Reporting on Michigan's Economic Recovery Effort

Michigan Now logo

SMART Millage Plan Sparks Debate

Posted to MichiganNow.org on Wednesday, April 2, 2014

INTRO: The suburban bus system SMART wants to ask voters for more money. They’re looking for $28 million a year for four years. The money will buy buses. The vote will be in August. The issue is drawing out extremes: fighting slavery on one end and fighting government on the other. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports.

Public transit in and around Detroit is bad.

62% of Detroiters commuted out to the suburbs or even farther…according to the Federal Reserve Bank

Here’s another statistic: According to Insure.com This is the most expensive state for car insurance. The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion wants all this to change. They talked about transit and racism March 29 at Cobo Hall. Teenager Kenneth Davis said this:

“There’s a big chance that you’re not going to get hired if you put on your job application that you rely on public transportation. There are two things technically in Detroit that are messed up. That’s transit and Michigan has the highest insurance in the country. So when you have those two things that are horrible it hinders people being able to get jobs. If you don’t have transportation to get to a job you don’t have a job. If you don’t have a job you don’t have money.”

SMART is paid for by Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County taxpayers. Most of SMART’S 200 buses have been driven a half million miles or more. The Federal Transit Administration says that’s over the limit. Those buses should never drive again.

SMART wants to buy new buses. Voters could approve them in a millage this summer. Say you have a $200,000 house. You’re paying $60 a year now for SMART. The millage will increase that to $100 a year.

“So I feel somewhat….” said Republican Commission Kathy Crawford of Novi.

“Guilty,” joked Republican Commissioner Bob Gosselin of Troy.

“Not guilty,” said Crawford embarrassed by Gosselin’s wisecrack. “No.” They were in a county committee meeting. They debated whether voters have the right to pay an extra $40 a year for SMART bus service.

“I just feel somewhat in a quandary about this because Novi is not really a bus friendly community. But I see tremendous growing need for transportation services.”

Novi voters decided to opt out of SMART a few years ago. Buses don’t stop in their town. Same with Northville, Bloomfield Hills, Rochester and Rochester Hills, Plymouth, Canton, Livonia and more. Macomb County however, got every community there to be part of SMART. No opting out.. Kathy Crawford helped improve dial-a-ride in Novi and seemed concerned for other towns too.

“The thing that’s disappointing to me about this whole issue is that this is a crisis. The buses have to be replaced or you can no longer operate. Correct?”

Crawford was asking John Hertel, General Manager of SMART who had presented his case to Oakland County.

“You have to understand that for Southeast Michigan we have been gradually slipping into crisis mode for decades. I see those people standing at those stops I know that 70% of them are going to work. The other 30% are people that have special needs. They are going to school. They simply can’t afford an automobile. If we don’t provide this and you’re right then you are into a real crisis.”

In the last five years, SMART’s budget has shrunk because property values have shrunk. Oakland County dropped 30%. So there’s less tax money sent to SMART.

“I would really resent anyone not allowing this to happen, not allowing the people to speak.”

Mattie Hatchett is a former school principal, Pontiac deputy mayor and current democratic commissioner.

“So as an opt-in I am asking that we allow an opportunity to vote on the bill or not.”

“Mr. Gosselin, quick,” said the chair of the meeting.

“Yeah but it’s an increase. Ok.” said Gosselin. He wants no chance for a tax increase.

“It doesn’t matter,” Hatchett said. “Whether it’s an increase or not. Your voters will decide. They’re only asking that you to allow us to vote.”

Gosselin insisted.

“But Mattie the playing field is not level. They’re going to spend $10 to $20 million advertising one side of the issue and the other side won’t even be heard.” Gosselin was talking to Hatchett. But Hertel was still in the room at his microphone.

“We will never have that kind of money,” said Hertel.

Transit advocates wish Hertel had that much money for an ad campaign but don’t believe he has any. He didn’t return my phone call. Gosselin speaks for the other side, the most successful side. His bio page says he’s raised more than a $1 billion to expand expressways. While he’s defeated transit money for the suburbs to share with Detroit.

His page says: “transit legislation (DARTA) that would have levied up to $2 billion in new regional taxes to bolster Detroit’s corrupt, union-dominated transit system.” Meanwhile, back at the conference on transit and racism at Cobo Hall in Detroit, advocate Joel Batterman said:

“You know even the title of this session is transit we’re dealing with something more fundamental than that. It’s the freedom to move and participate as a citizen in this society.”

But just as the Oakland County republicans disagreed with one another, so did people at the conference. An African-American man protested and walked out of a session led by the Reverend Joan Ross.

“If you don’t want to look back at the past there’s no sense looking forward at the future.” Ross is the director of the NorthEnd Woodward Community Coalition.

We’re talking about the policies that have started from the very beginning, from slavery.”

“I’m talking about right now, though,” said the man.

“And we are too,” said Ross. “If you’d sit down and listen you might learn that particular piece.”

4 Responses to “SMART Millage Plan Sparks Debate”

  1. Harold Leese says:

    I’m opposed to the passage of the August SMART Property Tax Renewal.

    I want to publicly debate Mr. John Hertel on Channel 2, 4 and 7 on the 6 O’clock NEWS and in the Detroit News and Free Press on the front page of the Sunday edition. I can do better then Mr. Hertel and want to help him fill up all of this buses.

    I Harold Leese know that I can do this.

    Please learn how by going to http://savethefueltax.org

  2. Jim Casha says:

    Jeez folks.You’re talking only a $20/year increase. So you stay home one night and cook instead of going out to eat and throw that money in the pot!

    How is Michigan ever going to get a regional transit system, or fix the roads, if you don’t let people vote for a tax increase? The legislators will never do it. I’ve seen them up in Lansing asking the taxpayers that come begging for help: “what do you think we should do?” Like their confused or something. Raise taxes – is there any other way? What do you pay these people for?

    No opt-outs, everyone pays, and the state and feds kick in their share. You don’t just need to replace buses – you need a heck of a lot more buses!

    • Harold Leese says:

      I make $70k a year, so I want to pay SMART entirely. I don’t want the blind and the old to pay a tax on rent or housing. Sure, it’s only 20 bucks a year but its taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

  3. Steve Hughes says:

    In Arizona, it has been the spending for Light Rail that has gotten a lot of opposition. Our legislature won’t raise tax money for public education either.
    Thank you for sending the story.

Leave a Reply

Hannah Kelly, Joel Batterman and the Rev. Joan Ross. They presented and led a workshop on Detroit's transit problems. The event was put on by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion March 29, 2014.

Hannah Kelly, Joel Batterman and the Rev. Joan Ross. They presented and led a workshop on Detroit's transit problems. The event was put on by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion March 29, 2014.

Mattie McKinney Hatchett has lived in Pontiac since 1962. As a commissioner and member of an opt-into SMART town, she doesn't want the county to take away Pontiac residents' right to tax themselves.

Mattie McKinney Hatchett has lived in Pontiac since 1962. As a commissioner and member of an opt-into SMART town, she doesn't want the county to take away Pontiac residents' right to tax themselves.

Bob Gosselin served 3 terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. He established himself as a fighter for tax cuts and family values even though he was arrested in 1998 for soliciting sex. His republican opponent Marty Knollenberg used this against him in the 2004 campaign.

Bob Gosselin served 3 terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. He established himself as a fighter for tax cuts and family values even though he was arrested in 1998 for soliciting sex. His republican opponent Marty Knollenberg used this against him in the 2004 campaign.

Kathy Crawford, (R-Novi) is running for her husband Hugh's seat in the state house. He is term-limited. Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, says the Crawfords are "hoping to swap places representing a conservative district." Ballenger points to the Crawford's following legendary House Speaker Craig DeRoche (R-Novi). This means that supporting mass transit or the City of Detroit will not help either Crawford get elected.

Kathy Crawford, (R-Novi) is running for her husband Hugh's seat in the state house. He is term-limited. Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, says the Crawfords are "hoping to swap places representing a conservative district." Ballenger points to the Crawford's following legendary House Speaker Craig DeRoche (R-Novi). This means that supporting mass transit or the City of Detroit will not help either Crawford get elected.

Oakland County tends to be friendly to mass transit funding in the southeast along Woodward Ave. The rest of the county tends to view transit as a waste.

Oakland County tends to be friendly to mass transit funding in the southeast along Woodward Ave. The rest of the county tends to view transit as a waste.

Recent Articles