INTRO: Governor Rick Snyder has spent most of the year asking for a long-term solution to Michigan’s roads. Yesterday, the state legislature passed a $49 billion budget. It includes $350 million for road repairs. Snyder wanted an extra $1.2 billion a year for transportation. Some of it was planned for buses and trains too. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports on why politicians don’t fund mass transit.
On his last day in office, former Governor John Engler vetoed regional transit legislation. Some say Engler believed Michigan is a car state. So people will never want trains or buses. Transit has some new life since today’s governor signed the law for regional transit in December. But transit still has problems. Why?
“Class, race, politics, busy roads, lack of regional consensus, self interest.”
These answers came during a transit workshop in Detroit in May. Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward led the group.
“Lack of private sector involvement, financing, culture.”
Dave Woodward was a state representative when Engler vetoed the RTA. Another speaker during the transit workshop was Toby Barlow. He does advertising for Ford. He too led a brainstorming session. Barlow pointed to Denny Zane, the man who brought modern mass transit to Los Angeles, California.
“And Denny what are you going to speak about?”
“I’m going to speak about a transit revolution in the least likely place on the planet.”
“Los Angeles?” said Barlow.
“Exactly,” said Zane.
“I think the motor city would challenge that claim,” Barlow said. “Though I will say there is a mythology that the big three don’t want a public transit system. That may have been the case back in the days of Roger Rabbit. But today I think you will find a lot of people all the way to the top of the organization want to support public transportation here and around the world.”
“Today is a moment of transformation and a moment of renaissance for public transportation investment in the country.”
Jason Jordan preaches transportation. He works for the Center for Transportation Excellence in Washington. He too spoke at the event in Detroit.
“all of the issues you just articulated have been aired and overcome in many regions around the country. So there is hope for addressing those concerns. But the challenge doesn’t solve itself. Conversations like this are the first step.”
Jason Jordan showed a map of transit funding campaigns. He said Michigan looks active compared to other states. That’s not so much because state government is willing to fund transit. It’s more because Grand Rapids and the Traverse City area have approved local millages.
“What you can see here are the blend of measures. Sales taxes, property taxes. I had to color the whole state of Michigan green because so many communities adopted property tax increases or renewals to support the transit services they already have. So there is a rich tradition right here to build on.”
The Michigan constitution only allows 10% of transportation money to go for transit. Roads get the rest. Governor Snyder asked the legislature for an extra $1.2 billion a year for transportation. Right now the total state budget for buses and trains is $250 million. That’s not enough, says the man Snyder chose to lead the RTA
“If more state resources are not made available to match federal dollars and support local bus operators and the political issue of raising transportation taxes continues to go unresolved it will be more difficult to build regional support for funding for rapid transit.”
Paul Hillegonds was the highest ranking politician in the room even though his main job now is Vice-President for DTE Energy. Hillegonds was co-speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives. He retired in 1996.
“I believe this is not only about the importance of public transportation. It’s about reaching our full human and economic potential as southeast Michigan.”