September 4, 2008
How many friends can one guy have?
Let’s find out.
Today, I’d like to introduce you all to my brand new Facebook page. I haven’t felt this hip since I was 16 and looked so good in a pair of pretty special plaid bell-bottom pants.
Some may scoff that I’ve done nothing more than take a bold leap into 2006. But no matter what they say, I am now officially a member of the pop culture.
Seriously, this is an exciting opportunity for anyone in public office who represents real people – a rope line with an endless amount of rope.
It’s another way to connect with people – to see their faces, hear their stories, and get an idea of what’s important to them. So I hope you’ll also act on your hipness, drop in, and let me know who you are and what you’re up to.
Speaking of hip, there’s simply no way to claim any role in current culture – or in appropriate social networking, for that matter – if you’re not at my annual party in Zilker Park.
The party is now less than three weeks away. As you probably know, Blues Traveler will play the event this year.
No joke, this is a fun, special party – in a unique place, and always with a great crowd.
As you probably know, I spent last week at the Democratic National Convention. It was my honor to speak on a panel of experts about our nation’s roads and bridges, rail lines, water systems, broadband networks, energy generators, and power grids.
These are traditionally grouped under the heading of “infrastructure,” which is a word developed in a Finnish lab to help people sleep.
That’s too bad, because outside of education and health care, there’s nothing more important to the future of this region, state, and country.
In a lot of these areas, we’re approaching a crisis. You seldom see it hitting all at once, but there are ample hints here and there: a collapsing bridge in Minneapolis, a blackout in New York, a push to build private toll roads in Texas . . . the list goes on.
Most infrastructure issues revolve around the same unfortunate truth – governments simply aren’t keeping up with people’s needs. Our failure to provide this foundation is bad news for us – and even worse news for our kids.
It’s taken for granted – by far-sighted economists and business leaders, at least – that investments in education and health care pay off big down the road. Education turns people’s natural abilities into innovation, and health care ensures they’ll stay productive in the process.
Infrastructure provides a critical last step, turning that innovation and productivity into prosperity.
I talk a lot about regions like Central Texas that have prospered by attracting smart, creative workers – and, in turn, the businesses they launch and the companies that hire them.
Luckily, the “Creative Economy” in this and other prosperous regions already had many of the things we needed to succeed; we inherited them from our parents and grandparents.
With basic infrastructure already on the ground, regions could focus on a new rail line, a road improvement, broadband networks, and other individual projects – without worrying about maintaining the overall systems.
But in recent decades, investment in these basics has fallen off a cliff compared to what we need, particularly at a state and federal level. That’s put more and more responsibility on local governments.
The shift has forced hard choices and created a funding system marked by winners and losers, a system struggling to catch up with the present.
Governments have scrambled to respond to the situation – not always in responsible ways. As I noted, the Texas Department of Transportation has very controversially pursued the privatization of toll roads. It’s no secret that I don’t agree with this policy or the way it’s been implemented.
However, I must confess that I understand the desperation that some people feel to address these types of needs. We just have to be careful to do it in a way that benefits future generations and doesn’t rob from them.
One way or another, preparing our economy for our children will be my biggest priority in the next legislative session. And infrastructure, with education and health care, will be at the center of my work. But privatization and rampant borrowing aren’t the answer.
Instead, I think we need to explore approaches that give control and responsibility to local constituents and officials. We also need to revisit and renew strategies, embraced by previous generations, that turned our region and state into economic powerhouses. And we need to make sure that local officials have the ability to work out solutions with their neighbors and counterparts.
If we do all of that, we’ll leave our kids a tremendous gift. To understand how big, just look around at all we’ve been given.