One of the most common maxims of the United States is: “everyone hates taxes.” The collective consciousness of taxes is that they are a heavy social burden and an irreconcilable nuisance. Even those who support raising taxes feel the need to vilify it by complaining about the percentage of their paychecks removed by the federal and state government. Although taxes are fated to be at best unpopular and at worst loathed, why is it that no one discusses what taxes are for? If they are so awful why do they exist in the first place? Why not simply abolish them? Why would anyone want to raise taxes?
Taxes are money that individuals or corporate entities must pay to various governments -municipal, state, and federal- for the purpose of maintaining public goods and the processes of governance. Taxes may also be used to correct social inequities through redistribution. Throughout American history, taxes have risen and fallen based on the state of the economy, the scope of the government, and the political party in charge. From the 1930s-1960s, the U.S. had a fairly high tax rate to fund various projects for the state and the federal government. Projects included Social Security, World War II, and the National Highway Act all of which had different goals and ramifications on the American public but were funded from the same source – the United States taxpayer. In the 1980s, under the Reagan Revolution, it became politically popular to cut taxes and government spending on social programs while promising the American people that they could receive the same quality of public goods. These promises and policies occurred at both the state and federal level and have led to serious social problems that have trickled down to today, particularly with regards to state infrastructure.
The American Society of Civil Engineers states that: “Infrastructure includes fundamental facilities and systems necessary for Michigan’s economy to function. Roads, bridges, schools, water and sewer systems, dams, railways, and energy systems are categories of infrastructure that directly affect our ability to live, work and play.” In their 2017 State Infrastructure Report Card, they gave Michigan a D+; most of Michigan’s infrastructure is outdated and has been underinvested in due to the combined perils of economic recession and low state revenues. State revenues consist of the amount of money raised by taxes and directly determines how much a state government can spend on things. The report also states that poor infrastructure has limited Michigan’s economic growth and that it would take approximately $4 billion annually in order to maintain its current infrastructure.
Here it is important to see the cyclical nature of Michigan’s infrastructure problem: the state cuts taxes during an economic boom and when the economy slides into recession, the state is forced to cut spending on “non-essential” costs like infrastructure. Unfortunately, this causes the integrity of our infrastructure to erode, making Michigan less appealing for investment, further crippling its economy. Michigan’s prolonged recession has only made it more difficult for the state to revitalize the infrastructure leading to very real and sometimes deadly consequences.
Right next to using your hand as a map, complaining about the roads is the most Michigander thing someone can do. In fact, it is so ingrained in our collective identity that Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer’s slogan is “Fix the Damn Roads!” Michigan’s crippling infrastructure is one of our greatest punchlines and is now a strong part of our political rhetoric. It is also a part of Michigan’s recent crises and upheaval. Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure and lack of available funds contributed to such local public health disasters as the Flint Water Crisis and lead in Detroit Public Schools. In a recent report, the American Society of Civil Engineers state “Michigan residents, business owners, and policymakers must decide how much we value the personal and economic advantages that come from a modern, safe and efficient infrastructure network” and that “the good news is there are solutions to Michigan’s infrastructure problems.” The bad news is that this decision will be based on how much Michiganders are willing to pay for improved infrastructure and its maintenance through the much-hated taxes.
You can read the full report on Michigan’s Infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers at https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/michigan/
Not from Michigan? No problem! Check your state here: https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/state-by-state-infrastructure/