I was on my way to Houston on Wednesday to speak to the Greater Houston Partnership when I was caught in the rolling blackout. I made it as far as Elgin on U.S. 290, where the traffic lights were blinking red and cops were standing in the bitter cold, directing motorists. My intention was to stop at McDonald’s for a breakfast sandwich and coffee. The drive-through line was quite long and very slow, and the speaker at which I sought to place my order wasn’t working. As I was contemplating my next move, a young woman who worked there emerged from the building and started walking down the line of cars. She informed me that the only thing they could serve was sausage biscuits and bottled water, because the power was out. And cash only, please; credit cards couldn’t be processed. Eventually I got my stale sausage biscuit and headed on my way.
As I got back on the highway, I reflected that my breakfast experience was the perfect metaphor for the great budget meltdown of 2011. Nothing in state government works. ERCOT, which exists to make certain that the grid function correctly, failed miserably. State officials couldn’t even explain what went wrong, much less fix it. That’s as hard to swallow as my biscuit.
We run state government on a shoestring. We have a $10 billion structural budget deficit and nobody has the slightest interest in fixing it. Is anyone surprised that we can’t even get through a winter storm without having our infrastructure fail us?