Opinion | Here’s a secret: Things cost money. That money comes from taxes

Ned Staebler is president of TechTown Detroit and vice president for economic development at Wayne State University

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her first state budget last month, with its 45-cent gas tax and $507 million increase for schools, you could practically hear the collective groan from Houghton on down to New Buffalo. But here’s the thing: Everyone across this state wants roads that aren’t a laughing stock, clean water to drink, safe parks to play in and trained firefighters to protect our homes. But it seems nobody wants to pay for them.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Everything costs money. If you hear someone talking about “free” healthcare or “free” college tuition, they don’t really mean “free.” They mean it’s “free” to the end user, but the cost is paid for by someone else. Now, we can debate the merits of “free” healthcare or college until the cows come home, but that’s not my point. My point is that it is undeniable that nothing in life is truly free. That’s just how the world works.

In Michigan, we have spent the better part of the past three decades disinvesting in our public goods, and the results are exactly as expected. We spend less per capita on our roads than almost any other state in the nation, and not surprisingly, they’re among the worst in the nation garnering an embarrassing D+ grade on our last report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Since Proposal A passed in 1994, Michigan has seen the slowest growth in K-12 education funding growth, with real (adjusted for inflation) spending in 2015 being 18 percent lower than it was in 1995. Only one other state (West Virginia) saw a decrease over that time with the top states increasing their investments by 60-80 percent.  

You won’t be surprised that our students’ scores plummeted similarly, ranking dead last for school performance growth on the NAEP test since 2003 when Michigan began participating.

I could go on to talk about our water systems (but you know that story too well), our mental health care, our municipal finances, or our environmental protections, but you get the point. Besides, what can we do about it? We already pay way more than we used to in taxes, right? Nope. Not even close.

In 1978, voters decided as part of the Headlee Amendment to cap state revenues at 9.5 percent of the total personal income of Michigan residents. Why did we choose 9.5 percent and not 10 percent or 12 percent or 7 percent? Because that’s where it was that year. In an arbitrary and shortsighted moment, we decided that regardless of future needs or crises, we wouldn’t spend more than 9.5 percent of our income on state government. We could debate that forever, but here’s the rub: We don’t even spend close to that much anymore, and we haven’t since 2000.

Because of Headlee, the state budget director annually reports how much more we’d be spending if we still paid 9.5 percent of our income in state taxes. For fiscal year 2017, the last report on the Budget Office’s website, that amount is $9.2 billion –  extra money that could be invested in schools, bridges, police and firefighters, transit, clean drinking water and more.

The governor is now proposing new taxes for the $2.5 billion that experts say are needed to “fix the damn roads.” A study from Michigan State University suggested that it would take approximately $3.5 billion annually to implement the recommendations from the most recent adequacy study by the nonpartisan School Finance Research Collaborative to fix the damn schools.

The state has reduced the revenue it shares with local cities, counties, and municipalities by approximately $550 million per year compared to 2002, resulting in reduced services like waste collection and snow removal, fewer police and firefighters, and public amenities like parks, community pools, and recreation centers falling into disrepair or being shuttered altogether.

So, that means we could invest $6.55 billion more per year and have smooth roads, competitive schools, and healthy cities and still be paying more than $2.5 billion less per year than we did in 2000. That’s a big chunk of change to start replacing old water pipes, putting in mass transit, building affordable housing or making myriad other investments.

The data is incredibly clear. Compared to 20 or 30 years ago, Michigan is now a relatively low-tax state with a state and local tax burden lower than even Arkansas, Kansas, Indiana and Kentucky, and we have the infrastructure to prove it. It’s no surprise that states like Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maryland, and even Ohio, willing to tax themselves more to make long-term investments, are eating our lunch in the global war for talent. We can argue about the most equitable and efficient ways to raise the funds we need to compete, but there is no debate about the fact that we need new revenue.

We need to stop operating from a self-imposed mindset of scarcity. If we want our economy to be stronger, our communities to be healthier, and our state to be more competitive, it is entirely in our power to do so. But there is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want it, we have to pay for it.

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 5:23am

Mr. Staebler should follow his own advice.

Nothing in life is truly free.

I would also include an addendum to that: Not everything the government does, is what it should be doing in the first place.

Politicians have learned long ago that in order to stay in office, it pays to use other people's money to buy voters.

Very rarely, if ever, is there any thought given to the people who earned that money in the first place. What priorities did THEY want to spend their money on? A home? A car? Their family's future needs?

The FY 19-20 Michigan Budget is projected to be in the neighborhood of over $60-billion. Over the past decade, this is far greater than the rate of inflation (even with Headlee & Proposal A in effect).

Good luck getting those aforementioned politicians to tell you where the Constitutional Authority exists for much of those appropriations. Given how budgets are passed in Lansing, you'll have even better luck getting those unauthorized expenditures removed from the final budget. Politicians buying voters is very entrenched, even in Lansing.

That been said, Mr. Staebler should do a little research into WHY Michigan Taxpayers voted to implement the Headlee Amendment in the first place.

This is a subject that people who lament over the growth in the size in government spending always want to avoid.

They know that doing so would undermine their entire argument.

Mitchell Robinson
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:42am

"Not everything the government does, is what it should be doing in the first place."
which of the things in Mr. Staebler's articles should the state not be paying for with our tax dollars? schools? roads?

Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 6:27pm

So, let's see here...

He cited "free" healthcare, "free" college, mental health care, putting in mass transit, building affordable housing.

Did you not read the article, Mr. Robinson?

How many of those are actual enumerated powers in the US Constitution? In the Michigan Constitution?

Bob Balwinski
Wed, 04/03/2019 - 10:30am

Kevin, there is nothing in either constitution about police and fire protection nor clean water monitoring nor dozens of other services. However, there is a statement about things for the common good and that's what these programs fall under.
On not getting a reply with answers to questions from state and federal reps and state and federal senators and governors, etc......I share your disillusionment. Folks who call can share their views with a secretary but never get a chance to discuss their views with these folks.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 04/03/2019 - 7:03pm

That is the beauty of how government was originally set up in America.

Local governments took care of the core services (i.e. police and fire) and another local governmental body took care of education.

If/when things didn't work, it was much easier to fix the problem while there was more local control. Ignoring your constituents wasn't an option back then.

Things started going bad in the mid 19th Century when someone got the idea to have state government to tell local school districts how they should run themselves and the later 20th when the federal government stuck its nose into things.

This comes from a misreading of Art 1, Sec 3 in the Michigan Constitution which mentions CONSULTING for the common good...not COMMANDING.

Big difference.

On a side note; The Preamble of the US Constitution talks about providing for the common defense, but nothing about common good.

If anyone ever got around to actually requiring politicians to cite the authority for even half of what they promote, everything will fold faster than a wet newspaper.

Al Churchill
Sun, 04/07/2019 - 12:42am

The preamble to the federal Constitution references "promoting" the "general welfare". Franklin and John Dickerson, both of whom integrated the term "mutual and general welfare" into the Articles of Confederation, used the term interchangably with the term "common good". Goveneur Morris, who wrote the preamble to the Constitution and much else in the document, decided on "general welfare". Perhaps you had better worry about your own citations, rather than everybody elses.

Al Churchill
Sat, 04/06/2019 - 2:42pm

The necessary and proper clause overrides enumetrated powers in the Federal Constitution.

Al Churchill
Sun, 04/07/2019 - 12:50am

The "necessary and proper" clause in the Constitution broadens the scope of federal power beyond the enumeratedpowers identified by you. Free healthcare etc. are all legitimate concerns of the federal government. Nice try pal.

duane
Fri, 04/05/2019 - 5:15pm

It seems you are asking the wrong questions, rather than about what the money is spent on it should be what are we getting for what we are spending. What value is the government getting for our money?

Bob Balwinski
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 2:33pm

"I would also include an addendum to that: Not everything the government does, is what it should be doing in the first place."

Kevin, could you share some of the email messages or transcript of calls you made the last 8 years to our former Republican governor and our Republican State House and Republican State Senate in regard to your statement? What is it that State of Michigan government is doing that it shouldn't be doing and what replies did you receive from our former Republican governor or Republican State Rep or Republican State Senator??? I am curious.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 6:45pm

Sadly, Mr. Balwinski, I haven't received any replies from the aforementioned, other than the obligatory "Thank you for contacting our office".

If I had to venture a guess, when they were posed with my questions, they acted like the proverbial emperor who didn't bother wearing any clothes. This isn't some deep-thought, esoteric material I brought up. This is stuff that I was taught many decades ago in Junior High School. Many people in public office like to tout the fact that they attended college. The fact that they wouldn't (couldn't) answer such a basic question speaks volumes.

See my response above for the answer to your next question.

leonard page
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 8:51am

you mean there is actually a connection between taxes and services? who would have thunk?

Joel Casler
Sun, 04/07/2019 - 12:30pm

Thanks for bringing that point up Leonard. Who Knew !!

Steve Manor
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 8:53am

Mr. Staebler hit the nail on the head. The State has a revenue problem, not a spending problem - except that there are not enough dollars to spend on our needs. Kevin tried to make a point that the tax dollars are mis-spent. I disagree. I believe that all the spending that is done in designed to address a need of someone/group in Michigan. Kevin may not agree with spending on that particular need, but I bet he has his needs prioritized and wants dollars spent on his particular needs. Mr. Staebler has accurately presented our State's financial situation. We desired to be a low-tax state and we've achieved that goal. Many of us do not like the consequence of that - poor roads, weak public services, degradation of our natural resources, and on and on. Nothing is free.

Jack Johnson
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 8:56am

This is an excellent article. Many people I meet in Michigan are convinced that they pay high taxes. They don't. We're still dealing with the big lie that Reagan told Americans years ago, namely that government is bad and that everything would be better if rich people were absolved of their civic responsibility. This sort of thinking was a disaster at the national level and has been a disaster in Michigan as well.

Michael Wells
Wed, 04/03/2019 - 11:08am

True, and well stated. But of course, it's important to note that conservatives don't actually believe in "small government." They're perfectly happy with "Big Government" and big spending if it involves sky-high military budgets, over-policing of minority communities, buying high-tech pseudo-military equipment for small-town police department, policing women's reproductive health and the bedroom behavior of consenting adults, and multibillion-dollar programs to subsidize fossil fuel companies.

Charr Skirvin
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 9:24am

I would like to second what Jack Johnson says below. We do not pay high taxes in Michigan. Check out this state tax rate map: https://files.taxfoundation.org/legacy/docs/income_rates_large.png
I used to live in southern Indiana in a county which prided itself on keeping its tax rate extremely low. As a result roads were awful. The school system was not good; in fact, the state athletic association banned basketball games at the school due to the poor and unsanitary condition of its locker rooms. I could go on. This was a perfect example of getting what you pay for: pay little, get little. Why is there such a disconnect between taxes and services / infrastructure maintenance?

Matt
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:48am

Duh, that's only state income tax. We also have a fairly high sales tax and high property taxes!

Emily Desmond
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 12:31pm

You posted a map from 2013. Here is a more accurate assessment of what Michigan Tax payers pay. Including things like sales and gas tax.

https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-states-to-be-a-taxpayer/2416/

We are 40th out of 50 for highest taxes paid. The money is being taken. It isn't being allocated properly.

R.L.
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 9:27am

We are not taxed a lot. REALLY. How about Gas tax, car insurance costs, sales tax,property tax. Then you have Health insurance and Medicare cost. ( I know these last ones really aren't taxes) but what do you do if you are on a fixed income. I am not but God have mercy on those that are. Peace R.L.

Mitchell Robinson
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:47am

so you acknowledge that the things you list here are not taxes, but still mention them as though they make us a high tax state? then you complain about folks on fixed income, but admit you are not one of them. I'm struggling to figure out your point here...it seems that you just don't want to pay your taxes. I wonder how many folks on fixed incomes also have problems driving on our roads and would like to see them repaired...

George Moroz
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 9:28am

Clearly and well-argued, Ned.

Helen Vogl
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 9:57am

I have been living in Gogebic County in the UP for the past 5 months as a homecare travel nurse. I see the road conditions every single day. I have to say, I have never seen such poorly managed roads in my life. My fear is, however, that more taxes will not fix the problem either. I am a former resident of California so I follow what goes on out there too and people are just so frustrated there because they continuously add taxes yet nothing ever seems to be solved. Their infrastructure is terrible,, there schools went from the best to the worst. People are just mad and are about to their breaking point. I’m afraid that could happen here. Where is that 42 cent a gallon gas tax going to go, why is there a drinking water problem in this state? It seems unconscionable to me. Why are our schools in such bad shape? People are not happy when they can’t see where their taxes go. I certainly would say that is true up here.

Mike
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:46am

Mr. Staebler makes some very good points. He fails however to address the complete and utter failure of the legislature to act properly and responsibly. We have had multiple tax increases (license, registration,use, gasoline, etc) to support the roads to little benefit. Michigan is a high tax state in many views. How about bold solutions to difficult and complex problems.......eliminate the catastrophic claims "tax" scheduled to go to $220/vehicle this year and I will gladly pay additional taxes, reduce the weight of trucks using the roads so they last longer (highest road weights in the country ) and I will pay higher taxes. We need more accountability with our legislature and public officials. If you simply raise the gas tax, it will devastate businesses along the border damage tourism.
Restore the tax sharing with municipalities to they can do more of their own road repairs.
We are a great state that is poorly served by its legislature. Taxing as the only method to solve a problem has and will never work

Chuck Fellows
Wed, 04/03/2019 - 10:43am

In regard to catastrophic claims. If the legislature would address the real problem with Michigan's auto insurance: runaway medical, professional services, medical device, pharmaceutical, attendant care costs and the outrageous practice of setting premiums based upon socioeconomic factors and credit scores - the catastrophic claims fee would shrink. This fee increase is the canary in the coal mine, a symptom of a far larger problem, a legislature owned by insurance and health care.

Mike Staebler
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 12:44pm

We have gotten into this mess because we have actually cut taxes over the last several decades—and under-invested in our physical and Human Resources. Sad—but true. We don’t get something for nothing. We get what we pay for. I’ve blown 4 tires and one rim out in the last 4 years. Our schools are WAY underfunded. Our environment needs lots of cleaning up. Our drinking water needs a lot of investment. Our political leaders have failed us because they won’t face facts.

duane
Sat, 04/06/2019 - 8:14pm

The most common reason any organization gets into money problems is because they fail to have performance accountability [results] , spending accountability [value], and practices verification. They commonly over pay for results and for the disappointment.
If you are spending money on programs and people that are delivering the desired results you will never have enough money. An organization that doesn't define and measure their results will never improve results. The smarter organizations define the results, describe the means and methods needed to deliver those results and then determine how much it will cost. And they measure the performance of each step.
When the conversation starts with money the only thing will change is money, if you care about results you must start with the results.

Joshua
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 10:48am

Most people understand that more money is needed to fix the roads and that more money means more taxes. So why is Gov. Whitmer trying to divert money away from the roads?

She says all the 45 cents per gallon will go towards the roads. Not so fast, Governor! At the same time, she wants to transfer away the equivalent of about 15 cents a gallon that has been coming from the general fund for the roads to spending on other areas. Instead, keep that money going to the roads and only ask for 30 cents per gallon increase. That will be painful enough.

We know our roads are crap and need to be fixed, but don't use this important issue to hide backroom shuffling of other funds!

Matt
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 1:08pm

She comes form the Rahn Emanuel School. "Never let a good crisis go to waste!". Roads are a good excuse to raise taxes and the public isn't that bright to figure it out.. Given this you're probaly a fool to swallow any of this without a lot of study.

Bob Balwinski
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 10:50am

Some years ago, my state rep was touting a book more or less titled, "Cost of Government." The idea was that folks should decide exactly what they want government to do and then cost out those programs. Once the cost was known, the cost would have been covered by an appropriate taxation rate.
I hear zip about this now because there was no total agreement on what the state should do and the cost to do what was agreed upon by consensus would have raised taxes. Yes, my state rep was a Republican so raising taxes even to pay for what people wanted was not going to happen.

David Waymire
Wed, 04/10/2019 - 2:13pm

I remember sitting through appropriations committee sessions discussing this. First step was to decide what the top priorities in each budget was. The Republican chair of the House public health committee decided the top priority of public health in Michigan was to hand out anti-abortion brochures. I left the meeting.

Michelle
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:00am

I think the problem is that most people dont really have a problem paying taxes, its just that it doesn't seem that our taxes are used responsibly. Our roads have been bad for a long time and previous governors have raised taxes, etc but our roads are just as bad, if not worse. It seems to me that whoever's in government likes to say raise taxes but that money isnt used responsibly.

christine temple
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:12am

Hear, hear. Mr. Stabler.

Matt
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:23am

OK folks. A different take on Michigan's tax burden. Michigan is not an under taxed state.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/taxes/2018/02/20/states-where-ameri.... FYI, USA Today isn't exactly a subsidiary of the Mackinaw Inst.
This debate isn't really about taxes as much as it is what is the best way to address these needs. Mr. Staebler clearly believes the solution to every problem is the "State" and more money to be spent (and taxed) by the State. He repletes the same concocted studies supposedly showing "low growth in spending" (what ever that means!), when the actual fact is that Michigan is pretty much in the middle of the national pack for actual dollars being spent for educating its students. National average at $11,762 vs. Michigan at 11,668. Add to that Michigan's COL is about 10% less than average, so we're easily in the middle. (https://www.governing.com/gov-data/education-data/state-education-spendi...). While pointing out how little Michigan spends on its roads, he neglects to point out that Michigan drivers pay among the highest taxes on fuel of any state in our region. It just doesn't go to the roads. The simple fact is that for people with his view, there will never be enough money to cover his and his cohort's never ending list of "needs" so any limits on spending are to be done away with. Instead of arguing to change laws allowing that cities should be allowed to raise their taxes as high as they wish it's always the same, that the state must always spend (and tax) more. Clearly taxes are a part of any government and this is not to argue against any but a large amount of skepticism is clearly warranted before jumping into Mr. Staebler's world .

mary
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:24am

That money I just paid to fix a car that got nailed by a pothole in February was more than the annual increase I would have paid on a gas tax to fix our roads. The tow and tire companies are laughing at us... all the way to the bank. And on top of that, they are enjoying Snyder's tax break, too. I and my family are willing to pay the gas tax to protect and improve our economy.

Matt
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 12:14pm

Mr. staebler, You screwed up your stats!!!! https://taxfoundation.org/state/michigan/
Tax foundation puts Michigan right in the middle also at #25 !!!!!!!!!!!. Not that it matters to any of you.

Mary B.
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 12:31pm

Generally, I concur with your points. But I disagree with this one: "They mean it’s “free” to the end user, but the cost is paid for by someone else." No, the cost is shouldered by EVERYONE. You are assuming the people who benefit from healthcare and college are not taxpayers. All workers contribute to Medicare. All property owners, and anyone who pays sales tax, fund local schools.

Jeff
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 1:34pm

Here is a novel idea. How about first actually using the money for its intended purpose. Our roads would be fine if this were the case. It was not that long ago Michigan had enough money to repave every state highway, until someone in the legislature found out and the money was transferred to another program. While you are touting this huge gas tax, and the B.S about being a low tax state, 40% of the people in my community live on a fixed income. Then a large percentage of the money will not even go to the roads, instead "other" programs. While I am not sure about how much today, when the refugees were assigned to Michigan, by the federal government, from Syria, some $2 billion had to be transferred from other departmental budgets to provide federally mandated assistance for them. I am not offering an opinion on this, but this is what happened. The only way people can find out about this is to compare reports from the Auditor General's office to original budget appropriations. I would submit before just taxing and spending, we take a hard look at how much money is collected from income avenues and where it is spent. Then correct it. After this, then talk about raising things like income taxes, because there is no way in hell people are going to agree to $.45 per gallon tax increase when so much money will not be used for roads.

Barry Visel
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 1:57pm

Here’s another secret. Government tax schemes cost us an estimated $38Billion in tax revenue we don’t collect due to various tax credits, deductions and exemptions (see Tax Expenditure Appendix to the MI Budget). I am not in favor of any tax increases at the State level until Lansing stops using the tax code to favor some over others.

Chris Carpenter
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 2:53pm

How does other states like Ohio have good roads when their gas tax is only 28 cents while Michigan's gas tax is already 44 cents and Michigan Roads suck?
It must be something other than gas tax that makes the difference!

Dave Coultas
Sat, 04/20/2019 - 12:07pm

Bingo.... maybe it's because they manufacture roads differently, or use different materials or their D.O.T. changed the specs. for road making. Well let's see who heads that up? Legislators?....... no, no it's not them. Governor?.... ding ding ding. Hey governor Whitmer, what's your position on the current road manufacture specifications? Apparently they must be adequate in your mind since you've never mentioned them as an issue. Along with that madam governor, when is your party going to propose the parties version of 'fixing the damn roads'? At least you jumped in with number (45 cents), I see no mention in my local representatives web page nor the party caucus page about a number. I feel you are going to kick this issue down the road AGAIN and again, moving at the speed of government, nothing gets done.

Mary
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 4:38pm

What I have discovered in conversations about taxes with people is that there are many who don't trust that the money is going for what is was intended. Lottery money goes into the general fund, but does it all go to the schools as was promised? The lack of transparency is a key issue in the state.

James Katakowski
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 8:24pm

I think politicians who have owned this state of Michigan for the last 8 years the republicans/ GOP so they should explain why they squandered and where they wasted it. Michiganders do not mind paying for social programs that work for all but I for one do not like to waste my money on losing programs. Basically these inept GOP politicians have not done anything beneficial for the middle class in 8 years. Roads, charters, highest car insurance, only catastrophic car insurance in the nation and still not transparent, Flint water poisoning of children and entire town. Oh teacher shortages in many districts. Let the GOP explain first. Thank you.

John Q. Public
Tue, 04/02/2019 - 9:42pm

What should government stop doing?

https://techtowndetroit.org/about/

Is there a single job in this state that some government agency or program hasn't taken credit for "creating?"

James Roberts
Sun, 04/07/2019 - 12:41am

Mr. Staebler forgets one very important point. If you truly believe we are all in for sharing the wealth, then why hide the plan to raise taxes of any kind when you run for office. Most of us are aware that things cost money and vote based on our expectation of getting the results we vote for. When you get elected by lying you cannot be surprised the voters are upset. Especially when it is clear each and every time the politician is certain we will understand that they know whats good for us and we should just recognize that and hopefully forget they screwed us when its time for their next election. Afraid four years will not be long enough for me and most of my peers to forget when we are reminded twice a week filling up our gas tanks.

Callie Henry
Sun, 04/07/2019 - 9:28am

Very good article. You get what you pay for. The one thing we taxpayers are still overpaying for is a full time legislature with the strictest term limits in the nation.

Stephen
Sat, 04/20/2019 - 11:18am

You first sir, take your wallet out and pay up of your own free will. I am tired of people that think they know more about how I should spend the money that I work
very hard for. Easy for someone to preach about how I need to pay more taxes, when my budget is tight to begin with . No more new taxes!
The politicians need to find a way to use the money we are already being forced to pay them.

Jeff
Sun, 04/21/2019 - 12:24am

All you need to do is view Ned's personal Facebook page and you'll find out that while this man holds leverage/power in Detroit's young business tech scene, he is a diehard liberal/progressive and he has had very extreme views in the past to say the least (but I'm sure you could have guessed his bias just by reading). I have had personal interactions with this man, and to say it frankly, he's a piece of shit for some of his extreme views like his anti 2nd amendment views (he would like to see all guns banned).
He definitely shouldn't be given a platform on this webpage if it's "Non-partisan" as it claims in its tagline. Bad move.

Don Sepanski
Sun, 04/21/2019 - 10:38am

We have nearly the highest taxes on gasoline in the country, and some of the lowest spending on roads in the country.

It's a spending problem.

Spend gasoline taxes on roads, not "transportation", not the general fund, nothing but roads.

Spend other taxes on other things.