomb’ was quite acceptable (and certainly better than the bus!). But what did you do when you started to earn a decent income? Now it wasn’t ‘acceptable’ any more, so you upgraded. And that is what we all do. ‘Acceptable’ is a relative term. The more we spend on infrastructure, the higher our expectations and the higher the minimum ‘acceptable’ level. Whenever I hear that our roads or other assets are in poor condition, I think ‘relative to what?’ Spending more money to reduce the deficit is thus like a dog chasing its tail. And will be equally unsuccessful.