Markos Moulitsas: Lessons from the storm

Markos Moulitsas: Lessons from the storm
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While House Republicans entertain us with their rank dysfunction, unable to govern their own caucus much less the nation, South Carolina is showing us the darker side of Republican anti-government governance. 

The historic rainfalls that dumped two feet of rain in parts of the state earlier this month swept away inadequately maintained transportation infrastructure and threatened the state’s water supply. As of Monday, the state’s Department of Transportation reported 322 roads closed, including 98 bridge closures. The damage is so extreme, the 74-mile stretch between I-26 and I-20 around Columbia now requires a 168-mile detour. Twenty dams have failed, leading to multiple fatalities, and the state continues to monitor almost 100 more. 

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Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of residents must boil their water, after the storm breached a canal that stores Columbia’s water supply, while sewage damage has fouled water supplies (and the environment) in other parts of the state. 

And in a sign of just how battered the state was, the University of South Carolina moved its weekend home game against Louisiana State University to Baton Rouge, afraid that weakened infrastructure wouldn’t support the 80,000 fans expected at the game. In football-crazy South Carolina, that added insult to injury. 

While the rain was the proximate cause of the damage, it was years of inadequate maintenance that left the state’s infrastructure so vulnerable. 

Twenty percent of the state’s 8,300 bridges were already rated structurally deficient or obsolete before the rains, and a business-backed advocacy group estimated it would cost $500 million just to patch up the existing network of roads. An effort by that group to raise $400 million a year for roads by raising some taxes was shot down by the GOP-controlled legislature, because well-maintained roads would be a sign of good governance, and conservative ideology seems to explicitly rule that out. It’s clearly more important to have the third-lowest gasoline tax in the United States than good roads and public safety.

As for dams, the state budget allocated a piddling $200,000 per year on dam safety in a state with 2,400 dams. Perhaps that’s why in 2014 the state only finished 63 percent of its scheduled inspections of the 180 dams classified as “high hazard” — meaning that loss of life would be likely if they were to fail, like the motorists trapped and swept away in cars last week.

Asked whether the state had done enough to maintain those dams and transportation infrastructure prior to the storms, Gov. Nikki Haley testily responded, “I think the analysis of this can be done after.” But pushing off the reckoning won’t deflect blame from where it belongs, and neither will pretending this is a one-off event, or a “thousand-year flood” as Haley put it. 

Global climate change is impacting the weather in such ways that extreme weather patterns are becoming routine. Of course, Republicans are against doing anything about that as well. 

The state’s congressional delegation is now asking for federal disaster relief. That shouldn’t be controversial — after all, government exists precisely to be there for people in their time of need. Yet of the eight members of the state’s congressional delegation, its seven Republicans all voted against Hurricane Sandy federal aid. Now that they’re the subject of disaster, they’ve changed their tune. Better hypocritical than not, in this case. 

The situation exposes the limits of conservative ideology. If you believe that government can’t work, how can you run a government that works?

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.