Civic discussions with youth: The gas tax

What is a reasonable amount to pay for roads? Who should pay it?

Pumping gas into a car

In early 2019, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer proposed a $0.45 cent gas tax hike to fix roads. How do you determine if this is a good or bad idea? What critical thinking skills can you use with young people to discuss this issue?

One way to look at road funding is to compare Michigan to other states. But what numbers do you compare?

  • Do you look at total amount of money spent on roads? (Michigan is 36th lowest.)
  • Do you look at the percent of the total state budget spent on roads?
  • Do you look at the amount spent on roads per capita? (Michigan is fifth lowest; only four states spend less on roads per capita than us.)
  • Do you look at the amount spent on road per mile of road? (Michigan is 20th lowest.) Does it matter if they are a single lane road or a four-lane highway? (Michigan is 21st lowest.)
  • Do you look at the amount spent on roads compared to road travel miles? (Michigan is eighth lowest.)

What are the pros and cons of going with any particular set of statistics? Which gives you the most accurate picture? When you are having a conversation with youth, encourage them to engage in arguments from evidence rather than just stating opinions. Some of the data is available Policy and Governmental Affairs Office of Highway Policy Information. Some of it has been compiled into a spreadsheet.

Students can develop their math and critical thinking skills by determining numbers to the above questions. You can provide this data or have them try to find their own to answer the questions. Encourage youth to question data and statistics.

Here is some data:

  • Michigan transportation budget from the State Budget Report - $3.48 billion
  • Michigan total budget from the State Budget Report - $51.8 billion
  • Michigan population from the US Census - 9.99 million people estimated in July 2018
  • Michigan total road miles from Michigan Department of Transportation - Michigan has a total of 120,256 miles of paved roadway (9,669 route miles of state trunkline, 89,444 route miles of county roads, and 21,198 route miles of city and village streets)
  • Michigan road miles driven from Michigan Department of Transportation - More than 95.1 billion miles are driven on Michigan roadways every year.

Once you have some data, discuss whether Michigan is spending too much or not enough on roads. Are we spending money efficiently or should we try to get a better “bang for our buck?” How would you fix the roads?

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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