I-5 Bridge Collapse Reveals Politicians’ Failure to Invest in Infrastructure — Tax the Rich and Repair our Infrastructure!

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We are extremely fortunate that that no one was killed last night when an I-5 bridge collapsed in Mount Vernon, Washington and 2 vehicles dropped into Skagit River. However, three people were injured, two got trapped in the extremely cold river for an hour, and one was knocked unconscious. The bridge collapsed after an oversized truck collided with an overhead brace on the bridge. For weeks or possibly months, thousands of commuters will be forced onto detour routes where they will get stuck for hours in traffic jams.

How is it possible, in one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world, that we face such basic infrastructure problems? The politicians are trying their best to dance around this basic question, but the undeniable truth is that this tragedy was entirely foreseeable and preventable.

The bridge was built in 1955 and last inspected in November 2012 and labeled “‘functionally obsolete’ – meaning that the design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders and low clearance underneath” (Christian Science Monitor, 05/24/13). In fact, more than a quarter of Washington state’s 7,840 bridges have been designated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete! (Associated Press, 5/24/13)

The politicians have received report after report about these dangers, yet they have failed to do much about it. This reflects the reality that both the Republican and Democratic Parties accept millions of dollars in corrupting campaign contributions from corporations.

The Republicans are usually more blatant about slavishly serving the interests of elite corporate than the Democrats, but both parties are responsible for this situation. In 2003, for example, Democratic Governor Gary Locke and the state legislature granted Boeing a massive $3.2 billion tax break, and now the politicians are discussing extending that tax break beyond 2024 instead of investing in our dangerously outdated transportation infrastructure.

“It’s an outrage that our government cannot provide something as basic as safe bridges,” says Kshama Sawant, a Socialist Alternative candidate for Seattle City Council. “We could literally save lives if the politicians increase taxes on the wealthy and use the revenue to put the unemployed to work repairing our infrastructure.”

The Democratic Party has controlled the governorship, the state legislature, and Seattle’s city government for years. From 2008 -2012, for example, Democratic Governor Gregoire and the Democratic-majority state legislature slashed billions of dollars from Basic Health, public education, and other public services while keeping in place the most regressive tax system in the country – one that lets the wealthy off the hook while disproportionately taxing working-class people.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted, “People earning less than $20,000 annually pay 17.3% of family income toward sales and excise taxes and property taxes… People making between $99,000 and $198,000 each year pay 7.6% toward their tax bill. Meanwhile, people in the top 1% of earners – those making more than $537,000 a year – pay just 2.9%.”

Locally in Seattle, there is a huge backlog of unfunded capital projects for bridge and road repairs that still haven’t been funded, including major arterials like the Magnolia Bridge that were damaged by the earthquake in 2001. Instead, Mayor McGinn and the City Council (all Democrats) have spent our tax-dollars on vanity projects for the rich, such as the South Lake Union redevelopment – a pet project for the billionaire Paul Allen and his corporation Vulcan Inc.

Ordinary people as well as the labor, civil rights, and environmental organizations need to sever their ties with both the Republican and Democratic Parties and support independent candidates who reject corporate donations – candidates who will stand up to the richest 1%.

Kshama Sawant won a historic 29% of the vote – over 20,000 votes – last year as a Socialist Alternative candidate against the Democratic State House Speaker Frank Chopp. This was the strongest vote for an independent left-wing candidate in the country and the highest vote for a Socialist in decades. This year Kshama Sawant is mounting another vigorous challenge, this time for Seattle City Council, alongside 2 other Socialist Alternative candidates who are running for City Council in Minneapolis and Boston. In 2014, Occupy Everett and labor activist Mike Lapointe will run again against Democratic U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen from Washington State, another positive sign that more activists are seeing the need to challenge the two corporate parties.

As more events happen, like this bridge that collapsed, and as the economic and environmental crises deepen, popular anger at the Republicans and Democrats will grow, especially during President Obama’s second term. Mass protests are on the rise, and support for independent candidates could grow substantially. We urge individuals and organizations to take a stand and support independent left-wing candidates such as the three Socialist Alternative candidates in 2013 and Mike Lapointe in 2014 and to run more independent working-class candidates across the country.

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