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That $4 bridge toll is a real deal as are many of our government services

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POSTED July 15, 2009 2:18 a.m.
It was time to pay the piper.

We were heading into San Francisco for the day. I had just paid $4 for the Bay Bridge toll and was pulling out of the toll plaza when Ashley – my 16-year-old granddaughter – expressed surprise at the dollar amount and wanted to know why it cost so much.

I replied that the California Toll Bridge Authority operates five bridges and that the money pays for the constant upkeep, painting, and other necessities needed to keep the bridges safe and operating. I mentioned that it doesn’t even cover the entire tab of the replacement span for the Bay Bridge from Yerba Buena Island to Oakland while noting tolls are supposed to go up to $5 soon.

The answer didn’t seem to satisfy her.

It wasn’t the last time during the trip to San Francisco that Ashley was genuinely stunned by the cost of things.

One could chalk it up to the fact she’s young and not exactly well versed yet in how much things cost whether it is housing, food, clothing, or medical care in contrast to what an individual earns. I remember thinking years ago when I was making $7,800 annually that I’d be rich beyond my wildest dreams when I pulled down $20,000 a year.

That of course, was before the reality of inflation and taxes hit home.

There is no way that individuals could build their own bridge across the San Francisco Bay. It may seem steep to pay $4 to cross it – especially if you do so every day to work – but it is a choice you are making. Why should someone in Manteca subsidize someone in the Oakland Hills who opts to live there and work in San Francisco? There is a price you pay for your choices.

That is especially true when it comes to government. Aside from redundancy, fraud, and inefficiencies that help bloat the cost of government, most basic services are pretty straight forward.

Paying just under $40 a month for sewer in Manteca as a ratepayer, as an example, isn’t outrageous.

I’m getting what I pay for which is the ability to flush my toilet and know it isn’t going to seep out of a deteriorating pipe and either pollute our municipal water wells or bubble up into the street somewhere. Instead, it will run through a pipe that costs money to place and maintain and then goes to a treatment plant that returns water to the river in a cleaner state than what flows there.

The process costs tons of money to build, operate, maintain and ultimately replace.

I guess we could have sewer service for a lot less by placing outhouses in our back yards.

Then they’d be the problem of going to the bathroom in the winter not to mention the smell.

We’d have to figure a way to get rid of the stuff, perhaps spreading it in your garden.

There is the issue, of course, of public health. Most of us are fortunate to never have known a time when diseases were rampant in this country because of open sewer lines in cities or the fact raw sewage was dumped directly into rivers, oceans and lakes that tainted drinking water as well as food supplies.

Am I thrilled that my sewer bill is just under $40 a month? No. Is it a bargain? In the overall scheme of things, it definitely is.

Closed wastewater treatment systems are often placed at the top of list of the most significant public health advancements in modern times.

You could argue that freeways – and toll bridges – that cost tens of millions a mile to build before you even factor in maintenance costs – are responsible for Americans’ great mobility. They allow each of us to make choices of where we live, work, shop, and play. None of this is free and certainly it is not cheap.

There is nothing wrong in complaining about the cost of things although we all should remember that we get what we pay for.

And when it comes to essential services provided by the government that we as individuals can’t provide such as sewer, water, garbage collection, police and fire protection, national security, roads and such we are getting exactly what we are paying to get.
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