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Regional Transit Proposal Won’t Appear on 2018 Ballot

July 19, 2018

The Macomb Daily

By: Mark Cavitt

A regional transit proposal will not appear on November’s ballot.

On Thursday, the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan’s funding allocation committee wasn’t able to come to a unanimous 5-0 vote, which means the Connect Southeast Michigan plan won’t go forth for a public vote in 2018.

The committee voted 3-2 in favor of the plan with Oakland County representative Chuck Moss and Macomb County representative John Swatosh voting “no”. City of Detroit representative Freman Hendrix, Washtenaw County representative Elisabeth Gerber and Wayne County representative June Lee all voted “yes.”

The plan needed approval from the authority’s board of directors as well, but an item can only be put forth to the board for a vote if it first receives unanimous approval from the committee. The board decided to dissolve the committee at its 2 p.m. meeting.

In order for the plan to have landed on the November ballot, the plan, and its ballot language, would have had to be approved by the board no later than Aug. 14.

According to the RTA’s June financial summary of the plan, it would have generated $5.42 billion in property tax revenue. Of that number, $2.196 billion would have come from Oakland County, 1.083 billion from Macomb County, $168 million from Detroit, and 1.274 billion from the rest of Wayne County.

The total revenue collected over the 20-year lifespan of the tax was estimated to be $6.99 billion if you included state ($506 million) and federal ($303 million) revenue sources as well as system generated revenue, which includes fares ($573 million) and bond proceeds ($192 million).

REACTION

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said he wanted a regional plan that featured a smaller taxing footprint to include only the county’s 38 communities that opted-into SMART in 1995.

He said a plan can be agreed upon in 2019 if all the major issues are resolved among the regional leaders and the RTA.

“The RTA didn’t want to reduce the footprint,” said Patterson. “This fight is not over yet. If they (the RTA) would just sit down and negotiate with us, instead of blowing us off, we might be able to make some progress. The RTA’s biggest obstacle was that they got greedy. They thought they had the votes and were going to stick it to the taxpayer. I wasn’t going to double cross my opt-out communities.”

Patterson added that the City of Detroit opted out of receiving SMART services in 1995.

“So it’s OK that Detroit opted out over 20 years ago, but when my communities opted out they’re all called racists,” said Patterson. “That’s bullcrap. The only way for the RTA to fund this current plan is to bring in my 35 opt-out communities.”

Matt Webb, RTA chief operating officer, said although there continues to be a debate about the right taxing footprint and the manner in which the RTA constructed the financial assumptions, what cannot be debated is that the region has significant mobility needs that are being unmet.

“No action means more people will miss medical appointments, have fewer options to connect to jobs, and less opportunities to access education and quality of life assets using transit,” he said. “We are working hard with regional leadership to find a path forward next year or in 2020.”

In response to the vote, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said as a transit support, he’s disappointed but not deterred. He added that the effort to place the plan on the ballot was torpedoed by short-sighted politics.

“We are on the right side of the issue and the economic and societal benefits of transit are too great to ignore,” he said. “I’m heartened by those who rallied around this plan yet sad that two elected leaders didn’t let their constituents decide for themselves.”

John Paul Rea, Macomb County’s director of planning and economic development, said this vote was just another step in the complex conversation in our region surrounding regional transit.

“Clearly, there are still some divisions associated, not only with financing the plan, but also with regards to the jurisdiction and coverage of the area as well as the service-based parameters put on it,” he said. “I still think there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for us to build upon regional transit with the SMART millage vote on August 7. We are laser focused on that as they are our only regional transit service provider.”

Gerry Anderson, chairman and CEO of DTE Energy, who advocated for the plan along with other regional CEO’s, said he’s disappointed that regional leaders serving on the RTA board were unable to agree upon a plan to move the region’s transit system forward.

“When the quality of transit systems in large urban areas across our country are ranked, our region’s transit system consistently falls near the bottom of the list – and that state of affairs is badly complicating life for many of our citizens,” said Anderson.

For Dave Massaron, Detroit’s chief operating officer, voters deserved the right to consider this plan in November.

“This region desperately needs investment in transit to stay competitive,” he said. “The city will continue to invest in its system and will work to find a regional solution in 2019.”

 

You can view the original post from the Macomb Daily on their website.