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March 9th, 2010:

Life, Liberty and Highway Rest Stops

DrivingThere is a reason that James Madison did not guarantee access to a free toilet in the Bill of Rights. It is because in 1789, despite recently winning independence from a brutal colonial Empire, no one could imagine a regime so oppressive that it would charge people to use the bathroom.

But of course it was not long before some enterprising huckster came up with the idea of exploiting people in their time of need by charging them to use the restroom. This idea spread like wildfire, particularly in Europe, where nickel-and-diming Americans and tourists is an obsession.

But pay toilets caught on here too. Fortunately, the efforts of the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America managed to successfully ban pay toilets from most of America.

But today we face a new threat to our inalienable right to pee for free: budget cuts.

As states across the nation struggle to balance their books, they are looking for any possible way to cut expenses. They are shuttering schools, slashing public safety spending and putting off routine road repairs. But in Arizona, a state that has seen more than its share of budget cuts, residents have finally stood up and said some things are too scared to sacrifice. Those things are Highway Rest Stops.

The New York Times has the story:

PHOENIX — The people of Arizona kept their upper lips stiff when officials mortgaged off the state’s executive office tower and a “Daily Show” crew rolled into town to chronicle the transaction in mocking tones. They remained calm as lawmakers pondered privatizing death row.

But then the state took away their toilets, and residents began to revolt.

Arizona has the largest budget gap in the country when measured as a percentage of its overall budget, and the state Department of Transportation was $100 million in the red last fall when it decided to close 13 of the state’s 18 highway rest stops.

But the move has unleashed a torrent of telephone calls and e-mail messages to state lawmakers, newspapers and the Department of Transportation deploring the lost toilets — one of the scores of small indignities among larger hardships that residents of embattled states face as governments scramble to shore up their finances.

“People in this state are mad about this,” said State Representative Daniel Patterson, a Democrat from Tucson who has sponsored a bill that would allow other entities to reopen and maintain the rest stops. “This bill may have the broadest support among members of any bill this year.”

Some residents see something sinister in the closings. Betty L. Roberts, who lives in Sun City, west of Phoenix, said the topic was a hot one among her friends.

You can read the rest of the story here.

[Hat tip: Erin]

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