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Politics takes toll on infrastructure investment

Noted and Bemoaned: It has been one year since Gov. Larry Hogan, making good on a campaign promise, announced a cut to highway tolls in Maryland, claiming his action would save state taxpayers $270 million over five years. But a report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers shows the short-sightedness of such cheap political grandstanding.

The ASCE estimates that nationwide, spending on infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports, water and power systems — is falling trillions of dollars short of what's necessary, costing the country millions of jobs and each household and business thousands of dollars annually.

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It's a fascinating and disturbing report, examining what lousy roads and leaking public works cost us in productivity and income.

"The cost of deteriorating infrastructure takes a toll on families' disposable household income and impacts the quality and quantity of jobs in the U.S. economy," the ASCE says. "From 2016 to 2025, each household will lose $3,400 each year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies."

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Deficient infrastructure also takes a toll on businesses, increasing costs and reducing productivity. As a result, the ASCE estimates a loss of 2.5 million jobs and $4 trillion in in GDP within the next decade.

What accounts for this short-sighted thinking in a nation that believes itself exceptional? The obsession with fiscal austerity, the unwillingness to raise taxes, gridlock in Washington, anti-government sentiment at all levels, and cheap political grandstanding.

Received: In response to recent columns on Dedric Colvin, the Baltimore eighth-grader wounded by a police officer who thought the boy's BB gun was a real handgun, the following letter from a retired Howard County lieutenant:

"It is very hard for the average person to understand just how quickly a potentially deadly encounter materializes and how quickly an officer must make the decision to shoot or don't shoot. What you see very quickly, and very often not clearly, is the weapon, or appearance of a weapon, in hand. You don't typically have the opportunity to take a close look at the size of the hole in the barrel to see if it is bullet-size or BB-size. In almost all cases it is impossible to detect if the weapon is loaded or unloaded. You also don't typically have the luxury of considering the age of the person holding the weapon. The trigger will pull and the bullet will leave the gun regardless of the age of the person that pulled the trigger. ... I recognize that bad police shootings do occur and they must be dealt with accordingly. As police officers, the only thing we ask is that we be judged on what we knew, what we saw, and what we were told in the seconds just prior to the use of force — not on what was learned during the minutes and hours after the shooting."

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Longed for: A Baltimore Oriole, the real bird, Maryland's state bird, flashing its mighty orange feathers between trees.

They usually return to Maryland between March and April and nest in May and June. But the orioles' numbers have been in decline for several years — the Department of Natural Resources says the rate might approach 2 percent annually — and I have not seen one for at least a decade.

I once lived very close to a massive old maple tree, and orioles built their amazing bag-like nests high in its mast. One year, a nest fell to the ground; it had been woven from fluffy material, something like the stuff you find inside a milkweed pod, and horse hair.

Oriole sightings welcome: If you see one this spring, drop me a line.

Offered: Free instruction in how to reach the expanding universe of podcasts. Since launching Roughly Speaking in October — we're up to 97 episodes now — several people have asked me about it.

At a friend's birthday party, I showed six iPhone users how to subscribe to Roughly Speaking (it's free) and recommended some others: The Political Gabfest, The Gist, Hang Up And Listen, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, the FiveThirtyEight with Nate Silver, and Alec Baldwin's Here's The Thing.

Edison Research says one in five Americans (12 and older) now listen to a podcast each month.

"That increase," the polling and market-research company says, "is some of the largest growth for the medium that we have observed in more than a decade of our podcast research and represents an estimated 57 million Americans."

Think of it as talk radio, online and on-demand. It is easily found on smartphone apps and available on tablets and computers. Drop me a line if you need some help getting it. No, really.

Paused: The podcast is on hiatus until May 26. In future episodes: Fifth graders from Baltimore, Baltimore County and Howard County ask science and health questions of science teacher John Monahan and Dr. John Cmar of Sinai Hospital. You can get the Roughly Speaking archives at http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/dan-rodricks/archive/

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