Sweet Merciful Zeus…

This is a cautionary tale. Naturally, it comes out of Massachusetts.

A long time ago (in the 1970’s, to be precise), the city of Boston realized that its Central Artery — an elevated road running through the center of the city — was getting too old and was too small to sustain the levels of traffic the city was experiencing. So they started working on a plan to replace it. That plan went through a whole bunch of changes and revisions and tweaks until it became the Central Artery/Tunnel plan, or the “Big Dig.” Essentially, they would tear down the elevated roads and replace it with a “depressed” roadway (largely underground), a new bridge over the Charles River and a new tunnel under Boston Harbor.

The initial price tag, as set in 1985, was $2.8 billion dollars. Final approvals were given and construction started in 1991.

Since then, the price has shot up. And up. And up. And up.

And the state legislature (controlled by Democrats since time immemorial) kept control of the project out of the hands of the various and sundry governors (Republicans from 1991 through 2007) and under their very loose control, making sure that their friends, relatives, cronies, and patrons were well taken care of out of the largesse.

Finally, when the bill for the project broke $14 billion, Washington said enough was enough and the project was getting no more federal money. Any more expenses would have to come out of the state.

That made the legislature a mite bit uncomfortable. They liked being able to hand out plum patronage jobs and collect hefty contributions, but having to pony up all the money sounded a bit too much like responsibility. However, they still resisted attempts by the governors to get control of the project and impose something that might resemble sanity and restraint.

Then the chickens started coming home to roost. Leaks abounded in the tunnels. Concrete used in the tunnels kept failing strength tests. Then, in one of those brand-new tunnels, a three-ton concrete ceiling panel broke loose and landed on a car, killing a woman. That’s when the legislature decided OK, fine, Governor Romney, you want it? It’s yours.

Romney tried to put some reins on the monstrosity, but by then it was pretty much a lost cause. Way, way too much money had been spent on a bunch of really, really lousy contracts and projects, and the commonwealth’s other officers had already had their hands in the pot. For example, former attorney general Tom Reilly reached a deal with the lead contractors for a refund of about $100 million, or less than 1% of what they had been paid.

And just when you thought things couldn’t get any uglier, you suddenly remember “hey, this is Massachusetts! They have ways of fucking up that science can’t even begin to define!”

For example, someone just noticed that a lot of the financing on the Big Dig didn’t take into account interest. Remember that $15 billion price tag? Fuggedaboutit. Make it $22 billion.

I’d said a while ago that I thought it would hit $20 billion before all was said and done. Man, was I a cock-eyed dreamer. Now I’m wondering if it’ll break $30 billion.

Now, I’m tempted to take the easy approach. After all, the Democrats have held the majority of both houses in their state’s legislature for as long as I can remember. And while the Republicans held on to the governorship, that was pretty much it for the entire lifespan of the Big Dig — and even then the Democrats kept them from exerting any type of control or restraint for nearly the entire time. And for most of that time, the governors barely had enough Republicans in the legislature to sustain any vetoes — something Mitt Romney lost in 2004.

Currently, the Democrats in Massachusetts hold both US Senate seats, all ten US House seats, the governorship, all other statewide elective offices, and over 85% of each House in the legislature.

So, as tempting as it is to say this is what you get when you put that much power in the hands of Democrats, I’m going to exert a smidgen of restraint and say that this is largely the fault of investing near-absolute power in a single party. Were there another example of a state so utterly dominated by the Republicans, I’m certain we’d see grotesque excesses as well.

Although I strongly suspect that they’d be of an entirely different sort. This particular fiasco has all the hallmarks of the Democrats all over it — profligate spending, union featherbedding, rampant corruption and incompetence, an utter lack of any kind of fiscal restraint, and the constant solution of “throw more money at it, and jack up taxes and fees and tolls and whatnot to get it!”

So Massachusetts is going to be on the hook for another $7 billion, and the Big Dig won’t be paid off for at least another 30 years.

As scary as those numbers are, I have my sincere doubts that they’ll be anything close to the final numbers. The phrase “more money than you can shake a stick at, plus the stick” comes to mind — I think it was P. J. O’Rourke’s.

On the other hand, this could be fascinating from a historical perspective. Has an entire state ever gone bankrupt before? Could it happen in Massachusetts?

In the words of the current governor, Deval “Coupe Deval,” “Mini-Barack” Patrick,

“Yes, we can!”

The title above was not my first choice, but “What The Fucking Fuckity Fuck?!?!?!?” breaks Kevin’s rule about profanity in titles.

Something I have always found interesting