News stories on the Michigan road tax proposal are replete with compelling, eye popping factoids about the costs poor roads impose on Michigan drivers. These factoids are so compelling that our colorless Governor cites them to sway voters in the upcoming sales tax proposal debate. Some examples:
- An inadequate transportation system costs Michigan residents a total of $7.7 billion every year
- Driving on rough roads costs Michigan motorists a total of $2.3 billion annually in extra vehicle operating costs
- Driving on rough roads costs the average Detroit urban area motorist $536 annually in extra vehicle operating costs
- Driving on rough roads costs the average Michigan motorist $357 annually in extra vehicle operating costs
You are expected to conclude that a 16.67% sales tax increase is a just trifle to escape these ghastly financial burdens. These factoids are always attributed to “TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research organization”. Sounds like an independent, credible source – right? The adjectives ‘nonprofit’ and ‘research’ give you a high level of confidence in their pronouncements? Perhaps you should dig a little deeper than our conniving politicians and their lazy media scribes. The TRIP report they are mining for these factoids is: MI_Transportation_By_The_Numbers_TRIP_Report_Jan_2014
So who exactly is TRIP [www.tripnet.org]?
It is an empty front for a five person IRS 501(c)(6) category business organization in Washington, DC more properly known as Road Information Program, Incorporated. The IRS category is important in this case because legitimate nonprofit public research organizations register under IRS chapter 501(c)(3). IRS chapter 501(c)(6) is reserved for ‘business leagues’, such as chambers of commerce or realtor associations: “Encouragement of the use of goods and services of an entire industry” in the IRS lingo on page 50 of IRS Publication 557.
All nonprofits are required to file IRS Form 990 annually, describing their finances and major backers. The TRIP IRS Form 990 was actually filed under the Road Information Program, Inc. name and makes for some interesting reading. RIP had a budget of about $ 1 million in 2012, of which they spent just under $ 360,000 on their ‘researchers’ wages. Not much money to accurately assess road conditions across the entire USA. TRIP would set a new standard for efficiency in Washington, DC were it actually researching road conditions everywhere in America. Especially when the officers and a director are carving $ 194,000 out of the pot.
RIP has 112 voting members in its ‘governing body’, about a hundred of whom are listed at the end of their Form 990. A couple of insurers, but the rest are road construction contractors, contractor associations, paving equipment manufacturers & rental firms, and civil engineering firms. You get the picture, we’re not talking public interest here.
About those vehicle operating cost factoids
TRIP has generated cookie cutter reports for each of the 50 States with the very same metrics. They are using a computer program called HDM-4 which is being circulated around the globe by the World Bank. It is a very useful pavement management system program coauthored by Dr. Christopher Bennett in New Zealand [www.lpcb.org – strange mixed business/personal website, but the best collection of HDM-4 information – including an actual download mirror for the HDM-4 software package].
When it comes to the vehicle operating costs section of the HDM-4 program, Dr. Bennett is adamant that the accuracy of its results are entirely dependent upon calibration. Small changes in calibration coefficients can result in four fold errors in the program’s vehicle maintenance calculations. A Bennett HDM-4 Calibration Presentation reviews a Canadian HDM-4 vehicle operating cost example showing just that. Data mean little in a scientific computer algorithm, calibration coefficients dominate the outcome. Much the same type of coefficient gaming is done in the computer models which are used to demonstrate ‘global warming’.
So we have a contractor’s organization masquerading as a scientific research organization, producing eye popping factoids with a twitchy computer program, in support of additional road funding, being quoted verbatim by lazy journalists and our totally sincere Governor. How can democracy fail?